Folk Art Transmission
Ha’s great-grandfather and grandfather made kites to support their families. Ha’s father made kites for this reason, but he also considered kite making a family treasure and tradition, and so he focused on how to transmit this special skill to the next generation. Ha sees kite making as an art. He continues to study and engineer kites to preserve the art form.
Ha’s father never instructed him how to make any kite, because his father believed that children have to make their own kites with their true heart and passion. In order for Ha to be recognized as his family’s fourth-generation kite maker, his father required him to make a bird kite, a tiger kite, and a fish kite, all of which needed to fly successfully. To date, Ha has made over a hundred different types of kites. The biggest one is 350 meters long while the smallest one is only four centimeters long.
Influence of Cultural Revolution
During the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) kites were classified as one of the four “old elements” (old thoughts, old culture, old customs, and old habits). Kite making and flying was prohibited. Information and materials related to kites and kite making were destroyed. Ha’s father did not want to lose his family tradition, so he started secretly writing and drawing all he knew about kite making. He used special symbols and terms to describe the details such that it would not be easily discovered. After the Cultural Revolution, Ha’s father wrote a letter to Chairman Mao and emphasized the importance of kite making. Within a week, the secretary to Chairman Mao replied to him and arranged for him to work in the arts association, and so Ha’s father returned to making kites.
Ha’s family has won many international awards and honors for their kite making. In 1915, his grandfather displayed four kites at the Panama Canal to celebrate its opening and won a silver award at the Panama Pacific International Exposition. An American collector bought three kites from Ha’s grandfather in 1903. Later, these three kites were displayed in the National History Museum in Los Angeles. Ha’s family did not know this until Ha had an exhibition in San Francisco and met the Chair of the museum. Ha has been invited by various governments and organizations, including the German embassy, for exhibitions and talks about Chinese kite making. Ha has been recognized as one of the top kite makers in China by the Chinese government.
Future of Ha’s Kites
Ha is concerned about the preservation of his family’s kites and the tradition of making them. He does not copyright his work because he would rather let more people learn about his kites. Under his own and his father names, Ha published a book in Chinese (in 1986) and English (in 1990) about the art of their family’s kites. He is currently writing another book about the theory and practice of kite making. This book describes his family history since the Yuan dynasty and includes 150 drawings plus 300 full-color prints. However, Ha believes that the knowledge of kite making can only be transmitted to a son because of the physical strength necessary to shape the kites. Since he has only a daughter, Ha is unsure how kite making will be passed to the fifth generation within the Ha family.