Known as the Kingdom of Fans for centuries, China possesses great varieties of hand fans, such as feather fans, rush-leaf fans, silk mandarin fans, and gold lacquered fans. The National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China has incorporated many fans made by different craftsmanship: Wang Xing Ji Fan in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, Rongchang Folding Fan in Chongqing, Xinhui Palm-leaf Fan in Guangdong and feather fans in Huzhou.
Fans have left their traces in various cultural fields of China. Born as Reed Fans, the indicator of status, Chinese fans have evolved from a veil for women to embellishment and imagery in the poetry of men. The craftsmanship of fans and their accessories are manifold. From the fan leaf, framework, sheath, to the packaging box and the aglet at the end of fans, the craftsmanship may vary in the forms of embroidery, ivory carving, bamboo weaving or lacquer carving. As the fan culture flourished, artworks on the limited space of fans have emerged as a unique genre that combined various forms of arts by renowned men of letters, such as calligraphy and painting.
Rongchang Folding Fan craftsmanship is preserved in the Rongchang District. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty, over three hundred years ago, folding fan techniques were introduced to Rongchang by migrants from Hubei and Hunan Provinces. Rongchang Folding Fan, silk fans in Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province and painting & calligraphy fans in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province are collectively known as the “three famous fans in China.” Among them, Rongchang Folding Fan is featured with superior artistry. In June 2008, the craftsmanship of making the Rongchang folding fan was added to the second batch of the list of national intangible cultural heritage.
The black fan is a typical type of Rongchang folding fan. Unlike ordinary fans that were made of common black papers, traditional “holo-dark” Rongchang folding fans were made of white papers dyed into black through sophisticated processes and techniques. To produce the adhesive, we must pick Tung tree fruit pulp after White Dew (15th solar term) and cut into hexahedrons; the oil and water seeping from the pulp would be mixed and fermented into a “water paste.” Such water paste should be blended with pine soot (black ash congealed after burning of pine wood) and then evenly applied on fan leaves made of Goubian Zhi (crocheted paper) and Liansi Zhi (made from bamboo pulp) from Jiajiang County.
In recent years, this craftsmanship is becoming lost to the world due to lack of raw materials as well as the sophisticated traditional process – an ordinary Rongchang Folding Fan requires 14 primary processes and 115 secondary processes.
Rongchang Black All-Moso Bamboo Fan Inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl is a treasure among varieties of Rongchang folding fans. Rongchang Folding Fan Factory made it with traditional handicrafts in the 1970s. All of the raw material is Moso bamboo, to facilitate inlay of mother-of-pearl. Such folding fans inlaid with mother-of-pearl are much rarer and valuable than ordinary folding fans.