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Traditional Kites

An Introduction to Traditional Kites

The kite is mainly, but not only, a plaything. It has contributed to science and production. Washington D. C., a plaque says, "The earliest aircraft are the kites and missiles of China". The first planes were shaped after the kite. In 1782, Benjamin Franklin, noted American scientist and statesman, studied lightning and thunder in the sky with the help of a kite and then invented the lightning rod. Kites are still used by some fishermen to lay bait in the sea to attract fish, or by photographers to take pictures of bird's-eye view from high altitude.

The earliest Chinese kites were made of wood and called muyuan (wooden kites). They date as far back as the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.) at least two millennia ago. Instead of being playthings, early kites were used for military purposes. One book noted that the master carpenter Lu Ban made kites which were flown high to spy on the situation of the enemy. Another use of kites was to deliver urgent messages. After the invention of paper, kites began to be made of this new material called zhiyuan (paper kites).

When the middle of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) came, the society began to develop steadily and prosperously, thus kites were used in the area of entertainment instead of in military affairs. People began to fix on kites some bamboo strips which, when high in the air, would vibrate and ring in the breeze like a zheng (a stringed instrument). Since then, the popular Chinese name for the kite has become fengzheng (wind zheng). The kites made today in certain localities are fixed with silk strings or rubber bands to give out pleasant ringing in the wind. Since the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, Chinese kites have spread to the outside world. First, they were introduced to some countries in Southeast Asia such as Korea, Japan, and Malaysia and so on; and later were introduced to some European and American countries.

At the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) flying a kite and then letting it go, apart from the pleasure in itself, might send off one's bad luck and illness. Consequently it would bring bad luck if one should pick up a kite lost by other people. This may be dismissed as superstition but may not be altogether without reason: think of the good it will do to a person, ill and depressed all the time, if he or she could go out into the fields and fresh air to fly a kite. At that time kite making and flying had become an art form, being the object of elaborate and colorful decorations in the form of birds, flowers, blossoms, and of course, calligraphic characters.

Traditional Chinese kite features auspicious motifs. From long period ago, Chinese ancestors not only created beautiful painting on kites, but also created auspicious patterns meaning yearning and pursuit for a better life. Seeking Fu, health & longevity, happiness and lucks were the most common content s a kite mean. Dragonfly, swallow, dragon, butterfly, flowers, birds and other images all contain rich meanings. Tortoises, cranes and peaches signify long life, while a dragon design represents power and prosperity. Certain enthusiasts enjoy flying kites during the night. They hang small colored lanterns on the line with candles burning inside, which go up high in the air to decorate the night sky with strings of glimmering lights, adding much to the fun.  

Chinese kites fall into two major categories: those with detachable wings and those with fixed wings. The former can be taken apart and packed in boxes. Easy to carry about, they make good presents. The second category refers to those with fixed, non-detachable frames. They fly better and higher, given a steady wind.

Kaifeng, Beijing, Tianjin, Weifang, Nantong and Yangjiang are said to be the traditional origins of Chinese kites. Among them, Weifang of Shangdong Province is called ""world kite capital", famous for the exquisite craftsman work, painting, well-balance fly of kites. Every late April, World Kites Festival is held annually at Weifang and draws many kite-fans. Thousand of kites from home and abroad were exhibited and flied into the high sky.

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