The Relationship Between Kindness and the Chinese Fan

Bei Yu

PureInsight | April 7, 2009

[] The fan has a long history in Chinese culture. Since ancient times, along with the changes from one dynasty to another, the function of the fan has also changed. The fan was originally used for blocking the view, the sun or the wind and for keeping cool. Later on, people wrote poems and painted paintings on fans. Gradually, a culture developed around the fan. Painting on fans started in the Three Kingdoms Dynasty. Based on the book Famous Paintings in History by Yan Yuan Zhang from the Tang Dynasty, Buo Yang, who was the chief record keeper in that dynasty, painted on fans for Cao Cao. One time, by mistake, a drop of black ink fell on a fan. He took advantage of the black spot and drew a fly on it. Even though it was not that beautiful, it did hide the black spot. Starting with the Wei Jing Dynasty, writing poems and painting on fans became fashionable and lasted many dynasties.

There is a story about the famous calligrapher Xi Zhi Wang from the Dong Jing Dynasty. Xi Zhi Wang was the first person to put calligraphy on fans and this was documented in history books. The book History of Jing Dynasty: Biography of Xi Zhi Wang has one story in which Xi Zhi Wang came to Shao Xin city and saw an old lady carrying over ten hexagonally shaped bamboo fans that she intended to sell. Xi Zhi Wang felt sorry for her and asked her: “How much are your fans?” “Twenty wens,” the old lady answered. Xi Zhi Wang took out pen and wrote five characters on each fan and told her: “By just telling people that Youjun Wang wrote these characters when selling these fans, you can get one hundred wens for each fan.” The old lady brought all the fans to the market to sell even though she doubted what he had told her. To her surprise, many people wanted to buy the fans and all the fans were sold very quickly. Today there is a bridge called “Calligraphy Fan Bridge” near Chi Mountain, in Shao Xin City, Zhejiang Province. According to legend, this is the place where Xi Zhi Wang wrote calligraphy on fans.

During the Shui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, the fans that were produced were very elegant. There were also many varieties. At that time, the most popular fans were silk fans, feather fans and paper fans. Emperor Tai Zhong from the Tang Dynasty was famous for his calligraphy. On the occasion of the Dragon Boat Festival, he wrote calligraphy on fans in person and gave them to each of his prime ministers as gifts. Based on the book, Tang History, which documents the Tang Dynasty, on the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, the fan was not only used as a gift, it was also used to memorialize people who had died. After the Tang Dynasty, the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties still kept this tradition. During these dynasties, writing calligraphic characters on fans was still very popular.

From the above, we can see that the Chinese fan, like long gowns, landscape paintings or concepts such as “filial piety,” “justice,” “trust,” and “virtue,” has played a very important role in Chinese culture. In addition to being used as a daily necessity or decoration for women and refined scholars, the fan was also used as a stage prop for Ping Tan (Chinese storytelling, usually accompanied by one or more musical instruments), Chinese theatrical opera, dancing, and Quyi (story telling with music and performances). If we think about it, there are many commonly recited poems about the fan. “Waving a feathered fan, wearing a silk kerchief, he joked and smiled; And reduced the enemy's ships to flying ash and smoke;” these words show confidence and a natural and unrestrained style. “Holding a round fan while bowing with clasped hands is like holding a full moon; Waving a fan to feel the embracing wind,” shows precision and gracefulness. These poems illustrate the practical use as well as the graceful and relaxing cultural style of the fan in the five thousand years of Chinese history.

At present, the world tour performances by the Divine Performance Arts (Shen Yun) dance company have brought enormous excitement around the world. From the audience feedback, we know that these world-class performances have opened a door to the heavens for the predestined audience members. It showcases the arts from the heavens to those lucky audience members.

Many people like the program “Happily Embrace the Spring,” where the fans in the dancers’ hands move very elegantly. In the course of the dance, the fans in the dancers’ hands change into beautiful flowers unpredictably. Many people have realized that all good things start with kindness. Kindness is a gift that you should keep giving to people. We should always examine ourselves to ask how we can treat others with kindness. We should not expect other people to be nice to us but then turn around and treat them badly.

By watching these Divine Performing Arts dances with their exciting expressions of truthful feeling, I thought about the symbolism of the Chinese characters for “kindness” and “fan.” In Chinese, these characters have the same sound, which is not without a purpose. “Fan” denotes a daily necessity and decoration. People have long carried them around and it has become a type of culture. “Kindness” is the true nature of human beings. It is an element of our soul at a deep level and also an element of each cell at a microscopic level. Because of the pollution from our modern society, these elements of our true nature have been buried. Nowadays, people are filled with selfishness, which blocks our essential nature of conscience and kindness.

Today, these Chinese fans with their long history in Chinese culture are dancing freely in the hands of the dancers from Divine Performance Arts. Along with the dancing comes a refreshing breeze that feels as if it has washed away the residue that has obscured your true nature. It may seem like tens of thousands of flowers bloomed at the same time, removing the unhappiness from your heart. I think that the dancers from the Divine Performance Arts troupe have used their light-as-a-feather dance steps, and the magical fans in their hands, which seem like flowers, to remove the residue accumulated for thousand years so that your true nature will surface. In addition, they also constantly send out kind messages, kind thoughts, and kind intentions toward the people.

With the dancers’ rhythms floating like clouds and flowing like water, with fans opening and closing elegantly, the seeds of kindness that they have planted will begin to grow in people. With the harmonized interchange between the Chinese character for fan being related to the character for kindness in the Chinese language, those predestined audiences will unconsciously welcome the spring of life. Using the form of dance, the Divine Performance Arts dancers cleverly dispense the mighty and broad compassion from Gods, with this compassion being distilled into each song, each word, and each dance to wake up the lost souls, clean up the wrong notions, and rectify corrupted words and behaviors.

As a last thought, I recall the marriage customs in my province. There is a rule that after bride and groom take leave of their parents and drive away in a car, when the car is started, at that moment, they will do one thing: they will quietly leave behind the fans in their hands in front of their house. In the Ming Nan dialect, the characters for “fan” and “last name” have the same sound. After that, the wife will put the husband’s last name in front of her own to indicate that they will live together forever.

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