Handheld Fan’s Gender Association: The Power of Social Prejudices in Imperial China (960-1911) (79880)

Session Information: Special Topics and Concerns in the Community
Session Chair: Sheetal Kumari

Monday, 27 May 2024 10:05
Session: Session 1
Room: Room C (Live-Stream)
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation

All presentation times are UTC + 9 (Asia/Tokyo)

For centuries before the Song dynasty, handheld fans were presumably used for their functionality as seasonal utensils for refreshment, without particular regard for their aesthetics or gender associations. However, with the flourishing of literati culture and Emperor Huizong's promotion of the arts since the eleventh century, handheld fans began to evolve into platforms for scholarly and artistic expression. This shift in the identity of handheld fans, moving away from their original practicality, hints at their intimate relationship with their owners. Such close connections, both physical and emotional, between the objects and their users underscore the rising representational and monetary value of handheld fans. A market for high-end fans as scholarly collectibles gradually emerged. During the Ming Dynasty, often considered the golden age of Chinese romantic novels, the stark contrasts in gender portrayals in Chinese romantic novels catalyzed gender association by using handheld fans. The association of folding fans with men and rigid round fans with women became more pronounced facilitated by the socio-cultural and political context of the time. Such a trend was accentuated in the Qing Dynasty when folding fans sublimed into epitomes of male presence in portraits of beautiful women and paintings without male figures. By situating the handheld fans’ adaptations within contexts of economic trends, political ideology, and social prejudice on gender distinctions, this paper showcases preliminary research exploring the evolving identities of handheld fans being functional utensils, decorative belongings, scholarly offerings, status indicators, and iconography of genders in imperial China.

Jingxian Shi, Smithsonian-National Museum of Asian Art, United States

About the Presenter(s)
Jingxian Shi completed her MA in East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. Her research delves into the materiality of painting tools and the visual narratives of everyday objects in Chinese paintings.

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Posted by Clive Staples Lewis

Last updated: 2023-02-23 23:45:00