A Tai Chi Fan, also known as the Iron Fan or tiě shān in Chinese, is primarily used as a weapon in the Tai Chi martial art. It comes in several different forms, ranging from nylon or silk for beginners to metal fans composed of iron and steel for more advanced practitioners. Another variation includes bamboo slates with blades attached at the ends. Originally, standard fans woven from bamboo were used as a symbol of social status in early Chinese history. Over time, they became weaponized due to the fact that they are versatile and compact, while still retaining an aesthetic appeal.
Generally, a Tai Chi fan can be used to block projectiles and even parry hand-held swords or other similar weapons. Along with its block and parry attributes, the fan can also be folded to form a short club that is heavy enough to smash against enemies and inflict damage. The size of these weapons typically makes them easy to conceal, thereby allowing them to be hidden during combat situations. Some battlefield legends tell of these fans playing a part in saving the lives of unarmed warriors caught in ambushes or surprise attacks.
Both men and women can use these fans, but they were particularly effective for women during the Ming dynasty, between 1368 and 1644. Fans had been regarded as a feminine object, and this one was of no exception. Unlike other weapons, the fan and the martial art that accompanies it were seen as less aggressive, thereby making them more suitable for graceful women.
During the early 1700s, the second Qing Dynasty emperor took a particular interest in the Tai Chi fan and called out to all practitioners with any knowledge regarding the usage of the weapon. He was able to summon the most skilled users, and began to observe and learn from them. Once he had studied all that he could, he issued a ban in China on the weapon from further usage in its martial art. Anyone caught practicing or demonstrating with a one was sentenced to death.
The fan’s purpose has evolved from a weapon to an object used in group Tai Chi fan performances. This is due in part of the bright and colorful variations of the fans. They generally are considered visually pleasing and attractive when accompanied with its martial art form.