Asian Traditional Archery Research Network (ATARN)

A1, Cloudridge,
30, Plunkett’s 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 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 August 1999 Letter of October 1999 Letter of November 1999
Letter of December 1999

Letter of January 2000


Dear All,

    Since the last letter, we have entered the year of the Dragon. A happy lunar new year to you all!

Recently, I exchanged some email with Gwen Huskins, a writer of historical fiction who has decided to use ATARN to help with some background research on Asian archery. In the spirit of encouraging contributions from what ever the source commenting on our activities, I asked her to write a short article. Here is what she has to say:

A Writerís Dilemma
"I thought they all had Ninjas"
Gwen Huskins

I am the first to admit that historic fiction of any sort is a great challenge. Woe to any author who mixes names or locations. However, it seems to me that any historic fiction that does not take place in Britain or North America post-1066 requires extra effort. Research books are available, of course, but these for the most part ignore all but Anglo-Saxon cultures.

The Orient especially seems to be susceptible to misinformation, ignorance and to some extent, smugness. This attitude dates back hundreds of years. A good example is the self-satisfied description of opium smoking in The Historical Encyclopedia of Costume by Albert Racinet. Dr. Aileen Ribeiro points this out in her introduction. "Ö(Racinet was) becoming particularly indignant about the opium smoking habits of the Chinese Imperial Court: whether or not they existed, he seems to ignore the notorious involvement of the European powers in the opium trade with China."

On the opposite end are individuals whose education of Asia has come primarily from watching Karate Kid. This seems to be the most common problem here in America, thus the subtitle of this article. "Ninjas were everywhere, didnít you know that?" is the general attitude and all other weapons of Asia that werenít featured in Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles are ignored. I must admit that I was among the ignorant until recently.

The research problem I went to ATARN for was an inquiry on the Chinese repeating crossbow. This weapon is represented in movies (most notably the Shadow) and video games (most notably Age of Empires II) as a sort of medieval Chinese Uzi with the same power and destructive capabilities. It naturally never jams although that can be argued as being a cinematic necessity.

Another mistake that seems common is that even when Asian archery is represented it is assumed that European and Asian archery are exactly the same thing. This makes about as much sense as saying that since the Chinese and Europeans enjoyed silk their fashion is identical or that since Japanese and English swords are both made of steel then there is no difference between them.

The best idea for a historic novelist is to find an expert or a reputable history book and leave Hollywood out of it.

I have had to postpone my visit to Chengdu to interview the daughter of the Bowyer, Chang Xing, as one of the friends I was to meet there is unwell. A shall go in early April instead. 

But I have been using the time well: I have managed to track down Frank T'an, eldest son of Prof. T'an Tan Chiung who wrote the report on the Chengdu Bowyer. Frank is not involved in archery or Chinese cultural research; but in a conversation on the phone he expressed support for us. This support might extend to granting a license to re-publish the original Chinese text of the report on ATARN. I asked Frank if any of the original notes or photographs from Professor T'an had survived. (The Professor passed away in 1996.) Unfortunately, nothing has remained.

As to the matter of re-publishing the English version of this valuable report, I believe that the Society of Archer Antiquaries is considering this actively. I have pledged my full support for the project.

Now I want you all to think seriously about thingies.

Traditional archers and bowyers have been ignoring thingies for far too long. You help with thingies is urgently required. Here is your chance of a lifetime to hone your skills as an archery archaeologist. 

Please follow this link and help thingies regain their importance in world affairs.


Yours faithfully,


(Stephen Selby)