Copper Men Perform the West Chamber

In the twenty-ninth year of the Qianlong reign, Westerners presented eighteen copper-made robots as tribute to the imperial court. These eighteen robots were capable of performing the play “The West Chamber.”

Each of these robots was a little over a foot tall, and their bodies, ears, eyes, hands, and feet were all made of copper. They had mechanisms connecting their hearts, stomachs, kidneys, intestines, etc., similar to the construction of a self-playing clock. When these robots appeared for the performance, each had a key to open them. Upon opening, a specific program was initiated. If the program was reversed, their movements and actions would become chaotic. If opened according to the program, characters like Zhang Sheng, Yingying, Hongniang, Huiming, and Facong could independently open their boxes, dress themselves, change their postures, make courteous gestures, and move forward or backward, just like real people, albeit without singing. After the play concluded, these robots would autonomously remove their costumes and lie down in their boxes. When they reappeared later, a turn of the key would make them stand up on their own, ready for another performance. The clever design by Westerners had reached such a remarkable level!

Translated from《銅人演西廂》in 《子不語》:


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