Chinese Archery

The Han have always held archery in high respect. In ancient times, archery was held in a mystical regard where the skilled archers were considered to hold a magical power. This 'Cult of Archery' had influence in the Emperorís court and associated much ritual to archery that had a permanent effect on how archery was practiced in China.

In the Warring States period, King Wuling of Zhao (325-298 bce) began to abandon the chariot for the cavalry learned from their Hun neighbors and with it the Mongol draw which only differs slightly from their traditional thumb draw. Indeed, the Archery Manual of Wang Ju, (756 ce) an author and archer of the Tang Dynasty states that there are two acceptable styles of drawing a bow: the Han style, which was considered to be superior for a standing archer, and the Mongol style which was considered to be superior for a mounted archer. Both styles made use of a Thumb Ring.

Archery was used as part of an examination system in both military and administrative capacities. This practice was at times adopted by China's neighbors such as in the Liao Dynasty (907-1125 ce) of the Khara-Khitan and the Jin Dynasty (115-1234 ce) of the Ruzhen. An examinee's demonstration of good discipline and proper technique was interpreted as revealing positive aspects of the entrant's character. With relatively brief interruption, this examination system was used from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 ce) until the 20th century. The Chinese considered it obsolete and stopped using it after 1901, the Tibetans continued to use it until the Chinese invaded in 1950.

The Han used a composite bow of much the same design as the Mongol bow. The size and weight preferred differed from dynasty to dynasty, sometimes radically. The Ming preferred a rather small and light bow, not much bigger than the Korean bow. The Manchu, on the other hand, preferred a much larger and stronger bow. The heaviest draw weights of 150 lbs. were not used for regular shooting but rather for a strength test in the military exams.

Chinese Archery technique is "inextricably intertwined" (to quote Selby) with the practice of Qigong since at least as far back as the Jin Dynasty (265-420 ce) as can be seen in the demonstration below by Stephen Selby at the 2001 International Horse Archery Festival:

Opening motions (partial)
Quicktime Movie - 1.4mb
Nocking an arrow
Quicktime Movie - 1.4mb
The full shot
Quicktime Movie - 1.5mb
Nocking the next arrow
Quicktime Movie - 1.2mb
Concluding motions
Quicktime Movie - 1.4mb

Further reading:

Chinese Archery by Stephen Selby. The background is an illustration of a Warring States bronze vessel cited in this book.

Normanton, Simon "Tibet: The Lost Civilisation" ©1988 Viking Penguin Inc. ISBN 0-670-82511-5

© 2001, by Luigi Kapaj, in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai (Puppy)
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