Photo shows a Luban lock. (Photo provided by Li Hao)
On November 1, Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the UN, presented Luban locks as gifts to other permanent representatives to the UN, to mark China taking over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council for November 2023.
The Luban locks originate from Tengzhou, a county-level city in east China's Shandong Province. Tengzhou is the hometown of Luban, a renowned ancient Chinese craftsman.
In Tengzhou, the art of crafting Luban locks has been handed down from one generation of skilled craftsmen to the next. Traditionally, carpenters in the region were expected to demonstrate their mastery by creating a Luban lock as part of their apprenticeship.
"The Luban lock may seem simple, but it encapsulates remarkable wisdom," said Li Hao, founder of a Luban craftsmanship company and a representative inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage of making Luban locks.
Li explained that a Luban lock is a concentrated representation of the mortise-tenon structure found in ancient Chinese architecture. Comprising six wooden bars intricately assembled in three dimensions, the lock features interlocking mortise and tenon joints that seamlessly blend together. While it is easy to disassemble, putting it together requires great skill, making it a truly clever creation.
Photo shows Luban locks. (Photo provided by Li Hao)
In 2021, the Luban lock making technique was selected as a representative project on Shandong's fifth batch of provincial-level intangible cultural heritage list.
The Luban lock has become a cultural symbol that has revitalized the cultural industry in Tengzhou.
The process of making a Luban lock is intricate and involves three main steps: material selection, making mortise and tenon joints, and post-production treatment. It goes through numerous production procedures, including gilding, carving and inlaying.
A worker makes Luban locks. (Photo provided by Li Hao)
Li's company has set up several Luban workshops and organized cultural activities in schools to promote the Luban culture. Li has a vision of leveraging modern information technology to create a database for Luban cultural and creative products, digitizing the essence of Luban culture, and preserving the allure of Luban craftsmanship through digitalization.
"The Luban lock is a precious treasure passed down by our ancestors. As a native of Tengzhou, I am committed to preserving this craftsmanship and sharing our exceptional traditional culture with a wider audience," said Li.
In September 2018, Luban locks from Tengzhou were presented as a gift to guests from China and various countries during a global promotion event in Shandong, organized by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.