Chinese Fans: More Than Keeping Cool [ ChinesePod Weekly ]

A look at the cultural importance of Chinese hand fans and why they're more than just a way to keep cool during the warmer months. Part of our Beijing Standard Time series of cultural show podcasts.

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Fans. Not as in the people that cheer for something. Not as in the Kings of Leon song. We're talking about the fans you wave to cool yourself on a hot day. In Chinese culture, however, fans (扇子, shànzi) are about so much more than relief during a heatwave or a way to mess with small insects: they actually played an important role in ancient China and continue to be notable symbols of Chinese culture and history today! Check out the character actually; it looks like some feathers in a building! Fans took on an important role thousands of years ago when members of the Shang Dynasty (商朝, shāng cháo) began using long, elaborate fans as decoration. These fans were usually made from colorful bird tailfeathers and were made to resemble the birds themselves, with intricate, beautiful patterns, but for over a thousand years were not actually used to cool their owners during the hot summer months.

Once it was discovered (in retrospect they realized it was pretty obvious) that fans could both look cool and keep you cool, they became an even more in-demand accessory for China's noble elite. Flowery poems were often inscribed on the fans, and 扇子 were soon considered status symbols, on par with fancy clothing or the number of eunuchs in one's entourage. The fans most people know today, however, are the folding fans, which actually originated in Japan but, like many things, were adapted with Chinese characteristics to suit China's population. As the years went on, however, fans became less a symbol of nobility and power than a common accessory that was indispensible in warm weather - farmers began sporting them in addition to emperors and concubines, and soon the fan was as ubiquitous a part of Chinese culture as tea and Spring Festival. There are a multitude of fan types and designs, so check out our Beijing Standard Time show if you'd like to learn more about this integral bit of Chinese culture.

If you're a "fan" of Chinese learning (oh, come on, you knew at least one of those was coming!) and want to save on a ChinesePod Premium Subscription, just use the promo code FansJune and you'll get 15% off our popular 12-month Premium Subscriptions! Hurry though, it's only good for a week.

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Published by Daqi Hong @ June 12, 2012.

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