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Kite-Flying in China
    2008-04-08 17:46:42     CRIENGLISH.com

With the approach of spring, people in China often head outdoors to enjoy the fresh, warm breezes after the long winter. Kite-flying is a popular spring pastime, especially for today, as it's March 3rd in the lunar calander, kite-flying is a traditional activity on this paticular day.

Our reporter He Fei tells us more about the time-honored practice.


Flying Olympic Kites [photo source: ra520.com]

 
Along with kongzhu, or Chinese yo-yo, and kicking the hacky-sack, kite-flying is one of China's most popular traditional games. Spring is the best season for flying kites, and on nice days, China's parks and public squares are full of people flying kites of all shapes and sizes.

The kite has an interesting history in China. Zhao Tiemin, a kite-flyer, tells us more.

"It is said that the kite was invented by Lu Ban, a legendary carpenter, more than 2,000 years ago. He made a wooden kite named Mu Yuan, which means 'wooden sparrow hawk' in Chinese, hoping it would bring people closer to the sky. Mu Yuan is widely regarded as the earliest Chinese kite. The experiment failed, as the wooden kite was too heavy to fly. But his design was later replicated in paper kites. Similarly, these paper kites are called Zhi Yuan, or 'paper sparrow hawk,' and this version is almost like the ones we fly nowadays."

Kites were used for military purposes in ancient times. Historical records describe kites are large enough to lift a man high in the air to observe enemy movements.

During the Tang Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago, people began attaching thin bamboo strips to kites. As the kite climbed high in the air, the wind made the strips vibrate, producing a low-pitched twanging noise much like that of the zheng, a Chinese stringed instrument. Chinese people thus also call kites "feng zheng," or "zheng flying by wind."

Zhao Tiemin outlines the skill involoved in the construction of Chinese kites.

"We call them the four skills: binding, pasting, painting, and flying. Binding refers to binding the frame. Pasting refers to the process of adding the paper, painting refers to the decorations, and then one flies the kite when those steps are finished. It is easy to describe, but difficult to perfect the four skills because they have strict requirements."

A custom of flying kites as high as possible, then letting go of the string also emerged over time. Cui Puquan, an expert on traditional folk customs, explains the reasons behind the practice.

"People believe that bad luck and illness would fly away with the kites. Conversely, picking up a kite lost or released by someone else could bring bad luck. So people who find kites on the roofs of their houses have to cut them into pieces and burn them to avoid getting bad luck."

Some people enjoy flying kites at night. They hang small colored lanterns on the string with candles burning inside. When dozens of kites are aloft together, lines of flickering multicolored lights decorate the night sky.

As the Beijing Olympics approach, many kite fans like Zhao Tiemin have made Olympic-themed kites to express their excitement about the Olympics. And this has given kite-flying a whole new meaning.

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