The world-famous Wright brothers are the inventors of the modern airplane, taking the first controlled flight on December 17, 1903. However, like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel, a wooden flying machine already existed more than 2,000 years ago in China.
The craftsman Lu Ban
In ancient China, there were countless mysterious and extraordinary people and happenings. There were said to be brave and daring warriors who displayed unparalleled martial arts power or brilliant strategies in battle, as well as gods and immortals who existed in deeply isolated mountains and forests.
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Thousands of years ago in China, there was such a person. He was a well-known craftsman during the Spring and Autumn Periods and exhibited a high degree of creative ability. Through the ages, he has come to be respectfully known as “the grandfather of Chinese craftsmanship,” a man named Lu Ban.
Flying into the sky 2,000 years ago
According to ancient records, Lu Ban, a native of Dunhuang, had a sound mind and could create amazing things from scratch that had never been seen before.
For example, it is said that when Lu Ban was building a pagoda in Liangzhou, he created a wooden kite at the same time, which had an incredible mechanism inside it — by knocking on it three times, the kite could lift off and fly. He would sit on the kite and fly home without anyone seeing him the entire trip.
Later, Lu Ban’s parents learned of the existence of the wooden kite from his wife, and Lu Ban’s father discovered the kite’s hidden ability to fly and passed it on to Huaiji in the state of Wu. In those days, the ability to fly was beyond the imagination of worldly people.
When Lu Ban’s father and the kite were discovered, the people of Wu thought he was a demon and killed him. After his father was killed, Lu Ban built a second wooden kite and flew to Wu, where he found his father’s body.
After leaving Wu safely, Lu Ban went to the south of Su Zhou, where he built a wooden fairy with its bow pointing towards the southeast land of Wu. For three years afterward, the land of Wu was ravaged by a severe drought.
The calamity was divined, and the people of Wu learned that Lu Ban caused the drought. Later, the Wu people brought many items to Lu Ban and sincerely apologized to him. Lu Ban then changed the direction of the bow on the wooden fairy away from Wu and toward a desert.
Miraculously, Wu was blessed with a long-awaited downpour of rain in the same month, which again confirmed Lu Ban’s unfathomable creative powers.
It is said that these two magical machines created by Lu Ban survived. The locals would pray to the wooden fairy, while the rigid kite was used to scout the state of Song during the Warring States Period. Both are admired as mysterious and unique objects that transcend even modern times.
Translated by Cecilia and edited by Tatiana Denning