Arrows of the Ming Dynasty

Archery had always been one of the most important cultural aspects of China. Considered one of the Six Gentlemanly Arts in Confucian philosophy, archery played important roles in military, hunting, communication, and entertainment. China was also the first to create formalised ceremonial archery in Asia (which later influenced/inspired similar customs in Korea and Japan), and one of the last to give up archery as a serious military weapon.

Naturally, Chinese people's high regard of archery led to the development of various specialised arrows suitable for different purposes. By Ming period, there was already a wide variety of arrows in use, with a peculiar focus on anti-horse arrow.


Bow-launched arrow
Drawing of a Dian Tong Jian (highlighted), from 'San Cai Tu Hui (《三才圖會》)'.
  • Dian Tong Jian (點銅箭, lit. 'Bronze head arrow'): A general term applicable to any arrow with a bronze arrowhead.

Tie Gu Li Zhui Jian (left) and Dian Gang Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Dian Gang Jian (點鋼箭, lit. 'Steel head arrow'): A general term applicable to any arrow with a hardened steel arrowhead. It was considered synonymous to Tou Jia Zhui Jian (see below) during Ming period.
  • Tie Gu Li Zhui Jian (鐵骨麗錐箭, lit. 'Iron bone sharp awl arrow'): The name implies that this arrow has an awl-shaped arrowhead with a long tang, although the illustration depicts a barbed broadhead instead. This design was inherited from Song period.

Drawing of a Mu Pu Tou Jian (highlighted), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Mu Pu Tou Jian (木撲頭箭, lit. 'Wooden putou arrow'): Wooden blunt arrow used for military exercise.

Ming Xiao Jian (left) and Wu Long Tie Ji Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Wu Long Tie Ji Jian (烏龍鐵脊箭, lit. 'Iron spine hound arrow'): Also known as Wan Xin Tie Tou Jian (灣信鐵頭箭, lit. 'Curved tang iron head arrow'). Presumably, the arrowhead of this arrow has a corkscrew-shaped tang that is directly screwed into the shaft. A Song Dynasty design that was no longer used during Ming period.
  • Ming Xiao Jian (鳴髇箭, lit. 'Whistling arrow'): A blunt whistling arrow often used for entertainment purposes.  Also known as Xiang Pu Tou Jian (响撲頭箭, lit. 'Loud Putou arrow').

Tou Jia Zhui Jian (left) and Ming Ling Fei Hao Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Ming Ling Fei Hao Jian (鳴鈴飛號箭, lit. 'Ringing bell flying screaming arrow'): A special whistling arrow that has its entire arrow shaft modified into a flute.
  • Tou Jia Zhui Jian (透甲錐箭, lit. 'Armour-piercing awl arrow'): An arrow with awl-shaped arrowhead (i.e. needle bodkin).

Zan Zi Tou Jian (left) and Bo Cai Tou Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Bo Cai Tou Jian (菠菜頭箭, lit. 'Spinach head arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like spinach leaf.
  • Zan Zi Tou Jian (鏨子頭箭, lit. 'Chisel head arrow'): An arrow with a chisel head.

Lang She Tou Jian (left) and Liang Kai Jian Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Liang Kai Jian Jian (兩開肩箭, lit. 'Double open shoulder arrow'): Military arrow designed by Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光). The "open shoulder" in its name is presumably based on an archery jargon. 
  • Lang She Tou Jian (狼舌頭箭, lit. 'Wolf tongue arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like a wolf's tongue. Suitable for horse killing.

Ai Ye Tou Jian (left) and Yue Ya Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Yue Ya Jian (月牙箭, lit. 'Crescent arrow'): An arrow with crescent-shaped arrowhead, suitable for hunting as well as rope-cutting during naval combat.
  • Ai Ye Tou Jian (艾葉頭箭, lit. 'Chinese mugwort head arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like the leaf of Chinese mugwort (i.e. serrated broadhead). Suitable for horse killing.

San Cha Jian (left) and Liu Ye Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Liu Ye Jian (柳葉箭, lit. 'Willow leaf arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like the leaf of willow tree (i.e. leaf point). It is a general purpose arrow that is also effective at horse killing.
  • San Cha Jian (三叉箭, lit. 'Three-pronged fork arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like a trident.

Mei Zhen Jian (left) and Ling Ye Tou Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Ling Ye Tou Jian (菱葉頭箭, lit. 'Water chestnut head arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like the leaf of water chestnut (i.e. broadhead).
  • Mei Zhen Jian (眉針箭, lit. 'Brow needle arrow'): An arrow with a specialised armour-piercing arrowhead. This type of arrow later came to be known as Mei Zhen Jian (梅針箭, lit. 'Plum needle arrow') during Qing period.

Tu Cha Jian (left) and Chan Zi Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Chan Zi Jian (鏟子箭, lit. 'Shovel arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like a trowel (i.e. barbed broadhead).
  • Tu Cha Jian (兔叉箭, lit. 'Hare fork arrow'): An arrow with a special arrowhead that has several prongs behind the tip. This type of arrowhead is meant for small game hunting, although it is also effective at horse killing.

