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Other Traditional Chinese Kites

Although the extrovert Dragon kites tend to hog the limelight, our partners in Wiefang produce some excellent traditional kites in the shape of birds, insects and other animals as well as the whistle kite, from which the current Chinese word for all kites takes its name.

Typically, Chinese kites have an intricate 3-D body with detachable wings for transport. Like the dragon kites, these are made from bamboo and silk and are individually decorated. The bamboo frame is incredibly tough and the kites are deceptively robust. Again. like the dragons, they fly best in medium winds and of course don't like the wet.

Most of these kites fly very well, although some like the turtle and crab are for decoration.

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) in China.

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.

Kite superstitions

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.