The history of Chinese kites stretches over thousands of years, so I'm dividing this up into blocks of 1000 years!
China has a very long literary tradition, so the facts below are
based on a number of specific events that are recorded in ancient
Some scholars with an interest in the history of Chinese kites
have done all the hard work, so here's a nice simple overall history.
Bear in mind that the earliest 'facts' recorded here are not universally accepted. Some well-educated kite researchers would argue that it is often difficult to distinguish between solid history and writings that are merely based on or triggered by real events.
Modern Chinese eagle kite
Modern Chinese eagle kite
1000 BC to 0 BC
Somewhere between 770 BC and 221 BC large wooden kites called muyuan
were invented for military purposes. This period actually contained 2
separate periods of Chinese history, the Spring and Autumn Period (770
BC - 476 BC) and the following Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Kites
were seen as technology, and it seems the first ones were invented in
the province of Shandong.
There is a record of a certain master of joinery named Mu Zi who
developed a man-lifting kite over a period of 3 years. It was called
the Wooden-Black-Eard-Kite. At least one more kite of this design was
made in later years, by other craftsmen.
There is a record of further development of these kites during
the Chu-Han War of 203-202 BC. Besides spying on enemy positions, kites
were sometimes used to deliver urgent messages. Not sure how, maybe a
guy suspended from the kite cranking out Morse code on a Chinese
lantern? ;-) Just trying to lighten up this deathly-dull history for
1 AD to 1000 AD
The first century AD contained the prosperous Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).
During this time all kinds of people discovered the simple enjoyment of
kite flying. The traditional bamboo and paper, or bamboo and silk style
of kite had its origin way back here.
Later in the history of Chinese kites, people came up with more designs and new ideas, such as the musical
kite. There's a record of a palace worker in the 900s AD who fixed
bamboo pipes to a kite. When flown, the pipes would make a sound in the
wind, like the zheng, a stringed instrument. Ever since then, the word
for kite in Chinese has been fengzheng.
Maybe there were some simple kites flown by ordinary people in
this period. However, the 900s are known for the introduction of
silk-covered kites with beautiful and detailed hand-painted designs.
These kites also carried many ornate accessories such as streamers and
ribbons. So much went into these kites that it's likely they were only
made and used by the royalty and aristocracy of the time. In a word,
these kites were expensive.
1000 AD to 2000 AD
The history of Chinese kites after 1000 AD saw kites becoming more popular in all levels
of Chinese society. If you couldn't afford silk, you could always use
paper! Some time after this, kite flying became a seasonal activity.
Most flying was done during and after Chinese New Year and through to
March or April. For some areas of China, the winds were better for kite
flying at these times.
Finally, there sprung up a belief that kite flying was good for your health. This was around the time of the Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911). Other somewhat superstitious ideas were around at this
time too. For example, letting go of the kite string might get rid of
back luck or illness as the kite drifted away. On the other hand,
picking up a kite lost by someone else would bring bad luck!
By the late 1900s, the Chinese had organized large kite flying festivals
where the whole range of kites were on show. The keenest kite makers
would show off their best kites. Just like other kite festivals around
It's hard to beat large Chinese Dragon kites for sheer spectacle!
One of these was over 300 meters (1000 feet) long and won first place
in an International Kite Festival held in Italy. The same kite can still
be seen in the Weifang Kite Museum.
Since 2000 AD
Although all the traditional forms of Chinese kites can still be
seen, some Chinese kite makers are getting more adventurous these days.
New innovative designs, 'art kites' and novelty designs are appearing.
This is just like the Western kite scene. With travel and communication
so easy these days, I guess Eastern and Western kite making is bound to
merge together even more in the future!
The history of Chinese kites features yearly festivals. These are
still popular, for example the World Kite Festival at Weifang, in
Shandong Province. Shandong?! Hey, that's where the very first kites that we know about were constructed and flown. How about that. Full circle.
To see the artifacts of Chinese kite history purely as art, you
can see a great display at the International Kite Museum, also in
WeiFang. You can walk down the halls and visually take in much of the
history of Chinese kites.