Abstract

Abstract:

As archaeological evidence shows, the earliest feather hand fans were not from China, but spread north from Sudan to New Kingdom Egypt. They reached Greece in the 400s b.c. and Italy a century later. By about a. d. 200, feather fans spread eastward from Africa to China along Indian Ocean trade routes. This spread of feather fans across Afro-Eurasia was accompanied by shifting cultural associations. Early African and Southwest Asian ostrich and peacock feather fans seem to have symbolized rebirth. As imported luxury objects in Greece and Rome (as in the Americas), fans signified wealth and sophistication. But at both ends of the Silk Road, in China and Europe, feather fans also stood in for the suspect foreign immigrant. In Renaissance Europe, fans still represented resurrection and sophistication, but after the Reformation, fans lost their connection to rebirth, and instead developed Orientalist, feminizing connotations that supported powerful colonial and commercial interests.

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