Hand-Held Fans

Updated on November 12, 2019
BlossomSB profile image

Bronwen and her family have enjoyed collecting many things, including fans, clocks, books and shells.

An Elegant Lace-Trimmed Folding Fan
An Elegant Lace-Trimmed Folding Fan | Source

The Changing Use of the Fan

Fashion and the use of hand-held fans have changed over the centuries. At first, the fan was a simple tool for coaxing a fire into life, for keeping away insects and flies, or for cooling the face in hot weather. Then more elaborate fans were made, and they became things of beauty, fashion accessories for the elite. In Victorian times in Europe, the Language of the Fan developed.

The need for a fan (and therefore its design) has changed over the centuries. Fans made of feathers were used over three thousand years ago. In different cultures, they have been used to add pomp and ceremonial significance, and in the middle ages, they gave grace and charm to court dancers. They have been used by both men and women.

  • China: The early fans were paddle fans. Silk and satin became more available in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D), with wood and ivory appearing around 990 B.C. and plainer fans began to be used by the common people. In some areas, palm fans were made in the Jin Dynasty (264–420 A.D.). Silk and satin fans continued through the Tang Dynasty (618–907 A.D.) and they became the fashion among scholars and artists when they would write a poem or paint a picture on the fan.

  • Europe: In the middle ages, fans were used in the Christian liturgy and continued to be used in the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican II. There are religious pictures of holy men holding fans. Sometimes religious pictures were painted on the fans, or lists of saints or holy days were written on them.
  • Egypt: Fans were used in ancient Egypt. Some were quite large, as can be seen from ancient frescoes. Fans were used in ancient Greece in the fourth century B.C. and probably before that.
  • Japan: Fans were used by the military to send signals on the battle-field, but were mainly used at court. The Japanese invented the folding fan, and it was introduced into China about a thousand years ago. They were made with fine paper and bamboo.
  • Spain: Fans were, and still are used, especially in Flamenco dancing. They are often trimmed with lace.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Modern Japanese Fan
A Modern Japanese Fan
A Modern Japanese Fan | Source

Types of Fans

The Folding Fan: The folding fan was introduced to China from Japan around 1,000 A.D. In the late sixteenth century they were introduced to the West by Portuguese travellers.

Parts of a Folding Fan

Showing the Parts of the Fan
Showing the Parts of the Fan | Source
  • The ribs: The ribs are also known as sticks or slats. Ribs had been made of ivory, bone, camphor-wood, sandalwood, tortoise-shell, silver and gold. They are sometimes pierced with intricate designs, making up the whole of the folding fan.
  • The sticks: The two end ribs are usually known as sticks; they are wider and are often decorated with patterns, pierced, or painted with gold.
  • The head: The screw or swivel that holds all the ribs together is known as the head. This is often threaded with ribbon and decorated with beads, even pearls.
  • The cover: The cover on folding fans are made of a variety of materials, and this is sometimes double so that the decoration can be on both sides of the fan.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Pierced Bamboo and Painted Fan, 1990s, TaiwanPapuan Fan Made from Palm Leaves, 1960Papuan Fan made from Palm Leaves and Feathers, 1962My Mother's Bamboo and Silk Fan, 1920s
Pierced Bamboo and Painted Fan, 1990s, Taiwan
Pierced Bamboo and Painted Fan, 1990s, Taiwan | Source
Papuan Fan Made from Palm Leaves, 1960
Papuan Fan Made from Palm Leaves, 1960 | Source
Papuan Fan made from Palm Leaves and Feathers, 1962
Papuan Fan made from Palm Leaves and Feathers, 1962 | Source
My Mother's Bamboo and Silk Fan, 1920s
My Mother's Bamboo and Silk Fan, 1920s | Source

Materials Used in Fan Making

  • The cover: A wide range of materials have been used to cover the fan, including paper, hand-made paper, silk and other fabrics.
  • The ribs: These have been made of a variety of materials, too. They include ivory, bone, mother of pearl, sandalwood and tortoiseshell.
  • The decoration: Decorations vary, often according to the country and culture. Chinese fans were often hand-painted; Spanish fans had the edges trimmed with lace, while wooden fans were often pierced with intricate patterns along the ribs.
  • The tassel: Tassels were often added, and these were especially long on important occasions, such as weddings.

The Chinese fan used in dancing was usually made of thick paper that had the family crest imprinted or painted on it, and the fan had ten ribs. Fans used in other Asian fan dances are similar.

In Papua New Guinea and other places where palm-trees and long grasses are abundant, fans have been made using those materials. The strands have often been dyed and then woven together in intricate patterns. Some have been decorated with shells and feathers.

