At the National Aeronautics and Space Museum (Washington D.C) in the History of Flight pavilion, a panel is inscribed to the Chinese kite that says:
“The earliest aircraft made by man were the kites and missiles of ancient China.”
The kite is believed to have invented in China. Kites were crafted in the early Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.) by Mozi and Lu Ban, two philosophers. They were exclusive to China for a long period of time. The period saw several attacks from foreign powers as well as civil disturbance and kites were used as a tool for providing military intelligence for the Chinese army.
According to historical records some kites were powerful enough to carry people up in the air to see enemy movements while others were used to scatter propaganda leaflets over hostile forces.
The Chinese used kites for calculating distances as well, which was useful for moving large armies across difficult terrain. In addition, they used kites in order to calculate and record wind readings and provided an extraordinary type of communication like ship flags at sea.
There has been various adaptations to the kite by numerous cultures around the world since its invention. A Chinese kite in ancient times were made from wood and cloth and resembled the shapes of birds. But today we can see elaborate designs of kites that flying above parks in the country that look like real animals and members of the Chinese Zodiac.
Historic Kite Styles
Kites in China were made with wood, paper, and/or silk. They are divided into 3 main categories:
- Wooden Kites
- Paper Kites
- Lighter Kites
The Weifang Kite Tradition
The city of Weifang, Shandong Peninsula, has a special relationship to the kite. It is home to the International Kite Association, and holds the Weifang International Kite Festival from April 20th to the 25th every year. Kite enthusiasts from all corners of the globe visit here to participate in the kite competitions. Tourists flock to make the most of this beautiful and vibrant spectacle.
Marco Polo and the Development of Chinese Kites
In 1282, Marco Polo witnessed the flying of a manned kite in Weifang. As per his travel diary, there existed a tradition in Weihai at the time for testing the wind with a kite to see if a forthcoming voyage would be good or not. That was carried out by tying a sailor to a huge kite to a ship as it “rode with the wind”, afterwards casting kite and sailor off the ship into the breeze. If the kite and its passenger flew high and straight, it showed that the journey would be a good one.
When Marco Polo returned to Italy, he brought with him a Chinese kite. Thanks to the Silk Road that soon the Chinese kite gained popularity across Europe, and from there it was introduced to the New World, the Americas.
Chinese Kites Today
Kites are still very popular in China today. They generally represent mythological characters, symbolic creatures, as well as legendary figures. Some have whistles or strings designed to make sounds while flying. They have different sizes ranging between 304 meters and 30 centimeters. Some kites even have LED lights attached for night flights and exciting light shows.