The Origin of Bow and Arrow

During Chinese history, archery was an important aspect of life. Bow and arrow were used for hunting, sport, rituals, examinations, and as a weapon of warfare since 20,000 years ago. Skill in archery was considered as a virtue for Chinese emperors and was one of the Six Noble Arts of the Zhou dynasty. Archery was for everybody and many philosophers, like Confucius and Lie Zi, were good archers.

In war, Chinese used bow and arrow as a weapon from chariots at first and later from the horse. Before the Warring States period (between 475 and 221 BC) chariots would carry one driver, one halberdier, and one archer which was the standard place for an archer at the time. Reforms of King Wuling of Zhao in 307 BC introduced mounted archery - archers on horses which proved as more affective. Chinese infantry on land used crossbows because they were easier to use and to train to soldiers. Bow and arrows were used for training and during naval battles. Chinese crossbows had bronze trigger mechanisms as early as 600BC which could withstand very high draw weights. Later, in 14th century, crossbows were made with a simple design because kill of constructing bronze trigger mechanisms was lost during the Mongolian Yuan dynasty in 13th century.

Bow and arrows also had ritual value for Chinese. During the Zhou dynasty, between 1146 and 256 BC, aristocracy held archery rituals whose role was to symbolize and reinforce order within their hierarchy. These rituals consisted of pairs of archers shooting at a target in a pavilion, with high concern for proper form and conduct. These rituals were accompanied by ceremonial music and wine.

For hunting, Chinese used standard bow and arrow as well as pellet bow and a bow with a tethered arrow. Ancient Chinese artwork also represents hunting using mounted archery. For hunting with a pellet bow, Chinese used a light bow designed to shoot a stone pellet instead of an arrow. One theory is that pellet bow was precursor to the bow and arrow, and the pellet shooting was used in hunt along with bow and arrow for many centuries.

As in other places, use of bow and arrow started to decline with the appearance of firearms. Bow and arrow survived until the end of the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911) when more reliable firearms were available. Qing Emperor Guang Xu abolished archery from the military exam in 1901. There was a short-lived effort to revive traditional archery practice between 1911 and 1937 but the Cultural Revolution forced workshops to cease manufacturing of bows.

Modern revival began in 1998 when Ju Yuan Hao began bow making. He was the only manufacturer of bows until recently. Annual Chinese Traditional Archery Seminar was established in 2009 whose goal is to create a new living tradition for Chinese archery.

As we have seen, technique of archery changed throughout Chinese history. The Han dynasty (206 BC - 220) had at least 7 archery manuals; the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) had at least 14 different schools of archery while in the time of Qing dynasty over 14 different schools of archery published their manuals. What is common for all these schools is that they all though that mental focus and concentration are very important for the skill and art of archery.


In early dynastic China, archery held an important place in warfare and imperial ritual and was a compulsory subject in schools that trained the Chinese nobility. Later, Confucian scholars developed archery ceremonies designed to symbolize Confucian virtue. Cavalry and infantry archery were integrated into the Chinese military-service examination system during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), and the use of the bow and arrow remained significant until the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). With the transition to modern firearms in the early 20th century, archery no longer played a role in everyday life in China. The demise of the great legacy of Chinese archery was exacerbated by mid-century political and social upheavals, and traditional archery craftmanship and customs have practically died out.

The traditional Chinese bow is a type of reflexed composite bow, made with a bamboo core, horn belly, sinew backing (usually covered with birchbark), and wooden tips and handle. Much larger than most Asiatic composites, these bows have long, sharply angled recurved tips and large string bridges on the shoulders, and are often decorated with shagreen (stingray or shark skin) and with painted, inlaid, or appliqué symbols representing wealth, longevity, and good fortune. Introduced by the Manchu, who established the Qing Dynasty, these bows were capable of propelling heavy arrows with great force and, although less well-suited for use on horseback than smaller forms, were durable for battle and hunting; they became the standard bow of China as well as of Manchu-dominated Mongolia and Tibet. The heavy arrows used with these bows are of wood with fletching of eagle or vulture feathers, iron points, and cherry-bark wrapping covering sinew reinforcements. Arrows were carried in short, open quivers of strong leather or cloth that consist of a main compartment with a hinged section attached to the back; the hinged section is comprised of two or three pockets for special arrows. Bowcases are also of open design, with a wide mouth and narrow bottom.

This online exhibit presents traditional Chinese archery equipment from the Museum’s Grayson Archery Collection. Included are Qing-period hunting, military, and training equipment and Qing artworks depicting archery gear. Also included is an example of the bows currently produced by Ju Yuan Hao, [ opens a new window ] the only traditional bowshop known to be in operation in China today.


