Origins of Kite Flying
Enjoy a cup of luxury green tea with this story.
February 22, marks the first full moon of the Lunar New Year. Koreans celebrate the occasion with a variety of rituals and events. One of the age-old activities on this day is kite-flying.
While people in other countries usually enjoy this activity in spring and fall, Koreans often fly kites during winter, especially on Lunar New Year’s Day and on the lunar year’s first full moon. Some people cut the strings to let their kites fly away to drive away bad luck and bring good luck instead.
In ancient Korea, kite-flying was associated with war in general. The earliest record of kite-flying in Korea dates back to the mid-7th century during the reign of Queen Seondeok in the Silla Dynasty. In the later years of the queen’s rule, a rebellion broke out. The rebels claimed that a woman could not rule the country. The situation seemed to be going against the queen, especially when a large star fell from the sky. As if waiting for this to happen, the rebel forces declared that it was clearly a sign of the queen’s looming death. Not only the queen’s defending soldiers but also commoners were visibly shaken by this falling star, as they suspected that the queen was doomed.
But, the famous general Kim Yu-shin turned the situation around. He had previously used kites to communicate with his soldiers. This time around, he attached flaming material to a big kite and let it fly through the night sky. Seen from a distance, it looked like a star streaking across the sky. The general spread the rumor that the star that had fallen the other day returned to the heaven and therefore the queen would eventually achieve victory and live a long life. This helped restore confidence in the queen, while the rebels lost the will to fight. The rebellion was only short-lived and it was suppressed by General Kim. This record shows that kites were used in combat in Korea as early as the 7th century.
In the late 16th century, during the Japanese invasion of the Korean kingdom of Joseon, renowned admiral Yi Sun-shin used kites of different shapes and colors to deliver orders to his ships. As seen in these anecdotes, kites were mostly used for military purposes. But kite-flying spread to the general public in the 18th century during the reign of King Yeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty. The king liked to watch his people flying kites and even promoted the activity. From then on, people have enjoyed kite-flying as entertainment.