No one knows exactly how fans in China were invented. The invention or rather the discovery of the fanning function could have been as accidental as follows: a primitive man irritated with lots of flies and mosquitoes, picks up a big leaf off a plant next to him to drive the pests away. To his delight, his effort resulted in cooling air movements.
Before long, fans acquired ceremonial significance. More than 3,000 years ago, fans were made with bird's feathers and were an outstnading characteristic in imperial pomp. They lent infinite gracefulness and charm to court dancers, who achieved the appearance of heavenly phoenixes.
Along with the progress made in agriculture in the Han and Tang Dynasties, an ample supply of clothing material resulted. Silk and satin fans appeared and it became a fashion among scholars and artists to show their genius by writing and painting on fan surfaces. Fans soon acquired considerable social significance and became a part of the standard summer costume among the elite and the learned.
Tradition has it, folded fans were introduced to China from Japan and Korea about 1,000 years ago. They were usually made with fine paper mounted on bamboo. The scholars found it interesting to paint their poetic and artistic expressions on the surface.