Dragon head with beard
What do the words 'Chinese Dragon Kites' mean to you? It seems that the most well-known variety is the centipede style of kite. This type consists of a large head and a long train of small disks that form the tail.
Some centipede kites are very big and very expensive, since a lot
of labor goes into making them. Most are mid-sized, but still not cheap
compared to children's kites.
Like most authentic Chinese kites, Dragons can be displayed as works
of art. Particularly those in the centipede style, since they are so intricately made!
I remember seeing one of the smallest available kites of this type at an online store. Interestingly, one of the happy reviewers used it purely for decoration while the other took it out flying with a child.
Dragon head with beard
The large centipede style kite is an amazing thing, whether it is hanging in the foyer of a large building as a piece of art or flying with its tail pointing at the clouds.
Up close, you can see great detail in the fine bamboo framework
of the head in particular. Raw silk is used for covering, and this is
precisely and painstakingly painted by hand. Being Chinese, bright red
is used a lot but plenty of other colors are used as well.
The tail sections are just a series of smaller flat kites.
These are constructed from thin bamboo strips covered with raw silk and
then hand painted. Each tail section has a thin bamboo rod running
through it, with a feather attached to each end.
Did I mention how all the bamboo lengths that make up the
framework get created? Apparently, each piece is individually bent into
shape over an open flame! Then they have to be fastened together
securely. No wonder the whole process takes so long. Plus the fine
detail in the painting, done with a small brush, would take some time as
The craftsmanship in these kites is just mind-boggling. No wonder it can take a team of artists up to 2 months to create one, using traditional techniques and tools.
If you ever buy a dragon, chances are it will come packed in
an embroidered presentation box. See, even the box it comes in is
Probably the best known place of manufacture for these kites is
Weifang, the home of traditional Chinese kite making. Kites are exported
from there to all around the world.
A little bit of trivia... Kite teams often fly traditional Chinese centipede kites to mark the Lunar Year of the Dragon!
Flying Dragon Kites
What kind of wind does it take to fly these things? Surprisingly,
just a soft breeze of 3 kph (2 mph) is enough for some of the best
large dragons to stay off the ground! All those light little tail
sections all pulling together generate a lot of lifting force. The head
is just for looks.
However, you might need a decent breeze to get the smallest
dragon centipede kites to fly.
Are you a kite-geek? Let's talk
wing-loading! Painted raw silk weighs the same per unit area whether
used in a small or large kite. Plus, aerodynamic performance of any
flying thing gets worse on smaller scales.
What about when it's really windy? No problem. These kites
can be flown in a 40 kph (25 mph) breeze, which causes the tail to rise
almost vertically into the air. As you can imagine, in these conditions
you need some help with a large centipede kite!
The bigger the kite,
the more people are needed to keep it under control. You can also tether
it to heavy machinery like a truck or something.
A flying centipede dragon is an impressive sight, with the long
tail snaking skywards, and tail section feathers fluttering in the
breeze. Like a live creature, gently moving about on its leash.
The smallest dragon kites are pretty easy to get into the air.
Just attach the bridle and hold it up for the breeze to catch the tail
and take it up. The larger kites, while still easy to launch, take a bit
more organization with connecting things up, laying out the tail and so on.
Flying a traditional Chinese kite of any sort in wet weather is not a good idea. That's because hand-painted silk is not water-proof! Flying in turbulent air can also be a problem, so keep well away from buildings and trees.
Of course, as I've already mentioned, you don't have to actually fly
your kite! They are genuine works of art, and many people have a dragon
kite displayed somewhere in their home. Could be interesting in a 1
bedroom flat though... Also, some businesses have a large one hung up
somewhere to attract attention. Gets more people through the door I
Just a couple of notes here on some aspects of the Chinese dragon that go back a long time.
Firstly, nearly all authentic dragon designs have the following features...
- a 'centipede' tail structure which represents a snake
- deer horns, which represent long life and good luck
- catfish whiskers, which represent wealth
- tigers' eyes, since the tiger is strong and rules over other animals
- a human beard, which symbolizes intelligence and talent
Secondly, many of the dragon kites that are flown or displayed
around the world today were produced by Imperial Dragon Kites of
Shanghai, in China. This company is old by anyone's standards! Can you
believe they have been manufacturing this kind of kite for nearly 2
Other Dragon Kite Designs
OK, we've covered the 2 main types, but I've noticed one other type of traditional dragon kite.
Of all the many categories of Chinese kites, there is one for 'hard flat kites'. This category covers all flat
kites that consist of curved and straight bamboo spars covered with
silk or paper. Hence the outline of one of these kites can be complex,
with some curved edges and some straight edges.
The image of a creature is painted on by hand, giving a fairly
realistic impression of the creature flying through the air. In the case
of an ornate oriental dragon, this results in something like the
Medieval Dragon kite in the picture up there.
Finally, I believe there are some traditional Chinese kites which
are 3-D, where a little model of a creature is constructed from fine
slivers of bamboo covered in silk or paper. A flat kite with straight
spars is then attached to the 3D model which allows it to fly.