The earliest surviving folding screens are Chinese. Existing Chinese screens, some of which are paper, date from the eighth century AD, although literary references date as far back as the Zhou dynasty (fourth to third century BC) and depictions of screens occur in Han dynasty tombs (200 BC-200 AD). However, it was in Japan that the screen form evolved into its most celebrated variations.
Japanese folding shoji screens served many purposes, being used for tea ceremonies, as backgrounds for concerts or dances, as enclosures for Buddhist rites and in outdoor processions. The type of folding varied according to its function. For instance, small two-fold screens were used for tea ceremonies, while large, gold-leaf screens with up to eight folds served as backdrops for dancing.
An emphasis on mobility required a structure that would be lightweight and flexible. A lightweight but strong core was produced with a lattice of a stable wood covered with many layers of paper applied in a specific sequence to produce traditional shoji screens.