Asian Traditional Archery Research Network (ATARN)

A1, Cloudridge,
30, Plunkett’s Road,
The Peak, Hong Kong.

Tel: (852) 2895-4488
Fax: (852) 2808-2887
October 2000

Letter from Peking (September 1998) Letter of November 1998 Letter of December 1998
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 July 1999 Letter of August 1999 Letter of October 1999
Letter of November 1999

Letter of December 1999

Letter of January 2000 Letter of February 2000
Letter of March 2000 Letter of April 2000 Letter of May 2000 Letter of June 2000
Letter of July 2000 Letter from Fort Dodge    

Dear All,

    With a sinking feeling, I faced writing the newsletter once again with nothing to offer other than something about Chinese bows or archery. That's a problem I face each month, me being the webmaster and at the same time knowing little about archery and equipment outside China.  Then at the last minute I was saved by a delegate I met at a conference held here in Hong Kong.

Hasman Shah Bin Abdullah is a professor at the Universiti Teknologi MARA in Selangor, Malaysia. Over dinner, we discussed traditional archery and he came up with the following story.

"When I was a kid in Segamet, Malaysia in 1968-69, there was an old Tamil man who worked with the Public Works Department. We just called him 'uncle' in Tamil - I don't know what his real name was. Anyway, he used to make bows and shoot pellets from them. I and the other kids used to help him. We would go into the jungle to collect bamboo, and then he would cut the bamboo and soak it for some time in a mixture of three kinds of oil. I can't remember what oils they were, but I think one was something we called 'salajeeth'.

 "After soaking the bamboo, he would put it in a container and bury it under the ground for a few weeks. When he dug it up again, it was ready for the nocks to be cut. Then we would go into the jungle again to search for the bark of a certain type of tree. When the bark was dried out and beaten, it made an excellent bowstring. The strings would be formed  in a parallel pair with a basket woven in the middle to take the pebble. The bows were too strong for us to brace: Uncle would brace them after taking a few deep breaths to prepare himself for the effort.

"Uncle used to make pellets out of baked clay. We children were not allowed to shoot with these pellet bows. "If you don't know how to shoot properly with these bows, the pellets will shatter your knuckles," Uncle used to warn us. We used to have flying foxes (a type of fruit bat) in Segamet and Uncle could take one down with his pebble bows."

Left: A White Karen from Northern Siam (Thailand) shooting with a stonebow. See picture archive.

I took off a Saturday from a business meeting  in Geneva to visit the workshop of Patrice Canale in Bordeaux, France. Patrice has been making a variety of traditional bows in modern materials and his repertoire includes Mongol-style bows. We spent and afternoon examining a couple of old, broken Chinese bows I had taken with me we shall try to see whether he can reproduce one in modern glass fibre. 

Bordeaux is a beautiful city close to outstanding deer and boar hunting country. If you are interested in one of Patrice's Mongol bows, you can contact him at his firm, Euro Archery. (

Sorry to come back to Chinese things; but some interesting old bows have been coming to me from Gansu Province in West China recently. Gansu is a dry province adjacent to Tibet, and it seems that bows are better preserved there than in Peking, partly because of the climate and partly because many people there still know about how to look after bows. One bow I recently obtained was an old, damaged Child's bow. The measurement from tip to tip along the limbs is just 123.5 cm. It is exactly two-thirds the size of a standard adult's bow of the same proportion and design, and perfectly made in the traditional way with horn and sinew, and decorated with lacquered birch bark.

Qing Dynasty Chinese half-size child's bow (123.5 cm from tip to tip along the limbs)

Unfortunately, the bow is quite damaged. One of the horn tips has broken off and the wood has been squared at the break and a new tip carved into the siyah an inch or so below it, so that the length of the siyahs now differs by about one inch. (I have seen this sort of patch-up in many Chinese and Mongolian bows.) In the illustration above, I have used the computer to restore it to its original appearance. Based on a standard brace height, a Chinese bow has a string length between nocks approximately 0.855 of its length measured along the limbs. Therefore, the string length of the child's bow was approximately 105.5 cm.


(Stephen Selby)