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Use of Kites in ancient chinese military


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#1 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 04 September 2006 - 01:20 AM

As you may well know, kite was invented by the chinese. Maybe, you might have the impression that kite only existed as a toy (entertainment) played by the chinese kids. But according to historical records, kites did not originate from entertainment purpose but from the ancient chinese military.

I posted some information about the history of kite invention in the thread at
http://www.chinahist...showtopic=13640. But in this thread, we can focus on the discussion of its military use.

For a brief, kite was invented by Lu Ban during Warring States period as a form of spying machinery/tool used for the military. As history developed, kite's application in chinese military began to broaden to not just being used as a chinese weaponry, but also for intelligence collection (espionage), psychological warfare weapon, communication tools

Kite has been regarded as the world's first flying machine by aviation historians in the world. It's a machine that relies on wind/air-lift to fly. Therefore, some historians regarded the chinese as inventors of first flying machine in the world.

Its use in ancient chinese military are as follow:

1. Espionage/Spying Tool for intelligence collection

According to the site http://www.bokee.net...w/11/70288.html, the han general Han Xin once used a kite to fly over the enemy's capital city and then later calculate the distance his army had to traverse to the capital city by measuring the length of string/rope tied onto the kite. From there, he can roughly estimate the time and distance needed for his army to march to the enemy's city.

2. Used as a weapon for fire-attack

I'm not sure if this is historically accurate, but in the drama series "Romance of 3 kingdoms", it was shown during the naval battle of Chibi that kite was used as a weapon for fire attack. Basically, the kite was made of paper, and the attacker will light up the fire in the kite, and then shoot the kite (through a projectile/large cross-bow) into the enemy boats as well as tents. When the kite reaches the tents of the enemy camp, it will start to burn the enemy camps.


3. Used as a weapon to incite confusion

During the Song period, people began to use kite as a 'flying bomber/missle'. The idea was to tie the explosives onto a kite, then fly the kite to above the enemy's camp, then explode it, causing a confusion as a form to raid the enemy.


4. Used as a communication tool in chinese military

According to historical records, during the age of fragmentation, Liang Wudi was trapped by Hou Jin in the city of Tai. He used the kite to transport/fly a letter (containing a message asking for help) out of the city, It was thus used as a means of passing a message in chinese military.

In 781 AD, the Tang general Zhang Pi 张丕 was trapped by the rebel army of Tian Yue 田悦in the city of Lin Ming. In the midst of emergency, he tied a letter asking for help to a kite and flew it out of the city of Lin Ming. Although Tian Yue tried to shoot it down but to no avail, eventually the letter asking for help was transported by the kite to his re-inforcement army and Zhang Pi was later saved.


5. Used as a tool for Psychological Warfare

Not sure if this is true, but I read somewhere that in ancient chinese military, a kite depicting a great monster or made into the form of a dragon was flown over the enemy army. The enemy army thought that this was an army sent by heaven 'performed as a form of magical/spell' to attack them. Many were scared and ran away. The attacker managed to defeat the enemy army by just flying a kite over them. I'm not too sure if this was historically accurate, so probably someone can verify if this is true.

Can you think of other military use of kites in ancient chinese army? Please include any illustrations and comments.

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#2 Non-Han Nan Ban

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Posted 04 September 2006 - 02:01 AM

I've heard of this a long time ago, and I still think it's humorous, although its intent was to kill other people. I only say this because I observe the innocent intent of kite-flying these days, and think to myself, yeah, people used that to kill other people. And that's just funny.

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#3 ih8eurocentrix

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Posted 04 September 2006 - 04:02 AM

. Espionage/Spying Tool for intelligence collection

According to the site http://www.bokee.net...w/11/70288.html, the han general Han Xin once used a kite to fly over the enemy's capital city and then later calculate the distance his army had to traverse to the capital city by measuring the length of string/rope tied onto the kite. From there, he can roughly estimate the time and distance needed for his army to march to the enemy's city.


Meaning that he could see the kite above the enemys capital.

#4 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 09:12 PM

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This was the earliest kite invented during Spring/Autumn and Warring States period by Lu Ban used for intelligence collection.

According to Tang book "Shi Wu Ji Yuan 《事物纪原》", it was recorded that during the Chu-Han battle (in early han dynasty history), Han Xin once constructed a kite and let Zhang Liang sit on it to fly over the Chu army, who are trapped in Gaixia. Zhang Liang also sang the Chu song, which further decrease the morale of the Chu army and thereby defeated the Chu army.

The technique for making kite was spreaded to Europe during 14th century.

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This is a 'snake kite'. If flown over the enemy, does it look like a flying monster?
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#5 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 09:27 PM

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This is a "terrocotta army" kite recently made, that looks like 'heavenly army'. [Of course, this is a modern innovation, not a historical product]
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

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#6 Kenneth

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 10:39 PM

I am very sceptical of the sites claim of of measuring marching distances (by the length of string) and flying over enemy capitals.

