Come on! Let's go fly a kite

Come on! Let's go fly a kite

A kite master says tradition dating back to ancient China deserves greater popularity among today's youth


Kite master Wang Yongshun with one of his designs
Kite master Wang Yongshun with one of his designs
Photos: Jonathan Wong/SCMP
China lays claim to four big inventions: the compass, gunpowder, papermaking and printing. But Wang Yongshun is convinced there should be a fifth one - kite-making.

"We made kites as far back in ancient Chinese history as the Warring States period," says Wang, one of the mainland's top folk artists and a renowned kite master from the city of Weifang, in Shandong province.

"The first kite was believed to have been made in Shandong from thin pieces of wood."

Today Weifang is known as the kite capital of the world. Every April it holds the international kite festival attended by thousands of kite lovers from all over the world.

Wang, 40, was in Hong Kong last week for the Go Fly a Kite - Kite Flying Community Art Event, at Cyberport, organised by the Southern District Council and Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation.

Growing up in a rural village, Wang had little to play with as a child. So kite-flying became his regular hobby. "Each spring all the children would go out and fly kites," he says. "It was good exercise: it helped us to stretch our bodies. It's also good for our eyes to look far and wide."

When he was seven, his father taught him how to make a kite. "Every one knows how to make a kite in Weifang," he says.

When Wang left secondary school, he went to work in a kite factory. With his talent for drawing, he helped to paint the kites and also assemble parts. Then he began to get serious about it.

He spent his savings of 36 yuan to buy materials to make and sell his first kite. A shop offered him only 8yuan, but other customers began to buy his handmade kites.

At 22, he opened his own factory. He passed on his skills to his apprentices, and today, his factory employs more than 140 staff and sells kites around the world; up to 80 per cent of them are exported to Europe and the US.

(From left) YP junior reporters Gabrielle Chan Ka-po, Wendy Ki Yu-yuen, and Kent De Jesus prepare to fly kites at the Cyberport event

Chinese kite designs are based mostly on folktales and figures. "You'll often find iconic symbols and designs, like dragons, flowers, goldfish and butterflies," Wang says.

Kites can also combine a few auspicious symbols from different things, he says, such as the head of a swallow, wings with flowers and a body of a fish, to symbolise a lucky and bountiful life. "Traditional symbols make Chinese kites unique compared to those from other countries," he says.

Wang is proud to be a kite master. "Today, young Chinese don't know enough about Chinese traditions," he says. "Kite-making is an important culture. So I'm very proud to be a part of the tradition and I will continue to preserve it."

Now a successful businessman, he still enjoys flying kites. At Cyberport, he flew his mermaid kite on the waterfront alongside parents and their children. "When I'm flying a kite, I don't have to think about anything; my mind is free. To fly a kite made by myself is just great!"

The video was produced with the help of Campus TV at CUHKFAA Chan Chun Ha Secondary School, in Ma On Shan

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