All kinds of traditional Chinese fans can be classified into two groups, namely folding fans and fans with handle based on different structures. Among the rich assortment of fans with handle, up to now the earliest ones are a bamboo fan with short handle unearthed from the tombs of the Warring States Period in Hubei, and a feather fan of the same period excavated in Hunan. On the other hand, Chinese fans are distinguished for their elegant fan-covers. The fans could also be classified into bamboo fan, feather fan, silk fan, paper fan and ivory fan according to the material of fan-cover. Of the fan-covers with different shapes, round silk fan, also called Tuan Shan, is in people's good graces.
Folding fan is composed of fan-cover and fan-head. The earliest folding fans as the articles of tribute were introduced into China by Japanese monks in the Northern Song Dynasty. Thanks to growing favor towards the painting among imperial families, folding fans later became objects of art of distinctive features when painters and calligraphers began to decorate them with their works, whereas, round fans, though still in use in the Ming and Qing dynasties and afterwards, where then far less popular than folding ones. Big Folding Fan made in reign of Emperor Xuande and the picture Angling in a Boat under Waterside Trees by Xie Jin are only fan-covers now existent, and the earliest and rarest of all works of the kind handed down to the present.
The peculiarity of the shape of a folding fan determines the special style of paintings and calligraphic works that go on it, whether in composition or in spirit. Some fan-covers are even coated with powdered gold. Precious materials, like Wumu, sandalwood and ivory are used to made fan-head. Moreover, gold and jade sometimes become fan-pendant so as to show the owner's dignity. Meanwhile, traditional techniques including polishing, lacquering, carving and inlaying, are widely adopted to make the fans more exquisite.
Among a variety of elegant fan-covers, some are painted by emperors, prime ministers and other high officials. For instance, the round silk fan-cover Bird Singing in Mountain Loquat by Emperor Huizong in the Song Dynasty was the most renowned of all works of this type. Especially, Fu Yijian and Pan Shien were all Number One Scholars expert in fan-cover painting. Most fan-covers were made by celebrated poets, painters and calligraphers. The focus of this painting was always concentrated on the landscape, figure and flower-and bird. Although a good painter may not be a good calligrapher, some masters, already highly renowned for their painting, were also good at calligraphy, for instance, Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, Wen Zhenming and Dong Qichang were held esteem as excellent painters and calligraphers of that time.
Like porcelain, fan is not only an article for daily use but part of Chinese culture. That is why the collectors of all succeeding generations have been particularly interested in fans, and the artistic pieces on the fan-covers put under a separate category by the connoisseurs.
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