The kite, a Chinese invention, has been praised as the forerunner of the modern airplane. In the aircraft pavilion of National Aeronautics and Space Museum, Washington D.C, a plaque says, “the earliest aircraft are the kites and missile of China.
The earliest Chinese kites were made of wood and called muyuan (wood kites); they date back as far as the Warring state Period (475-221B.C.)at least two millennia. After the invention of paper, kites were made of the new material and called zhiyuan (paper kite).
Instead of being playthings, early kites were used for military purposes. Historical records say they were large in size; some were powerful enough to carry men up in the air to observe enemy movement, and others were used to scatter propaganda leaflets over hostile forces.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), people began to fix onto kites some bamboo strips which, when high in the air, would vibrate and ring in the breeze like Zheng (a stringed instrument). Since then, the popular Chinese name for the kite has become fengzheng (wing zheng). The kites made today in certain localities are fixed with silk strings or rubber bands to give out pleasant ringing in the wind.
Chinese kites fall into two major categories: those with detachable wings and those with flexed wings. The former can be taken apart and packed in boxes. Easy to carry about, they make good presents. The second category refers to those with fixed, non-detachable frames; they fly better and higher, given a steady wind. When classified by design and other specifications, there are no less than 300 varieties, including human figures, fish, insect, birds, animals and written characters. Many kites bear messages of good luck; a pipe tree and a crane, for example, mean longevity, peaches wish you good fortune and a long life and so on. In size, they range from 304 meters to only 30 centimeters across.