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.
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
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
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...)
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
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
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
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.
You might have noticed that this site has a monthly newsletter...
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!
So sign up today, and download the free 95-page e-book "What Kite Is That?" straight away. Info-packed and fully photo-illustrated.
And there are even more free resources, such as a kite-making e-course, waiting for you in the next issue of this newsletter.
Aug 25, 14 03:57 AM
Last week I came home from a KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) session down at Brighton beach, here in Adelaide, South Australia. The photos were a disaster, being totally washed out. Over-exposed, to be a little more technical. At the time I thought the problem was purely the position of the sun, relative to the direction of the camera...
Well guess what. Down at the same beach today, the photos had the same problem - and this time it definitely wasn't the sun. Camera damage seemed a small possibility since the rig had hit the sand at some speed last time, during a white-knuckle experience with the kite in rough air! Which turned out OK, but that's another story.
Anyway, once back home today, I did a little investigating with the camera, taking some test pictures from the back yard. It was a great relief to find the explanation for the bad images...
It seems that setting a fixed ISO is not a good idea for this camera in very bright lighting conditions. It can cause the camera to run out of adjustment room for other parameters, like shutter speed or aperture. When the camera was allowed to set ISO automatically, the exposure problem disappeared. Whew!
The Tyvek-sailed Carbon Diamond performed wonderfully today. It was, for the first time, hoisting the KAP rig into the air. Never has the rig been so steady for so long. Sway was almost non-existent. But whenever I handled the line the camera twisted back and forth due to the rather steep line angle from the rig to the kite. Without enough horizontal separation, the suspension lines do not provide the maximum resistance to twisting. It might be an idea to separate the attachment points even further, on the flying line.
The 2 meter (7 ft) Diamond was struggling to lift the camera in the fairly light winds coming off the ocean. At times, people on the beach had to duck under the line from me to the camera! The camera was behaving as a sort of aerial tether point, with the kite flying at a steep line angle from there.
Measured at shoulder height, the on-shore breeze was about 4.5kph gusting to just under 7kph. More of a day for the Multi-Dowel Sled really, which hardly feels a 280g weight on the line!
"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 what's on offer in that message series!
Apologies for this site's current lack of video when viewed on mobile devices...
For now, please view this site on a Desktop or Laptop computer to see the videos. And there's plenty of them!
Return to Home Page from Chinese Kites