Inheritor of imperial kite spends his life developing its modern flair
Liu Bin is the third inheritor of Cao's Kites. In 2003, he opened his first kite shop in Downtown Beijing and created his own kite brand named Sanshizhai, referring to three generations of his family. [Photo: courtesy of Liu Bin]
Kites are very common and almost anyone can fly them for fun. But as we'll see, they also have a deep cultural and historical value. Cao's kite is one of the famous styles of kites in the nation, and it was once exclusively played by the imperial family in the Qing Dynasty. It was added to China's Intangible Heritage list in 2017.
A kite designed by Liu Bin. It belongs to kite category called Shayan, which is symbol of Cao's kite and kites from Beijing. [Photo: courtesy of Liu Bin]
If you are curious about what royal kites look like, you can find out for yourself at a very special kite store in Di'anmen Street, Downtown Beijing. This one is very unique as it's the last one in the country whose owner, Liu Bin, is the descendant of a great craftsman who made royal kites in the Qing Dynasty. He is also the third inheritor of Cao's Kites.
[Photo：courtesy of Liu Bin]
Looking at the store from outside, you are immediately attracted by the array of different kites hanging from the roof beams. Once you're inside, you'll be amazed with all the gaily coloured kites fluttering in the breeze. You could be forgiven for thinking they're smiling at you. A huge red goldfish with a beautiful wide, long tail first catches your attention. Its body is covered with fan-shaped scales and its fin swings slightly. Its mouth is half open as if it is breathing and blowing bubbles, and it's easy to imagine it swimming gracefully in the water. Then you notice a host of other kites, all in animal or human form, all brightly coloured and stirring in the breeze. They were all designed and made by Liu Bin.
Cao's kites have the reputation that they can fly high in the sky and don't come down in strong winds. Cao refers to Cao Xueqin, a famous novelist in the Qing Dynasty who is best known for Dream of the Red Chamber, still considered a masterpiece of contemporary literature.
The special designed kite for the National Ballet of China by Liu Bin. [Photo：courtesy of Liu Bin]
Nowadays, Liu Bin often makes custom-made kites for government departments, domestic and foreign invested companies. In 2011, it took him a year to design a kite for the National Ballet of China to celebrate the successful premiere of a Chinese version of the Nutcracker in Beijing. He explains that the entire design of the kite gives people the image of a graceful dancing ballerina.
For more information, please click the audio above to find out more about features of Cao's kites and some of the secrets that only kite circle insiders know.