If you have an interest in the diverse archery styles of the world, you’ll no doubt find the archers of the Qing Imperial Guard intriguing.
Archery is an absolutely fascinating sport. Not only does all of humanity rest on its accomplishments, but it is rich with history and culture. Nearly every society at one time used the bow and arrow with each adding their own spin to the sport. Here in America, we most often see a style of archery that reflects our European heritage. Young archers, or those new to the sport, may be surprised at all the different forms of archery out there.
One interesting style of archery is found in the Far East. In China, dynasties ruled for centuries under a system called the Mandate of Heaven. One way dynasties were able to maintain their control was through use of competent and effective archers. The archers of the Qing Imperial Guard used a unique shooting style to keep the Qing dynasty in power for centuries.
Check out this brief video to see how they shot their bows.
Many aspects of the shot are similar to European archery, but as you probably noticed there are a few distinct differences.
For starters, the anchor point is much deeper in this style of archery. It’s easy to see this would put the eye in good relation with the arrow with this draw length. Initially I doubted the ability of an archer of the Qing Imperial Guard to draw anywhere close to the 180-pound English war bows. After some brief searching I located this primary source claiming an archer using this style of draw won a contest using a 240-pound draw weight. That weight seems almost impossible when you consider how far back the bow had to be drawn and how little power the muscles would have had. Even if this source is incorrect though it does reveal draw weights of these bows could be much heavier than first thought.
Another intriguing facet of the shot was the aiming duration. “Like ripe fruit dropping from the vine,” is an unique way to describe an arrow release. Although it is not how I was taught, it really hits the nail on the head. A good release just happens. Not too early, not too late. A good release is also natural. It leaves me wondering if an archer coached in this style would be less likely to develop a case of target panic. It’s really not much different from the idea of a European style release, but the presentation is different.
The Qing Dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1912. For this period of almost 270 years, the Emperors ruled partly due to the strength of their armies. Although firearms were part of these armies by this time, the archers of the Qing Imperial Guard played a role as well. As with all nations of the world, archery is a rich part of China’s past.