A month ago, Wu Yulu sold his "son" for 30,000 yuan (US$3,750).
Wu Laowu (the fifth son of the Wu family), is, well, a robot Wu made with his
own hands 10 years earlier.
"I couldn't sleep well for several days after selling the child, but I had no
other choice. I had to pay off my debts," said Wu, 44, a farmer from Mawu
village in eastern Beijing.
Wu Yulu and his latest robot. [China
On his TV screen, he plays a video of Wu Laowu, serving tea and lighting
In the past 26 years, Wu Yulu has made 25 robots, and "all of them were like
Wu had a way with machinery and mechanics from childhood.
"Sometimes when people passed by, I would think about the mechanical
functions of walking," Wu recalled.
Unfortunately, he could not pursue his passion through textbooks. He was one
of five children in the family, and his parents could not support his education
after he graduated from primary school in the mid-1970s.
But a lack of formal education did not deter Wu from copying what he called
"marvellous human motions."
"At that time, I didn't even know the term 'robot'," Wu said. "But in my
spare time from farming, I tried to collect everything that could be used in
those movable things.
"I loved to play with robots. The cleverer they became, the deeper the
emotional link I felt to them. Later, I began to call them my sons."
The wire, metal, screws and nails he used came from rubbish sites, or
sometimes used parts from farm machinery.
In the late '70s, Wu got a job at a farm machinery factory, and the small
income helped him turn used sewing machine parts and some steel wire into his
"Until now, I don't know the theory of physics, but I knew that electricity
can drive motors and power can be transferred to the robot's hands and legs with
levers and wires," Wu said.
After his first robot turned out to be "disabled," Wu continued to
experiment. In 1982, the first movable robot, Wu Laoda (the first son of the
Wu), was born.
Another video shows Wu Laoda as a coarse combination of steel wires and
sticks without head and skin. He was destroyed in a fire seven years ago.
Although Wu compensated for his lack of scientific knowledge with his talent
and devotion, there were accidents, the first of which happened around 1995.
"I got a rechargeable battery-like tube for a very low price from a recycling
shop, thinking I could save money," Wu said.
But he did not understand the English warning on the tube, and "when I tested
the tube, it exploded in my hands. I remember a big fireball suddenly burst out,
and I lost my memory."
Luckily, neighbours rushed him to hospital. His memory returned, but the
scars on his hands and arms and the pain he frequently feels in his wrists will
Another fire broke out in 1999 when Wu left a transformer unattended to
repair a piece of farm machinery.
"Just as I was enjoying the praise for my skills in repairing, someone rushed
in and said: 'Wu, your home is on fire,'" he recalled.
It was too late. No one was injured, but all six rooms with his belongings,
including some robots, were destroyed.
"I was left with nothing," Wu said.
Neighbours, and even strangers, gave him money to rebuild his house, with no
mention of repayment. Three months later, Wu was in a new home, costing 90,000
Wu was determined to repay them but his pursuit of building robots did not
leave much savings.
His son Wu Hongfeng said: "With his skills, my father could have become rich
by making more profitable tools, but after the fire, the whole family was
preoccupied with repaying our debt."
Wu Yulu eventually decided to sell some of the robots that had been stored
"I felt terrible, but had no choice," he said.
An institute affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Sciences bought one of the
robots for "several thousand," Wu said, and a collector bought another.
Wu's perseverance finally began to pay off.
Feature stories on the "farmer inventor" began appearing in various media.
After one report on China Central Television (CCTV), its science channel
hired Wu as a prop-maker, paying more than 3,000 yuan (US$375) a month.
Each week he goes to CCTV for orders and makes them at home.
Selling robot Wu Laowu helped speed the repayment of his loan. "The
neighbours would not mention money, but I had to show them some consideration,"
Last month, Wu made the headlines again for a new invention, a robot able to
pull a rickshaw one step every three or four seconds.
Sitting in the rickshaw, Wu said he has no plans to start a robot business.
"I can invent robots able to carry a sedan chair, and next I will make robots
of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac.
"There are so many good things in life, and they become
the basis for my robots."