Chinese folklore is rich with tales and legends of dragons so it should not be surprising to learn that the mythical creatures figure prominently in kite designs. Some of the most intriguing legends blend dragons and the use of dragon kites used to help fight off intruders or armies to rebel invaders. As weapons the fearsome kites were used to instill terror and confuse the enemy.
One of the most famous legends centers on General Han Hsin and his use of dragon kites in an attack. According to the story the general’s attempts to overcome the garrison at a fortified palace had all failed. Meeting with his captains a brilliant plan was devised. A large colorful dragon kite was built using silk and flown high into the sky. The distracted enemy garrison starred in awe. What they failed to notice was that the crafty general was using the kite to measure the distance remaining between his forces and the old fortress walls.
After determining the distance, General Han Hsin ordered his men to begin digging tunnels first vertically and the horizontally toward the fortress walls. To ensure the enemy was distracted, additional dragon kites were completed and tied to tress after they reached a height above the fortified palace. As they watched the kite and searched the ground for attackers, Han Hsin’s men were burrowing into the courtyard. The surprise defenders were decimated.
During the Han Dynasty in China, according to legend, some troops were trained in the use of kites to send messages. Others were trained to craft and use kites to terrorize superstitious enemy armies. There is a legend that when two warriors located an invading army camp a few miles from the emperors palace they used a dragon kite, whose face was painted to show a fierce and fiery expression. They added bamboo whistles that gave the impression that the dragon was moaning and growling. To complete the illusion they flew the kite over the enemy encampment at night.
The men who created dragon kites were revered craftsman. They often started as apprentices and trained for years to hone their own unique artistic style in the creation of dragon kites for the military and for ceremonies as well as holidays and parades.
Instead of using the kite as an object of war, the Japanese saw the kite as a ceremonial and religious symbol. Ancient Japanese kite décor is present in many old world paintings that feature religious subjects. This is because the Japanese revered their kites, and thought them to possess pious qualities beyond their own limited human capabilities.
Kites fly skyward toward the heavens, allowing them to reach far closer to the dwellings of the gods than any mortal could ever hope to achieve. In times of ancient history, before the inventions of the satellite or airplane, kites were the ultimate extension of a human spirit into space. The string bound by the kite carrier connected him with the soaring dragon he let sail in the sky. He controlled its path; it’s destiny. It was a colorful display of paper, fabric and string, dancing in the air to the tune of the wind. Flying a dragon kite was a creative, expressive way to pay homage to one’s ancestors, and one’s gods.
The Japanese also have legends that center on kites. One ancient folklore story tells of a hero named Kintoki who was abandoned as a child in the mountains and raised by bears. He grew up to be the strongest man in Japan, and was appointed an aide to the emperor. When he died, his spirt was carried to the heavens on a divine wind. To commemorate this event a special symbolic Japanese kite called the “Sagara” was created with Kintoki’s face painted on it.
Sagara kites remain popular as a symbol of strength and prosperity. They are traditionally given by friends and family to young Japanese children as gifts of congratulations. Kites decorated with a crane or turtle are said to symbolize long life. In Japanese legend kites were also used to bring luck from heaven, frighten away evil spirits, promote fertility and ensure bountiful farming and fishing harvests.
Tumbleweeds and Tarantulas may not have Japanese Sagura kites, or traditional Chinese dragon kites, but they are your one stop shop for all things kite related in the Colorado River Valley.
Written by Jim Hinckley’s America