Ancient Science and Technology: Tang Dynasty Master Craftsman Ma Daifeng (Part 1)

Edited by Ming Xin

PureInsight | July 19, 2004

[] [Series Note: The ancient Chinese technology of mechanical engineering was very advanced; distinguished mechanical engineers at that time were able to create many marvelous types of robots. For example, King Mu (976 – 922 B.C) of the Western Zhou Dynasty (10th century - 771 B.C.) once conducted an inspection tour of the west of his empire. A skillful artisan named Yan Shi made a robot to entertain King Mu during the inspection tour. This robot could sing and dance like a real person. It also had extremely realistic organs, bones, muscles, joints, skin and hair.]

Records in an ancient book, Travel News, tell us that at the beginning of Emperor Tang Xuan Zhong's Kai Yuan rule, someone repaired the emperor's travel vehicle in the palace. Ma Daifeng was an accomplished craftsman of the Eastern Sea region. He rebuilt and repaired such items as the lead carriages, drums for recording the journeys' mileage, and birds for indicating wind directions. These items were made more delicately than those of even more ancient times.

Ma Daifeng also made a dresser for a queen, containing a mirror in the center and two shelves with doors beneath. When the queen needed to dress and apply her make up, the mirrored cabinet was opened and the doors beneath automatically opened. Then, a wooden robot woman emerged carrying washing paraphernalia. The queen removed all the towels and then the wooden woman went back into the cabinet. Items such as rouge and powder, eyebrow pencil and hair adornments all were handed to the queen by this wooden robot. After she finished, the wooden robot went back and the doors closed automatically. As soon as the doors closed someone would remove the dresser. The top of the dresser was decorated with gold, silver, and colored paintings. The dress and ornaments of the wooden robot were very delicate as well.

Over several years, Ma Daifeng made a variety of instruments for the Emperor in the palace, but he did not give Ma an official position. Ma Daifeng thus felt ashamed The Emperor only ordered his people to deliver food and articles for use in daily life to him. Ma asked the Emperor to grant him permission to make useful mechanically enhanced articles, such as drinking vessels and a money-saving jar. Emperor Xuanzhong granted his request. All the vessels were made from silver. The drinking vessel and money-saving jar were operated by machinery. The drinking vessel can be opened from four directions so wind passed into it. The blowing wind spun the machinery inside, thus, forming negative and positive opposites, allowing the wine to flow out like spring water and filling up all drinking cups and drinking jars. Moreover, mechanical servants controlled the pouring of the wine. These inventions were even finer and more ingenious than anything nature could have engineered.

Translated from:

Add new comment