Delving into the history of fans and umbrellas
A recent visit to the China Fans Museum and the China UmbrellasMuseum ignited a spark in me about the nature of these two traditional handheld items. Fans are to keep one cool and umbrellas to prevent one from gettingwet.
But parasols usually provide shelter from the sun rather than the rain.
Ancient Chinese scroll paintings too depict fans as being used for the same purpose.
Inmyhometown, less than an hour’s drive from Hangzhou, the words for fan and umbrella are similar.
The two museums, situated in Hangzhou’s Grand Canal Plaza, are home to a treasure-trove of history and tidbits about the two items that many take for granted.
I learned at the museum that foldable fans came from Japan — though this is disputed by some scholars — while the flat fan went the other way.
As for the collapsible umbrella, the earliest references are from AD 21 when Wang Mang, a Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) official who seized the throne, had one designed for a ceremonial four-wheeled carriage.
But one need not visit a museum to know that fans and umbrellas are much more than functional items.
During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), when Hangzhou was the nation’s capital, fanswereapopulargift item among the literati, who would inscribe lines of verses on them — very much like modern-day poets who share limericksonsocial media.
While the fan dance is a staple all across China, the umbrella is sometimes used in martial arts movies, the latest example being the very British film Kingsman: The Secret Service, in which Colin Firth’s character executes a brilliant fight scene with a black umbrella.
Talk about cultural crosspollination.
InHongKongmovies, even the fan can be a lethal weapon.
In the old days there were many workshops and manufacturers inHangzhouandits vicinity that specialized in the two items.
When I was a child, every household had at least one oilpaper umbrella.
However, inthe1980swhen the umbrella with a retractable pole crossed the Taiwan Straits, it was such a hot item of fashion and convenience that it quickly replaced the older type of umbrella.
I was even commissioned to buy two dozen umbrellas when I returned from one Guangzhou trip. I then felt as if Iwastrafficking a symbol of innovation.
Three decades later, that kind of umbrella is so cheap and commonplace while the oilpaper one has almost become a heritage item.
Likewise, the fan has not been totally replaced by power-driven amenities. There is something about a fan that opens to a drawingandcalligraphy. It can never be matched by the electric fan or the air conditioner.
This kind of long-handled fans were popular with royalties of ancient China.