The traditional Chinese bow was a type of reflexed composite bow, made with a bamboocore, horn belly, sinew backing (usually covered with birch bark), and wooden tips and handle. Much larger than most Asiatic composites, these bows had long, sharply angled recurved tips and large string bridges on the shoulders. They were often decorated with shagreen (stingray or shark skin) and painted, inlaid, or appliqué symbols representing wealth, longevity, and good fortune (Selby 2003: 34–35). Introduced by the Manchu, who established the Qing Dynasty, these bows were capable of propelling heavy arrows with great force, and although not well suited for use on horseback, they were durable both for battle and for hunting (Figure 2.1). They became the standard bow of China as well as of Manchu-dominated Mongolia and Tibet. The heavy arrows used with these bows were made of wood with fletchings of eagle or vulture feathers. Tanged iron heads were inserted into the shafts, and the shafts were reinforced with wrappings of sinew and bark. Arrows were carried in short, open quivers of strong leather or cloth that consisted of a main compartment with a hinged section on the back that contained two or three pockets for special arrows. Bow cases were of open design, with a wide mouth and a narrow, open bottom.

- Composite Bow

Composite bow making is a complex art, one works with various materials like horn, sinew, and wood, all held together by natural glue made of fish bladders. In the bow's operation, considerable forces will be exerted on the materials and their connections. At the same time, the bow's efficiency into transferring its stored energy into the arrow relies on its tips being as light as possible. One can see the challenge here, a good bowyer needs to know his materials and bonding agents through and though to construct tips that are just able to handle the stresses of the pull and release, while minimizing the weight of all parts for maximum efficiency. Vital to this art is the ability to make strong yet lightweight ears and knees, which is typically accomplished with a series of deep V-splices that require a high level of precision.

The Manchu bow, along with the north Indian “crab” bow, is among the more challenging of composite bow designs to make. Not only because the long ears require more precision in workmanship than shorter eared bow designs for the ears to be in perfect alignment, the lever action of the long ears will also exert more force on the knee joint. Therefore only few today make good traditional composite Manchu bows, Wen Chieh Huang from Taiwan is one of those bowyers.

- Materials

Manchu bows are made around a core of wood or bamboo. Bow cores were described as being made of various types of wood like mulberry, birch, elm or bamboo. The rigid ears could be made of sandalwood, birch, mulberry, acacia, elm, or other woods. Imperial bows are described being built with a mulberry core with ears made of sandalwood.1 In the Changxing workshop in Chengdu they used a species of large bamboo for the core, with ears made of mulberry and sandalwood.2 The belly side of the bow is reinforced with horn, most commonly of the Chinese waterbuffalo. The back side is covered with sinew, often from a buffalo's back. The outer limbs in turn are covered with birch bark to protect the moist-sensitive sinew. String birdges are made of wood, bone, horn or deer antler. To finish the bow the handle is usually covered with cork, on some bows other types of bark and ray-skin complement the outer finish. Ray-skin is highly abrasion-resistant and was used parts that were rubbed by string or arrow such as the ears and near the handle. Depending on the purpose of the bow, were made of silk, gut, strips of deerskin, hemp, or cotton. All parts are held together with fish bladder glue.


China Archery Technique

Straighten the Body, Hold the Bow Posture

Look at the posture of this man, internally aligned, outwardly straight. He is calm, unhurried and refined. His entire spirit is gathered internally, not shown on the outside; this is a higher-level skill. When it comes to holding the bow, releasing the arrow, he moves gracefully and reserved, but this is of secondary importance. But these movements are very natural and graceful, you must study them.

China Archery Technique

Fixing the Will, Finding the Nock Posture

Look at the posture of this man, he is dignified and quiet, his spirit (shen) concentrated as he focuses on the target, his whole person doesn't have a bit of idleness. These are more important points than “embracing the bow, nocking the arrow like plucking a star,” which is a new style in the Capitol, which demonstrates gracefulness, but it is also great to study.

China Archery Technique

Raise the Bow, Raise the Breath Posture

Notice in this posture, the two hands are not too high, not too low; his ribs are not leaning to one side, not twisted. Open the waist, inhale with the navel. Directly facing the front (target), shoulders level, this is the outer appearance and easy to see, raising the breath (qi) is the most difficult. Look carefully at the navel where he is inhaling, then you will see the wonder of it. At this moment, when raising the breath, cannot be neglected, you must remember this.

China Archery Technique

Link the Hips (He Kua), Draw the String Posture

This illustration of posture is taken from the side not the front. Look at the shoulders, elbows, and back, these three place have zu hou jin gongfu (meaning ample, evenly applied strength, i.e the strength being used to draw the bow is equally distributed across the shoulders, elbow and back), at this moment, these three are very important. Concerning the waist (it is) not soft (loose), bottom not protruding, stomach not sticking out, knees not bent, although this is the outward appearance, not where the inner strength is, the structure has to be this way. If not like this, then there will be problems.