1. Espionage/Spying Tool for intelligence collection

According to the site http://www.bokee.net...w/11/70288.html, the han general Han Xin once used a kite to fly over the enemy's capital city and then later calculate the distance his army had to traverse to the capital city by measuring the length of string/rope tied onto the kite. From there, he can roughly estimate the time and distance needed for his army to march to the enemy's city.


If the string were long enough to measure a distance for an armies route march it would be of immense length and suggests it was tethered some miles away at least. If it was even a distance of many miles (highly implausible) it would still not yield distance information of much relevance to timing a combat march when the effort expended in gaining the measurement by kite and even getting it aloft or capturing the wind and setting it up could have been covered during the preparation of this device.
I do not believe this story is factually true.
Lifting a person aloft to observe the enemy from a long distance is possible. It doesnt require flying over a city at all. Observation by kite accross a plain when even a height of a few dozen metres is made would increase vision to many kilometres and sounds possible. This has been done by hot air balloon in WW1 also but it sounds like this is a very exaggerated and garbled account of an ancient event. In its present form the story would be fantasy.
Can we have the Chinese source and translation?
Are we really to believe an enormous kite on a piece of cord many many miles long (at least) allowed a general to fly above a distant city while his army was still out of striking distance?
It seems like an unsound way to send the commanding officer on intelligence gathering as anyone who has flown a kite and had the wind 'pick up' or 'drop off' while it is aloft would know. "Aiiiiiieeee!" (plummet).
Think of the effort required to get paragliders aloft with modern ligthweight materials after all.
A speed boat typically. Unless the wind is howling a gale then a human raised on a kite would be difficult. If it was howling a gale just how high would you want to send the officer above the ground?
A dead general is the likely result. Also it gives the people in the city (after all the army is still a distance away) a pretty good geuss where the enemy is if a kite on a string 10 miles long start creeping towards your walls.
Follow the string. There is the enemy out of sight.
The story is just silly.

BTW the 'invented' claims are not certain although China is typically a front runner in the story.
See;http://www.enchanted...tors/1300.shtml

The kite was invented roughly 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. It originated in China, Malaysia or Indonesia (there are many claims to having invented the kite). Some people say that the earliest kites consisted of a huge leaf attached to a long string (there is a type of Indonesian leaf that is wonderful as a kite).

The kite itself would have been independently invented many times without spreading from China.
In pre-European NZ the neolithic Maori had kite flying as a past time. These are Maori whose Lapita ancestors had already left the Asian mainland long before the Zhou period.

Note the possibility China has the earliest literary references but the potential for independent or multiple inventions (if not earlier neolithic examples) are very high.
With no physical remains or diagrams of devices we should take a lot of these ancient technologies as interpretations on scant literary references only.
http://www.best-bree...rigin-of-kites/

Documented evidence on the origins of the kite is somewhat sparse and open to some different interpretations.

It is commonly accepted that the kite was invented in China. However, there is significant reason to believe that the kite may have developed in the Indonesian archipelago and the islands of the south seas around the same time that the kite was emerging in mainland China.

Historians and anthropologists have struggled to date the earliest emergence of the kite and to hypothesize on the source of the original idea for the "kite" as a tethered flying device.

Some of the most recent thinking for the origin of the 'notion' of the kite centres on two main ideas:

The visual image of a leaf barely attached to a vine, tree, or object by a fine strand of vine, or perhaps even a strand of a spider's web. This is one of the concepts that may have created the notion of controlling the flight of a leaf or similar object on the end of a fine line;
The visual image of a hat, item of clothing, or a wind sail loosely floating on the breeze tied to a fence post or mast could also have stirred the idea of flying an object at the end of a line.


These two notions are sometimes conceded by anthropologists and historians alike, who have bothered to take the time to speculate on the origins of the kite, as potential sources for the concept of the kite.

That these concepts could have emerged in isolation in more than one area of emerging civilization at somewhat similar periods in time is entirely possible.

Although there is documentary evidence for the early emergence of the kite in China, historical analysts concede that China may get the credit due to the fact that its history was well preserved in both written and artistic records.

Nevertheless, more recent studies into the anthropological roots of cultures in Malasia, Indonesia, the south sea islands (including Hawaii, Polynesia, New Zealand) suggest that the oral history of these areas point to the very early emergence of the kite, perhaps in eras around the same time as the development of the kite in China.


Early kites in all of these cultures (China, Indonesia, and the south sea islands) relied on the use of natural materials:

Bamboo or similarly strong reed like branches for framing structure;
Thin strands of vine or braided fibres for flying/tethering line;
Leaves, braided reeds and similar fibrous sheets, or in the case of China - woven cloth and later paper, were commonly used for sail material.

Considering this anthropological evidence, more facts need to be determined before a precise date for the emergence and origin of the kite can be conclusively ascribed to one nation or geographic area.

Current records based on written history point to the famous Chinese philosopher Mo-tse (Mo Ti in some texts) (approx. 468-376 BC) as the first to build a kite. Living near Mt. Lu, in the area of Qingzhou, Shandong province (near present day Weifang China), Mo-tse carefully carved a bird (a 'sparrow hawk' or eagle) over a period of three years. Once satisfied that it was as much like a bird as he could make it, he flew it for only a single day. The exact details of its flight are not recorded, but there is conclusive, written reference to this event in Chinese history.

