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Chinese Export Fans - Offerings to the West
June 2008 - October 2008

China, a country so enormously large and old in history, geography, and population presents challenges to any attempt to exhibit its culture. Therefore, the HFM has elected to offer a small area of Chinese fan production in this current exhibit, 'Offerings to the West': fans made especially for the western world and to appeal to western taste. This means they were more colorful and extravagant than those for domestic use with some designs based on early European engravings.

It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese fans. The Japanese were the great copyists of Chinese things they admired. Perhaps, the Chinese look is a bit softer, the Japanese a bit more bitingly stylized. Could it be in part influenced by the fact the Chinese had some female rulers and the Japanese only men?

The first fans from China to arrive in America came in 1785 on the New England sailing ship, the Empress of China. These first fans were called 'tea fans', small ivory brises tucked by sailors into empty corners of tea chests as an extra something to sell or as gifts for those at home. In this collection are examples in ivory, bone, and tortoise. Later, in the mid-1800s, fans made of feathers were popular. Goose feathers tipped with peacock feathers were painted with Cantonese styled decorations; pomegranates, birds, flowers and insects. Another popular style was the '1000 faces' or 'Mandarin' fans. They were decorated with many Chinese figures, some with small slivers of ivory painted as faces and real fabric for clothes. Two companion fan boxes of lacquered wood and painted interiors are included.

Two fabric fan cases are also displayed; embroidered with very fine stitching called the 'forbidden stitch as it was supposedly reserved only for items of the Chinese Imperial Court and was considered damaging to the eyes of the embroiderer. Another possibility is that it gets that name because it may have originated in Imperial Peking - the Forbidden City.
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