Mechanical Wizardry in Xian: Dragon Head Has Eight Moves

Ben Ruhe
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Xian, China, home of the famous underground ceramic army, is also home to the three best makers of mechanical kites in the country, if not the world.

Pride of place go to Zhang Tian Wei and his former student and now colleague Li Xiao Hu. Zhang’s kites are quite something. Using bamboo and a bit of metal for his workings, he constructs dragon heads for his long centipede kites that have eight wind-activated movements. When flying or when activated by a fan, a fearsome dragon opens and closes its mouth, rolls its eyes, raises and lowers its eyebrow lids, tilts its lashes, quivers its nose hairs, moves its tongue in and out, flaps its ears, and lashes its long whiskers.

The head would be wonderful in an exhibition of kites. Put a fan in front to get the gears and levers, cams and rods, shafts and pivots working and a mirror in the back so viewers can see the mechanical elements in complex action. Delightful and absorbing.

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