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Chinese bows and arrows


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#1 tjoa

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 02:56 PM

Hi, I hope I have not missed a post that deals with this but I was wondering what was used to make the bows and arrows used during the Han to Sung dynasties. I think bamboo might be appropriate for arrows but cannot think of what wood(s) was/were used for the bows or cross-bows.

The English used "yew" I think; some translation I read of the San guo yanyi refers to "willow" which strikes me as unlikely.

#2 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 09:02 AM

Hi, I hope I have not missed a post that deals with this but I was wondering what was used to make the bows and arrows used during the Han to Sung dynasties. I think bamboo might be appropriate for arrows but cannot think of what wood(s) was/were used for the bows or cross-bows.

The English used "yew" I think; some translation I read of the San guo yanyi refers to "willow" which strikes me as unlikely.




Materials of Chinese horn bows
Some ancient Chinese bows are in fact horn bows. The materials of horn bows is generally produced by processing several materials such as ox's horn, bamboo fetal, ox's tendon, gelatin through several steps. The technique for producing it is rather complicated, and it doesn't last long. The longest it can last is 110 years.


Materials of Chinese Composite bows

The composite bow is made up by three parts: wooden portion, horn and tendon. The composite bow which has no strings attached usually curves towards outside. The rear of the bows (the side facing the target) is usually made of wood. The rear of the bows had 3 parts: a pair of bow arms and middle portion of bow (part where bow is grasped when shooting). Most of the wooden materials uses the wood of maples, cornus, mulberry or sometimes combine several types of wood together.

The bow face (facing the shooter) is made of horn. Horn was used to strengthen the bow arms. Nomadic tribes of northern China generally uses water buffalo's horn or wild goat's horn. Because the water buffalo's horn was more flexible and longer than that of other animals, most nomadic tribes preferred it.

The nomads also used fish glue to stick the tendons (of ox, deer) towards the rear of the bow. The reason is because the tendon functions somewhat like rubber band. Once pulled, it can quickly return to its original position, which immensely increase the flying speed of the arrows.

Strings of Bows

Nomads of northern China generally uses the tendon of animals, the manors of horses, grape rattan to produce the strings of bows.

Materials for the arrows

The arrow heads were either made of bronze or iron. The arrow shaft is usually made of bamboo or certain wood. The common wood used is reed-stalk, cornus, birch etc. The fletching (i.e. the end portion of the arrow) is usually made of the feathers of condors, eagles or water birds such as goose or duck.

Instruments for pulling stringsArchers will usually wear thumb rings to prevent their fingers from being cut by the strings. Northern nomads of China usually use leather, bone, horn, metal or stone to produce the thumb-rings.

Source: http://kungfu.chines...ontent_5139.htm
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#3 Peter

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 01:32 PM

Hi,

I'm afraid not all the information from this site is entirely correct.

Materials of Chinese horn bows
Some ancient Chinese bows are in fact horn bows. The materials of horn bows is generally produced by processing several materials such as ox's horn, bamboo fetal, ox's tendon, gelatin through several steps. The technique for producing it is rather complicated, and it doesn't last long. The longest it can last is 110 years.


When well-cared for, horn bows can last very long and longer than 110 years. What is more, no wooden bow could ever last that long so composites are the longest lasting bows made out of natural materials. Composite bows do need a lot of attention and care, which is why in unskilled hands they may only last a few years.

Most Chinese composite bows, as well as those of neighboring cultures such as Mongolia, Korea, India, Turkic tribes of the Islamic world, etc, would be made with ox horn, sinew, fish bladder glue and a core that may be of wood or bamboo. The idea is that when a bow limb bends, one side compresses while the other stretches. The compressed side uses horn that greatly resists compression, while the sinew on the other side resist extension. The result is a relatively light limb that can store a lot of energy. This is important, as the bow doesn't only accelerate itself but also the arrow. The lighter the limb, the faster the arrow. Every type of bow of every period and region has its specialities, the Manchu bow can shoot very large and heavy arrows while Ming Chinese, Turkish and Korean bows are built for speed. All records of traditional bows are held by traditional Asian composite bows. For example, the distance record was set by a Turkish composite, much like earlier Ming bows, that could shoot a flight arrow over 800 meters.


Strings of Bows

Nomads of northern China generally uses the tendon of animals, the manors of horses, grape rattan to produce the strings of bows.


Animal tendons are far too short to make a good bowstring out of. They did use gut strings, which to the novice may look much like tendon strings. Other materials used often were silk or cotton. Horse manes are also improbable, connecting the various strands would make a far too heavy string.

Arrows were indeed usually made of wood, sometimes of bamboo but this material is not very common in the later dynasties. Fletchings are most often of predator birds, eagle and vulture being the most commonly used. Goose was used in the South were there were few large predator birds, but was regarded an inferior material for fletchings compared to bird of prey feathers. It was commonly used in Europe though.


I base this on the examination of many antique archery items from China and surrounding cultures, as well as a number of period texts such as:
The Rites of Zhou (Zhouli)
Examination of the Crafts (Kao Gong Ji)
Illustrated book on Imperial Ritual Paraphernalia (Huangchao Liqi Tushi)
Treatise of Military Preparedness (Wubeizhi)

-Peter
Only sports that which belong to war we know,
To break the stubborn colt, to bend the bow.


-Virgil's Aenid




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