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Home > Books > A Study of Bows and Arrows > Tartar Bows

Tartar Bows

Part 1 of 2

Tartar bows (pl. 6). My brother, Major B. H. Pope, U. S. Army, stationed in the Philippines, went upon an extended hunting trip into China. His journey carried him beyond the Chinese Wall into the province of Shansi and the Gobi Desert. At my request he obtained two Chinese bows from this location. The Chinese donor of these specimens had practiced archery when a boy. He offered the Major several bows from which the two strongest were selected, with a number of Chinese arrows.

The weaker of these bows was designated as a number three bow, and apparently meant only for target practice. It is in perfect condition although supposed to have been made in the Ming dynasty or over a century ago. It is of course composite in structure and strongly reflexed. The belly is composed of whalebone or horn of the water buffalo inlaid on the edges with some yellow metal. The handle is of shagreen, or shark skin. The back is covered with a thin veneer of birch bark. The ears or ends of the limbs are of a wood resembling beech. The nocks are of inserted buffalo horn. The string is silk, terminating at each end in a long loop. The knot of the loop is a perfect bowline knot, and serves as a resting place for the string as it crosses the bone fulcrum or block which all these Asiatic bows have on their upper and lower limbs. This fulcrum serves to keep the string from slip­ping when the bow is braced, and likewise gives a clean vibration of the string when the bow is discharged. The string is served its entire length with silk thread and has special serving at the nocking point. There are decora­tions at the handle. Altogether it is a beautifully made weapon. Entire length, 74 inches. Just above the cylin­drical handle it is 1 by 1 inch, circumference, 3¼ inches; at the mid-limb, 1½ wide by ¾ thick, circumference, 3½ inches; at the beginning of the ear it is 1⅝ by ½, circum­ference, 3½ inches. The cross-section of this portion of the bow is a double flat arc. The ear itself is quadri­lateral and measures ¾ by ¾ inches. The bow weighs 1½ pounds avoirdupois, and pulls 30 pounds when drawn 28 inches. It shoots the Chinese target arrow which accompanies it 90 yards, and the Ishi flight arrow 100 yards. It is possible to draw this bow very much farther than 28 inches, because it is so flexible and weak. I there­fore drew the Chinese target arrow back some 36 inches, and it flew 112 yards.

The larger of these Chinese bows is truly a huge affair and seems to have been constructed for some giant in strength. It is composite in type, composed, like the other, of horn, wood, and probably sinew, although this cannot be seen because of the covering of birch bark.

These Chinese from whom the bow was obtained said that the entire structure was covered with the gut of a pig. There is no evidence to prove this, and certainly the horn is not covered but shows many cracks from dry­ing and age. The birch bark is perforated at many places by numerous minute holes where some tropical insect has eaten its way into the wood. This bow had been kept in a Chinese temple in the town of Guei-hua-chen; it was an old war bow of the last dynasty, and is probably over 100 years old. Before using the weapon I anointed it repeatedly with raw linseed oil to prevent it from breaking. Length, 74 inches over all. From nock to ear it is 9 inches. The handgrip is made of a piece of pigskin, and the bow at this point is 1½ by 1½ inches, circumference, 4¾ inches. At the mid-limb, which is flat and broad, it is 2 by 1, cir­cumference, 5 inches; near the outer wooden limb, 2¼ by ¾, circumference, 5 inches. This outer limb is a 1¼ by ½ inch quadrilateral.

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