Delving into the history of fans and umbrellas

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-09-05 07:53:50

Delving into the history of fans and umbrellas

In the old days there were many workshops and manufacturers in Hangzhou and its vicinity that specialized in making umbrellas. [Photo by Raymond Zhou/China Daily]

A recent visit to the China Fans Museum and the China Umbrellas Museum ignited a spark in me about the nature of these two traditional hand-held items. Fans are to keep one cool and umbrellas to prevent one from getting wet.

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.

In my hometown, 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, fans were a popular gift item among the literati, who would inscribe lines of verses on them-very much like modern-day poets who share limericks on social media.

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