Apart from their most basic use as a shade, traditional paper umbrellas serve a multitude of purposes and are deeply ingrained in traditional Chinese culture. Originating in China, the paper umbrella has spread and developed across several Asian countries throughout the years, yet the colorfully decorated, almost gauze-like Chinese paper umbrella remains as quintessentially Chinese as chop sticks.
Although the collapsible Chinese paper umbrella is believed to have existed in China since before the beginning of the Christian era, the first historical reference to the Chinese paper umbrella stems from the 21 CE mention of a paper umbrella made for the 4-wheeled “chariot” of Emperor Wang Mang. At present, umbrellas in China are made of various materials: oilpaper, cotton, silk, plastic film and nylon. They are used either against the rain or as parasols to give shade from the sun. Some are built on straight frames while others are collapsible.
Umbrellas or parasols, apart from their practical uses, have also become part of the paraphernalia for the stage artists of acrobatics. A notable example is the wire-walker who uses a parasol as a balancer to keep herself on the wire.