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March 27, 2011

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鲁班 Lu Ban (circa BC 507-444) - Legendary master carpenter

Lu Ban, also known as Gongshu Ban, was born into a family that had been practicing carpentry for several generations in the State of Lu around the time when the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) was to be replaced by the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

When he was young, Lu joined his family members in many construction projects around the state and he was very quick in learning the family trade. He was also very bright and innovative. He was extremely keen on inventing new tools to either better the quality of woodworks or improve the efficiency of the job.

For instance, carpenters at that time didn't have saws. So they had to use axes to cut and chip the wood into the shapes they wanted. Of course, that was laborious and the products often turned out to be coarse.

One day, Lu cut his finger on a leaf. He took a close look at the leaf, wondering how it could be so sharp and easily cut through skin. When he saw the leaf had a serrated edge it dawned on him that a toothed edge could make cutting easier and more effective. In the following days, Lu produced the first saw in history.

He also invented many other carpentry tools and weapons. Around 450 BC, Lu moved to the State of Chu in today's Yangtze River Delta area. To help the state battle its enemies, he invented various weapons, such as grappling hooks and rams for fighting on boats and the "cloud ladder" for attacking walled towns.

Lu also made ancient wooden robots, namely, wooden horse carriages and coachmen that could help transport heavy military supplies along rough and rugged paths.

He also helped build many bridges and palaces around the state, as well as many famous ancient bridges in other parts of the country.

Because of his exceptional skills and numerous inventions, Lu was remembered by successive generations as the Father of Carpentry in Chinese history.

Some of the master carpenter's techniques and projects are recorded in "The Treatise of Lu Ban," a book of folk carpentry which is still read today. In addition, folk carpenters still celebrate Lu's birthday on the 13th day of the sixth month of each lunar year.

As a legend, Lu later appeared in many Chinese folk stories, dramas and even idioms.

The best-known Chinese idiom involving this master carpenter is °à???a?? (ban men nong fu), which translates literally "showing one's proficiency with the axe in front of Lu Ban."

Today, the phrase is often cited to ridicule anyone who displays his slight skill before an expert or as an English-speaker would say "teaching one's grandma to suck eggs." But it may also be used to express one's modesty when demonstrating a skill or presenting a product in front of his or her teachers or colleagues.


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