China is the birthplace of the kite, specifically in the Henan and Shandong provinces. Historically the people of these areas worshiped birds as well as the sun. The traditional Chinese word for the kite is hao, which also has the meaning “the sky or the sun.” It is said that if one flies kites during the late spring and summer months, when the sun was the highest in the sky, they can gain the power of the sunlight itself.
Weifang kites differ from other Chinese kites by combining traditional kite making with wood-block for printing New Year pictures. This makes the kites from Weifang artistically unique. There is an old Chinese adage about kites from Weifang: “Put it on the wall, it is a very beautiful Chinese picture; fly it in the sky, it is a beautiful kite!”
Traditional Chinese kites are made of paper surrounding a bamboo frame. These kites come in numerous designs; most of them resemble various types of birds, such as Elder Bai (sometimes referred to as big feet swallow), the golden crow or the sunbird. The shape of the kites is also unique, traditionally made in a “T” shape known as Ma Gua, which represents life after death for the deceased. It is also a symbol for prolonged existence of the living and perpetuity for the dead.
The use of the kites has changed throughout history, previously being used in wars to frighten enemies, or used as tributes to the dead. With today’s commercialization and globalization the kites are mostly a decorative piece, and part of the artistic landscape. However, even as kites change, and their uses vary, the kite as a Chinese cultural symbol representing life and honoring the dead has withstood the test of time.
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