Zhang Tianwei, 81 years old, is a famous kite artisan. His kites are known all over China because they are anything but ordinary.
The Zhang family has been making kites for several generations. Zhang's father was a famous kite artisan in Xi'an, so he grew up in an environment that fostered a little boy's natural love for kites. "When I was a kid, I read in a book about a kite that consisted of two roosters. The wind made it look as if they were fighting with each other in the air. There weren't many details, but I was amazed and inspired and wanted to make kites that could move too."
Dynamic kites are traditional kites installed with a wind-powered mechanical transmission device. As a kid, Zhang was not able to make things like that.
However, when growing up, Zhang studied how to repair watches. Then he worked in a screw factory to make wooden models for all kinds of machine tool parts. Later, he was in charge of modifying mechanics in an electric application factory. Years of working experience gave him the possibility of making his childhood dream come true.
To make a dynamic kite, Zhang needs to picture its moves in his mind first and put them on a blueprint. "Normally, I draw a front view and a side view. I solve 95 percent of the problems so that there would be no need to rework it."
To make kites lighter in weight, Zhang uses aluminum alloy to make the gears. He cuts aluminum cans into strips and bends them with pliers. The levers and the connection rods of bamboo make up the transmission device of the kites. Then he attaches the device with the frame of the kite, pastes the paper and paints the patterns to finish his work. Complicated dynamic kites need several stages of transmission to allow different parts to move.
Zhang can finish a simple dynamic kite in one to two months. Big kites can take him as long as one year and three months.
Although making kites is just a hobby, Zhang treats everything seriously. He is thinking about how to solve the problems he encountered during the manufacturing process. Zhang makes every part with precision, even the invisible ones. When some of his works are bought or collected by others and he needs to make another one, he always makes them better rather than making a simple copy.
As the inheritor of intangible cultural heritage in Xi'an, Zhang sees his kites as one of the cultural icons of the city. "I hope more young people can fall in love with dynamic kites. I'm not a conservative person. If people come to ask me about my techniques, I tell them everything I know and teach them. I hope young people can help me pass on my craft."