Asian Traditional Archery Research Network (ATARN)
30, Plunketts Road,
The Peak, Hong Kong.
Tel: (852) 2895-4488
Fax: (852) 2808-2887
April 29, 2001
|Letter from Peking (September 1998)||Letter of November 1998||Letter of December
Letter #2 of December 1998
|Letter of Jan 1999|
|Letter of February 1999||Letter of March 1999||Letter of April 1999||Letter of May 1999|
|Letter of June 1999||Letter of August 1999||Letter of October 1999||Letter of November 1999|
|Letter of December 1999||Letter of February 2000||Letter of March 2000|
|Letter of April 2000|
Well, I got back safely from my adventures in Chengdu and Peking. I succeeded in all my (quite modest) targets. I managed to get round the most important historical monuments and museums in Chengdu, interviewed the old Lady from Chang Xing Bowyers and then went on to Peking for a meeting, as well as popping in on Ju Yuan Hao and visiting the flea-markets.
Ms. Wu of the old Chang Xing bow shop greatly appreciates all the interest in her family tradition. She spoke long and lucidly about her experiences, despite her advanced age. I need some time to sort out my notes, so you are not going to get a detailed account in this letter. But I shall get onto it soon.
Ju Yuan Hao also sends his greetings to ATARN Members. The son of the family, a man in his forties, has now firmly taken up the task of learning bow-making from his father.
'I am really trying to get into this,' he told me. 'I realize the weight of responsibility upon me. I feel rather like a monk who has taken vows. I am up at the flea market at five o' clock on Saturday mornings to see if there are any old broken bows about. When I can get them, I take them apart to learn how the old masters worked and then put them back together again.' (He has put a handful of old bows back into shootable condition, although some of the draw-weights are extremely heavy.)
'You probably don't realize what a challenge this is for me. In the old firm, there were a number of people involved and we outsourced a lot of activities. In the workshop in my father's day there were three or four people working on the bows, and then a number of people working on the decoration. There was a tradition of keeping these activities separate: the bowyers did not do decoration and the decorators did not make bows.'
'What's more, most of the materials came to the workshop pre-worked. We could take the parts of the horn that we wanted (just the flat, outside curve of each horn) and all the rest (save some scrap for the tips and string-bridges) went to the comb-makers' guild. For the siyahs, we needed elm wood with a slight curve to the grain. The woodsmen knew what we needed and we could always get it. Now all we can get is industrially-cut wood. You're not allowed to go around Peking cutting up trees any more.'
'Now I and my father are having to face the whole task of sourcing and selecting materials, as well as doing all the bow-making together with the decoration. That's a completely different situation from what happened in the past.'
'Another problem is that Father can't pull a bow any more, and his hearing is going. A maker of horn and sinew bows has to be able to hear the bow as it is pulled. Imminent failure carries warning sounds, and you can detect defects by tapping the limbs. But father can't tell me what to listen out for any more, so we sometimes have some dangerous catastrophes. I'm learning to pull a bow now: I can already manage fifty pounds.'
In a Peking antique market, I had an exciting find: a little iron model bow and arrow.
Liao model bow. Arrow shaft in front of the string: 3.8 cm.
Height: 11.7 cm. Max width of limbs: 0.65 cm.
This seems to be a Liao (Khitan) burial item dating from around 12th Century. The Khitans were the political predecessors of the Mongols whose name gave rise to the word 'Cathay'. This little bow was once gilded and a lot of attention seems to have been given to detail. The grip and the relative thickness of the limbs look convincing, as does the twisted rawhide (or gut) string. The arrowhead is typical of the Liao iron arrowheads I find in Peking. In the model, the arrow nock is a ring which fixes the arrow so that it can swing on the string. The arrow is triple-fletched. Ju Yuan Hao will make a full-size replica.
I have been thinking about a project to catalogue Asian arrowheads. To me this is an important task: in a recent letter, the Dean of History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Prof. Li Xueqin, a bronze expert) agreed that such a project would be significant. In my view, arrowheads were probably an important trade item in the bronze age as they were small and portable, but with a continuous demand. I speculate that even in the second millennium BCE there could have been a widespread distribution of arrowheads between China/Central Asia/ Europe and the Indian sub-continent. I would like to seek sponsorship of about US$6,500 to launch a two-year initiative in China and one other centre to study existing archeological reports (such as those published in 'Kao Gu' and 'Wen Wu'.) We would also need access to major collections in museums for which archeological excavation data exists.
I have set up a sample page and specification for the project. Please would you put your recommendations on improving the catalogue specifications up onto the ATARN discussion forum? If you have Asian arrowheads in your own collections, please would you submit data records of them to me. (Save the .html file for the project specification onto your local drive. Substitute your own data and image, and email it back to me.)