Tie Pu Jian (left) and Xiao Pu Tou Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Xiao Pu Tou Jian (小樸頭箭, lit. 'Small putou arrow'): An arrow with a small blunt arrowhead, designed for training and demonstration. The arrowhead can be made of leather or horn.
  • Tie Pu Jian (鐵樸箭, lit. 'Iron putou arrow'): An iron blunt arrow used for small game hunting as well as signalling.

Cuan Zhu Jian (left) and Si Kou Ma Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'. 
  • Si Kou Ma Jian (四扣馬箭, lit. 'Four nock horse arrow'): A specialised cavalry arrow with two crossed grooves on its nock (somewhat similar to modern omni-nock) so that it can be easily nocked without having to check for the orientation of the nock (blind nocking).
  • Cuan Zhu Jian (攢竹箭, lit. 'Assembled bamboo arrow'): An arrow with shaft made of carefully assembled split bamboo slats. A subtype of this arrow shaft, known as San Bu Qi (三不齊, lit. 'Three misaligned'), is considered one of the higher quality arrow shafts, as it is naturally straight, does not bend or break easily, and resistant to damp.

Qiao Mai Ling Jian (elft) and Wu Kou Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Wu Kou Jian (無扣箭, lit. 'Nockless arrow'): The name implies that this is a nockless arrow, presumably shot with the aid of a loop of thread. However, the illustration depicts a normal arrow regardless.
  • Qiao Mai Ling Jian (蕎麥棱箭, lit. 'Buckwheat arrow'): An arrow with arrowhead shaped like the seed of buckwheat (i.e. triangular bodkin).

Drawing of a Ban Bian Kou Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Ban Bian Kou Jian (半邊扣箭, lit. 'Half-side nock arrow'): The name implies that this arrow is equipped with a "half-side nock". However, what exactly is a half-side nock is currently unknown.



Crossbow-launched arrow
Song Dynasty crossbow arrow
All of these crossbow arrow designs were inherited from Song period. However, since military grade crossbow had largely fallen out of use for much of the Ming period, these arrows also did not see much use.

Mu Yu Jian (left) and San Ting Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • San Ting Jian (三停箭, lit. 'Three stop arrow'): An extremely short crossbow arrow that is very hard to extract once it hits its target.
  • Mu Yu Jian (木羽箭, lit. 'Wooden fletch arrow'): A crossbow arrow with wooden vanes instead of feather fletching.

Pu Tou Jian, Feng Yu Jian and Dian Gang Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Dian Gang Jian (點鋼箭, lit. 'Steel head arrow'): A general term applicable to any arrow with hardened steel arrowhead.
  • Feng Yu Jian (風羽箭, lit. 'Wind-fletch arrow'): Also known as Feng Yu Jian (封羽箭, lit. 'Sealed fletch arrow') or Mei Yu Jian (沒羽箭, lit. 'Fletchless arrow'), this is a fletchless arrow that ultilises carefully carved aerodynamic grooves and air channels on its shaft to stablilse its trajectory.
  • Pu Tou Jian (撲頭箭, lit. 'Putou arrow'): A blunt arrow.


Poisoned crossbow arrow
These crossbow arrows may be considered the "standard" crossbow arrows of the time. They were often, but not exclusively, used by ethnic minorities auxiliaries.

Drawing of a crossbow with poisoned quarrel, from 'Chou Hai Tu Bian (《籌海圖編》)'.
  • Liang Guang Yao Jian (兩廣藥箭): A crossbow arrow with a hollowed out arrowhead used to store poison. For more details, see my other post.

Drawing of a Ke Zhu Jian, from 'Deng Tan Bi Jiu (《登壇必究》)'.
  • Ke Zhu Jian (刻竹箭, lit.'Carved bamboo arrow'): A poisoned bamboo arrow often used by Miao people. Its shaft is intentionally carved and weakened so that the arrow breaks as soon as it hits its target, making extraction more difficult.

Drawing of a Tie Gan San Xu Duan Ming Jian, from 'Deng Tan Bi Jiu (《登壇必究》)'.
  • Tie Gan San Xu Duan Ming Jian (鐵桿三鬚短命箭, lit. 'Iron shafted three whiskered life-shortening arrow'): A short iron-shafted triple blade barbed broadhead arrow designed to be shot from a Miao crossbow.


Chen Zong You's crossbow arrow
Late Ming martial artist Chen Zong You (程宗猷) also designed or reintroduced several types of crossbow arrows to be used with his improved crossbows.

Nu Jian (弩箭, lit. 'Crossbow arrow')
Drawing of a Nu Jian, from 'Jue Zhang Xin Fa (《蹶張心法》)'.
For the most part, Chen Zong You's crossbow arrow is just an ordinary bamboo arrow. What set it apart from other arrows is that it has some silk threads carefully tied just below the arrowhead. The threads will soak up poison when the arrow is dipped into the poison bottle, thus allowing the arrow to deliver a more lethal dosage (compared to simply smearing the arrowhead with poison).

