As temperatures rise this month and the sun stays out longer, Beijingers will be gearing up for an annual spring ritual. Kite flying, a popular seasonal custom, is said to get rid of bad luck. Tradition dictates that the string be cut when the kite is high in the sky in order to allow the wind to carry away illness and misfortune. In the past, parents would tell their children not to pick up a kite on their way home; if one landed on your property, the only way to avoid bad luck was to burn it.
There are many stories surrounding the invention of kites, which are believed to have originated in China. The first kite was generally believed to have been conceived of by Chinese philosopher Mozi (墨子) during the Warring States Period (481-221 BC). His invention, which was shaped like a wooden hawk, was more accurately described as a kite-like flying machine. Years later, his apprentice – the legendary architect and carpenter Lu Ban (鲁班) – improved on his original design and made a kite that managed to stay in the sky for three consecutive days.
After the invention of paper in China around 2,000 years ago, kites were mainly used for carrying messages. It was not until the prosperous Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) that these flying creations started to take on a recreational dimension and spread to Europe.
Originally shaped like a simple flat rectangle, modern kites are categorized according to their materials, motifs (such as dragons, swallows, and eagles), and distinguishing features like 3D constructions and moveable eyes.
In spring, kites are usually sold at the entrance to many parks. For a wider selection, try Sunhe Kite Market (孙河风筝市场) at the border of Chaoyang and Shunyi. South of Panjiayuan, Shilihe Tianjiao Culture City (十里河天娇文化城) is a bird and flower market that also has a small cluster of kite shops. For something unique, Sanshizhai (三石斋风筝) on Di’anmen Xidajie is a 100-year-old family business that makes custom kites that can cost as much as RMB 4,000. Once you get yourself a kite, head on over to one of the following parks or squares.
Beijing Olympic Forest Park 奥体森林公园
Located just north of Fourth Ring Road, this spacious park is also a haven for birds.
Free. Daily 6am-8pm (summer), daily 7am-7pm (winter). 15 Beichen Donglu, Chaoyang District (6452 9060) 朝阳区朝阳区北辰东路15号
Chaoyang Park 朝阳公园
Though perhaps a little too popular, there is enough room at Chaoyang Park to accommodate all kite fliers. There is more room on the grassy fields to the north, and the kites for sale at the south gate of the park mean you can decide to do the activity spontaneously.
RMB 5, RMB 2.5 (students), free for kids under 1.2m. Daily 6am-10pm (last entry at 9pm). 1 Nongzhan Nanlu, Chaoyang District (6506 5409) 朝阳区农展馆南路1号
China Millennium Monument 中华世纪坛
If you just need the bare minimum for kite flying – a square – you will find it outside the China Millenium Monument. Once you are done, consider touring the collections of artwork at Beijing World Art Museum next door.
Free. Daily 8.30am-5.30pm. 9A Fuxing Lu, Haidian District (6852 7108) 海淀区复兴路甲9号
Haidian Park 海淀公园
The large, grassy clearing at the center of Haidian Park is ideal for kite flying and is easily accessible to strollers. Families planning a day trip can also consider visiting the campuses of neighboring Tsinghua University and Peking University.
Free. Daily 7.30am- 10pm. 2 Xinjiangongmen Lu, Haidian District (6285 0569) 海淀区新建宫门路2号
This small park was built in 1958 and given a European-style facelift in 1994 with an artificial pond, classical fountains, and sculptures.
Free. Daily 6am-9pm. 11 Liupukang Jie, Deshengmenwai Ande Lu, Xicheng District (6202 3200) 西城区德胜门外安德路六铺坑街11号
Taiyanggong Park 太阳宫公园
Nestled between big-block residential buildings and shopping malls, this quiet park only really gets going during kite flying season. For younger kids, there is also a playground with a merry-go-round and mountain biking available for RMB 5-10 a ride.
Free. Daily 24hrs. 6 Taiyanggong Zhonglu, Chaoyang District. (8457 4426). 朝阳区太阳宫中路6号
Tian’anmen Square 天安门广场
At 440,00sqm, Tian’anmen Square is the fourth largest city square in the world – and the most traditional place to fly a kite in Beijing. When weather conditions are right, kites of all shapes and colors fill the sky and cause passersby to slow their pace.
Free. Daily 8.30am-4.30pm. Tian’anmen Square, Chang’an Jie, Dongcheng District. 东城区西长安街天安门广场
Yuandadu Relic Park 元大都城垣遗址公园
Built on a section of the city wall left over from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD), Yuandalu is a low-profile escape without a trace of modern constructions. The park extends for 9km, bordered by water, trees, and hills. It is also an ideal place for a picnic; you will forget that you are actually within Fourth Ring Road.
Free. Daily 24hrs. 24 Anwai Xiaoguanjie, Chaoyang District. (8464 8252) 朝阳区安外小关街24号 (近育慧南路)
Photo by Adam Lane
This article originally appeared on p30-33 of the beijingkids March 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com