Willow catkins are not the only thing flying around like threads of silk in the capital late spring and early summer. Kite enthusiasts take to the skies, or I should say their kites do. On a good day, you’ll see a sea of kites flying high above Tiananmen Square and around the Forbidden City.

The first known kite is said to have taken to the skies in the fourth century BCE when the legendary carpenter Lu Ban made a kite from wood resembling a hawk. We don’t have the foggiest idea of whether he tested numerous kite prototypes before the wooden hawk took to the skies. His kite became airborne, but it did not soar into the heavens. The hawk crashed into a nearby mountain. With the invention of paper and silk production, bamboo, not wood, was used and then pasted with paper or silk. These paper kites were later called ‘paper hawks.’

During the Five Dynasties (907-960 AD), bamboo whistles were attached to kites and they came to be called by their present name ‘fēngzheng.’ (lit: ‘wind zithers’). Attaching bamboo whistles to kites was also used in military operations. During the Han Warring States Period (475-221 BCE), for instance, kites were used for reconnaissance purposes.

Kites in China have traditionally been associated All Souls Day which falls in early April. After sweeping the graves of the deceased, kites became symbolic of throwing one’s memories of beloved ones into the skies.

On such occasions, the kites did not return home. The strings or threads of the kites were cut loose taking with them the pain and sadness of family and relatives.

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