There’s an old saying in China – “those who fly a kite can have a long life”. It means that kite flying on a regular basis can lead to longevity. Meanwhile, the making of a gorgeous and novel kite is a creating process. When you look at your kite flying in the vast clear sky, your concentrated, gratified and relaxed mind strengthens the regulating function of higher nervous activity, boosting the health of the body and internal organs. Focusing your eyes on the kite flying among white clouds in the sky serves the same purpose as that of health-preserving qigong, and the effect is in line with mind cultivation in traditional Chinese medicine.

During the early days

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. After the invention of paper, kites began to be made of this new material and were called zhiyuan (paper kites).

Zhi Yuan

In China the kite is known as Fengzheng. This name came into use during the Five Dynasties (907-960 AD). During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), 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. Certain enthusiasts enjoy flying kites during the night. They hang small coloured 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.

The Emperor Han Kao Chi devised a kite from bamboo and ricepaper and used the kite’s string to estimate the distance to the walls of an enemy fort. Chinese kite makers have used their talents to turn out kites in the shape of peacocks, doves, pheasants and other birds over the centuries. They also fashioned kites in the shape of beautiful women.

Kites with attached bamboo strips to make a pleasant ringing sound in the wind

The Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties were the peak period of the Chinese kite. The kites underwent great development in size, design, decoration, and flying skills. The literary at that time made kites by themselves, which they sent to relatives and friends as gifts, regarding it as a literary pursuit.

It is not an easy job to make a kite that one can be proud of. For the frame, the right kind of bamboo must be selected. It should be thick and strong for a kite of large dimensions in order to stand the wind pressure. For miniature kites, on the other hand, thin bamboo strips are to be used.

The second step in the making of a kite is the covering of the frame. This is normally done with paper, sometimes with silk. Silk kites are more durable and generally of higher artistic value

Painting of the kite (the third step) may be done in either of two ways. For mass-produced kites, pre-printed paper is used to cover the frames. Custom-made kites are painted manually after covering. Many of the designs bear messages of good luck; a pine tree and a crane, for example, mean longevity. Bats and peaches wish you good fortune and a long life; and so on.

George Pocock's carriage that was pulled by a kite.

In the 1700’s, scientists discovered that kites were quite useful in inquiry about the weather. Alexander Wilson, a Scottish meteorologist, used a kite in 1749 to measure air temperatures at 3000 feet with an attached thermometer. In 1752, Ben Franklin completed his famous experiment using a kite to prove that lightning was in reality electricity. George Cayley used kites in experiments to design a flying machine. Starting in 1833, kites were commonly used by meteorologists to study and record information about the conditions above the earth and weather forecasting took a dramatic step forward. Scientists continued to use kites to help with weather prognostication until airplanes and weather balloons came into common usage in the 1930’s.

Kites were also used for some of the first aerial photography. A camera is lifted using a kite and is triggered either remotely or automatically to take aerial photographs.

Aerial photograph taken from the kite

World War I saw the use of kites in military capacities in Europe. Kites were used to allow long-distance observations from a higher vantage point. The difference was dramatic: an observer at sea level could see for approximately eight kilometers. When raised to four hundred feet, the same lookout could see for nearly forty kilometers. During World War II, kites were provided with life rafts and intended for use in raising emergency antennas when sailors needed to abandon their ships. The United States Navy used highly-maneuverable kites for target practice.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, NASA began to experiment with various kite designs to aid in spaceship recovery. Many of these new designs led to advances in hang gliding and other forms of ultra-light flying vehicles. Space-age materials, such as plastics, Mylar, and other lightweight inventions led to advances in kite design.

Some other uses include using kites for fishing by attaching a bait to the tail of the kite together with a sort of net to catch the fish until now, this technique is still in use today.

Kite fishing adrift

Kites also took on a great religious and cultural significance in many coutries.

In Thailand, farmers sent messages to the gods on kites, pleading for moderation in the annual monsoons so crops would not be destroyed.

Kites also played an important part in superstition, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), that flying a kite and then letting it go 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.

Korean families flew a kite in honor of newborn baby boys, and then cut the kite loose so that the bad luck the child had been born with would be taken away with the kite for the child’s first year of life.

In India, kites have had a major place in the culture for centuries. The world’s largest kite festival is held in Ahmedabad every January fourteenth and boasts over 100,000 kites in the sky at once.

The preparation for the festival starts a few days in advance with children preparing kites and strings for the annual occasion

Kites are so important in this culture that the Hindi language has over 100 words for kites.Kites are a part of everyday life in India. The anxiety and the energy that runs over many a rooftops during pench larana or kite fighting evokes immense nostalgia. Many a afternoons will be spent on the rooftop in kite fighting. Many take it as a leisure activity, and others use it as a means to vote! Many toss a coin and set the rules of distance, and position of attack.

Moving far beyond the traditional diamond-shaped kite made from paper and lightweight wooden supports, the new kites explore control with two or four strings, different kinds of tails for balance and control and various shapes and designs. Today, kite competitions abound around the world. Children the world over play with kites, and adults have joined the fun, too.

reported by Jing Yin

8 Responses to “Kites”
  1. Bill says:

    Thank you so much for this very neat historical overview! My kite is the centre of my thoughts at the instersection of light, time and landscape: the photographs I take express this abstraction.

    • Hi Bill, did you take the pictures we posted? 🙂

      • Keydren says:

        This is an arcilte that makes you think “never thought of that!”

      • Hi Jennifer,Glad I could help. I really like these wraps and make them for lunch somewhat often. I hope you enjoy them too.Laura

      • Kedves Karcsi.Szeretném meg kérdezni mi azoka annak,hogy nem látni Pesten a gólyákat?mostmár három naopja nem jelenik meg a kép.Pedig minden nap figyeltem Å‘ket.s Å‘rülÅ‘k ,hogy már új párja is van az elvesztett párnak.Vajon jÅ‘vÅ‘re eggyüt vissza jÅ‘nnek Å‘nÅ‘khÅ‘z?kérem nézzen már utána mértnem látni Å‘ket.KÅ‘szÅ‘nÅ‘m.Angyalka.PestrÅ‘l.

    • Cammie says:

      That’s really shdewr! Good to see the logic set out so well.

    • BlahculaOctober 15, 2012 I take Tae Soo Do. I had always wanted to get into a traditional martial art, but never really had the chance. When I went to college my friend told me to go to the Hwa rand do/ tae so do club and I loved it. I started it not knowing what to expect, and was very much surprised. It had the strong traditions that introduced aspects of Korean culture to me. It also deals a lot with grappling and weapons. I really like the variety that it has. I have never gone to class and not learned something new. Thats why I like it and practice it.

  2. Bill says:

    No, I take pictures from a kite, just like Arthur Batut! Take a look:

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