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Kites

By

Tamarapu Sampath Kumaran


About the author:
Mr T Sampath Kumaran is a freelance writer. He regularly contributes articles on
Management, Business, Ancient Temples and Temple Architecture to many
leading Dailies and Magazines. His articles for the young is very popular in “The
Young World section” of THE HINDU.
He was associated in the production of two Documentary films on Nava Tirupathi
Temples, and Tirukkurungudi Temple in Tamilnadu. His books on Festivals and
Customs of people around the world, and places of Tourist interest, have been well
received by the younger circles.

Acknowledgement: Google for the pictures and many authors for the information,
The making and flying of kites is a tradition in China that goes back thousands of
years.
When we talk about the skies above China, beneath the clouds there is a Chinese
art form that has glided through history. This ancient relic brings the colors and
patterns of the ancient dynasties to the city skies of modern China and the world.
The famous Chinese kite and its long history of cultural significance begins
thousands of years ago.
The kite is believed to have originated in China. Kites were invented in the
early Warring States period (475 - 221 B.C.) by Mozi and Lu Ban,
two philosophers who came after the teachings of Confucius. The kites were
exclusive to China for many years before the knowledge of how to make and use
them advanced. The period saw many attacks from foreign powers, as well as civil
unrest. Kites played a role in providing military intelligence for the Chinese forces.
Since its invention, there have been many adaptations to the kite by various cultures
around the world. Kite flying is prevalent in all countries, depicting from the local
fairy tales.

The kite probably flew as a kid looks a bit different to the original Chinese kites and
even the kites of modern China.

From ancient to medieval times, kites have been used for measuring distances,
testing wind, lifting humans and communicating for military operations. By the 19th
century, kites were being used for scientific purposes in Europe. During the kite’s
golden age, from 1860 to 1910, kites were a scientific research tool for meteorology,
wireless communications and early aeronautics.
One of the earliest uses of kites was in fishing, the kite would trail
a line with hooks and bait allowing the kite-flier to fish in areas some way out over
rivers or the sea.

Mozi built a kite made of wood in the form of an eagle near Mount Lu in Shandong.
Later on the kite was made much lighter when silk and bamboo replaced wood. The
invention of fine paper in China made kites cheaper and easier to build.

There is an ancient legend about Huan Jing who was told by the soothsayer Fei
Jiangfang, to flee to high land to escape floods. He did as he was told trying to
follow the kite, and Kite flying on this day became an annual festival.

Kites were used in Chinese battles; a


very large kite can be made strong enough to lift a soldier into an enemy town;
while others were used to drop propaganda leaflets into besieged cities. General
Hanxin, used kites to measure the distance to enemy walls so that guns could be
targeted, and tunnels could be excavated to the correct distance. He flew a kite
higher and higher until the shadow of the kite just hit the wall, by measuring the
length of kite string and the angle of the sun he could calculate the exact distance
to the town. Early armies used whistles attached to kites to frighten an army at
dead of night. If bamboo strips are attached to kites and flown in the wind, then
they make sounds like musical instruments in the wind. This is the origin of the
Chinese name for a kite: fēngzhēng (feng - wind and zheng - a musical
instrument)
Kite flying at times has been an Imperial pastime, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang
dynasty is known to have loved to fly them. By tradition, it is considered bad luck
to lose a kite or pick up one that has been lost. The passion for kite flying has spread
from China to all parts of Asia.

There is a large range of different designs of kites, some are 3 dimensional rather
than flat and often are made in the form of creatures such as:
birds, bats and dragons. The size of kites varies enormously, the tail can be
several hundred yards long. Most designs use a basic frame made from
bent bamboo. In the parks you will often see people flying kites. The traditional
kite flying season starts on the Chongyang festival held in October. At
the Qingming Festival kites were flown to send messages to departed loved ones.

In China, the city of WeiFang in Shandong province is known as the kite capital of
the world and is home to the world’s largest kite museum, where one can view an
exhibit of handmade kites in traditional and modern styles.

One can also participate in workshops to make your own kite


or purchase one of the many kites that will be for sale.
A Chinese kite in ancient times often made
to resemble the shapes of birds. Today, elaborate and large designs can be seen flying
above parks in China. They will often resemble real animals and members of the
Chinese Zodiac. Some kites will have LED lights attached to allow for night flights
and fun light shows.

They were also used to calculate and record wind readings and provided a unique
form of communication like ship flags at sea.

Chinese kites usually represent mythological characters, symbolic creatures, as well


as legendary figures. Some have whistles or strings designed to make unique sounds
while flying. We can divide them into two categories: large and small kites. In size
they can range between 304 meters and 30 centimeters across. Today, you will see
people flying small kites with children in many Chinese parks. You can also see
adults flying the larger kites and using more advanced methods with larger ropes to
support the great size.

The earliest kites were made from light varieties of wood and later developed to
included ornamental paper and fabric.

During the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and Qing (CE 1644-


1911) Dynasties, kite making, and flying had become an art form. Kites featured
colorful decorations in the form of birds, flowers, blossoms, and of course,
calligraphy. The Chinese kite, not unlike the case of the Chinese lantern and the
Chinese umbrella, became a vehicle of artistic expression – oftentimes with literary
overtones.

The construction of kites has changed over the years. New materials and better
understanding of flight have given modern kites a serious advantage in flight.
However, the ancient methods are still interesting and worthy of note.

Ancient Kite Construction


Kite construction consists of three parts: framing, gluing and decoration. With
framing, light woods such as bamboo were often used to create the bones of the
kite. These are both light, exceptionally strong, and pliable. Many frame shapes were
popular, including traditional representations of birds, butterflies and dragonflies, as
well as non-winged insects such as centipedes or mythical animals like dragons.

Modern Kite Construction


Modern kite artisans go beyond the traditional, producing kites that conform only to
the creator's imagination. Material such as plastic and nylon allow for bright colors
and enhanced durability. LED lights and specialized noise makers also enhance the
kite flying and viewing experience. Sometimes movement is incorporated into a kite
by means of a hinged arrangement of sections of the frame, suggesting wing or tail
movement, etc.

Materials used for Construction


Silk, paper, nylon and other modern materials are used for the kite's "sail". Silk is
very beautiful but also more expensive and more fragile. Paper is both cheaper and
more practical to work with, and it lends itself admirably to decoration. The paper
type used for kites is very thin but fibrous, which both reduces weight and ensures
strength. It is often treated with a with a thin layer of oil to preserve it. Once the
kite's sail material is glued to the bamboo frame, the kite is then decorated. In
addition, tassels and sometimes hollow reeds are attached to the kite to give it
movement or produce sound.

According to Marco Polo's travel diary, there existed a tradition in Weihai at the
time for testing the wind with a kite to determine if an imminent voyage would be
good or not. This was done by binding a sailor to a large kite to a ship as it "rode
with the wind", then casting kite and sailor off the ship into the breeze. If the kite
and its passenger flew high and straight, it was a sign that the voyage would be a
good one.

When he returned to Italy, Marco Polo brought with him a Chinese kite, and soon,
thanks to the Silk Road, the Chinese kite became known throughout Europe, and
from Europe.

In the History of Flight pavilion at the National Aeronautics and Space Museum in
Washington D.C. a plaque is inscribed to the humble Chinese kite. It states, "The
earliest aircraft made by man were the kites and missiles of ancient China."