The importance of fans for male literati in ancient China was akin to hairpins for women. Fans became a common medium for artists, who wrote calligraphy and ink paintings on the surface, expressing their ambitions and life attitude.
The art form has evolved over the centuries and is still considered an indispensable part of Chinese art. An exhibition showcasing fan paintings drawn by 150 contemporary painters is underway at Hangzhou Arts and Crafts Museum through October 7.
One of the highlights is the creations by 50 seal cutting masters from Xiling Seal Society. The society is China's first and largest academic association for seal-related arts.
Another highlight is museum visitors getting a chance to create their own fan paintings and postcards.
Fan painting can be traced back to the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, when circular fans were in vogue. Artists liked that they could paint on both sides, giving them more flexibility to create different scenes.
Emperor Song Huizong of the Song Dynasty, a great painter who occupies a significant place in Chinese art history, was a big proponent of fan painting. Due to this, circular fan painting became an independent art and developed quickly. However, when the Mongolians invaded and took over the Song Dynasty, the art declined and gradually faded away.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) fan painting once again became popular. However, artists preferred using folding fans, which at the time embodied a person's social status and were a daily accessory for the elite.
Moving into the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), different schools including Eight Eccentric Artists of the Yangzhou and Songjiang Painting School all created numerous folding fan drawings.
Artists had to adjust the layout of their paintings to accommodate the shape of a folding fan. Usually, a folding fan painting included calligraphy, an ink drawing and Chinese seal cutting.