Modern people believe living conditions in ancient times were very primitive. However, ancient Chinese science and technology was quite advanced. Papermaking, gunpowder, and the compass were all invented in China. Stories of other incredible inventions have been passed down to the present day, though the mechanisms they describe have long been lost. This is one such story.
According to records in the ancient Chinese book Ji Wen (Travel News), there was once an accomplished craftsman from Donghai County of the Eastern Sea region named Ma Daifeng, who could make extremely delicate mechanisms. He was rebuilding such items as lead carriages, drums for recording a journeys’ mileage, and wind direction forecasters.
In the first year of the rule of Emperor Xuan Zong (685-762) of the Tang Dynasty, Ma Daifeng constructed an intricate mechanical dresser for the queen. It had a mirror in the center and two shelves with doors beneath.
When the queen wanted to dress and apply her makeup, all she had to do was to open the cabinet and automatically the doors beneath would open to reveal a wooden female figure, which emerged holding a towel, a hair comb, and other beauty paraphernalia. After passing the items to the queen, the robot would return to the cabinet to retrieve rouge and powder, an eyebrow pencil, and hair adornments, which were all handed to the queen one by one, as needed.
When the queen had finished, the helper went back into the cabinet, with the doors closing behind it. Even the dress and ornaments of the wooden figure were beautiful. The queen’s maid would then put away the ornate dresser, which was decorated with gold, silver, and colorful paintings.
Translated by Cecilia, edited by Emiko Kingswell