Is China the birthplace of kites? Perhaps, perhaps not. Expert opinion has swung toward the island cultures of the Pacific, with their functional leaf kites used for fishing. Nonetheless, the Chinese kite culture is ancient and still extraordinarily vibrant.

Chinese legends tell of ancient military uses. General Han Xin used the height of his kite to estimate the distance to an enemy’s palace, and thus the length of the tunnel he must dig to invade. On other occasions, kites were used to frighten enemy troops or signal allies for help. Also used in early religious ceremony, kites became commonplace and have evolved into many sophisticated forms. Most famous today are dragon kites, Beijing swallows, assorted butterflies and insects, and any manner of famous hero. Intricate bamboo forms and silk sails are beautifully and realistically decorated.