Kite in China: story and magic of an ancient art


Kite in China: story and magic of an ancient art

Un momento della lezione dell'Istituto Confucio

The rich story of kites in China told during a lesson by Confucius Institute

Naples, 14th of April 2010. An involving lesson entitled Kites in Chinese tradition and culture, given in the lecture hall 5.1 in Palazzo del Mediterraneo, was at the centre of today activities planned by the Confucius Club initiative.
More than a simple play-object, kite in Chinese history is deeply connected with traditions and philosophy of this people. With its invention, one of the main symbols of the human desire of flight, the philosopher Mozi was credited: in the 4th century b.C. he made a wooden kite who could flight for short stretches, which was later called muyuan (wooden kite). Then the technique was improved: the structure is of bamboo, softer and more flexible, while for the wings they use fabric or rice paper. So a new type of kite is created, the zhiyuan (paper kite), which looks like the modern ones.
The use of kites, until the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD), is reserved almost exclusively to military environments in order to send messages or have information while the soldiers themselves are flying, as in a kind of hang-glider. About that, there are several stories about emperors besieged by enemy armies who try to ask for help through kites themselves.
Only with the succeeding dynasties, Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644), kite becomes a hobby at first reserved to the imperial court and then gradually extended to the people. In this way we also see the spread of many beliefs which associate kite to the Dead Feast (April 5th) for its ability to join the earth and the sky, so to bring dead people the affection of the beloved in their lives. The art of making these objects becomes better and better and the shapes and decorations, of rare beauty and elegance, are associated to a precise symbology: for instance, fish means wealth, swallows partner happiness, bat luck and crane long life.
The current Chinese name of kite, fengzheng (composed of the words wind and zheng, a traditional musical instrument), derives from the invention of musical kites which, provided with particular devices similar to flutes, are able to give melodies off if flown in the wind.
Still today in China kites, made in infinite shapes, pictures and dimensions, are at the same time considered as a play, a work of art, a technological wonder and a talisman. Moreover, in traditional medicine to fly a kite is a common way to help well-being and psycho-physical equilibrium for pulling anxiety, unease and depression away.
So Chinese kite is a small miracle which captured the world anticipating even the modern aeroplane, as it is remembered by a plaque exposed at the Washington Aeronautics Museum: "The earliest aircraft are the kites and missiles of China".

Fabiana Andreani, Traduzione di Luisa Lupoli