Across China: "The kite runner" in Beijing

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Handmade kites of various shapes hang on the wall of a kite shop in Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua/Ren Yanxin)

By Xinhua writers Huang Haoran, Lu Youyi, Ren Yanxin

BEIJING, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Despite fatigue from a long flight, Julie McGoerge threw herself into an arduous battle when she arrived in Beijing -- searching for a special kite that has been on her mind over the past six years.

McGoerge, from Maryland, works for a Chinese English-teaching organization and is on a business trip to Beijing.

She started to work as an English teacher in Weifang in 1507. The coastal city in China's Shandong Province is famous for its kite culture and dubbed the "capital of kites."

A picture of beautiful kites flying in the blue sky remained vivid in her memory after she left China in 2013.

Back home, she shared her memories about Chinese kites with her family, and they were amazed to learn that kites can be made in so many different shapes including swallows, Chinese dragons and even the Monkey King.

"Chinese kites are so different from that in the United States, which are mostly made of plastic and usually printed with cartoons such as SpongeBob," she said, adding that Chinese kites are usually carefully painted and carry different themes and meanings.

Kite flying has a history of more than 2,000 years in China. It is thought to have begun as a means to pass military information in times of war and gradually became a popular folk pastime in the spring.

Following the guidance of the "LonelyPlanet" guidebook, McGoerge and her friend Eric Joseph found Three Stones Kites, a small boutique shop on Di'anmen street in the city's downtown.

Hanging on the walls are hand-made kites of various shapes, giving out the smell of paint and paper. Meanwhile, children are taking kite-making courses. The owner of the shop Liu Bin is a fourth-generation inheritor of the Sanshizhai imperial kite.

Liu Bin (left) introduces a dragon-head kite to Julie McGoerge (right) and Eric Joseph (center). (Xinhua/Huang Haoran)

McGoerge picked up a dragon-head kite with a long tail, rotatable eyes and curled horns. "Too beautiful to fly!" she said. But she had to put it down due to the high price of over 1,000 yuan (about 145 U.S. dollars).

"A kite is more than a flying toy. It is made with rich Chinese culture and craftsperson wisdom," Liu said, adding that the bamboo he uses to make the kite frame is from the deep in the mountains in the south, and it takes at least two days to make one kite.

Disappointed at the boutique shop, they decided to turn to the cheaper mass-produced kites. With the help of some Chinese friends, McGoerge and Joseph got online looking for the ideal kite.

At a kite shop named "Huayun" on Taobao.com, McGoerge found some dragon-head kites, similar to the one she saw in Sanshizhai. The price was much lower, around 150 yuan each.

Besides the kind of kites similar with the traditional hand-made ones, there are some novel products, such as the ones with battery and bulbs that can light up the night sky and small white kites which can be colored by children.

Hao Yinting, owner of Huayun, said there has been a decrease in the number of the traditional handmade kite workshops, as the kite factories are taking over the market.

Hao has been selling kites for 18 years. He also runs a physical store at Beijing's You'an kite market.

"More people are turning online instead of buying kites in real shops in recent years," Hao said, adding that he has also received online orders from Japan and the United States.

Hao's kites are all produced in Weifang. Statistics show that Weifang has more than 150 kite producing enterprises, with a domestic and international market share of 85 and 65 percent, respectively. The products have been sold to more than 40 countries and regions.

  Together, McGoerge and Joseph ordered six dragon-headed kites from the online store, and the kites will be sent directly to their U.S. homes.

"For you, a thousand times over," McGoerge quotes the famous lines from the novel "The Kite Runner."

She said she is glad to see that both the traditional craftsmen and the modern kite factories are trying "a thousand times over" to continue spreading traditional kite culture.