My Grandmother's Silk Victorian Fan, Embroidered in Silk
My Grandmother's Silk Victorian Fan, Embroidered in Silk | Source

The Language of the Fan

In Victorian times the fan became a necessary fashion accessory, and the language of the fan developed. It was ideal for communicating as the Japanese military had found centuries before.

There were many meaningful movements of the fan and coupled with the young lady's use of her eyes, a great number of clandestine meetings were arranged right in front of the chaperone, without her knowledge.

Ship-board Oriental Menu Printed on a Paddle Fan
Ship-board Oriental Menu Printed on a Paddle Fan | Source

Uses for Fans

Fans were often used for storing information. It may be a poem, a list of holy days, or (like an autograph book) for people's signatures, especially at dances where young people met.

They have also been utilised as menu cards, as in one of the fans above, and as a souvenir, as in the fan from Bali below.

Fans are still useful today. A folding fan is a convenient addition to a lady's handbag in case of warm weather. Fans can be an elegant addition to a wedding, perhaps matching the coordinated colours of the wedding and with a message printed on them as a favour for guests. A lovely idea and a reminder of a more leisurely and graceful age.

A Wooden Fan That Tells Where it Came From: Bali, Indonesia
A Wooden Fan That Tells Where it Came From: Bali, Indonesia | Source
A Poem on a Chinese Fan
A Poem on a Chinese Fan | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Bronwen Scott-Branagan


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

        Mary Norton: Thank you for your comment. Yes, they were really part of our wardrobe, even now, I usually have one with me, although it's not at all necessary when winter is about to descend!

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        I love fans. When I was growing up, they were part of women's wardrobe and they carry them all the time as it can really be hot.My mother and my aunts had an assorted collection of fans and we loved playing with them.

      • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        7 years ago from Victoria, Australia

        AudreyHowitt: Thank you, so do I! As well as being useful today, they are reminiscent of another, more graceful and leisurely age.

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 

        7 years ago from California

        Beautiful hub Blossom! I happen to love fans!

      • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        7 years ago from Victoria, Australia

        teachesjoe52: Good morning! Yes, it will be hot up your way, especially at this time of the year. Fans are a very useful tool for many occasions. May God bless you, too.

      • teacherjoe52 profile image


        7 years ago

        Good morning Blossom.

        Very interesting. I did not know the Japanese invented the folding fan. It will be fun to share that with the Chinese.

        They have incredible fans for sale everywhere here when it is hot. I use them all the time.

        God bless you.

      • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        7 years ago from Victoria, Australia

        Frank Atanacio: What a lovely comment. Thank you.

        Anglnwu: They are interesting. It's lovely to have stories behind the things that clutter my house. Thank you for your vote.

      • anglnwu profile image


        7 years ago

        What a collection of interesting fans you have. Thanks for sharing the history of fans and how they're used in different cultures. Rated up.

      • Frank Atanacio profile image

        Frank Atanacio 

        7 years ago from Shelton

        Blossom what a good share and I wouldn't have expected anything less :)

      • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        7 years ago from Victoria, Australia

        Ericdierker: Interesting memories. Thank you for sharing them.

        Mhatter99: You won't be needing them at the moment, I imagine, but summer will come and a fan could be useful.

        janshares: Thank you. Tai chi fan sounds interesting. Glad you enjoyed it.

        LaThing: Thank you for your enthusiasm and vote. The photos take a while to take and down load so I'm glad that you enjoyed them.

        Eiddwen: Thank you, dear Eddy. Hope the weather over there is improving and that you have a beautiful spring.

      • Eiddwen profile image


        7 years ago from Wales

        Another wonderful hub of how to create such beautiful fans. Thank you for sharing.


      • LaThing profile image


        7 years ago from From a World Within, USA

        Great hub! Nice to find out more about the history of the fans, and those are beautiful pictures. Wonderful job, Blossom! Voting up and everything :)

      • janshares profile image

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        7 years ago from Washington, DC

        Wow! What a beautiful, original hub. I practice tai chi and my favorite form I presented in tournament was tai chi fan. Thank you for the visuals. Up, beautiful, and interesting.

      • Mhatter99 profile image

        Martin Kloess 

        7 years ago from San Francisco

        I have a refreshed appreciation of fans. Thank you. See FB

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        7 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        I once defended a murderous woman on a charge of murder. It was in a back water desert town. We had those big old slow moving fans from the ceiling and the Jurors and all were issued little hand fans. We were admonished that we could remove coats in the courtroom.

        Two decades later I was marrying my bride in Southeast Asia, the same looking fans appeared.

        I was asked to preach a special sermon in a southern Baptist church and as I began to wail and bring in some brimstone -- the fans came out.

        Thank you for bringing back the memories.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, bellatory.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)