China Archery Technique

Adding Strength Evenly Posture (jin)

Look at his posture, when he draws the bow to 80-90 percent, combining qi and strength (li), uniformly add strength (jin) at the chest, stomach, waist, elbow, all together at once. Then both shoulders can open and the back bones can come together, this is the technique (gongfu) before full draw. One needs to carefully study and imitate this posture, then at full draw you will still have strength left. (Note that within the internal martial arts of China, two types of strength are delineated, jin, which comes from the ligaments and bones and is considered “internal” strength and li, which is either general strength of the body or specially strength generated by the muscles).

China Archery Technique

Drawing the Bow to Full Draw

This posture is viewed facing the front of his body (side view), so you cannot see how the string is drawn. You should observe him, the chest bone is open, the left and right shoulders and elbows are level and straight like a balance scale,* then the back will come together without doubt. This is the correct full draw posture. The student needs to gradually add skills one by one, then he will definitely achieve wonderful skill. When it comes to the front (bow) hand taking stress, and rear (string) hand returning to its place, the waist and stomach use internal strength (jin), these all help each other. *The term translated as balance scale is heng, literally means to weigh or measure. From an early age, Chinese used a balance scale with two pans to called a du liang heng.

China Archery Technique

Verifying Release Method Posture

Look at the posture of this man, the front hand does not move, does not shake. This is the first, most important detail. This is the ancient method, use the back hand to release the arrow, the front hand does not know it's meaning (i.e. does not respond). When it comes to the back palm going out to level (with the shoulder), it is just to ensure that the hand goes absolutely straight. If you use too much strength, then this is a mistake. Both methods are very important and cannot be neglected.

China Archery Technique

Front View of Aiming at Target Accurately (Ren Shun)

Look at his posture, the bow is upright and level, sighting straight at the target, not leaning, not inclining, the front and back (hands) in a straight line (to the target). This is an important skill. The rest is the same as other postures.

China Archery Technique

Adding Strength to the Back Elbow (Draw Arm) Posture

Look at his posture, the elbows are not loose, the shoulders not hunched, the hands not hanging, this position provides the most strength (jin). Imitate and try to understand his head, chest, back, waist, and bottom posture.

China Archery Technique

Leading the Horse Posture

Look at his posture; he reins in the horse, as he enters the course, not nervous, not rushed. When it comes to the arms, waist, knees, feet, all are correct, all these points cannot be neglected.

China Archery Technique

Shooting Level Target Posture

Look at his posture, waist turned sideways, bottom not moving, arms extended, and the shoulders loose, at ease, these points are very important. When the bow is fully drawn, it is vertical; the force (weight) is again between the two knees. These points should be observed carefully.

China Archery Technique

Shooting Level Target Posture

Look at his posture, waist turned sideways, bottom not moving, arms extended, and the shoulders loose, at ease, these points are very important. When the bow is fully drawn, it is vertical; the force (weight) is again between the two knees. These points should be observed carefully.

China Archery Technique

Shooting Down at a Ball Posture

Look at his posture, his knees are bent, and he's slanting (forward) at the hips, drawing the string, aiming at the target accurately, Manchus practiced this posture repeatedly to make it prefect. It is easy to learn, but the right foot cannot lift from the stirrup, both knees cannot loosen their grip on the top of the saddle.These are important rules.

China Archery Technique

Shooting Completed Rein in Horse Posture

Look at his posture, he reins in his horse unhurried, the two arms close to the ribs, the whole body at the same time emphasis strength, not leaning forward nor backward, with each step strength is added. Not only does he have the appearance of seasoned skill (guan jia), but also the horse's four hooves understand (his strength), (so the horse) never makes the mistake of being confused or stumbling.

China Archery Technique

These four horseback archery postures come form the Capitol's Imperial Body Guard imitating the Manchu style, these are the most reliable and easy to use, there is no doubt about this. From my generation, when you go to the Military Testing Ground, if one wants to be the most outstanding, you must keep these in mind. Besides these, there are skills (to know), they are just being very skilled with bow and horse, these you can understand completely yourself, they don't need to be recorded in this book. Kangxi Renshen year, summer.

- Instructions for Horseback Archery

For horseback archery, you need to select a good horse first, then train with it in preparation for use. Get it fully accustomed to galloping, not cutting corners at speed, turning to the right in response the pressure from the left knee and vice-versa. You can't start shooting until the horse and the rider are attuned to one-another.

The bow and arrows should be in a bow-case and quiver. You loose off one arrow after the other. Nowadays, many people grip two arrows at the grip of the bow because they regard taking arrows from the quiver as demonstrating a lack of skill.

