Changing China

Giant on the move

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Farmer Wu’s 32 “children”


By Maxim Duncan

A great aspect of our work is the opportunity it offers to meet characters, those colourful personalities who break out of the usual routines and patterns. 

One such character is Wu Yulu, a farmer on the outskirts of Beijing who has dedicated his life to building robots mostly from scrap. He has taken on a huge debt, been sprayed with battery acid and risked his marriage in the process.

Wu and his mechanical “children” have been well documented by Chinese and international media over the years. His story fulfills many of the criteria that make a good yarn: he hails from a poor background, with little education; he refused to accept that farming was his destiny; he carried on when nobody believed in his dream, risking even his marriage before eventually earning recognition; many of his ingenious and eccentric creations aspire to help us in our everyday lives, from lighting a cigarette to pouring tea, while also providing comic relief.

But Wu is not the outlandish inventor of Hollywood films. Rather, he is a small, unfailingly serious man who didn’t smile even once during the day I spent with him.