Other Traditional Chinese Kites
Although the extrovert Dragon kites tend to hog the limelight,
they are not the oldest. The very first kite may well have been
in the shape of a bird, carved from wood.
Our partners in Wiefang produce some excellent kites in the shape
of birds, insects and other animals as well as the very traditional
whistle kite, from which the current Chinese word for all kites
takes its name.
Kite making in China
The true origins of the kite are lost in the mists of time but
it is said that the first kite to be made was built by a Chinese
philosopher called Mo-tse or Mo Zi who lived 230 BC. It was an eagle,
made from wood, and it took him 3 years to complete and fly.
Kites were originally used for military purposes. It is said in
200 BC a Chinese General Han Hsin used a kite to fly over a castle
he was besieging to see how far away it was. He then used the length
of the kite line to dig a tunnel so that he could enter the castle.
Another General attached harps to kites and flew them over a castle
he was besieging at night. He sent in spies who spread the rumour
that the noise they heard was from the Gods, warning them of defeat
and so the enemy fled in terror.
Kites were once called Zhiyuan in North China and Yaozi in South
China. The current name 'Fengzheng' came into use during the Five
Dynasties (907. 960AD). According to the history book Xun Chu Lu
by Lang Ying of Ming Dynasty, Li Ye, who lived in the Five Dynasties
Periods, used to make and fly kites in the imperial court. He once
attached a whistle made of bamboo to the upper part of his kite
so that a Zheng sound was let out when the kite was flying.
The word for wind is feng, so Fengzheng came into use.
Zheng in Chinese actually has two meanings. It is both the name
of the musical instrument and the name of the sound it makes...
In the Tang Dynasty (618-907),the royal family and aristocrats
became addicted to kite flying. The use of materials such as silk
meant that only they could afford to fly kites. When paper was invented
the cost of making kites decreased so the pass-time was available
to ordinary people in and after Sony Dynasty (960. 1279AD), kite
making flourished during Ming(1368--1644) & Qing Dynasty (1644--1911)
Making kites is a traditional Chinese handicraft but those made
in Tianjin, Beijing and Weifang are thought to be the best designs.
For the Royal Courtyard kites in Beijing, the colours are taken
from the traditional robes of the Emperors.
Weifang in Shandong province also is famous for its kite making
and flying customs. Weifang Kites has combined the traditional Chinese
kite making with Wood-block Printing New Year Pictures, which makes
Weifang kites a unique artwork among Chinese kites. There is a saying
describing the character of Weifang kites: Put it on the wall,
it is a very beautiful Chinese picture; fly it in the sky, it is
a beautiful kite!
Many kites are built in Weifang, but the heart of Weifang is the
traditional Chinese Dragon kite. Weifang is also famous for its
International Kite Festival held in April every year.
The designs on most Chinese kites have a symbolic meaning or illustration
from Chinese folklore or history. Tortoises, cranes and peaches
signify long life, bats are a sign of good luck, butterflies and
flowers represent harmony and dragons represent power and prosperity.
Kite flying is seasonal. It starts at the beginning of the Chinese
New Year and goes on until about April when the winds blow yellow
dust from the deserts to the north of the Beijing. It is thought
to be good for the health and, apart from during the Chinese revolution
when it was banned, kite flying is encouraged as an activity. During
the Cultural Revolution kite makers made miniature kites in secret
to keep the skills alive.
Flying a kite will avoid bad luck and the higher the kite the more
prosperous you would become. If the kite string broke and the kite
drifted into a house it is a bad omen and the kite must be destroyed
to avoid misfortune. If the kite fell in a neighbouring courtyard
you can retrieve it but the neighbour would punch two holes in the
kite to remove the bad luck.
In North China they believed that the God of Wealth descended
from heaven on New Year's Eve. On the 15th day of the first month
of the New Year, during the Lantern Festival, everyone should send
the God of Wealth back to heaven. Everyone went out at midday to
fly kites. At nightfall, they tethered the kites and left them flying
and went inside. At midnight they came out again to tie lanterns
to the kites and set off firecrackers.
After midnight, everyone assumed that the God of Wealth had returned
heaven. They went back to bed leaving the kites flying. In the morning
the kites had disappeared leaving just the string. It was believed
that the kite took trouble and disaster away with it.