Written by Juliette Qi
History of the First Kites in China
The first kites date from the Warring States Period (ECB 475-221, also called the Eastern Zhou Dynasty). During this period, they were made of wood and were called Mu Yuan木鸢 (wooden kite). This kite prototype, or “wooden bird”, has its origin in the ancient text of Mozi (BCE 551-479), who was a philosopher a century after Confucius.
In fact, it was not until the Tang Dynasty (CE 618-907) that light kites made of silk and then paper (bamboo was a common material used for the support) made their appearance. It was at this time that kites went beyond their original military function and were instead used for recreation. Immediately, the artisans began decorating their creations in a more artistic way. During the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasties, the production and flying of kites became an art form. The kite also became an elaborate object with a colorful decoration in the shape of a bird, flowers or flower buds and of course included elements of Chinese calligraphy. The Chinese kite, like the Chinese lantern and parasol, has become a means of artistic expression, usually with the predominance of literary themes.
Weifang and the Kite Festival
The Chinese city Weifang, located in the Shandong Peninsula, has a special relationship with the kite. Weifang City is home to the International Kite Association and hosts the Weifang International Kite Festival every year from April 20th to 25th. Many interesting kites are presented on this occasion every year, which attract thousands of people from all over the world to the city to compete or to watch the performance of the majestic colorful kites. The China Highlights Festival Tour offers its guests a unique opportunity to enjoy this annual event with locals and kite lovers from around the world. The highlight of the festival is at the annual “Kite King” event. Obviously, the city of Weifang has a museum dedicated to the history of this activity.
It was in Weifang in 1282 that Marco Polo is supposed to have witnessed the flying of a kite. According to Marco Polo’s diary, there was a tradition in the nearby city Weihai at this time for measuring wind direction and force with a kite to determine whether an imminent trip was a good idea. This was done by attaching a large kite to the stern of a sailboat that was freely anchored, so that the boat would move in the direction of the wind. Then, the kite was removed from the sailboat and was allowed to fly away. If the kite flew high and straight, it was a sign that the trip will be good and if not, it would mean that the trip would not be easy.
When he returned to Italy, Marco Polo brought a Chinese kite with him. Soon, thanks to the Silk Road, the Chinese kite became famous in Europe and then continued its journey from Europe to the New World. In the Pavilion dedicated to the ‘Conquest of the Sky’ at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, a plaque was erected on which is inscribed the following homage to the Chinese kite: “the earliest aircraft are the kites and missiles of China”.
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