"1984": George Orwell's 1949 satire about all-powerful government and centralised socialism's tendencies to both the brutal and the absurd was (not just coincidentally) in our thoughts in 1984 when Elwyn and I went to the inaugural Weifang (Shandong Province, China) International Kite Festival. "1984"'s topic was an England gripped by the fascist left, but the countries that most nearly matched this structure in 1984 were Soviet Russia and China. By then England had been saved from this fate by Margaret Thatcher- who's reforms soon caught on in both Russia and China as well, -and no-one would have been happier to have been proved wrong by this than George Orwell. Opening Ceremony
China is an old civilisation. They probably didn't invent kites - though the earliest historical record of kite flying is theirs- but they developed just about everything else- like moveable type, gunpowder and the processes for making cast iron- a long time before Western Europe. Flying At The Reservoir Weifang 1984
But from about the 16th century they lost their way- by enthusiastically adopting almost every possible sort of protectionism. By the middle 1900's China was being predated by stronger countries.
The 1850's Taiping rebellion (a christian inspired land reform movement, the largest war ever by loss of life), and the 1899 Boxer uprising (to throw out the foreign devils) were reactions to this loss of status. Sun Yat-sen's democratic/republican movement of the early 20th century eventually led to the necessary re-organisation, but along the way split into factions led respectively by the warlord Chiang Kai-shek and the leftist Mao Zedong,with Chiang being pushed out to Taiwan in the late 1940's.
Mao's China then went through the paroxisms of the Great Leap Forward (a failed attempt at forced industrialisation) and the Cultural Revolution (an attempt by Mao to root out class based privilege), before coming under the sway of the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970's. To everyone's surprise, probably including his own, Deng then opened China to the world- and the world to China.
The inaugural 1984 Weifang Kite Festival was part of this initiative, and coming just 6 years after the first tentative border opening, was a culture shock for both visitors and locals. Peter Lynn Dragonfly 1984
Elwyn's and my predominant impressions of Weifang in 1984 were of China as a dragon just unleashed.
And of being crowded by curious locals prodding and grabbing at our personal bits- presumably towards settling whether their views about anatomical differences were correct or not.
And of brown and navy blue: There were no bright colours anywhere excepting in propaganda posters.
We flew kites at various locations, but at one venue; a dry reservoir, there were said to have been 400,000 spectators. Which was credible; Weifang is now a city of 9 million- twice the population of NZ (but still doesn't rate an international airport!). Elwyn's Double Delta at Kaixuang Factory Weifang 2013
Elwyn made an original design kite for Weifang in 1984; a double delta; which flew great and is still a unique design as far as I'm aware. It has sequins and jangly bells which caused some consternation for the staff at an air defence radar station on top of Mount Tai when she flew it there.
I took an 8m wingspan Dragonfly, also a one-off, and a 7m Flare and a 6m PLT box - all large single skin kites framed with 1m lengths of 32mm diameter fibreglass tube.
For the 30th anniversary (this year), we mined our archive and found both Elwyn's Double Delta and my 8m Dragonfly. Elwyn's recollection was that her delta didn't fly that well and she warned me to expect disappointment with the reconstituted Dragonfly on account of all the things I've learnt about kite making in the last 30 years. Weifang Museum Presentation 2013
She was wrong on both counts: At the 2013 Weifang event, her double delta flew great and so did my Dragonfly.
It seems that either I knew how to make better kites then than I do now-or else framed kites are even easier to design (relative to soft kites) than I have been spinning for the last 20 years (as an excuse for difficulties with various frameless kites).
Both the Double Delta and the Dragonfly are now in the Weifang Kite Museum- which we are very proud of- and we saved some weight on our homeward journey.
What was different in 2013 as compared to 1984?
Just about everything.
Like that it snowed for the first day's flying- it was said to have been a 1000 years since the last time this happened there in late April- though another estimate was 40 years.*
And there were probably only one tenth as many spectators at the kite flying as in 1984*-
And bright colours were everywhere.
And there was quite decent red wine- though 45% by volume Maotai was still very much in evidence.
And that we didn't recognise a single building or architectural feature in Weifang from 1984- everything there is new- and the roads are FANTASTIC!
The dragon has most definitely definitely thrown off it's shackles.
Images of the, Dragonfly and Elwyn's double Delta, kites at Weifang 2013
in the snow.
in the sky.
Elwyn and Peter
But what wasn't different?
Thanks to George Orwell, Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher- and common sense- Orwell's fears in "1984" have not come to pass. China is not now any more Orwellian than many other countries- including some of the developed ones.
In timely fashion it has become a generally meritocratic country with a can-do attitude. Timely because this is just as the West has become mired in "can't do" and the rewarding of failure.
But aspects of Orwell's "1984" were certainly noticeable in China in 1984, and are still- not least that kite event participants are expected to trust the authorities that everything is running as per the plan- though what that plan is seems to be a state secret at times.
It was a good event though; keen flying, appreciative audiences, excellent hotels, and prizes for pretty much everyone. We're looking forward to their 60th
Peter Lynn, Cervia, May 1 '13
*Small sample sizes- but suggestive that kite flying is shrinking and the world is getting colder.
I'm not sure about the world's climate- like Zhou Enlai, Mao's foreign minister's view of the 1789 French Revolution; "It's too soon to tell" (the current cooling phase has only been evident for 20 years so far).
But I don't think that kite flying is less interesting or popular in China now than it was in 1984. Rather; the opposite is true; Chinese people are rapidly converging on the developed West in having many choices as to how to spend their leisure time, and very many of them are choosing to become kite flying participants.
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