Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kites: Chinese History, Legends, and Book roundup

Above is an example of a train kite - mulitiple kites connected by a line together
Photo Credit: Will Clayton
In China, kites are called "Feng zheng", which translates literally to "wind compete" - kites toss in the sky, competing with the wind. Flying kites has traditionally been a favorite pastime in China, and continues to be popular among the young and old today.

Photo Credit: Beardnan
These men seem to be taking kite flying rather seriously
Photo Credit: Gabriel White
Though there is question as to where kites were first invented, the earliest written account of flying kites comes from China, dating back to 196 BC. There is one Chinese legend that credits a peasant whose straw hat flew off his head, but followed him in the air attached to a thread from his clothing as the inspiration for kites. Kites were initially used for religious and ceremonial purposes, sending messages and prayers to the spirit world. They were made of silk and bamboo.

Photo Credit: thewamphyri
Kites were also used for military purposes. In one legend, a kite was used to determine the distance needed for a tunnel. A kite was set to sail over the width of a huge wall - when the kite flew over it, the kite line was marked. This told the troops the distance they needed to tunnel underneath the wall to make it to the other side and surprise the enemy. Another legend tells of giant kites equipped with noise makers sent out to fly over enemy troops at night - the enemy soldiers believed the sound was made by spirits, and fled in terror.

Photo Credit: Tym
With the invention of paper, kite making became a folk art, and was enjoyed by many. It was common to fly kites as a means of sending up wishes. Another custom was to let the kite string out as far as possible and cut the string, sending all bad luck away. This was especially done during the Double Ninth festival. During Qing Ming, kites were flown to frighten away evil spirits.

Photo Credit: Toyohara
Long before the rest of the world, the Chinese learned about air currents, balance and gliding due to their kite designs. These days, flying kites remains a favorite past time. Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, is a popular spot to fly them. 

Flying kites in Tiananmen Square, Beijing
Photo Credit: Gabrielle Marks
Currently, there is a project in Beijing that uses kites and attached sensors used by residents to monitor the air quality (the air quality being some of the worse in the world).

Here are a few books about Kites in China:

The Legend of the Kite: A Story of China - a Make Friends Around the World Storybook   by Chen Jiang Hong
While celebrating the Kite Festival, a grandfather tells his grandson the legend behind the festival and kite flying. The illustrations give a glimpse of ancient China, and at the back of the book there is information on the history of kites.

The Emperor and the Kite  by Jane Yolen
A sweet Chinese folktale in which the young daughter of an Emperor, who is largely overlooked due to her diminutive size, saves her father through the use of a kite. We enjoyed this story, and the paper cut illustrations of Ed Young.

Kites  by Demi
This beautifully illustrated book is not so much a story as a compendium of Chinese kites, the symbolism behind each shape, and their purpose. It also includes kite making directions at the end. The girls used the images in this book to inspire the shape and design of their kites. 

Would you like to make your own kite? We made one, and you can find the full tutorial here.

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library,I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website


  1. We live close to an area which is renown for its excellent kite flying environment. People come from far and wide to fly there. Unfortunately I have never, and I truly do mean never, managed to get a kite off the ground. Ever.
    Love the books you've recommended and thank you so much for leaving a comment for L10, she was so excited and pleased with herself!!

    1. I can 't say I/we are much better at flying kites. We keep trying, and wrecking them. Elle did make one with plastic sheeting at a kite festival last year, and in the large field, it soared up - I was so impressed! Unfortunately, when we tried taking that kite out in the spring, she broke a spar before even trying to fly it! We may have to resign ourselves to watching others fly kites :)

  2. This reminds me - we should fly our kite while the weather holds. We so enjoyed these books in our China study in the summer.

    1. Kites are so much fun, and a bit magical - when you can get them off the ground!

  3. I loved reading this history of kites and want to check out some of the books you recommend. I've never been good at flying kites but I think my husband has been more successful - hopefully he'll pass that skill onto our girls.

    1. It's a skill I haven't quite acquired either! But when it works, it feels great - like you are 10 years old again :) Kites have an incredibly rich history - we barely scratched the surface of it.

  4. When we briefly studied China earlier this year my 9yr old made a minibook about kites. We knew they were sometimes used for military purposes but we didn't find out exactly how - thank you for telling us!
    Those men sitting down with their reels of kite strings do look funny!
    I hope the kite flying goes well - I look forward to reading about it :-)

    1. We're still working on our kites - we had to put aside the ones we made and start over... I sure hope these work!!


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