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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Aug, 2011 11:04 am    Post subject: Japanese & Chinese crossbows?         Reply with quote

So I have heard a lot about chinese crossbows, but I have heard very little about japanese ones. The only thing I know about crossbows is that they were used by the gundan in the heian era. But they seem to have been unused by later japanese armies. Does anyone know more about them?

And while were at it, does anyone have any good info on Chinese crossbows?

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Last edited by Michael Curl on Mon 08 Aug, 2011 8:40 am; edited 1 time in total
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Aug, 2011 3:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Japanese crossbows seem to have come in single-man infantry versions, and a crew-served artillery version (which seems to have persisted a little longer). Essentially out of use c. 900.

Apparently there are no (contemporary) artistic depictions, no detailed descriptions in literary sources, and no archaeological finds. Best bet: assume they're similar to Chinese crossbows.

What do you want to know about Chinese crossbows?

Standard infantry missile weapon of Warring States and Han, and seems to have diminished in importance after that. The repeating crossbow stayed in use as a military weapon, and seems to have been the standard Song, Ming, and Qing crossbow, but was a minor weapon in those times. The main Qing missile weapons were bow and musket, and crossbows aren't common in Qing art (the only one I could see on a first search was being used by a native in Yunnan, in a non-military context; none of 2 dozen or so Qing battle scenes had any crossbow users). Still, the repeating crossbow was still in military use in the late 19th century, and IIRC surviving examples can be seen in Stone's Glossary.

Large artillery crossbows were in use, too, mainly for sieges.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Aug, 2011 5:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good info.

So it sounds like crossbows were completely gone in japan by the Kamakura era?

As far as chinese crossbows go, I was interested in several things. First are there any good books on them?

*Did they ever make a crossbow with a metal prod like an arbalest?
*What kinds of different crossbows where utilized by them? Did they have the variety of European crossbows or did it break down into normal, and repeating.
*What kind of multi-person siege versions did they make?
*When, why, and how where chu-ku-nu's used? (You kinda answered that one already).

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Aug, 2011 7:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jonathan Clements' "A Brief History of the Samurai" mentions an isolated late use. Post AD1000, iirc, but the index doesn't help me find the relevant section in the book. Could also be formulaic copying of earlier texts. I think you can safely ignore them after the end of the 9th century.

For Chinese crossbows, I don't know of a good book devoted to them. They get brief mention in many books. Needham covers them well, with about 60 pages on crossbows followed by another 50 pages on mechanical artillery (Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 5, part 6).

There was a lot of variety. Single-piece wooden or bamboo prods, multi-piece "leaf-spring" bamboo/wooden prods, composite prods, no steel prods that I know of. Light and easy to shoot, and heavy long-range high-power crossbows. Some heavy crossbows are described as requiring very strong men to use (just a stirrup, and no other mechanical aids), and some mechanical aids (especially belt-hooks, a.k.a. "belt-claw") were used. The windlass was common on artillery crossbows, and saw some (but little) use on hand-held crossbows.

The Wikipedia crossbow page has some pictures of Chinese artillery crossbows, including a fancy multi-bow one.

Payne-Gallway described the Chinese repeating crossbow. Pretty much just for volume of fire. Short range, and low power.

I haven't heard much of Ming-and-onwards use of powerful crossbows. It may be that firearms pushed them of the battlefield. The repeating crossbow does a different job to firearms, so stayed around. Needham has a number of pictures of crossbows (with "leaf-springs") being used as unmanned weapons for ambushes.

I'd estimate 11-13" for the draw length (from the prod) for crossbows in Ming illustrations.

In earlier times, high-power crossbows were important, and were a key Qin/Han weapon, outranging the composite horsebow. Qin armouries held large numbers of crossbows (like over 100,000).

Crossbows were used as hunting (and sporting) weapons into recent times.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Aug, 2011 8:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for all the info, was all this from Needham's book?
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 1:37 am    Post subject: Chinese archery         Reply with quote

http://www.atarn.org/chinese/chin_arc.htm
This is a good homepage on the subject plus you can ask the author questions and he'll reply.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 2:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
Thank you for all the info, was all this from Needham's book?


Except for the bits that obviously aren't, like Payne-Gallway, I think it's all in Needham. I might have added some "well-known" stuff as well. I looked at Needham before posting to see if he had any great gems that needed passing on. (And there are some great gems there, in the illustrations. If you have easy enough access to a copy, it's worth checking. The Wikipedia pictures I mentioned are in Needham.)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 5:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Michael Curl wrote:
Thank you for all the info, was all this from Needham's book?


Except for the bits that obviously aren't, like Payne-Gallway, I think it's all in Needham. I might have added some "well-known" stuff as well. I looked at Needham before posting to see if he had any great gems that needed passing on. (And there are some great gems there, in the illustrations. If you have easy enough access to a copy, it's worth checking. The Wikipedia pictures I mentioned are in Needham.)


