Sunday, July 24, 2011

The History, Usage, and Language of the Hand Fan.

My dad's wall fan 
Note: Jessika is on vacation is week so Peony will be doing today and Wednesday's post.
Fans have always interested me. There are many kinds and have been used in the past all the time. They were known by the ancient Egyptians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Greeks, and Aztecs. Although the orgin of the hand fan is unknown, one of the earliest fans found in ancient times was on pictures and paintings of the Egyptians. The invention of the folding fan is credited to the Japanese. When Cortes went to the Americas, he was given six feather fans. Columbus brought fans back to Europe also from the Americas. 

One of my fans, it was a gift. 
These ancient peoples used fans for not only cooling themselves on hot days, but to scare away insects that might be harmful. Children used them as toys. In later times fans were mainly used as a form of communication (anyone remember The Princess Diaries where Mia's grandmother teaches her how to properly use a fan?). 

In Japan and Korea, fans have been used as weapons. They were not only used to cool off warriors, but could be used as defensive or attack weapons. In Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small Quartet, her Yamani used these kinds of fans. In Japan, Tessenjutsu, is the art of fighting with war fans. There were three types of fans used:

A fan that my mom gave me. 
  • Gunsen- Were folding fans that were made of wood or a light metal for the inner spokes and then thin iron or stronger metals were used for the outer spokes which made them light but strong at the same time. 
  • Tessen- These folding fans had their outer spokes made out of iron which was designed to look like normal, harmless fans. Some clubs were shaped to look like a closed fan. Warriors could take these weapons to places where weapons were normally not allowed. These type of fans could be used to fend off darts, arrows, as a throwing weapon, or as an aid in swimming. 
  • Dansen Uchiwa- These large open fans could be made out of solid iron with a wooden core, or soild wood. These could be used to fend off arrows, a sunshade, or to signal to troops.
According to Wikipedia:
Some wove flexible metal ribbons along the outer most edge for cutting power or preferred feathers that hid finger-sized razor blades which would rake upon striking. Others held variations of poisons or were used to conceal other weapons such as throwing blades which could be released in a spread upon snapping the fan open. Poison fans often hid deadly to stunning concoctions in bladders or channels which would open upon spreading the fan, allowing the user to gently direct a gust of irritants and toxins at their opponent over short distances.

Folklore and hearsay also suggests occasional traveling merchants trading with China possessed fans with small compartments in the vanes of the fan which held small explosive pellets that upon striking a surface would create a bright and dazzling flash of light, similar in concept to modern Chinese novelty fireworks.
My sandalwood fan.
 As I was saying earlier, fans could also be used as a form of communication. Doing some research I found some of the language. This was mainly used by ladies when they wished to speak to their friends or men they were interested in. Because it is a form of communication somewhat lost to modern day culture, sources have varied meanings. 

  • To hold it to your right cheek: Yes.
  • To hold it to your left cheek: No.
  • Drawing it through your hand: I hate you.
  • Drawing it across your cheek: I love you.
  • To fan slowly: I am married.
  • To fan quickly: I am engaged.
  • Dropping the fan: We are friends.
  • To hold the handle to your lips: Kiss me.
  • Opening it with your left hand: Come talk to me. 
  • Touhcing the edge of the fan with your fingers: I wish to speak to you.
  • Drawing it across your forehead: You have changed.
  • To move the fan with your left hand: We are being watched.
  • To open and close the fan: You are cruel. 

For more history of the fan: All Hand Fans: HistoryHand FansAsian Ideas: History

So, do you have any fans? Do you use them? 



  1. I have a fan! When we moved, the lady that lived there had left 2 up in my closet. My brother lost one but I still got mine. I just use it to cool off

  2. That's so cool! What do they look like? I've used mine after school before because it always gets hot in the lobby for some reason. I swear they turn up the heat on purpose.

  3. It has red lace stuff on the edge (no spikes :D) and the fan itself is black. Then there is a dragon and I think a sun on it. With a red handle.

  4. Ohhh that sounds pretty! :D None of mine have lace on them, but one of them is made out of this sheer cloth. It doesn't work as nice as my paper one though because the spokes keep breaking.


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