A Short History of Kite Flying

A kite is a small object that flies through the air. It can be made of simple materials, such as wool, cloth, or paper. The first kites appeared in China.

When most people think about the Chinese skies, all they can think of is a polluted atmosphere. But the Chinese skies have hosted a myriad of flying objects through the years. One of the earliest, if not the earliest, are kites. Kites have been a common factor in China and have had a significant influence on Chinese culture.


What are Chinese Kites


Historians believe kites were invented in China. Since then, many cultures around the world have created their variations of the kites. For instance, the kites you are probably familiar with differ greatly from the ones in other regions.

The Chinese used everyday materials, such as cloth and wool, to make the kites. Many of the kites resembled the shape of birds and mystical figures. Modern Chinese kites feature large and elaborate designs. Some even have embedded LED lights for night visibility and extra flair.


When Were Kites Invented


The Warring States period in the 5th to the 2nd century was a turbulent time in Chinese history. But it was also around this time when the first kites first appeared. Two philosophers, Mozi and Lu Ban, had been following the teachings of Confucius. It was these two philosophers who discovered that kites could fly.

Because of the social unrest of this period, this invention was confined to China for many centuries. In the meantime, several designers improved the original design greatly. For instance, the military used the kites for reconnaissance.

Why Were Kites Invented


The first kites typically resembled legendary figures, symbolic creatures, and mythological characters. Some designers added strings and whistles to enhance the kites’ flying capability. The size differed greatly, with the smallest being about 30 centimeters and the largest being about 304 meters. In the early days, adults, as well as children, flew the kites.


Historic Kite Designs


The majority of the kites in China were made from silk, paper, or wood. Over time, other materials such as fabric were included. The first wooden kites appeared in 470 BC and were referred to as mu yuan. Zhi yuan were paper kites that were used by local authorities as an emergency alarm. They appeared more than a millennium after the wooden kites were invented. For instance, the kites were used to call for reinforcements by Nanjing residents when their city was under siege. Paper kites are still popular in China, even though their applications are now limited.


Lighter Kites


During the Tang Dynasty in the 8th Century AD, there were lighter kites made of paper and bamboo. During the Tang Dynasty, the kite went beyond its original use and began to be used more for leisure.

A few decades later, local authorities staged kite design competitions. Those artisans who could produce the best kites were promised a lumpsum reward. Consequently, the kite-making industry flourished as artisans competed to create the most exciting kites.

By the time the Ming Dynasty came into power in the 14th century, kite making had become an art. Artisans were creating kites that featured elaborate designs. The artisans did not shy away from making kites that resembled calligraphy, blossoms, flowers, and birds. They were also used to spread political, religious, and social messages.


Modern Kite Construction


Modern kite artisans are immensely creative and can produce kites of various shapes and sizes. They have also started to use a wide range of materials, such as nylon and plastic. The result is that modern kites are more attractive, fly higher, and more durable.

Many cities in China now have an entrenched kite tradition. For example, the city of Weifang has an annual kite festival that occurs in April. Kite artisans and fans worldwide throng to the town to witness the latest kite inventions.

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