A MUSEUM DISPLAY OF MANCHU ARROWS | Mandarin Mansion

A MUSEUM DISPLAY OF MANCHU ARROWS

Specifications

Box size: 58 x 148 x 9 cm (23” x 58” x 3.5”)
Total weight: 14.9 kilograms

Open the PDF for a more elaborate description

General
This museum display was one of two such items that came from an Irish museum that was discontinued. The other remains in my own collection. The heavy case is made of thick solid wood with a window of high quality shatter-resistant plexiglass. The arrows are tied on a fabric background. Inside the case is a framed reproduction of a late 19th century Russian photograph of a Buryat Mongol serving in the Qing army with his bows and arrows.
!The arrows inside this case are most interesting, as they represent two forms of ar- chetypical Manchu arrows as often seen on period artwork and manuals, but are rarely encountered in real life. A number of them exist in state-owned Chinese imperial collec- tions such as those of the Palace Museums of Shenyang and Beijing, and the Beijing military museum.

Just how rarely they are encountered becomes clear of the fact that I have searched for these arrows in vain in many major collections of Manchu archery equipment including the Royal Armories in Leeds, the Chicago Field Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York, the Ingo Simon collection in Manchester, the Pitt-Rivers in Oxford, the archery museum in Crepy-en-Valois, and the Charles E. Grayson collection now housed in the University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology. I know of no fellow collectors that pos- s!ess arrows of the type, nor in Europe, the United States or China.

There are some possible explanations for the fact that arrows so widely depicted in art- work are so rarely encountered. One is that their users, Manchu hunters and the Manchu Valiant Cavalry (an elite unit of mounted archers) were a minority even among Manchus. It was their high status that got them depicted in so much artwork, hence the over-representation of their equipment. After the Qing fell, it was dangerous to be a Manchu and so all items connecting them to their former past as elite-of-an-elite was often destroyed. Many Manchu robes were sold to Westerners at the time, a number of them turned into purses for rich Parisians. Arrows having no such use, most must have been destroyed save for those in the imperial armories that survived all the tumult so they can be displayed today.



THE ARROWS

One military arrow
Total length 103,3 cm
Fletching length 30,5 cm
Arrowhead 74 x 18 mm
Max shaft thickness 11 mm

Most military arrows found in Manchu archery collections are very similar: Long shafts with either self-nocks or birch-bark wrapped nocks, and a triangular point on a long steel neck. They are always 103-105 cm in length total. This is the last stage of development in Manchu military arrows, and most of them that are encountered in the West were brought back as war trophies by soldiers serving in China in the 19th century.
Battle paintings consistently show a very different type of war arrow. These almost al- ways have red paint between the long vulture feathers, a green nock that extends be- tween the feathers, and an arrowhead that resembles a miniature spearhead. The military arrow in this case is exactly like that.

The space between the feathers is dyed with vermillion pigment, as are many arrows described in the 1759 Huangchao Liqi Tushi. The vulture feathers were wrapped with very fine silk thread around the shaft, still to be seen under the paint. The nock is painted green, partly faded in time. Right before the fletched area on the shaft is wrapped a piece of thin material, probably a piece of peach bark as was usually the case. The spearhead- shaped head is inserted into the shaft with a tang. The shaft’s end is wrapped with sinew to hold the head in place. Over the sinew and extending the first few inches down the shaft is red paint. 






The broadhead arrows

Set A, two broadheads
Total length 104 cm
Fletching length 28 cm
Arrowhead 75 x 48 mm
Max shaft thickness 11 mm

Set B, two broadheads
Total length 100,2 cm
Fletching length 26,5 cm
Arrowhead 75 x 48 mm
Max shaft thickness 11 mm

Although these four arrows generally look the same, when measuring it becomes clear that they are of two different types, one longer than the other. Being identical style-wise, they were probably made by the same workshop, for two different archers with slightly varying draw-lengths and bow draw-weights. The heads of the larger ones have a deeper patina and the shafts are darker, suggesting they might be older. One of the heads appears to have been bent on impact and was bent back. This is often seen on thin broad heads because their thin heads need to deal with great forces on impact.

The wide, leaf shaped heads are of archetypical Manchu design. Made of steel, they are delicately crafted with carefully shaped contours, even flats, and a subtle center ridge. The wide shape is designed to sever blood vessels, sinew and muscles tissue as to immobilize even large prey. Where a pointy arrowhead would soon go through the body of the target animal, rendering whatever kinetic energy they still have useless, these wider heads also cause more shock damage as they hit.

The heads are fixed on the long poplar shafts by means of a tang. The shaft’s end is reinforced with a wrapping of red peach bark. In order to stabilize the large heads the feathers of these are offset as to create a lot of spin when the arrow flies. The nock end i!s covered with skin with very tiny scales, probably reptile.

Arrows with heads of identical size and shape are mentioned in the Huangchao Liqi Tushi. One type, named dapijian or “large broadhead arrow” in Chinese and keifu in Manchu was used for hunting large game. Another type, simply called target shooting broadhead, was used to shoot rectangular targets made of fabric on which animals were painted, to simulate the hunt on horseback. The broad heads make these arrows unstable and more susceptible to wind, and therefore harder to shoot than regular arrows. Because of the added difficulty of shooting broadheads versus regular target arrows, Manchus also used broadheads in the target shooting games that prepared for the hunt.

Condition
The arrows are all in rather good shape. Some heads have some damage from hitting, as may be expected from any set of arrows that has seen actual use. Yet all the contours are largely intact with no losses or excessive polishing. Shafts still straight and free of damage of any consequence. On the broadheads the feathers are in remarkable shape, with little of the regular loss or insect damage so common on old arrows. In fact, they would still be very much usable. The military arrow retains less of its feathers, yet enough remains to determine its original length and contours. Arrowheads were cleaned of any active rust and oiled to preserve them.

Conclusion
A rather rare set of high-end Manchu arrows in a very good state of preservation, of a style that every student of the Manchu archery tradition instantly recognizes, yet few would have seen in real-life.

SOLD

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