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2022-09-20 09:54:06

China’s COVID-19 restrictions have pushed academic classes, work meetings, conferences, and concerts online. Now, a major kite-flying festival is going virtual.

Initially scheduled for in-person gatherings Saturday, the Weifang International Kite Festival will be held online due to concerns over the potential spread of the coronavirus, local authorities announced over the weekend. The nearly four-decade-old annual festival in the eastern city of Weifang, Shandong province, which ends on Oct. 20 this year, will allow kite lovers to join in by uploading videos of them flying kites.

The festival organizer is expected to shortlist 20 kites for viewers to watch online and vote for the winning entry, local media reported. More than 300 participants from over 20 countries around the world have signed up for the contest.

A man flies a kite featured a nurse during the 37th Weifang International Kite Festival in Weifang, Shandong province, Sept. 26, 2020. VCG

A man flies a kite featured a nurse during the 37th Weifang International Kite Festival in Weifang, Shandong province, Sept. 26, 2020. VCG

City authorities in Weifang said the festival usually attracts a large number of spectators and they were moving it online to deter crowds. Shandong has logged over 1,000 local coronavirus cases so far in September, and though the number is smaller than other countries, it’s significant enough for local governments to move such events online in line with China’s “zero-COVID” policy.

Earlier this month, China’s top health authority urged people to minimize intercity travel during the upcoming National Day holidays, and discouraged exhibitions, performances, and other group gatherings deemed unnecessary. The move was in a bid to avoid more local outbreaks ahead of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China starting Oct. 16.

Weifang, known as “the world’s kite capital,” has seen its kite-making sector grow over the past decades, with the city producing about 80% of kites for both domestic and international markets. It has more than 600 kite production companies with annual sales of over 2 billion yuan ($285 million), according to local media.

Kites fly during the 37th Weifang International Kite Festival in Weifang, Shandong province, Sept. 26, 2020. VCG

Kites fly during the 37th Weifang International Kite Festival in Weifang, Shandong province, Sept. 26, 2020. VCG

Launched in 1984, the annual kite-flying festival is usually held in April and serves as a carnival for kite lovers, showcasing spectacular kites of various sizes, shapes, colors, and themes. Before the start of the pandemic in 2020, the international festival welcomed kite flyers and tourists from across the world, but those from abroad have had to participate virtually in the past two years.

Shi Wenjuan, a Shandong resident who visited the kite festival venue last April, told Sixth Tone that she spent about two hours looking at the kites, with more than 100 of them fluttering in the sky while she was there.

“The online event cannot offer the same experience as the on-site one,” said the 34-year-old. “You can experience neither the visual impact of kites taking to the air and covering the sky over your head, nor the efforts of over 10 people working together to fly a big and heavy kite.”

Shi said she was especially amazed by a whale-shaped kite that was the same length as two buses. She described watching the kite soar in the sky and cast a shadow over her.

“I have never seen such a big kite before,” she said. “The black whale should have been in the sea, but it flew up to the sky. It gave me a sense of freedom.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A man flies a kite during the 37th Weifang International Kite Festival in Weifang, Shandong province, Sept. 26, 2020. VCG)