The method of shooting is to push out the bow like 'the moon rising from your breast'. You nock an arrow like 'the cross-bar on a weighing scale. The left hand holds the bow canted while the right hand touches your nipple. Draw the bow slowly and then release. As long as your upper arms and shoulders are level, you will score a kill with every shot.


- Hou Yi

We start off our list with Hou Yi, a mythical figure of Chinese origin. He is the Chinese deity of archery. Here’s some quick back story. According to ancient Chinese lore, the sun was a type of bird, and originally there were ten sun birds living in a tree, each taking turns on a different day to travel round the world. One day, all these pesky birds decided to do their little routine on the same day – meaning ten suns in the sky which lead to intense heat on earth. The emperor, seeing his crops fail and his people suffering, appealed to the heavens to help resolve this issue. Hou Yi was sent to answer his appeal – and being pretty nifty with the bow, he decided that he’d help the earth out by shooting down nine of the ten suns. Not only was he good with his bow – he was also smart enough to know that if he shot down the tenth sun, the world would be shrouded in darkness, so he wisely left one alive.

That’s only one of the many stories about the various exploits of this badass Chinese god-archer – in his adventures, he also fought off a wind-monster, shot a water spirit straight through the eye, and get this – ended up marrying that water spirit’s daughter (how’s that for dealing with in laws). Unfortunately his wife ended up stranded on the moon, but that’s a whole other story.

- Houyi and Chang'e - the Goddess of the Moon

Legends are like the shifting sands of a desert—forever changing, hard to grasp. This legend is no different, and there are many versions.

The Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven, had ten unruly sons. One day, they transformed themselves into ten suns, heartlessly scorching the earth from high up in the heavens. Unable to stop their mischief, the Jade Emperor summoned Houyi, an archer renowned for his marksmanship. The emperor commanded the immortal to teach his sons a lesson.

Houyi descended to Earth and saw its suffering with his own eyes. Everything was charred and lifeless, and the people were in agony. Filled with righteous indignation, he acted. Plucking an arrow from his satchel, he took aim at the suns. First one fell down, then another. In the end, nine of the Jade Emperor’s sons were dead. Houyi left only one sun alive, to give the earth light and warmth.

Upon hearing the news, the Jade Emperor was furious. He banished Houyi and his beautiful wife Chang’e from Heaven, stripping them of their immortality. They were now forced to live on Earth as ordinary mortals.

The pair found human life hard and miserable. Though a hero to mankind, Houyi had a single wish: to avoid the death that awaited all mortals and return to heaven with his beloved wife. She, at least, did not deserve to suffer.

Fortunately, Houyi recalled that the immortal Queen Mother of the West, who lived on Earth, had a rare supply of the elixir of immortality. The hopeful archer left on an arduous journey to seek her aid.

After countless difficulties, he finally reached her palace on sacred Mount Kunlun. Learning of their plight, the merciful Queen Mother gave Houyi two things. One was the elixir; the other was a warning.

“Drinking half the elixir will grant everlasting life. The entire elixir, however, will make one ascend to heaven as a full-fledged immortal.”

Half for himself; half for his wife. It was all Houyi could have hoped for.

When Houyi reunited with Chang’e, she was thrilled over his success. Yet while her husband was resting from his journey, she could not resist peeking at the elixir he brought back. Her eagerness to become immortal tempted her into drinking the entire potion. Before long, she felt her limbs grow weightless, and she began to float into the sky against her will.

As a banished deity, she could no longer return to heaven. Earth was now beyond her grasp as well. With nowhere else to go, Chang’e drifted to the desolate Moon, where she spent the rest of her days in a lonely palace accompanied by a white rabit. She wept bitterly for her husband Houyi, who was condemned to live the rest of his days on Earth as a common man.


- Chinese Archery Association

Chinese Archery Association (CAA) is a non-profit, national incorporated society for Archery. It is a corporate member of the All-China Sport Federation (ACSF) as well as recognized by the Chinese Olympic Committee.

Founded on Feb 3rd 1964, Chinese Archery Association is based in Beijing. Internationally CAA is affiliated to the World Archery (WA) and World Archery Asia. It aims to unite all Archery members, enthusiasts and staff nationwide, and to promote the development of Archery in China, to strengthen close relations and cooperation with international Archery organizations, to enhance friendship and exchanges with all archery associations of the world.

The 7th CAA Congress was held on December 30, 2013. Mr. Gao Zhidan was re-elected President, and he is also an Executive Board Member of World Archery. CAA has four committees, including Traditional Archery Committee, Instruction and Development Committee, Coaches Committee, and Judges Committee. With support and engagement of a wide cross-section of society, CAA will continue promoting archery at every level with enthusiasm and passion.