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Cao Kites flying high

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

15:52, July 25, 2012

Kong Lingmin, 66, paints a kite at his home, which is filled with kites in every corner. (Liu Xiangrui/China Daily)

A chance encounter with an unpublished book has turned out to be a life-changing experience for one family. Liu Xiangrui finds out.

Kong Lingmin is better known as "Mr Cao" because of his famous Cao's Kites. When people call him that, he simply smiles and takes the chance to tell them about the long affinity between his family and the old craft.

His father Kong Xiangze, 92, chanced upon an unpublished book by novelist Cao Xueqin - author of the classic A Dream of Red Mansions - in the early 1940s.

In that book are instructions on how to make traditional crafts. Kong's father, then a painting and carving student, learned to make traditional kites by following the instructions in the book. After decades of devotion, he mastered and revived the recorded techniques, and even developed many kites of his own styles.

"My father was very grateful to Cao and insisted he should name the kites as Cao's Kites, instead of Kong's Kites," says Kong, a 66-year-old Beijing native.

Cao's Kites are expensive and considered rare collectors' items rather than playthings.

It probably did not cross the senior Kong's mind that he'd initiated a generations-long commitment in the family when he first came across the book.

In Kong's suburban house, colorful kites of diverse patterns and sizes hang on the walls of their living room.

Scattered on the floors are half-finished kites and bamboo strips. Two big tables in the center of the room are piled full of kite materials and tools - evidence of the family's obsession. Even Kong's wife and son are excellent kite makers. The family always cooperates to complete a kite.

"We make kites in every corner of our home," says Kong's wife Jiao Shufang, 60, who mastered the craft by assisting Kong during the early years.

Kong himself has liked kites since he was a child and learned the art at an early age. He values innovation and believes that traditional crafts should move with the times.

The man likens his work to that of a painter who draws inspiration from nature. He says he spends a lot of time observing his surroundings.

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