Paper fans have their history in China, where paper was invented over 2,000 years ago. The Emperor Hi-Ti Tsai Lun of Lei-Yang helped to invent the paper that became most widely used in fans. Modern fans are still often made of similar materials--for instance, today in Thailand fans are commonly made from either silk, rayon or saa paper, which comes from the mulberry tree. Artisans attach the saa paper to a wooden or bamboo frame to form the popular fans.
After paper became easy to make, paper fans became more cost-effective than silk or cloth fans. This material was also often better suited to the artwork which the makers have always loved to cover the fans with. Eventually, the paper fan became a popular item and the material of choice for many people in China and the Orient. Today, while paper is still used for inexpensive fans, most wall fans and hand fans are now made from fabric.
Saa paper is goes through a many steps before it finally becomes a handfan. The bark of the mulberry tree is stripped, boiled until soft, and then dried to eventually form the skin of the fan. The spokes or ribs are usually made of bamboo wood, which is very strong and durable. The craft of fan-making is a centuries-old tradition that still continues today.