Saturday, November 6, 2010

Zhuge Liang, husband of the inventor Huang Yueying

Zhuge Liang, Kong Ming
Zhuge Liang (181-234 CE), courtesy name Kongming, was a Shu Kingdom politician and military strategist during China's Three Kingdoms era. He is the putative inventor of the sky lantern, aka the Kongming lantern. (Sky lanterns were appropriated by Disney in the 2010 animated film Tangled.)

His wife Huang Yueying, an inventor of automata, was behind of one of Kongming's best known technological innovations, "wooden ox and flowing horse", a military transport used to supply the Shu Army. According to "The Corpus of Zhuge, Marquis of Zhongwu", compiled by by Zhang Shu of the Qing Dynasty:
"When Lord Zhuge dwelled in Longzhong, some visitors arrived. He asked his wife Lady Huang to make noodles. The noodles were ready within a very short time. The Marquis marvelled at his wife's speed, and later observed her work in secret. He saw multiple wooden people cutting noodles and milling flour at the speed of flight. He then supplicated his wife to teach her craft to him. Later he adapted her techniques to create the wooden ox and flowing horse."1
Similar accounts exist in the the Ming Dynasty work "Anthology of Zhuge of Zhongwu", and the 1709 "Compendium of Zhuge, Marquis of Wu."1

Although Lady Huang is less well-known outside of the Chinese-speaking world, she is no less brilliant than her famous spouse Zhuge Kongming, and in all likelihood, provided the ideas and techniques behind other inventions of his. The 3rd century historical text "Records of the Three Kingdoms", quoting "A History of Xiangyang", states:

A certain Huang Chengyan, brilliant and open-minded, was a famous scholar of Miannan. He said to Zhuge Kongming, "I heard that you are selecting a wife. I have an ugly daughter, with brownish hair and dark skin. Her talents are on par with yours." Kongming consented to the match... The people of that time poked fun at this. The villagers made a proverb out of the matter, saying "Don't choose a wife the way Kongming did. He gained Cheng's ugly daughter."2

Zhuge Kongming, considered a genius beyond his time, clearly did not share the vacuous attitudes of some of his contemporaries.

  1. 《桂海虞衡志》黃氏具麵 on HeroineSanGuo blog - researching the women of the Three Kingdoms
  2. An introduction to Huang Yueying

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