Fascinating: The Chinese Wheelbarrow

Leave aside the green mummery at the end. A fascinating little discussion of the Chinese wheelbarrow.

And pondering the difference between the European and the Chinese wheelbarrows. I agree absolutely that the Chinese style one would have been useful in Europe. But I have a feeling that the design differences are due to their being made to perform different tasks (of course, with the possibility that their design differences meant that they were used for different tasks). I especially like the idea of the ones with sails. I could imagine making a modern version of those. Something like a windsurfing mast (although much smaller) attached to a modern lightweight  construction borrowing from modern baby buggies/unicycles perhaps.

The European wheelbarrow is very good indeed at what it does: ease of loading and unloading of entirely unpacked goods. It\’s very easy indeed (as compared to any other method at least, which is why we still use them) to shovel in sand, dirt, carry a few bricks whatever. And to dump them 50 or 100 yards away.

That\’s not what the Chinese wheelbarrow is good for nor what it is or was used for at all.

But I am, as above, entirely unsure which came first: the design flowing from different desired uses or the different designs stumbled upon leading to different uses.

25 thoughts on “Fascinating: The Chinese Wheelbarrow”

  1. Curiously, for an article extolling the advantages of the Chinese wheelbarrow for negotiating narrow, unmade paths, none of the photos depict one actually doing so. They’re all on level, smooth surfaces. Could be because a single wheeled device with a high centre of gravity isn’t a particularly good solution for crossing rough ground but a remarkably effective one for breaking your wrists?

  2. Incidentally, the European version has the advantage, the hopper design is such it’s possible to wheel it at an angle the load is carried almost entirely by the wheel, in the Chinese manner. Hence a third of a ton or more can be shifted without difficulty. But there’s the advantage of being able to trade handle load for low centre of gravity for difficult terrain.

  3. The beauty of the European wheelbarrow is that you can shove around heavy loads by loading it up over the axle and using mechanical advantage to lift the handles with comparative ease.

  4. Richard, I was going to say that – the Chinese design never disappeared in Europe it was just called a handcart. Useful for carrying medium loads over longish distances, but not much use on a construction site.

    I don’t know that I would like to push one, of either design, over a bumpy, narrow trail either. The mass is still there no matter where the mechanical advantage is.

  5. And of course with a two-wheeled handcart you aren’t as worried about it tipping over. This “one wheel design was so they could use them on narrow tracks” looks awfully like Orientalist revisionism to me.

  6. Old joke: Foreman: “Paddy, why are you pulling that wheelbarrow behind you, instead of pushing it?”
    Paddy: “Because I can’t stand the sight of the fuckin’ thing.”

  7. Further to Richard and Ltw’s comments, I’m sure everyone will fascinated to know that my great aunt’s husband’s father apparently used a handcart to transport vegetables from River (just outside Dover) to Deal for the market. 9.1 miles according to Google maps.

    Unlike a Chinese wheelbarrow, you can sleep under a handcart. So he went the day before, slept under the cart, sold veggies first thing in the morning, then came back.

  8. It seems like a category mistake. The European equivalent of the Chinese one-wheeled wheelbarrow is the two-wheeled cart, which has all the advantages of the Chinese design plus it’s a lot more stable.

    The Chinese simply have a single device which fills niches which in the West are filled by two separate ones.

    A modern analogy would be an iPhone owner, who says his phone is far superior to my old Nokia that I can only make calls on because he can also play games and read documents. But I have a netbook for that sort of thing, and it’s far ebtter at them. His iPhone is in a sense a compromise between my small phone and larger netbook, and shouldn’t be directly compared to either.

  9. Maybe population pressure on the land meant they became short of the varieties of timber that were used for fabricating cart wheels, so that a one-wheel handcart became attractive? In Britain Elm was used for the nave, and Ash, Oak and Beech for the other bits.

  10. further to other responses the chinese wheelbarrow looks like an uncomfortable compromise. You couldn’t load it with loose stuff, for a start, like dirt or rubble or leaves. So it’s a crap wheelbarrow, because that’s what they’re used for – not for taking stuff long distances. On the other hand it only has one wheel, making it unstable, so it’s a crap handcart.

    And, unlike a wheelbarrow, it doesn’t look much good for sleeping in when drunk.

  11. A mate of mine fell asleep drunk in his wheelbarrow so we nicked the wheel and put it up on a brick. Ah, undergraduate days.

  12. You can recycle Euro barrows as large plant tubs, with or without the wheel, can’t get greener than that. Did the Chinese have sack barrows ? It’s amazing how much can be shifted by one of those.

  13. One of the things that always irritated me about apologists for the Aztecs, is that when faced with the two essential points:
    they had no useful metals ( ie were a stone age race)
    they did not have the wheel

    I am assailled with specious arguments about “not having suitable animals to pull carts” or “not having decent roads due to the mountains” “didn’t need metal because they had obsidiam”.

    Well blimey every other Eurasian race seemed to have sussed those particular problems ( the Oceanians didn’t).

    Surely the whole point of having an empire is to connect its disparate bits together and transport goods and treasure across it and gain technological advances over your enemies ?

  14. “Low Tech Magazine”?–advocating a return to the filth, poverty, misery and back-breaking labour of ages past. It must be the most evil site on the web–next to it a site for chain-smoking paedos would look decent. And the wickedness is all the more disgraceful for the use of the the greatest high-tech medium ever to spread their wicked moronic message.

  15. Mant thanks, matt. Alas, I’m now so old and knackered that I need one with an electric motor. I suspect that out electric bike shop would find it easier to do a conversion on a conventional wheelbarrow than a ball barrow. Or perhaps I could by my wife a nubarro for her birthday. Or for Valentine’s day. Or our anniversary.

  16. The Aztecs had wheeled toys, so were clearly familiar with the principle of the wheel, but (as with the Ancient Greeks and the steam engine) they didn’t see a way in which this could be used to improve their society.

    They were wrong about that – even on mountains and without draught animals, wheels can be beneficial – but for wheels to become useful in Aztec society would have required a great many shifts in the way things were done (whereas in flatter terrain with better beasts of burden, a wheel is of almost immediate use).

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