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The Kite : The Humble History Maker

By Edited Nov 27, 2016 1 0

Who Invented The Kite?

Every year in China, the arrival of spring also sees the arrival of masses of colour adorning the skies. It is believed that approximately 2800 years ago the kite, forerunner to many inventions throughout history, was born in Shandong Province, China. Mozi a Chinese philosopher and founder of Mohism and his contemporary Lu Ban a highly skilled carpenter, engineer, philosopher, inventor, military thinker and statesman, are thought to be the two who hold claim to this honored recognition. It is said that Mozi worked for three years on an invention known as the "Black Eared Kite", made from bamboo and wood with the primary aim of this invention being to hold the weight of one man, high in the sky for military surveillance missions. Mozi's three years of work was apparently destroyed in one day. It is also said that during this same period master carpenter, Lu Ban, actually succeeded with the same design and conducted reconnaissance flights over Songcheng City.
Both Mozi and Lu Ban hailed from what is now known as Qufu. What is Qufu famous for other than Mozi, Lu Ban and their kites? Oh only that it is the birthplace of some guy named Confuscious!

The Evolution Of The Kite

Once the kite was invented, ancient militarists made use of them in military procedures for hundreds of years but it was not until the ensuing centuries and the advent of silk and paper that kites began to be used not only for military purposes, but now also as a recreational past time. At first only royalty and aristocrats could enjoy the lavish pursuit of flying silk kites, but the invention of paper soon made it possible for common people to enjoy this recreation too.  It was also around this time that it was introduced to neighbouring countries like Korea and Japan. 

The Kite Flyer

FengZheng

In Chinese the word for kite is  "FengZheng". "Feng" means wind and "Zheng" is an old Chinese zither like instrument. Throughout the Five Dynasties Era, people had started to attach bamboo whistles to their paper kites, which under the force of the wind made a sound very much like the zheng. This is why it is called "Fengzheng" in Chinese. The Song Dynasty saw the kite becoming a game for entertainment played among the people. The Yuan Dynasty saw the introduction of the kite into Europe.

Flying High : Famous People And Kites

Kite Season
The kites interesting history is of course not only restricted to China. This humble invention has been actively involved in changing history on quite a few notable occasions.

Benjamin Franklin - It was Benjamin Franklin who paved the way for the kites history of work within the meteorological field. Starting in 1752, they continued to be used for this purpose until the airplane arrived on the scene. There wouldn't be many people around today who don't know of Ben's very famous experiment to prove that lightning is in fact electricity. Flying his kite made of silk, with a metal key attached to it, Ben stood out in the pouring rain and provided us with the famous saying "Oh go fly a kite"used in reference to this occasion and meaning "please go away and leave me alone" or more literally... go and electrocute yourself.

Alexander Graham Bell - Already famous as being the inventor of the telephone, got caught up in kite building mania as people tried to build heavier than air flying machines, (sorry guys but I think the Chinese may have already done that some time ago) but still it was Alexander that built the tetrahedron, theoretically the strongest, most rigid symmetrical structure that can exist in nature. It was this structure covered in fabric that Bell used for his kites. He even went on to build huge man carrying kites using this structure.

The Wright Brothers - It was Wilbur and Orville Wrights years of kite flying that directly led to their most famous invention, the airplane. Whilst they studied birds and kite designs, over in Australia, Lawrence Hargrave invented the Box Kite, managing to get him a place showing his face on Australia's $20 note. When the brothers got their hands on one of his box kites and found they could physically lift a man of the ground, they knew what shape their flying machine was going to take.

Homan Walsh - It took two attempts but Homan was the person who successfully flew his kite across the Niagara Falls Gorge in order to provide a line with which to feed heavier cables across, until finally a steel cable connected with the distant cliffs and a bridge was able to be constructed.

Great For Fun And Relaxation

Kite flying nowadays is mostly for sport and recreation purposes. It is popular all over the world and a wonderful hobby for children to take up. If you really want to get serious about this recreational past-time, you can become a stunt kite pilot. This is a very popular sport in many countries, as it requires more skill to get your kite looping and swooping by using two attached strings instead of only one, thus meaning you have to use both of your hands.  I myself have a wonderful childhood memory of a kite I received as a birthday gift one year. It was many bright colours with a long tail, and to me it seemed as big as I was. I spent many lazy afternoons trying to get it up as high into the heavens as I could. There is something appealing about having hold of something that is so far up in the sky, feeling the power of the wind transferring down the string to your hand. 

Modern Day China And Kites

China is still the unprecedented home of the kite. Every year in Weifang, Shandong province, back in the region of where the kite took birth, the "Weifang International Kite Festival" is held, however, it's not only in Shandong that you will witness kite fever. Anywhere and everywhere in China that you visit during spring will see you turn your eyes to the sky as you watch colourful designs being flown in every park and along every river bank.  Fighter, stunt, box and dragon kites are just a few of the many types that we can have much fun playing with. Here in my Chinese city, eagle designs are very popular. I was very lucky to be an honoured onlooker late one lovely sunny spring afternoon, watching an old man, a very skilled kite flyer, who had risen his eagle kite high up in the clouds, so high that he had attracted a real live eagle to come and investigate. I sat and watched in awe as the man literally came as good as you can get to actually flying along side an eagle. They soared and swooped, dived and danced as the sun started to fall from the sky. It was truly a magical experience that I will never forget. 

Prism Nexus Stunt Kite, Spectrum
Amazon Price: $80.00 $62.95 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 27, 2016)
The ultimate beginners stunt kite.

Qufu and Weifang, Shandong, China

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Bibliography

  1. "Kite Flying." www.cultural-china.com. 16/03/2013 <Web >
  2. "Culture Of Kite Flying." www.chinaculture.org. 16/03/2013 <Web >
  3. "Mozi." wikipedia. 16/03/2013 <Web >
  4. "Lu Ban." wikipedia. 16/03/2013 <Web >
  5. "Kite History : Five People That Flew Kites And Changed History." www.gombergkites.com. 16/03/2013 <Web >

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