Chen Zong You's crossbow arrow can be mounted with two selection of arrowheads, which will be detailed below:

Drawing of a Ci Gu Jian (left), from 'Jue Zhang Xin Fa (《蹶張心法》)'.
  • Ci Gu Jian (茨菰箭, lit. 'Arrowhead arrow'): A ribbed and barbed broadhead modelled after Han Dynasty arrowhead design.

Leaf-shaped arrowhead designed by Chen Zong You (highlighted), from 'Jue Zhang Xin Fa (《蹶張心法》)'.
  • Unnamed barbed arrowhead: A leaf-shaped barbed arrowhead designed by Chen Zong You.


Tie Jian (鐵箭, lit. 'Iron arrow')
Also known as Tie Xin Jian (鐵心箭, lit. 'Iron core arrow'), this arrow comes with a special arrowhead that has a tang as long as its bamboo arrow shaft. Chen Zong You designed this arrow to be used with his powerful Yao Kai Nu (腰開弩), as lighter arrows cannot withstand the tremendous power of the crossbow.

Bamboo shaft of the Tie Xin Jian (left) with several arrowhead designs, from 'Jue Zhang Xin Fa (《蹶張心法》)'.

  • Unnamed ribbed and barbed broadhead: An extremely rare example of a socketed arrowhead (most Chinese arrowheads use tang construction). It has two "fullers" designed to store poison. Chen Zong You modelled this iron arrowhead after an ancient bronze arrowhead.
  • Unnamed broadhead: A broadhead arrow modelled after Han Dynasty arrowhead design.
  • Si Xu Jian (四鬚箭): A four blade barbed broadhead with two deep grooves, designed to pierce armour.



Fire arrow
Drawing of a Huo Jian (highlighted), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.



Siege bolt
From left to right: Dou Zi Jian, Han Ya Jian, Ta Jue Jian, Yi Qiang San Jian Jian, from 'Deng Tan Bi Jiu (《登壇必究》)'.

  • Yi Qiang San Jian Jian (一鎗三劔箭, lit. 'One spear three swords arrow'): A heavy crossbow bolt shot from the largest of Chinese multiprod crossbows.
  • Ta Jue Jian (踏撅箭, lit. 'Stepping arrow'): A crossbow bolt used to deploy scaling ladder for besieging troops. Ming version of Ta Jue Jian can be shot from cannon as well as siege crossbow.
  • Han Ya Jian (寒鴉箭, lit. 'Jackdaw arrow'): Small arrow designed to be launched from a Dou Zi Nu (㪷子弩).
  • Dou Zi Jian (㪷子箭, lit. 'Bucket arrow'): While this arrow is synonymous with Han Ya Jian, Ming Chinese apparently thought it to be a distinct type.




Miscellaneous arrow
Shu Yu Jian and Xuan Feng Yu Jian (highlighted), from 'Deng Tan Bi Jiu (《登壇必究》)'.
  • Xuan Feng Yu Jian (旋風羽箭, lit. 'Whirlwind fletch arrow'): A very unique arrwo with a single, curling fletch.
  • Shu Yu Jian (疎羽箭, lit. 'Sparsely fletched arrow'): The name implies that this is an arrow with dashed fletching.
  • Mei Yu Jian (沒羽箭, lit. 'Fletchless arrow'): A fletchless arrow (see Feng Yu Jian above).

Tong Zi Jian (left) and Bian Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Bian Jian (鞭箭, lit. 'Whip arrow'): Alternate writing of Bian Jian (邊箭).
  • Tong Zi Jian (筒子箭, lit. 'Tube arrow'): A special device that allows its user to launch fifteen to twenty arrows at the same time. For more details, see my other post.

Liu Xing Jian (left) and Xiu Jian (right), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
  • Xiu Jian (袖箭, lit. 'Sleeve arrow'): A sleeve-concealed throwing dart. For more details, see my other post.
  • Liu Xing Jian (流星箭, lit. 'Shooting star arrow'): An lead-weighted throwing dart. For more details, see my other post.




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3 comments:

  1. Great article! I didn't expect so many arrows design and combination! It was also really interesting to see anti-horse arrows; is there any other info on the subject?

    Also, which was the average weight for arrow? And how many arrows were carried by archers? And did you know any sources/account of armor being defeated by some of these arrows? Thank you so much!

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    Replies
    1. Good day.

      I don't think there are other information regarding these horse-killing arrows. Many of them appear to be variations of broadhead, suitable for killing large animal (and horse happens to be quite large).

      As for arrow weight, I can't give you a definite answer. Like many things Chinese, there was also a North/South divide of archery during Ming period. South China arrows were generally lighter than North China arrow.

      Late Ming archery master Gao Ying recommended a minimum arrow weight of 3 maces and 6 fen (roughly 13.3 grams/205 grain), as well as 1 mace 2 fen per ten catties of draw weight, or 5.2 grain-per-pound.

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