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The Question of the Transmission of the Rotary Winnowing Fan from China to Europe: Some New Findings

Hans Ulrich Vogel (University of Tuebingen)

It has been often stated that the rotary winnowing fan which was used to separate out husks and stalks from the grain after harvest was transmitted from China to Europe from about 1700 onwards or even earlier. Undoubtedly, in the first half of the eighteenth century information on Chinese rotary winnowing fans spread in some European countries, and some specimen of this Chinese tool were even imported to Europe. Examples of direct imports are known from Sweden in about 1745 and in 1773. In China, the rotary winnowing fan can be traced back to the Western Han period. Evidence of this is, for instance, provided by glazed pottery models excavated from Western Han tombs, while proof for the use of this tool in the ensueing periods can be found in a number of written Chinese sources.

While so far historians dealing with the history of agriculture in China have paid due attention to the Chinese influence on the European rotary winnowing fans, only few of them have been aware of the complex evolutional and typological patterns of the European types. Recent research suggests much more complicated patterns of invention, innovation, diffusion, and transmission in Europe as was hitherto assumed. It also seems to show that apart from the Chinese influence on Western developments independent roots for certain types of European rotary winnowing fans may exist. While Chinese influence may have been strong in the Netherlands and Sweden, it was probably less intensive, or even non-existant, in the central parts of Europe. In this lecture, recent German research on the history of the European rotary winnowing fans is summarized and contrasted with the information we have on Chinese types of rotary winnowing fans.

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