Just about everyone enjoys kites, and it’s believed that the invention of kites began in ancient China during what is known as the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C).
Credit for their invention is given to two Chinese philosophers named Mozi and Lu Ban. While the kites of today are made of a lot of different materials, Chinese kites were made of cloth and wood.
They often constructed them in the shape of flying creatures, such as birds.
Original purpose of Chines kites
The ancient Chinese used the kites that they built for a few different purposes including scaring off those that might try to attack them as well as communication or signaling to some of their own military forces.
The first known records of kites also indicated that they were constructed to measure long distances and record wind readings, which was important when they had to march their military over rough lands.
Some of the earliest kites in ancient China were made of wood as well as silk or paper. There were three known kite types:
- Wooden kites that were called mu yuan. These were typically styled after birds and crafted to imitate the beautiful aerodynamic abilities in nature.
- Paper kites were called zhi yuan and acted as emergency warning devices. One situation was documented when a kite was flown as an appeal during the siege of Nanjing.
- Lighter kites, which didn’t appear until the Tang dynasty (CE 618-907) and were originally made of silk and then later made of paper. The “ribs” of this type of kite were typically made of bamboo, and this form was used for more functional military purposes.
Kites as art
The ancient Chinese loved to craft everything into an art form and kites quickly became one of the sources that artists started competing to see who could create the most beautiful, acrobatic, and imaginative.
Kites became colorful, decorative, and an expression of artistic creativity during both the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and Qing (CE 1644-1911) dynasties.
They were often crafted as colorful blossoms, flowers, birds, animals, and had beautiful calligraphy.
Ancient Chinese kite construction
Making a kite consisted of three parts: framing, gluing, and decorating. The frame was often a light wood such as bamboo that was used to create the “bones” of the kite, and needed to be strong, pliable, and very lightweight.
Some of the most popular kite shapes included dragonflies, birds, and butterflies, but also included some of their favorite mythological creatures such as dragons and even insects that didn’t have wings such as centipedes.
The famed explorer Marco Polo visited ancient China and the city of Weifang, and in his diary he noted that he witnessed a manned kite that the Chinese flew in the air.
His travel diary detailed the Weihai tradition of testing the wind with a kite for a sea faring voyage by tying a sailor to a large kite and allowing it to “ride the wind.”
Marco Polo brought the stories and description of the Chinese kites back with him to Europe.
The details of kites and their construction was also included with travelers on the Silk Road and in no time, people all throughout Europe became familiar with kites.
- Early Chinese kites carried musical instruments with them and the Chinese called their kites “Fen Zheng” which means “wind harp.”
- During the Cultural Revolution in China, kite flying was banned and anyone caught flying a kite could face up to 3 years jail time.
- The Chinese held a belief that if you looked at kites that were high in the sky it assisted in helping with good eyesight.
- Chinese yin-yang medical advice included tilting your head backwards to look at a kite in the sky and slightly opening your mouth so that you could get rid of excess body heat.
- The largest number of kites that have been flown to date on a single line was set by a Japanese kite maker at 11,284.
- The longest kite in the world: 3,394 feet/1,034 meters.
- The record to date for the smallest kite in the world that functionally flies is 5mm high.
- The record for the largest kite in the world is the “Megabite” 55×22 meters/630 sq meters)
What were the earliest ancient Chinese kites made of?
wood, paper or silk
What were the two original purposes of kites in ancient China?
signaling troops for danger and scaring off attackers
What famous explorer brought the idea of kites back to Europe?
Name two of the favorite kite shapes of the ancient Chinese
birds, blossoms, dragonflies, flowers, mythological creatures
What are the three ancient Chinese kite styles?
wooden, paper, lighter
What are the three parts of making a kite?
framing, gluing, and decorating
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