The Ming dynasty of Jiangnan area was a period in which literati’s spirits prevailed. The fan turned from an article that brought coolness to an object that manifested elegance. Though it looked ordinary, the literati lay their spirits on the fan, with a representation of the host’s character and temperament.
The fan used by Ming scholars was not only made with ribs as gentle and mild as jade, but also with a preference for gold-flecked leaf, with the fan with ebony ribs and gold-flecked leaf as a representative of Ming dynasty. Two pieces of such fans were excavated at Tiger Hill from the tomb of Wang Xijue, prime minister under Emperor Wanli’s reign. Both the fans were with black leaves dazzling with diaper-pattern gold, which could be counted as the culmination of fan-making craft in Ming dynasty. However, it was a pity that this technique gradually failed to be handed down since late Ming dynasty due to its complicatedness, and became even more rare nowadays.
Over four centuries later, Wang Jian, a Suzhou master in fan-making, succeeded in reviving the handicraft in making fans with ebony ribs and gold-flecked leaf. He spent ten years to explore the method to combine the thin gold leaf with the fan leaf, and finally managed to produce a perfect gold-flecked fan leaf. It was until then that we seemed to discern the spirit of fan art in Ming dynasty again.
Wang Jian has spent over three decades in making fans, with a full knowledge of processing and materials. He has developed an expertise in over one hundred processes, broken down the obstacles in traditional fan-making productive chain, and combined making fan leaves, making fan ribs and carving on fan ribs together, which makes him take lead in this industry.
But Wang Jian is more than a well-trained fan maker. He is more like a scholar who understands the fan, a bosom friend of the fan. He ponders on its history, learns how to appreciate it from ancient Chinese cultures, and has long blended its attributes into his own blood. The composure he demonstrated in daily life is just like a literati’s fan which expresses its refined elegance in silence.
Wisdom brings change, while change brings fun. All the fun derives from wisdom. Therefore, wisdom makes the highest beauty in craft. Wang Jian is such a fan maker with great wisdom.
Fan-making leads to highest goodness. We hope that we will see more fans made by Wang Jian. Each tiny fan represents the heart of a scholar.
Meanwhile, we would like to extend our thanks to Mr. Wang Jian for his donation of “Fan with Ma-ya-qin-shaped End”and “Fan with Square and Round Design”, which enriches the collections of our museum.
Director of Suzhou Museum