A folding screen is a type of free-standing furniture. It consists of several frames or panels, which are often connected by hinges or by other means. It can be made in a variety of designs and with different kinds of materials. Folding screens have many practical and decorative uses. It originated from ancient China, eventually spreading to the rest of East Asia, Europe, and other regions of the world.
Origin in China
Screens date back to China during the Eastern Zhou period (771-256 BCE). These were initially one-panel screens in contrast to folding screens. Folding screens were invented during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Depictions of those folding screens have been found in Han-era tombs, such as one in Zhucheng, Shandong Province.
A folding screen was often decorated with beautiful art; major themes included mythology, scenes of palace life, and nature. It is often associated with intrigue and romance in Chinese literature, for example, a young lady in love could take a curious peek hidden from behind a folding screen. An example of such a thematic occurrence of the folding screen is in the classical novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. The folding screen was a recurring element in Tang literature. The Tang poet Li He (790–816) wrote the "Song of the Screen" (屏風曲), describing a folding screen of a newly-wed couple. The folding screen surrounded the bed of the young couple, its twelve panels were adorned with butterflies alighted on China pink flowers (an allusion to lovers), and had silver hinges resembling glass coins.