|China is believed to be the home of umbrellas, which are still universally used in the country. The earliest umbrellas are known to have existed at least two thousand years ago and were made of silk.|
At present, umbrellas in China are made of various materials: oilpaper, cotton, silk, plastic film and nylon. As in other countries, 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.
The best oilpaper umbrellas are generally thought to be those from Fujian and Hunan provinces. Their bamboo frames are treated against mould and worms. The paper covers are hand-painted with flowers, birds, figures and landscapes and then coated with oil so that they are not only practical but pretty and lasting. They may be used either in rain or sunshine.
The prettiest Chinese umbrellas, however, are those covered with silk, and the silk parasols of Hangzhou are veritable works of art which also serve a practical purpose. The silk, as thin as cicada's wing and printed with landscapes , is also fixed on a bamboo frame. A parasol of Hangzhou, usually 53 centimetres or 20 inches long, weighs only 250 grams or 8.8 ounces, is very handy and makes a welcome souvenir for tourists. Local girls, to protect themselves against the sun, like to carry parasols with them, which have long become part of the female attire.
Umbrellas or parasols, apart from their practical uses, have also become part of the paraphernalia of the stage artist. A notable example is the wire walker who uses a parasol as a balancer to keep herself on the wire.