The Exquisite Kite Craft

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 called zhiyuan (paper kites).


Instead of being playthings, early kites were used for military purposes. Historical records say they were large in size; some were powerful enough to carry men up in the air to observe enemy movements, and others were used to scatter propaganda leaflets over hostile forces.


According to the Records of Strange Events (Du Yi Zhi), an ancient work, when Xiao Yan, Emperor Wudi (464-549) of the Liang Dynasty, was surrounded at Taicheng, Nanjing by the rebel troops under Hou Jing, it was by means of a kite that he sent out an S.O.S. message for outside help.


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.


It was also believed, for instance, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), that 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. 


It is no 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 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.