That's strange because these pictures have been donated by Liang Jieming who wrote "Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery and Siege Weapons of Antiquity, an Illustrated History" ISBN 981-05-5380-3
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 6:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know they had occasional use as the Royal Armouries has at least two from the Tokugawa period. It seems they were used for personal home defense by the elite, perhaps where a bow was not so easy yo use but before melee weapons come in. They can also be left spanned before bed and hid close by. From what I gather they were never popular in war.


Timo,

I thought there was a resurgence of the basic crossbow in the Tang and early Song. Admittedly the mid to late Song is mired in all sorts of issues with the government limiting the military for fear of a repeat of the Tang to Song transition so it is possible the decline was a choice over progression. If this is too far off topic I can PM you as I am very interested in this theme. I took loads of pictures of Chinese crossbows at a few museums and have to say I find it an interesting topic.

RPM
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 8:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While I started this thread to answer japanese crossbow questions, I don't think we have a thread dedicated to chinese crossbows on this forum. I too am very interested in chinese military technology of the Tang-Qing.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 8:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One fascinating thing about Chinese crossbows is that the technology involved apparently declined. Han crossbows have elaborate, space-efficient trigger mechanisms and grid sights mass produced from bronze. Much later Chinese writers (from Song and Qing/Ming dynasties) marvel over the Han-era devices.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 2:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kurt Scholz wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
Michael Curl wrote:
Thank you for all the info, was all this from Needham's book?


Except for the bits that obviously aren't, like Payne-Gallway, I think it's all in Needham. I might have added some "well-known" stuff as well. I looked at Needham before posting to see if he had any great gems that needed passing on. (And there are some great gems there, in the illustrations. If you have easy enough access to a copy, it's worth checking. The Wikipedia pictures I mentioned are in Needham.)


That's strange because these pictures have been donated by Liang Jieming who wrote "Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery and Siege Weapons of Antiquity, an Illustrated History" ISBN 981-05-5380-3


The original sources are generally out-of-copyright by now, and there aren't that many of them, so the same pictures turn up in many books. The multi-bow artillery pictures are popular.

The original sources copy from each other, too. Many of them are compilations of older sources, so to be expected.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 2:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:

I thought there was a resurgence of the basic crossbow in the Tang and early Song. Admittedly the mid to late Song is mired in all sorts of issues with the government limiting the military for fear of a repeat of the Tang to Song transition so it is possible the decline was a choice over progression.


Tang/Song I don't know much about. (And it's sort-of a Chinese Dark Age, in that it comes after the well-stocked Qin/Han tomb finds, and before the literature-rich Ming.) I'd expect to see high-power crossbows on Tang battlefields, given that they're pre-gun.

Government limited the military in mid/late Song? While at war with the Jin and Mongols? I expect the budget might have limited things severely, equipment and technology-wise. Did political control extend to this kind of thing, or was it just keeping generals on a short leash? (Any recommended reading?)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 3:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Song had the biggest iron production in a pre-industrial society and most of the iron went to the armed forces. So I doubt very much that there was a reduction. Crossbows were perhaps less elaborate than the Han examples, but what about effectiveness and missile power (using multiple arrows per shot and other tricks)? In my opinion the Chinese had a very different approach to the crossbow than Meideval Europe by turning this into a weapon for massed archery and making crossbowmen and bowmen the dominant composition of armies. The brief Mongol incursions into europe show that the European crossbow system also worked against the same enemy and the Song were just defeated when the Mongols were able to get new artillery with more power, precision and range.
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 5:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Song were absolutely a militarily week dynasty. In my opinion the most. I will post some of the reading I used for my paper when I have the time to look them up.

In short, the Song suffered from trying to prevent a military take over like what happened to the Tang. For example, great generals like Yue Fe would find themselves being screwed by the government, and I think Yue Fe was forced to commit suicide.

Note: While this is mostly after the Jin invasion, they failed in many of their western campaigns even before the Liao fell.

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Aug, 2011 7:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo,

I think most of it Michael hit. The major issue was the government limiting funds and power to the military-indeed at some of the worst times possible. It might tie into angst between the scholar-gentry in generalwho often seem to be at ends with the military leadership.

They seem to have furthered the problem with large payments to the Liao, Xi Xia (Tanguts), Jin and others which gave their enemies incentive to attack and took money from other uses.

RPM
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Tue 09 Aug, 2011 3:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
The Song were absolutely a militarily week dynasty. In my opinion the most. I will post some of the reading I used for my paper when I have the time to look them up.

In short, the Song suffered from trying to prevent a military take over like what happened to the Tang. For example, great generals like Yue Fe would find themselves being screwed by the government, and I think Yue Fe was forced to commit suicide.

