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Blue Salamander

Chinese Crossbow

When it comes to crossbows, many knowledgable historians have a very euro-centric bias. Even casual researchers know that the crossbow reached prominence in Europe in the 11th century and was a dominant part of the military landscape until the 16th century. Many even know that both the ancient Romans and Greeks had versions of crossbows, often called 'arcuballistas' and 'gastrophetes', respectively, but the conventional wisdom holds that these devices were inefficent and only a marginal component of the military landscape.

But did you know that evidence of Chinese crossbows dates back to the 5th century BC? They had developed designs which were so effective that it had essentially replaced the bow as the standard missile weapon by the Han Dynasty (3rd century BC) and whose basic designed remained unchanged until the Yuan Dynasty 1400 years later? Even then, the design fell out of favor towards simpler, not more advanced technology. No, I didn't know it either! Not only that, but this basic design was used for both hand-carried crossbows as well as simply being scaled up for use in fixed, seige-size weapons. Intruiging, no? Why wouldn't someone want try to reproduce one of these?

The "typical" chinese crossbow consists of a straight wooden stock with a bow attached to one end, much the same as European designs. From there, the details begin to digress. Chinese designs have a comparatively short stock with a pistol-style grip on the end. Not only that, but through the use of an ingenious metal device, the string is released via a very modern-looking trigger which activates a pair of drop-down braces on the opposite side of the stock. The bow (or "prod") is generally a bit longer than a European model which theoretically gives a smoother power transfer to the bolt. This basic design served the Chinese armies up until the Mongol conquest, at which time it seems this design was dropped in favor of a more primitive pivoting lever design, which was the standard until being replaced by gunpowder-powered weapons.

Update: April 2009
So I've been eyeing this project for a while and it's been sticking in my mind despite being distracted by other projects. I've so far gotten a trigger mechanism master made out, ready to be cast in bronze. I still haven't picked out a prod or stock material, but I'd like to try to find some more information/research before I pick it out. I'll probably end up going with a fiberglass or commercial, modern laminated model for practicality reasons. My preference is to try to put together a reproduction of a Song Dynasty model, but I'm having a heck of a time tracking down research on it. Plenty on Han Dynasty crossbows, but I'm coming up almost empty on Song Dynasty. If you know something, drop me a line!

Copyright Joel & Angela Cropley 2009
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