Han Fushan, a 72-year-old retired architect and engineer, is known by many Beijingers as the King of Kites. He can be spotted at parks around the city flying his homemade kites, but Han is different from other kite-fliers. What you’ll notice right away is that his kites are made of special materials—they are made of bags, pulled from the trash. Han Fushan takes the things you throw away and makes them beautiful.
When did you make your first trash-kite?It was in 2002, in celebration of Beijing’s successful bid for the 2008 Olympic Games. My family was very proud of me. They thought it was excellent to turn trash into something valuable.
Why trash? Traditional kites are made of fine-quality paper which is usually expensive. So I thought: I’ll use bags from the trash, instead! These are easy to come by—they’re everywhere: supermarkets, street vendors and shopping centers. All of my kites are made of different colored plastic bags which are cut and then pasted onto one bigger plastic-film background. To others, they are trash, but I can use them to make something beautiful.
What kind of trash makes the best kites? Generally all types of trash can be useful. But I am short on thin and brightly-colored bags. If you have any, would you send them to me?
We’ll ask the interns to take care of this! Are you making an environmental statement? When I see people litter, I get very angry. I want people to know keeping their environment clean is important—and easy! So I started picking up trash and came up with the idea to make all of that waste into beautiful kites. I use unwanted, broken summer sleeping mats to make the kites’ frames, and I wrap them in plastic bags, collected from supermarkets and dumps.
How many kites have you made? Right now, I’ve finished 670. I’d like to make 1,000 kites. That’s my target, so I still have a few hundred to go.
When did you learn how to make kites? Is it something you taught yourself? I learned to make kites by myself, without any teacher. I think I’m pretty talented. My experience working as an architect for forty years helped.
There are many different regional styles of kites—do you make kites in the Beijing, Tianjin, Weifang or Sichuan styles? Or do you have your own “Han Fushan” style? I belong to no style. I make my own Han-style. Look at my kites, have you noticed that they are all designed in an arc-like shape? Traditional kites normally are squares, triangles or ovals. The arc shape is my signature style. On top of that, each of my kites has its own story.
Unlike conventional kites, which often feature traditional Chinese images, my kites are decorated with modern images. These pictures might come from news stories; they’re very contemporary and sometimes carry social messages. When Chen Xiexia won the first Gold Medal for China in the 2008 Olympics, I made a Chen Xiexia kite; when Peking Opera was given less attention, I made ten opera kites, to improve the focus on this traditional art. My kites stay close with what happens in China.
There’s an old Chinese tradition: if you write your sickness on a kite, after it’s flown, the illness is cured—blown away in the wind. What do you make of that? Oh, you should never believe in these weird sayings. It’s just a superstition. But part of it is true—kite-flying is really a healthy exercise, good for the neck, the lower back, and even for eyesight. I have seldom been sick since I took up daily kite flying. Besides, it makes me look young. I am 72 years old now, but lots of people think I look 60.
Can we ever expect to see your kites for sale? Never. I would never sell my kites. They are priceless. I’d never give up my kite babies. Money has nothing to do with happiness, but my art does.
You’ve made quite a few kites—do you have a favorite? I once made a series featuring [the iconic People’s Liberation Army solider] Lei Feng. These are my favorites to date. I adore Lei Feng. I believe his spirit will never die.
Do the kites smell like trash? I washed them all very carefully and dried them in the sun. You can smell them for yourself. They’re not smelly, right?
Not really. But have people now started bringing trash to your door? Yeah. My family, friends, neighbors and even strangers send me their trash.
What does your wife think of all of this? She’s very supportive. She also helps with the kite-making—she prepares the materials and cleans the room after I finish. I couldn’t do anything without her.
What about the rest of the neighborhood? The neighborhood kids call me Kite Han. But some call me the King of Kites.
Interview conducted and translated by Chloe Chen (陈洁)