Weifang is famed for its handicraft tradition, and its kite making also has a long history. Originally, the trade only involved artisans who made kites as a means of livelihood. Later, men of letters and artists also developed an interest in the folk art and applied their intelligence and skills to kite designing and painting, adding a tincture of studied elegance and sophistication to the folk craft. Changes of dynasties further galvanized the development of kite making, as imperial kite makers of a terminated dynasty fled the capital and started their new lives in Weifang, bringing their tastes, standards and expertise to local crafts traditions.
The Weifang kite enjoys a reputation for exquisite craftsmanship. Artisans use three-year-old Mao bamboos that are straight and have smooth veins. The process of splitting, trimming, scraping and heating create structures as straight as arrows and so elastic that they wrap around a finger. Kite frames made this way are light, stable and flexible. Weifang kites come in several varieties: soft-winged, hard-winged, train and cylindrical kites.
Kite shops are everywhere in the city, but the best known is certainly the Sanguan Pavilion that sells the Tang Kite. The Tang family started this business around 1628 in the late Ming Dynasty. Its current proprietor is Tang Yanshou. The family trade is distinguished for its hard-winged kites, whose broad spans allow an easy lift. The "Double Swallows" design of Tang Yanshou is acclaimed as an extraordinary masterpiece.
As an internationalized event of the proud folk tradition, the Weifang International Kite Festival attracts numerous Chinese and foreign kite masters every year. The tantalizing stunts and spectacles of competing kites amuse thousands of visitors, as well as their distinctive models, colors, styles and the flying techniques perfected in different countries.
The organizer has elevated the occasion from a folk amusement to a concurrent formal sporting event. This year marks the 7th World Kite Championship, attended by teams from dozens of countries and regions, including the U.S. and Great Britain. Meanwhile, "World Kite Misses" from various countries make an appearance in this grand event, promoting friendship among locals, competitors and visitors with their beauty, kindness and charm.
One of the competitions is the Sino-foreign Sport Kite Event which lures thousands of kite fans and rivals from around the world flying aero-dynamic kites of various shapes. The kite most symbolic of Weifang is a massive train kite with a dragon's head and a centipede's body. It is actually composed of single kites joined into a train by strings. When flying, the tail and body have to go up first to generate a lift powerful enough to pull up the big dragon's head. The single kites and their connections must be designed according to aero-dynamic principles if the monster is to soar and remain buoyant in the sky. Such kites are usually about 30 meters long, but this year a 100-meter-long dragon-headed centipede took to the sky in front of astonished spectators.
What festival is complete without an extravaganza and traditional wedding ceremony performance? Weifang's includes the parade of the marriage sedan, worshipping heaven and earth, cross-cupped wine ceremony, and of course entering the bridal chamber; it replicates the traditional marriage ceremony. Visitors can also experience rural life by staying in a local village cottage and enjoying local meals, customs and lifestyle.
Savor the Folklore
Yangjiabu Village is a major kite producer in Weifang. Its kites sport vivid images and soar elegantly. Moreover, they are decorated distinctively using the woodblock printing technique of the village, a tradition that appeared on the first list of China's Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Yangjiabu is located in Weifang's Hanting District and has easy road and rail access; it is adjacent to both the Jinan-Qingdao Expressway and the Jiao-Ji Railway. As you enter the village, the antique shopping lanes and extraordinarily splendid folk art come into view.
Woodblock New Year prints and kites are the cultural heritage of the village. They are showcased at the Yangjiabu Folk Art Grand Park, where visitors can learn their history and production techniques.
The park comprises several siheyuan – courtyards of classic architecture – that are divided into several sections devoted to kite making, woodblock engraving and printing, and other arts and crafts. Visitors can try their hand at kite making, or they can just fly kites and take cable cars to simply enjoy the beautiful pastoral views.
Yangjiabu woodblock New Year's prints have a 600-year-old history. They are characterized by sharply contrasting colors and beautiful lineal depictions that create exaggerated, imaginative and witty images. The motifs are mainly mythological with references to ancient superstitions. There is also an abundance of genre prints.
This village is also a major birthplace of kite making, which has paired up with its woodblock print technique; so its kites can be art works or toys, depending on whether you hang them on the wall or fly them; they come in six categories totaling over 60 varieties.
As the home of the kite, the Weifang Kite Museum is a must-see for visitors. Located at No. 66, Xingzheng Street, Kuiwen District, it is a huge edifice totaling a floor space of 8,100 square meters. Its design borrows from the monstrous dragon-headed centipede kite – a ceramic body running the full length of the roof ridge. The roof is covered with peacock-blue glazed tiles, serving as a backdrop for the dragon, as if flying in the sky. The museum has a collection of over 1,000 masterpieces, judged by both their workmanship and flying skills, in addition to some 300 photos or duplicates of antique kites.
The museum is composed of eight exhibition halls, devoted to the history and culture of kites, their old and current use and functions, masterpieces from Weifang and other parts of the country and world, the Weifang International Kite Festival, kite folklore, and a kite cinema.
Strolling in the museum, you will feel keenly the powerful embrace of a passionate and dynamic folklore as you indulge yourself in a fascination for both gigantic artistic wonders and their no less impressive miniature cousins whose details can only be discerned with a magnifying glass. The museum presents a living culture that harks back to a remote past and extends into a boundless future.
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