Chinese Kites

In The Air Or On The Wall

Chinese kites have been made and flown for many centuries as a part of the national culture. According to historical records, this has spanned more than 2300 years.

Chinese Kites - small traditional centipede-style Dragon kite

For a long time, most Chinese kites have been flying works of art. Real art, as proven by the fact they could be found in many art collections around China. A good example was when the Yanhuang art museum in Beijing ran a kite exhibition.

History aside, people in China fly kites these days for very similar reasons to anyone else in the world.

It's fun, it can be recreation for the whole family. Also, for some there is the satisfaction of actually building the kite.

Traditionally, kite flying was believed to be good for people's health, and this view is still held by some. A bit like some Westerners regarding laughter as being beneficial, who hasn't read something about that at one time or another. Some of the traditional benefits of Chinese kite flying include...

  • relieving 'internal body heat'
  • building up health
  • improving eyesight
  • relieving eye strain

Some of the traditional bamboo and silk hand-painted creations made today have hardly changed from those flown many hundreds of years ago. There's a small one in the picture near the top of this page.

Copies of these ancient kites, some more elaborate than others, are still being manufactured in China. Check out this simple but colorful pack of two hand-painted Butterfly kites on Amazon.

In the West, the Chinese Dragon kite has had great influence. As a result, everyone from children to experienced kite-makers are flying very modern Dragon kites!

Also going back several centuries are kites made in Japan, a close neighbor of China. Each traditional design here is associated with the region in which it first appeared.

Types of Chinese Kites

It's interesting trying to classify these kites, since the Chinese themselves have come up with so many different ways to do this. Maybe that's not so surprising since it's a big country and they have had so long to do it! I've found a few commonly used kite groups, let's start with the most general first.

Ok, there are two major categories. Kites with detachable wings and those with fixed wings. The detachable variety are easy to pack away, and are often given as presents. A very Chinese thing to do, I know, I have a Chinese mother-in-law! The kites with fixed wings tend to fly a bit better, at the cost of being less convenient to transport around.

Other people will tell you there are actually four categories. Those being...

  • Centipede (multiple flat sections stacked together plus a 'head')
  • Rigid Winged (paper or silk tightly stretched over rigid spars)
  • Soft Winged (flexible structures behind just one spar)
  • Flat (just like the name says)

Spectacular long Chinese Dragons are an example of the centipede type of kite.

Fussier people will say 'no, actually there are eight different groups of Chinese kites being flown today'. I'll just list these off here...

  • Dragon (otherwise known as Centipede, as already mentioned)
  • Rigid Winged (as already mentioned)
  • Rigid Winged with Strings (musical, the strings vibrate in the breeze)
  • Soft Winged (as already mentioned)
  • Soft Winged with Strings (those vibrating strings again...)
  • Flat (as already mentioned)
  • Box (I wonder how traditional these are? They were invented in Australia!)
  • Freestyle (doesn't sound very traditional either...)

If you drop the last 2 categories, you're back to something pretty close to the 4-category list. Those musical types of kites originate from just a few particular localities in China.

Are you ready to go 'over the top' in kite classification? According to one source I came across, there are no less than 300 varieties of kites in China! This system takes into account groups of kites such as human figures, fish, insects, birds, animals, written characters and so on.

There is a range of standard sizes too, ranging from extra large right down to miniature. The biggest take a team of men to fly, the smallest are just the size of the palm of your hand. At a kite festival I went to recently, the commentator mentioned a Thai kite festival where she saw a military tank anchoring a ridiculously big Asian kite!

Modern Western kites are getting fancier, and some certainly make an impressive, colorful sight in the air. Calling them 'art' has been controversial for some time...

But there is a growing connection between art and kiting in the West. Especially since the 1999 Millennium Exhibition in the U.S. where some very well-known artists were invited to create an 'art kite' as an exhibit.

Also, some years later, there was the WindArt Kite Festival in Florida U.S.A. Kite-makers and artists came together to create original, flying works of art.

Traditional kite handicraft has flourished in three Chinese cities in particular. They are Tianjin, Beijing and Weifang. The history of kites in China is a very long one.

Another location not to be missed if you are traveling in China and have an interest in kites is the city of Xian. This old city is the capital of Shaanxi Province, with a history going back no less than 3100 years according to some sources! Let's see, my home city of Adelaide was established sometime in .... the 1800s - no comparison!

Even in the West, making Chinese kites to a high standard is sometimes attempted by some keen artistic types.

Kiting in East and West has really started to melt together. Want an example? A traveler in Xian captured this photo of Western-style Diamond kites decorated with traditional Chinese designs...

Trains of Diamond kites with Asian decoration and characters.

Chinese kites with Western influence.
Courtesy of Will Clayton.

Kites can be seen flying during the day and at night at various locations around Xian. Sometimes these are of the spectacular centipede variety. In the parks, on shorter lines, you might kids flying simpler creations. Similar to the kites in this pack of two Butterfly kites available on Amazon.

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For single-line kite fliers and builders, it's always been a good read. But if you are interested in KAP and/or large home-made kites you won't want to miss it!

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What's New!

  1. Flight Report:
    Carbon Diamond High Wind Experiment

    Sep 23, 14 01:22 AM

    This day's flying had been anticipated for at least a couple of weeks. A 'drag bucket' added to the tail end of the 2m (7ft) span Carbon and Tyvek Diamond was an attempt to raise the upper limit on the flyable wind speed for the kite. From earlier experiences it seems the unmodified Diamond becomes unstable at around 30 kph.

    The first flight was done with the drag bucket adjusted for fairly minimal effect. As half expected, the kite soon started to fly way over to the left and right. So, the wind speed up there must be at least 30kph! This was down at Brighton Beach, but all thoughts of doing KAP soon evaporated, due to the high wind speed. Not to mention the turbulence coming from some high buildings directly upwind.

    For a second attempt, the Velcro fastener was re-adjusted to considerably open up the intake of the bucket. The bucket being two Tyvek flaps which come together over the tail-most region of the sail. This had an immediate effect. More stability! Unfortunately, the extra drag also helped keep the kite at a lowish line angle in some of the fiercer gusts. Lots of line tension ensued, with a huge amount of distortion apparent in the sail.

    At this rate, something was going to break pretty soon, so I struggled to get the kite down to the sand. After shifting the towing point forward by about 3cm (1") the kite seemed a little more comfortable. When the sail of a Diamond distorts badly, it reduces the amount of effective area below the towing point. This is like shifting the towing point back - adding to the problems of too much wind!

    And then the inevitable happened. The already broken-and-repaired horizontal ferrule gave way and the kite promptly folded up and sank to the sand. But not before I had carefully observed every second of the kite's struggles, trying to learn more about Diamond kite behavior in high winds.

    Just an hour after arriving home, the weather station at the nearby airport was reporting gusts to 50kph! It was less further down the coast, but I suspect the Carbon Diamond felt the brunt of around 40kph for at least a few seconds at a time.

    "Simplest Dowel Kites": A free but very useful kite-making e-book. Make a super-simple Sled, Diamond and Delta - step-by-step with photos. Sign up for the e-book and get an emailed series of messages called "MBK Tips'n'Ideas". If you don't need the e-book, consider signing up anyway... You won't believe the value on offer in that message series!

    Read More

New! Comments

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