During the height of Nazi attacks on England, Winston Churchill inspired British people by noting that “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” His simple imagery could be understood universally due to such a popular hobby.
Kites originated in China, where their first form, constructed of extremely thin wooden chips, floated over the skies of the Warring States period (475BC-221BC). After the invention and utilization of paper during the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), it soon became the material of choice for kite-makers, hence the kite’s traditional name, zhiyuan, literally “paper eagle.” About a thousand years later, some Chinese people began tying bamboo whistles to kites to produce zither-like tones, which gave the kite its current Chinese nomenclature, fengzheng (wind zither).
Shandong Province’s Weifang is one legendary cradle of the kite. The city was a kite design and production powerhouse during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. On sunny days around Qingming (Pure Brightness) Festival in early April, local families soaked up the pleasant spring weather while sending home-crafted kites into the sky, a scene which found its way into still-circulating literary works. This folk custom not only motivated physical exercise in the fresh spring air, but also inspired locals to develop competition for skills related to crafting and flying kites. On April 1, 1984, the Weifang International Kite Festival was born, and the annual event has attracted kite enthusiasts from around the globe ever since. During its sixth edition in 1989, participating associations from 16 countries including Japan, Italy, USA, and UK joined to create the International Kite Federation, which keeps its headquarters in Weifang.
Weifang kites are known for exquisite craftsmanship, novel designs, and eye-catching patterns. Adopting techniques used in woodblock New Year paintings, the devices are often designed with a specific theme in mind, highlighted by graceful lines, bright colors, and exaggerated patterns. Many folk artists devoted to preserving the traditional art form still live and work in Weifang today.