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Larger parasols capable of blocking the sun for several people are often used as fixed or semi-fixed devices, used with patio tables or other outdoor furniture, or as points of shade on a sunny beach.

The collapsible/folding umbrella, the direct predecessor to the modern umbrella, originated in China. An umbrella may also be called a brolly (UK slang), parapluie (nineteenth century, French origin), rainshade, gamp (British, informal, dated), or bumbershoot (American slang).

Umbrellas can be divided into two categories: fully collapsible umbrellas, in which the metal pole supporting the canopy retracts, making the umbrella small enough to fit in a handbag; and non-collapsible umbrellas, in which the support pole cannot retract and only the canopy can be collapsed.

Another distinction can be made between manually operated umbrellas and spring-loaded automatic umbrellas which spring open at the press of a button.

However, the Chinese collapsible umbrella is perhaps a concept that is yet centuries older than Wang's tomb.

Zhou Dynasty bronze castings of complex bronze socketed hinges with locking slides and bolts—which could have been used for parasols and umbrellas—were found in an archeological site of Luoyang, dated to the 6th century BC.

Hence, a parasol shields from sunlight while a parapluie shields from rain.

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Umbrella canopies may be made of fabric or flexible plastic.

The umbrella served in this case as a defense against rain rather than sun.

The Chinese design was later brought to Japan via Korea and also introduced to Persia and the Western world via the Silk Road.

However, the tradition existing in China is that it originated in standards and banners waving in the air, hence the use of the umbrella was often linked to high-ranking (though not necessarily royalty) in China.

On at least one occasion, twenty-four umbrellas were carried before the Emperor when he went out hunting.

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