The first fans were made of birds' feathers and tree leaves. It was recorded that a fan made of pheasants' feathers was made in the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.c - 1100 B.C) However, king Wu of the Zhou Dynasty (llth century B.C.) was reputed the inventor of Chinese fan.

In 1106 B.C. , fans were used in daily life. However, the fans had a long shaft, and were not used to keep off the heat, but to keep off the dust raised by wheels of a cart. Round fans made of silk and framed with bamboo, wood and ivory appeared in 991 B.C. It was not until the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) that fans were used by common people to enjoy cool air in summer. It was said that in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 A.D.) Emperor Xiaowu once forbade people to make fans with silk. In 405 A. D. , Emperor An also issued a similar prohibition. This proves that at that time fans were already in great quantity, and making fans had consumed too much silk material.

Round fans were first seen in China and remained the main shape of fans until the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279 A. D.). Folding fans were invented by the Japanese. Introduced into China through Korea in the llth century, they quickly gained popularity in China thereafter.

There are many kinds of fans made of different materials. The following are the major kinds made in China: fans made of bamboo and paper, bone and feather, ivory and carved lacquer ware and paper or silk. Fans made of palm tree leaves are both economical and practical and are very popular among the people. And the most precious fans are those made of mother-of-pearls.

At the beginning of this century, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Ningbo were the centers of fan manufacturing. Guangzhou was well known for its production of large quantities of ornamental fans. These fans were not only sold in domestic markets, but also exported to foreign countries. Fine fans made of eagles' feathers and other plumes were the major kinds for export. Hangzhou was famous for its folding fans. Its annual production once amounted to 3000000. And in Nanjing, silk fan industry once involved more than 70000 workers. Ningbo mainly produced low-cost paper fans. As paper fans produced in Ningbo had such a competitive price, Japanese paper fans were pushed out of the Chinese market.