Note: While this is mostly after the Jin invasion, they failed in many of their western campaigns even before the Liao fell.


"Weak" doesn't mean you don't have the biggest iron production. The Mongols were strong without much iron production.
Analyzing the military problem of the Song was fielding capable cavalry and trained archers (who were usually from armed borderland villages that were also a source of unrest and coups). On the other hand, the Song navy was the longest and the closest to the Mongols and withstood them while most of the old world had little to put up against them. So what was the Song problem? Well, like all system based on armed power it was about the loyality of soldiers and if the Song emperor didn't lead troops to conquest and victory himself, his crown and life were at stake. That doesn't mean that the Song military was weak or badly armed, just they had a commander problem that goes hand in hand with a society's values and the way its political establishment works. Please research Chinese economic history, the Southern Song were the great economic time of China and they did a great defensive warfare. It would be equally nonsense to call the former Soviet Union weak because they were defeated in Afghanistan or the US because of Vietnam and Korea. One problem is, to whom belonged the loyalty of the northern Han-Chinese who were traditionally represented by eunuchs in court and not so much by scholars that were more Southern?
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 09 Aug, 2011 6:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kurt,

I do not know. Fragmentation of power in a single state is likely one of the biggest weaknesses a entity could experience for military or many other aspects. Does not matter how great your forces, tech or otherwise, division and worse in-fighting in any dynasty will make it a weak one. From the start of the Song this infighting has them paying off the Liao as their first encounters are failures due to the fear of creating a strong enough military to deal with them would be strong enough to defeat the scholar-gentry. Part of the reason for the duration of time from the fall of the Jin Kingdom is tied to the fact that between the 1230s and 1270s the Mongols are divided in interest and increasingly separate states and they are shifting toward decline. The Southern Song put up a good fight for almost a half century but ultimately their fall still goes back to inability to allow a strong enough military to reverse their situation.

RPM
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Eric S




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PostPosted: Mon 15 Aug, 2011 10:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A picture of the ancient Korean crossbow which would probably be close to the Japanese crossbow of the time if the Japanese used one, also a quote from Ian Bottomley on the Japanese crossbow and some pictures of an Edo period Japanese crossbow.





Quote:
The Chinese varieties were well known in Japan and appear in dictionaries under the names 'oyumi' or 'teppo yumi'. Those preserved in Nagoya belonged to Tokugawa Mitsutomo (1625 - 1700), whilst the Metropolitan Museum's one has a partial signature '... Kunitaka'. One of the Nagoya ones has an alternative string and a half barrel that can be fitted to convert it into a pellet-bow. (See my article in the Royal Armouries Yearbook, Vol 3. 1998).
Those I have seen suggest they may have been made either: to carry in a norimon, like a Rimankyu, or to have next to one's bed ready loaded. The RA one once had a spring to hold the bolt in place when cocked which would make sense if it was meant to be carried around cocked and loaded. Another possibility is that they were just used as an amusing toy to shoot indoors. The bow of the RA one cannot have been powerful, being made of layers of baleen like the leafspring of a car, and wouldn't have had much of a range. As for speed of loading, I'm sure you could cock it just by pulling the string back with one hand.
In Europe, crossbows were initially fitted with simple wooden bows but the friction of the string on the tiller limited their power. They were superceeded by a composite bow made of horn / sinew / wood and ultimately steel. Some of the latter have draw weights of up to 2000lbs but they needed a correspondingly heavy bolt so their performance wasn't as exciting as you would think. They were also slow to span since you needed a mechanical device to draw such a monster. The reason why they were popular in Europe was that you didn't need the years of practice a longbow demanded. We know the Japanese didn't inherit the oriental composite bow tradition (almost certainly from the lack of supplies of sinew / horn) and this is maybe why the crossbow wasn't more widely used.
Ian



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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Mon 15 Aug, 2011 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm going to disagree with your Kurt. I never said that the Song didn't have a powerful economy, or a large military. They had a army of over a million men and greatly outnumbered all their foes, yet they still repeatedly suffered fantastic defeats at the hands of the Tanguts and the Jin. I don't see your argument that they had a capable military. Yes the Southern Song were able to hold of the Mongols, but that is largely due to the terrain which required a powerful navy, and it took time for the Mongols to build said navy. Also while Kublai was struggling to subdue the southern Song, a political alliance was formed between several generals and the prime minister. While that was in effect the Song could successfully mount a defense, but once court politics shifted against that political clic the war turned decisively against the Song.

Admittedly much of this comes from my recollection of my old paper (which I can't find) but my sources included
*War, Politics and Society in Early Modern China, 900-1795 by Peter Lorge
*"The Great ditch of China" by Peter Lorge in Battlefronts real and imagined: war, border, and identity in the Chinese middle period, by Don Wyatt

Edit: I'm in agreement with Randall.

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