Bows of the Ming Dynasty

While archery was a very important part of the Ming army, very little is known about the constructions and dimensions of Chinese bows of the Ming period. Generally speaking, Ming period bows exhibit strong Turco-Mongol influence, but gradually evolved into a form similar to later Manchu bow.

He li Gong (合力弓, lit. 'Combined power bow', in context it means 'Bow adjusted to the strength of its user')
Chinese Ming Archery
Bow and arrow, possibly He Li Gong, from 'Lian Bing Za Ji (《練兵雜紀》)'.
He Li Gong is a recurve bow mentioned by general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) in his book Lian Bing Shi Ji (《練兵實紀》). It was used by border troops of the Ji garrison, and possibly other garrisons as well.

Note that He Li Gong might be a general term to describe any bow with considerate power, and does not refer to a specific bow type.


Xiao Shao Gong (小稍弓, small siyah bow)
Drawing of a Xiao Shao Gong (highlighted), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Xiao Shao Gong is supposedly the most common bow of the Ming Dynasty. It is probably a descendant of Song Dynasty bow, but bears some resemblance to Scythian, Turkish and Korean bow as well. As a general rule of thumb, bow with relatively small siyah is suitable to launch lighter arrows at higher velocity, but harder to draw and more susceptible to twisting.


Kai Yuan Gong (開元弓, lit. 'New era bow')
Chinese Archery Kaiyuan Bow
Drawing of a Kai Yuan Gong (highlighted), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Kai Yuan Gong entered Ming service relatively late, as the first (and only, later records simply copied from the original source word by word) written record of this type of bow comes from Deng Tang Bi Jiu (《登壇必究》), a military treatise published in 1599. Kai Yuan Gong is a sturdy warbow with large siyah, commonly used by border troops of the Nine Garrisons. It resemble the so-called "crab bow" of Northern India.


Xi Fan Mu Gong (西番木弓, lit. 'Wooden bow of the Western Barbarian')
Western Barbarian Wooden Bow
Drawing of a Xi Fan Mu Gong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Xi Fan Mu Gong is another weapon that is shrouded in mystery. It is apparently a type of wooden recurve bow used by Xi Fan (西番), refering to Qiang people. How or why this weapon ends up recorded in Ming military treatises is unknown.


Tai Ping Zhai Gong (太平寨弓, lit. 'Bow of Taipingzhai*')
Ming Dynasty Horn Bow
Drawing of a Tai Ping Zhai Gong, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Tai Ping Zhai Gong is a small siyah bow that resemble Korean bow. It is a "Northern Chinese-style bow made by Southern Chinese bowyer", and considered superior to Xiao Shao Gong.

*Note: Taipingzhai (太平寨) is a garrison in Tianjin that is part of the Great Wall of China.


Da Shao Gong (大弰弓, large siyah bow)
Chinese Big Siyah Bow
Drawing of a Da Shao Gong (highlighted), from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Da Shao Gong is another type of large siyah bow used by border troops of the Nine Garrisons. A bow with large siyah is easier to draw and generally more robust, but propel arrow more slowly. It is suitable to launch heavy, armour piercing arrow at close range.

Some speculate Da Shao Gong to be simply another name for Kai Yuan Gong, while others consider it a transitional design that gradually evolved into the Manchu bow.

Buryat Archer
Qing period photo of a Buryat archer holding a bow that closely resemble Da Shao Gong.


Tong Yong Gong (通用弓, general purpose bow)
Chinese Archery Ming Dynasty
Drawing of a Tong Yong Gong (highlighted), from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
It is not known whether Tong Yong Gong is a specific bow type, or simply a common name for all general purpose bow.


Other mention only bows
  • Ning Bo Gong (寧波弓, lit. 'Bow of Ningbo'): Probably a bow manufactured from Ningbo.
  • Chen Zhou Gong (陳州弓, lit. 'Bow of Chenzhou'): Bow manufactured from Henan.
  • He Zhu Gong (合竹弓, lit. 'Combined bamboo bow'): Bow made of lacquered laminated bamboo, similar to some Yumi (弓). Said to be very weather resistant but cannot propel an arrow very far.
  • Sheng Qi Xia Mian Zhi Gong (生漆下靣之弓, lit. 'Bow with lacquered back'): Bows manufactured from Guangdong and Guangxi. Said to have sturdy, round shaped limbs that are very weather resistant, but suffer from low power and short range.

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