Luban lock: A traditional Chinese educational toy, architectural inspiration

(| Updated : 2023-11-03

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Editor's note: Shandong province in East China has cultivated a range of well-known brands across several sectors including manufacturing, tourism, culture, agriculture and food. The "Friendly Shandong, Remarkable Shandong" brand strategy has increasingly become a key engine for driving the province's high-quality growth. China Daily is publishing a series of stories to display various renowned brands, specialties and handicrafts in Shandong.

 [Video/Dazhong News]

Luban lock is a traditional Chinese folk educational toy that was believed to be invented by Lu Ban, a structural engineer from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). Lu was later deified and became known as the "father of carpentry" in the country.

The concave and convex parts within the toy dovetail perfectly. Luban locks come in different shapes and sizes, and with different internal structures. They are known for being easy to take apart but difficult to reassemble.

The interlocking burr puzzle with the simplest construction uses three rods that can be assembled into a three-way cross, in which each rod is perpendicular to the other two.

Its structural integrity relies solely on its internal arrangement, removing the need for nails or cords. Similar to folding a piece of paper to create a standing shape, this seemingly simple yet ingeniously crafted toy encapsulates a reservoir of extraordinary wisdom.

Beyond its role as a toy, the principles behind the Luban lock's interlocking structures have been extended into the realm of architectural design.

In 2020, the craft of making this toy was named a Shandong provincial intangible cultural heritage item.

In Tengzhou, Zaozhuang, the birthplace of Lu Ban, this ancient craft has been passed down over the centuries. Many workshops in the city can still be found manufacturing this lock today.