Author’s note: This is one of my straight translation subs again. The actual items described vary in level of details and most are not that interesting but I can’t really help that. I might come back one day to expand some of less detailed or mundane entry with supplements from my imagination but that won’t be any time soon given the amount of my work pile.
The 10 Greatest Chinese Bows
I find it hard to describe the appearances of these weapons but there is this link which gives pictures for 6 of these weapons. The ones with missing pictures are no. 8, 5, 4 and 2. The Mandarin spelling of bow names are provided in brackets. Bows are called Gong in Mandarin and most of the bows below are named xxx Bow but I've dropped the word from most of the names below.
No. 10: The Dragon Tongue (Long She Gong)
Construction/Special Properties : reputedly its bowstring is made from the sinew of a dragon, giving it high speed and accuracy.
Lore: In the era of the Three Kingdoms, Lu Bu, the greatest warrior of that era, had used the Dragon Tongue to successfully shoot his halberd, thereby averting the awkward situation when Yuan Shu sent an emissary to force him to join in invading Liu Bei’s stronghold
No. 9: The Travelling Son (You Zi Gong)
Construction/Special Properties : A strong bow, whose arrows fly at the speed that a *travelling son eager for homecoming wishes to travel at
Lore: the weapon of Hua Rong, ranked ninth among the one hundred and eight generals of the Water Margin (one of the 4 Chinese classics in literature) heroes, which together make up a grass-root rebellion group in the Northern Song dynasty.
Note: a travelling son is a generic term in ancient China for a son who is currently living far away from his parents. Back then, there’s a kind of a cultural dogma that’s against being apart from your parents encapsulated in the saying “when your parents are around, one should not travel far”. In reality, of course, some still do, especially for scholars for the purpose of studying and then later on if they become an official.
No. 8: The Divine Arm (Shen Bei Gong)
Construction/Special Properties : Actually a crossbow whose body is made from a particular specie of mulberry trees, whose bowstring is made from silk, with the end of the bow being made of sandalwood and iron/steel making up the mechanic parts.
Lore: Some say it is wielded by the patriotic general Yue Fei who was instrumental in repelling the Jurchen invaders in the Southern Song dynasty but died at the hands of the corrupt official Qin Hui. Others say that it the multiple-shot crossbow invented by Zhuge Liang in the era of the Three Kingdoms.
No. 7: The Sentient Treasure (Ling Bao Gong)
Lore: the weapon of Li Guang, a valiant general of the Western Han dynasty who was instrumental in repelling the Xiong Nu invaders (a race of nomads dominant in Central East Asia) and was given the nickname of General Fei or Flying General by them.
It was said that one day when Li Guang was out hunting, he saw a tiger crouching amidst a bush from afar and shot it. When he walked close, he found that it was actually just a stone but the arrow has sunk deep within the stone. Apparently a poet in the Tang dynasty had composed a poem that detailed this event.
No. 6: The Ten-thousand Stone (Wan Shi Gong)
Construction/Special Properties : Composed from purple sandalwood that are harder than steel but much lighter
Lore: the weapon of Huang Zhong, one of the five Tiger General of the Shu Kingdom of the era of the Three Kingdoms (the others were Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun and Ma Chao, basically the five greatest warriors of Shu). Huang Zhong was the eldest among them (in fact substantially older than the others) but he was such a valiant warrior that he managed to slay Xia Hou Yuan, cousin to Cao Cao and one of his eight Tiger Riders. Consequently, Huang Zhong was a classic image for a healthy and capable elder in Chinese culture. The name of this bow was a reference to weight (stone is a unit of measurement in ancient China since it was said that Huang Zhong can wield a bow that has the strength of two stones (a little over 19kg in modern terms) i.e. one needs to exert about 19kg of force to use such a bow. It was also said that he never missed a shot.
No. 5: The Heaven Shaker (Zhen Tian Gong)
Lore: wielded by Xue Ren Kui, a famous general in the Tang dynasty. In 661 AD, Xue Ren Kui was fighting against the Uighurs, a group of nomads from Northern Asia who were strong riders and whose bows could create winds that shake the heaven. In particular, his adversary was Hali Khan who had the nickname of the Master of Condor Shooters within Mt. Heaven ( Tian Shan) who led an army of over a hundred thousand. In particular, he sent out over ten particularly strong warriors to challenge the Tang army, among them three of his most valued generals that were named Yuan Lung, Yuan Hu and Yuan Feng. It was said that Xue Ren Kui was totally unfazed and calmly drew back this bow three times in succession. The result was that each arrow found its target and Lung (Dragon), Hu (Tiger) and Feng (Phoenix) were all killed. This threw the Uighur army into turmoil and they all surrendered. This event was celebrated as the “Conquering of Mt Heaven by three Arrows” by the Tang soldiers and populace.
No. 4: The Condor Shooter (She Diao Gong)
Lore: the weapon of Genghis Khan
No. 3: The Conqueror (Ba Wang Gong)
Construction/Special Properties : The body of this bow is made from a metal called Xuan Tie (which is really a fictional metal) and weighs 127 Chinese grams (just over 76 kg in modern terms). Reputedly the bowstring of the Conqueror is the back sinew of a black semi-dragon (a black Jiao Lung). It was said that a black Jiao Lung is the ultimate representation for coldness and as such, the bowstring of the Conqueror is unusually strong and immune to both ice and fire as well as damage dealt by conventional weapons.
Lore: the weapon that Xiang Yu, aka Conqueror Xiang, always carries with him. He was a renowned hero, the Lord of the Chu Kingdom and the major competitor against Liu Bang who founded the Han dynasty. The story goes that Xiang Yu heard of a black Jiao Lung being a major menace to nearby villages around a river named the Wu Jiang (Dark River) and set out alone to find this dragon when he was 15. It was said that having found it, Xiang Yu fought with it for one day and two nights and finally killed it. After this deed, it was said that he extracted the main sinew from its back to make the bowstring of the Conqueror.
No. 2: The Sun Sinker (Luo Ri Gong)
Lore: the bow that Hou Yi used to shoot down nine suns. There’s a myth about how for a period of time, there were ten suns in the sky. The result is that the earth became parched and the crops failed. People were dehydrated and fell into comas. Meanwhile, ferocious beasts were running rampart, which was previously living in lakes (that have now run dry) and forests (that have become as hot as if aflame). The plight of the mortal realms touched the immortals and the Heavenly King Ti Jun sent Hou Yi who was good at archery to help the mortals. Thus with the red bow that Ti Jun gifted to him, Hou Yi shot down nine of the sons, leaving only one in the sky.
No. 1: The Xuan Yuan Bow
Construction/Special Properties : Forged by Xuan Yuan Huang Ti or the Yellow Emperor (one of the legendary Three Soverigns and Five Emperors), from the trunk of a species of tree that is especially tough within Mt. Tai, the horns of a species of ox known as Yan Niu (Swallow-Ox or Ox of the Yan region, not sure), the sinew from a type of elk known as Jing Mi (Thorn-Elk?) and glue made from fishes in the river
Lore: The Yellow Emperor used this bow to kill his nemesis Chi You with three arrows to the heart. In the Investiture of the Gods (a classic Chinese novel, not quite as classic as one of the Four Classics but still very famous), this bow goes by the alternative name of Qian Kun Bow (Heaven and Earth Bow) and was used by Li Jing (a mythical character that was a great general and then ascended to immortality) to kill a minor villain with a single shot