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Lu Ban jing 魯班經

Aug 16, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Lu Ban jing 魯班經 "Lu Ban's classic" is a handbook on architecture. It is also known by the name of Xinjuan jingban gongshi diaozhuo zhengshi Lu Ban mujing jiangjia jing 新鐫京版工師雕斵正式魯班木經匠家鏡 "Mirror of woodwork craftsmen by Lu Ban, providing correct models for chiseling and cutting work of the artisan master; newly edited in the capital", or shortly Lu Ban jing jiangjia jing 魯班經匠家鏡 "Mirror of craftsmanship and guidelines by Lu Ban".

The whole text has a length of 3 juan and has an appendix of charts. The classic is attributed to a certain Lu Ban, original name Gongshu Ban 公輸般, who lived during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE) in the state of Lu 魯. The book was in fact compiled during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). In one version, a certain Wu Rong 午榮 is mentioned as the compiler of the text, Zhang Yanquan 章嚴全 as a redactor, and Zhou Yan 周言 as a revising editor.

The Lu Ban jing introduces the rules, the system and the ceremonies of the trade associations, the various steps of building construction, and the method of selecting auspicious days. It explains the application of the "true foot" (zhenchi 真尺, a length measure). It provides an overview of the measures and standards of furniture and agricultural tool, as well as the shapes and designations of structural parts of timber used for building. Although technical details are dealt with rather superficially, the book gives insight into the practice of construction craftsmanship among the common people in traditional China.

The first fascicle begins with Lu Ban's travels and ends with the description of the construction of pavillions. The second juan begins with granaries and ends with the description of a chess board. It includes paragraphs about all kinds of buildings, furniture and daily utensils made of wood. The third juan is concerned with mantical practice used in the construction of buildings. Although it can be rated as superstition, it provides interesting information about ancient Chinese religious and cosmological beliefs.

The modules and construction methods described in the Lu Ban jing can still be seen in traditional buildings of the southeastern provinces of China. The same is valid for furniture and the use of the "true foot".

The Lu Ban jing has survived in two different versions, one printed during the Wanli reign-period 萬歷 (1573-1620), the other from the Chongzhen reign-period 崇禎 (1628-1644). Of the Wanli version the greatest part of the first juan is lost, but it is a very precious copy because the charts are printed with great care. The Chongzhen version has four paragraphs more concerning several tools, especially transport carts, yet the drawings are not as excellent as in the Wanli version. The texts of the two versions are identical.

There was another book from the mid-Ming period called Lu Ban yingzao zhengshi 魯班營造正式 "Lu Ban's standard models for architecture", which deals only with the construction of buildings.

Sources:
Chen Cengbi 陳增弼 (1992). "Lu Ban jing 魯班經", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Qinggong 輕工 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 257.
Chen Huidong 陳耀東 (1992). "Lu Ban jing 魯班經", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Jianzhu yuanlin chengshi guihua 建筑園林城市規劃 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 310.
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