In light of Chinese lore that extends thousands of years back, it is difficult to paint an accurate picture of who Lu Ban was. Today, he is seen as the Chinese patron of contractors, masons, and builders and is the Chinese god of carpentry. His name is as vague in meaning as it simply means “Ban from the state of Lu.”
The stories that abound of him lead to a real-life man called Gongshu Yizhi, who lived during the Spring and Autumn period of the Zhou dynasty (1045 and 221 BCE). He was born to a family of carpenters, and it is speculated that he was a traveling artisan or a freed slave.
When was Lu Ban born?
According to legend, Lu Ban was born around the time of the Zhou dynasty, with the most common being that he was born in 507 BC. His parents were likely carpenters or people involved in woodwork and masonry.
Commonly referred to as Pan or Gongshu Ban, he started his education as a mediocre student who disliked reading but eventually learned to love the activity when he was under the tutelage of Zi Xia, a renowned Confucian scholar. He later became an apprentice of Bao Laodong, a sage carpenter, and this is where his carpentry and woodwork skills flourished.
When did Lu Ban die?
Common accounts state that Lu Ban died in 444 BC. This was after he accomplished numerous things and invented several gadgets that are still used today by carpenters and masons. The sinologist and historian Joseph Needham stated at one point that there was no archeological evidence to prove when he lived – the only information available is a set of books that date around the 3rd Century BC to the 13th Century AD.
Where did Lu Ban live?
Lu Ban mainly did his work and lived in the state of Chu, an expansionist state and one of the most powerful and influential states during the Spring and Autumn period.
Why was Lu Ban important?
It is worth noting that during early Chinese history, architects and inventors were lowly people – they did not have any influence in society, unlike physicians and scholars. Therefore, most of the people who followed him were as lowly as he was.
However, his growing influence and the work he dedicated to perfecting and creating new inventions useful to the common man made him very useful and prominent. This extended to government officials visiting him and giving him gifts before they would start significant construction activities. This raised the profile of people working in the profession as well.
What did Lu Ban invent?
According to traditions surrounding his life, stories about his creations included the saw, wooden birds, grappling hooks used in naval wars, and cloud ladders (mobile siege ladders that were counterweighted).
Additional inventions accredited to him include pedal-powered cycles, wooden horse carriages, lifting implements that would assist in burials, and other woodworking projects.
Lu Ban is probably the reason we enjoy equipment that makes life easier – and he is also a testament to the talent that abounds in Chinese society. Whether he existed or was a myth, there is enough evidence that he inspired the spirit of Chinese excellence in construction and engineering.
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