From this published date, we can safely conclude that the kite has a history of at least 2,300 years. The documentation of Mo-tse's flight in the Weifang area is therefore frequently cited as proof for the fact that the kite originated in China (*)

......*. The historical record on the actual origin of kites is much discussed and even the precious few datable 'facts' are open to interpretation. As an example, some records state that the kite of Mo-tse was flown for one day; others state three days. Some reputable scholars, such as Berthold Laufer, dispute that Mo-tse even created and flew the bird like device. He also questions whether or not it was a 'kite' in the usual meaning of the word. Thus, getting a definitive answer on the origins of the kite is a challenging task. [Laufer: pp 23-25].


Edited by Kenneth, 05 September 2006 - 10:45 PM.

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#7 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 06 September 2006 - 01:54 AM

Can we have the Chinese source and translation?


There are many theories put forth to the origin of kite in chinese source.

1. According to the ancient book "Han Feizi Waichu Shuozhuo 《韩非子 外储说左》", it was recorded "墨子为木鸢,三年而成,飞一日而败" (Mozi once constructed a wooden ride, it was constructed for 3 years, but failed after one day of flight). Some people argued that Mozi was the inventor of Kite. This was during Warring States period.

2. According to the ancient book "Hong Shu 《鸿书》", it was recorded "公输班制木鸢以窥宋城" (Lu Ban once constructed a wooden Gede to spy on the city of Song). At that time, kite was known as "Mu Yuan 木鸢" (wooden gede)

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A wooden gede

3. According to the book "Nanyao Beiyuan Kaogong Zhi 《南鹞北鸢考工志》" by Cao Xueqin, it was written:

观夫史籍所载,风鸢之由来久矣,可征者实寡,非所详也;惟墨子作木鸢,三年而飞之说,或无疑焉。盖将用之负人载物,超险阻而飞达,越川泽而空递;

(Translation:

After observing the historical records, the origin of kite dated very far back. Any verification of the history was however limited, let alone being commented. Only the records of Mozi constructing a kite and flying it after 3 years was plausable. About its application in carrying a person or transport an object, it can overcome dangerous obstacles and reach the destination, fly over swamps and rivers and transport through the air).

4. According to the book "Shiwu Jiyuan - 8th chapter on paper kite 《事物纪原 卷八纸鸢》" by Gao Cheng, it was written:

俗谓之风筝,古今相传,云是韩信所作。高祖之征陈郗也,信谋从中起,故作纸鸢放之,以量未央宫远近,欲以穿地隧入宫中也。盖昔传如此,理或然矣

(Translation:

What is called today as "kite" was dated from the past. It was said to be the creation of Han Xin. When Liu Bang was campaigning against Chen Xi, Han Xin came up with an idea. He constructed a paper kite in order to gauge whether enemy palace is far or near, in order to reach the palace through a tunnel beneath. This story has been passed down from then and is clearly understood.)
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#8 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 06 September 2006 - 02:02 AM

I am very sceptical of the sites claim of of measuring marching distances (by the length of string) and flying over enemy capitals.
If the string were long enough to measure a distance for an armies route march it would be of immense length and suggests it was tethered some miles away at least. If it was even a distance of many miles (highly implausible) it would still not yield distance information of much relevance to timing a combat march when the effort expended in gaining the measurement by kite and even getting it aloft or capturing the wind and setting it up could have been covered during the preparation of this device.
I do not believe this story is factually true.


I think I made a mistake in interpreting the source. After re-reading the sources, it actually mentioned "Han Xin only uses the kite to gauge whether the palace was far or near". It wasn't meant to be used for calculating the distance and time for marching into a city.
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#9 ih8eurocentrix

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Posted 06 September 2006 - 04:21 AM

Tunneling required a estimate of the distance they have to digg , so using a kite and seeing it where it was above the enemy base,he could then judge the distance,Probally using some sort of marker on the String like knots for speed of boats he could count the number of knots or painted lines etc.And using Pythagoras mathematics calculate the distance required to digg.
I dont think anyone actually flew the kite.

#10 Tibet Libre

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Posted 07 September 2006 - 01:54 PM

As you may well know, kite was invented by the chinese.
...
Kite has been regarded as the world's first flying machine by aviation historians in the world. It's a machine that relies on wind/air-lift to fly. Therefore, some historians regarded the chinese as inventors of first flying machine in the world.


You know, General Zhaoyun, Chinese historical science would be so much more worthwhile to read, if it were not so obsessed with establishing priority over everybody else. And if it would not take regularly a part for whole, trying to take away the credit from others.

Why dont you rather say "the kite was invented first by the Chinese" and that some historian consider it an important step in the pre-history of aviation. On the grounds that the Chinese were likely to be not the only ones to invent it and because it is actually no machine at all.

I am with Kenneth here: Highly unlikely that men actually flew kites.




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