The First Try of Human Flight

The early Chinese people often had fantastic ideas. In the Warring-States Period, Mo-tse (墨子), the founder of Mohist School, made a bird by wood, and it was said that this bird could fly continuously for three days. Liezi (列子), a book which was originally written in the Warring-States Period and rewritten in the Eastern Jin (东晋) Dynasty, said that, a craftsman had once presented a robot actor to Zhou Mu-King (周穆王) in the 10th century BC. This robot actor actually made eyes at the women of the king, so Zhou Mu-King angrily ordered the craftsman to anatomize the robot and found that it was made of wood, leather, glue, lacquer, hair and coloring matters. This story can be called a science fiction. Now, there was a true story about the first try of human flight.

In AD 19, the Xin (新) Empire fell into the complicated conditions with internal rebellions and external wars. However, Wang Mang (王莽), the emperor, actually wasn’t wakened by the danger inside the empire, but still tried to prepare a war against the Huns. He enlisted the men who were able-bodied, and the convicts who were sentenced to death, and the slaves for the army in the whole country. He called the new army “Zhu Tu Xi Yong” (猪突豨勇) which meant valor as wild boars. He ordered that the tax rate was one thirtieth of the harvest, and thin silk must be transported to the capital Chang’an (长安) as military expenditure. All officials must take care of war-horses.

Wang Mang asked the people of his empire for special abilities and crafts for military use. More than one ten thousand people recommended themselves. Some said they didn’t need boats when they crossed a river. Some said they could interlink war-horses and the battle effectiveness of horsemen would be stronger. Some said they had special drugs, if soldiers took these drugs, they didn’t need food, and they wouldn’t feel hungry.

A man said he was able to fly. He said that, he could fly across one thousand Li (千里, About 414 kilometers) in a day, and he could reconnoiter Hun. Wang Mang had an interest in his words, and demanded him to fly. The man tied two wings which were made of the plumes of big birds to his arms, and dressed in feathers. He then pulled links, and started to fly. He actually flew across several hundred paces and fell down.

The emperor was aware that the adventurous idea of the man was wonderful but it couldn’t be successful. He still rewarded the man and other persons who recommended themselves, and appointed them to be officers and hurry to the battlefront. The war against the Huns lasted until the capital of the Xin Empire was captured and the fanciful emperor Wang Mang was killed by the wrathful rebels who included lords and peasants.

This action of that unknown man was the first try of human flight. At that time, his design couldn’t be successful because of technical limit. However, the idea of that man was undoubtedly significant. His idea has been realized in modern times. In the early days of the 20th century, Wright Brothers invented airplanes. Surveillance planes and powered parachutes have been important reconnoitering tools. American spy aircraft are most advanced in modern world, but they don’t know, nearly two thousand years ago, great Chinese people even tried to make spy aircraft for the war against the Huns.

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