Illustration of Kite

5th century BCE Kite

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Mozi, Lu Ban aerodynamics Illustration of Kite


The first kites were military devices invented by carpenters who didn’t believe in war. The philosopher Mozi, who was also a carpenter, invented the man-lifting kite for military reconaissance. Mozi’s competitor Lu Ban engineered the cloud ladder, a siege engine, and the wooden bird.

The story of kites

Mozi’s and Lu Ban’s kites, their wooden black-eared kites, were made of wood and bamboo, they say. Unless we regard the legend of a Chinese farmer in the wind who tied a string to his hat, the first record of kites of bamboo covered with paper or cloth was a thousand years later. Introduced in Japan around 675 kites became a popular form of entertainment and a part of Buddhist ceremonies. Marco Polo reported in 1282 seeing merchants use a man-lifting kite to test whether voyages of a ship would be auspicious. Today we think of kites, not as military tools or forms of divination, but as playthings for children.


Mozi’s parents showed Mozi only a little love. Mozi taught that impartial caring, regardless of relationships, should replace filial piety as the rule of a virtuous person. He taught that love is the standard that rulers should be guided by.

Success with kites

Ben Franklin’s kite collected static electricity to show lightning is a form of electricity. The Wright brothers tested the lift and drag of airplane prototypes by flying them as kites. Charlie Brown has trouble with the kite-eating tree. But even a loser can keep on trying.

Mozi tried hard during the Warring States period to dissuade states from fighting each other. He worked for the state of Song and Lu Ban worked for the state of Chu. Mozi walked to Chu to defeat Lu Ban in a series of nine war games. He claimed that he had taught his methods to the soldiers of Song. This forced the ruler of Chu to cancel his war plan.

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