Chinese Arts & Crafts

Chinese Arts & Crafts

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Banyao - The Singing kite

Have you ever heard a kite singing? Today I`d like to introduce you the Nantong whistling kite, also known as “Banyao” (板鹞), which means board snipe, or board kite, a magnificent and spectacular kind of kite which is used as musical instrument.

The kite is something children all over the world play with, but it wasn`t always a toy. 
According to some sources kites were invented in China over 2000 years ago; some ancient book records that the master craftsman Gongshu Ban and the thinker Mozi had both made something called "wooden hawk", and later on it was said that general Han Xin made "paper hawks" in the first years of Han Dynasty. However, according to more reliable sources, the kite originated during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589 AD). At that time it was named "paper crow" or "paper owl" and it was used  for military purposes, correspondence, measurements, etc.
In the Tang dynasty paper started to be more widely used in everyday life and gradually replaced other more expensive materials in making kites, such as silk. Thanks to this kite-flying was popularized and quickly spread among common people. 
From Tang and Song Dynasties Chinese kites started to spread to the outer world, first to Asia and then to Europe, contributing greatly to global scientific and technological development. 

New Year Painting Ten Beauties flying kites

Nantong is home of the exquisite whistling kites; it`s situated in the east of Jangsu Province near the mouth of the Yangtze River, where the strong winds create ideal conditions for kite flying, especially in spring and autumn.
Although there are many famous kite production places such as Beijing, Tianjin and Weifan, Nantong whistling kites have a history of over one thousand years and are unique to the Nantong area.
What makes Nantong whistling kites so special is that anywhere between 100 and 300 whistles are attached to each kite (although some kites can have up to 1,000!!). Matching the whistle sizes and coordinating tones, kite makers aim to create harmonious and melodious sounds of different pitches which are often described as “Symphony on air” and can reach miles in distance.

As you can see from the pictures, in order to be able to fly and maintain stable such a large number of whistles, Nantong kites are much larger and heavier than other kites.
The pictures below are from the Nantong Whistle Board Kite Exhibition held at the Baoshan International Folk Art Exposition Center in Shanghai.

All Nantong kites feature a basic bamboo framing with paper, cloth or silk covering shaped in geometric patterns, and each section is hand painted with traditional designs.
The whistles are either cylindrical or orb shaped. The cylindrical pieces are made from bamboo, shaved down to a paper-like thinness to lighten weight and increase reverberation.
The orb-shaped whistles are made from gourds with carved wooden caps. Nantong kite artists cultivate a variety of gourds to make big and small whistles, the smallest can be only one centimeter in diameter, and the largest can reach up to 50 cm or even more.

Nantong kites come in many different styles and feature various patterns and decorations. Animals, such as hawks, sparrows, butterflies, are the main form adopted. Other styles represent the folk culture, and many decorations, such as golden fishes and chubby babies, have auspicious connotations.

In old times kites were flown as a way to send prayers to the gods, and, in particular, the loud sound made by the Nantong kite was believed to have the power to avert evil spirits in the sky and bring peace and harmony the whole year. 
The Nantong kite is also closely related to the local production. In the Nantong area many people work as fishermen, a profession particularly affected from changes in the weather conditions. In the past, when there was no weather forecast, it`s said that the fishermen relied on a kite to test the wind and decide whether to go out to the sea.

I leave you with a video of a Banyao flying. There is some background noise due to the strong wind, but you can hear clearly the loud and almost hypnotic humming of the kite!

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