Chinese Kites fēngzhēng

A Chinese kite in flight above Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth, UK. Image by Tholly available under a Creative Commons license

The making and flying of kites is a tradition in China that goes back thousands of years. One of the earliest uses of kites was in fishing, the kite would trail a line with hooks and bait allowing the kite-flier to fish in areas some way out over rivers or the sea.

An early legend about the origin of the kite is that the philosopher Mozi built a kite made of wood in the form of an eagle near Mount Lu in Shandong. Later on the kite was made much lighter when silk and bamboo replaced wood. The invention of fine paper in China made kites cheaper and easier to build. There is an ancient legend about Huan Jing who was told by the soothsayer Fei Jiangfang (費長) to flee to high land to escape floods on the double ninth Chongyang festival and drink wine in which chrysanthemum petals had been soaked. He did as he was told and Kite flying on this day became an annual festival.

kite, dragon
A Chinese long dragon kite. Image by available under a Creative Commons license

Chinese Language

Such an ancient language as Chinese has inevitably gathered very many characters and words that have histories going back hundred of years - far longer than any other currently spoken language. However the structure of Chinese language is quite easy to pick up and continues to be a source of fascination.
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Kites were used in Chinese battles; a very large kite can be made strong enough to lift a soldier into an enemy town; while others were used to drop propaganda leaflets into besieged cities. General Hanxin (c. 231-196 BCE) used kites to measure the distance to enemy walls so that guns could be targeted and tunnels could be excavated to the correct distance. He flew a kite higher and higher until the shadow of the kite just hit the wall, by measuring the length of kite string and the angle of the sun he could calculate the exact distance to the town. Early armies used whistles attached to kites to frighten an army at dead of night. If bamboo strips are attached to kites and flown in the wind then they make sounds like musical instruments in the wind. This is the origin of the Chinese name for a kite: fēngzhēng (feng - wind and zheng - a musical instrument)

kite, butterfly
Traditional butterfly inspired kite design
Tue 20th Jun

Hong Kong 20 years on

The 1st July 2017 marks twenty years since the U.K. 'gave back' Hong Kong to China. Although Hong Kong is a Special Autonomous Region within China with another 30 years to go before China takes full control, many believe that Beijing is firmly in control. The attempts to install more local democracy have been brutally suppressed. Hong Kong remains a prosperous place despite fears that independence from Britain would put it at a severe disadvantage compared to other cities, especially Shanghai.

Another article from CNN uses declassified documents to the complex maneuverings for hand-over unfolded on both sides. Britain sought to find a way to continue to run Hong Kong as a colony but China blocked that proposal, seeking immediate return to full Chinese control. Legally the core part of the settlement had been signed away as a permanent possession, but the vast bulk of the wider area later had been leased from China and up for legal repossession.

Democracy remains a thorny issue. After a century of denying Hong Kong residents any real say in local government, the British under last Governor Patten started to introduce local elections. Young activists continue to try to resist control from Beijing but as long as Hong Kong remains prosperous there is little appetite for confrontation.

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Kite flying at times has been an Imperial pastime, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty is known to have loved to fly them. By tradition, it is considered bad luck to lose a kite or pick up one that has been lost. The passion for kite flying has spread from China to all parts of Asia. There is a large range of different designs of kites, some are 3 dimensional rather than flat and often are made in the form of creatures such as: birds, bats and dragons. The size of kites varies enormously, the tail can be several hundred yards long. Most designs use a basic frame made from bent bamboo. In the parks you will often see people flying kites. The traditional kite flying season starts on the Chongyang festival held in October. At the Qingming Festival kites were flown to send messages to departed loved ones, if the kite string is cut then bad luck was considered to fly away with the kite.

Tianjin and Weifang , Shandong are two cities particularly associated with kites, they hold annual competitions that attract enthusiasts from many countries. For a lovely web page showing 99 kite designs you can visit the University of Maine web site .

kite, skyscraper, park, people
Flying kites in a city park

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Citation information: Chinasage, 'Kites in China', last updated 7 Dec 2016, Web,

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