Language: Mandarin Chinese
Source: Period texts

Description

Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) literally means "bow maker's camp" where the word yíng () for "army", or "camp" can loosely be translated into "quarters", because that is what they essentially were.

Little is known about the Ming bowyers and where they were located, so this article will focus on what I know of the quarters in Beijing of the Qing dynasty.

Once a thriving business, the bowyers in Beijing had a hard time after the imperial archery examinations were abolished in 1908 and focus shifter towards firearms. A few bowyers survived into the 20th century, the last closed shop at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.

 

Yang Ruiling at work

Manchu bowyer Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林) at work in 1935.
Photo by Hedda Morisson. Harvard-Yenching collection.
For more photos, see www.manchuarchery.org.

 

Imperial bowyers

Originally, the best bowyers were located inside the palace near the Xīhuámén (西華門) on the southern part of the west wall of the inner palace, and were part of the Nèiwùfǔ (内务府) or "imperial household department" where they produced exclusively for the emperor and his household. In the year 1823 they moved outside the palace walls to the west side of the inner city where there was a guarded bow and arrow making compound that produced for the bannermen in the city. There were about 40 bowyers in total, employing about 300 craftsmen.1

It was a separately guarded area, no commoners were allowed in.2 The bows produced initially all went to the Board of War, Board of Rites and the Board of Revenue. None were sold to private individuals. By the late Qing, rising use of firearms and economic decline made it harder for the bowyers to get by, and so they were allowed to sell on the free market. It is probably from this time onwards that we start to see brand names on bows.3

 

Qianlong period (1736-1796) locations

There is an undated Qianlong period map titled Jīngshī quán tú (京师全图) in the Harvard University Library.4 It shows the following archery related compounds:

Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow maker's quarters"
Located just northeast of the Huángchéngmén (皇城門) or "Imperial City Gate". This gate would later be called Fùchéngmén (阜城門). 

Jiàn yíng (箭營) or "Arrow quarters"
Located in Dongsi district, just northeast Chāoyángmén (朝陽門).

Gōng xián hútòng (弓弦衚衕) or "Bowstring alley"
There are two. One located the western part of the city, located just northwest of Dōng'ānmén (東安門). The other is located in the eastern part of the city, just west of Xīzhímén (西直門). It's one alley below the Gōng yīn hútòng (弓音衚衕) or "bow music alley" so they probably made strings for musical instruments.

Jiàn gān hútòng (箭杆衚衕) or "Arrow shaft alley"
Located in the southeast corner of the inner city, northwest of the old Dōng biàn mén (東便安).

Jiàn chǎng hútòng (箭厰衚衕) or "Arrow factory alley"
One block west of the Jiàn yíng (箭匠營) or "Arrow quarters"

 

Jiaqing period (1796-1820) locations

A map of the Jiaqing period dated 1800, still largerly reflects the situation in the Qianlong period.It shows:

Gōng jiàn yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow maker's quarters" and
Jiàn gān (箭杆) or "Arrow shafts"
Located along the western wall just north of Fùchéngmén (阜城門). The latter seemingly replacing the Jiàn gān hútòng (箭杆衚衕) or "Arrow shaft alley" in the eastern part of the city on the Qianlong map.

Gōng jiàn yíng (弓箭營) or "Bow and arrow quarters"
Northeast of Chāoyángmén (朝陽門). Shown on the place of the Jiàn yíng (箭匠營) or "Arrow quarters" of the Qianlong map.

Gōng xián hútòng (弓弦衚衕) or "Bowstring alley"
Remains located just northwest of Dōng'ānmén (東安門).

The "arrow factory alley" shown on the Qianlong map is now gone.

 

Daoguang period (1820-1850) locations

A map of Beijing of 1843 shows us the situation during the Daoguang period.6 It shows:

Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow maker's quarters"
Now there are three areas with this name. The first replacing the Gōng jiàn yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow and arrow quarters" located along the western wall just north of Fùchéngmén (阜城門). The next in the now familiar location in Dongsi district Northeast of Chāoyángmén (朝陽門), and a new area just north of there, near Dōngzhímén (東直門). 

Jiàn gān hútòng (箭杆衚衕) or "Arrow shaft alley"
Present on the Qianlong map, absent on the Jiaqing map, now back in two areas; The southeast corner of the inner city, northwest of the old Dōngbiànmén (東便安) and just north of the Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) near Fùchéngmén (阜城門).

I could find no references to string makers on the map.

In an interview with Yáng Fúxǐ (杨福喜), 10th generation bowyer of bow making shop Jù Yuán Hào (聚元號), it is said that originally, the best bowyers were located inside the palace near the Xīhuámén (西華門) on the southern part of the west wall. They were part of the Nèiwùfǔ (内务府) or "imperial household department" where they produced exclusively for the emperor and his household.

In the year 1823 they moved outside the palace walls to the west side of the inner city, in the familiar area near Chāoyángmén. Jù Yuán Hào was the first shop one would encounter when entering the compound from the southern gate. It was a guarded bow and arrow making compound that produced for the bannermen in the city. There were about 40 bowyers, employing about 300 craftsmen.7

However, the Xīhuámén gate is much closer to the imperial palace than the Fùchéngmén (阜城門) where the western quarters were located according to the pre 1823 maps. Also, the only new bowyer's area on the map is that in the northwest. More research is needed to verify the details of this 1823 move.

 

Bow maker's quarters

The imperial bow maker's quarters in Beijing,
crammed between a number of princely mansions.
From the 1843 map available on QingMaps.org.

 

Map of unknown date between 1830-1870

map dated 1830-1870 in the library of congress collection depicts the following bow maker's quarters.

Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow maker's quarters"
In the west at the familiar location near Fùchéngmén (阜城門).

Běi gōng jiàng yíng (北弓匠營) or "Northern bow maker's quarters"
Nán gōng jiàn yíng (南弓箭營) or "Southern bow maker's quarters"
Both locaed in the spot just northeast of Chāoyángmén (朝陽門), adjacent to each other in the area previously described as Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow maker's quarters".

I could not find string or arrow making locations on this map.

 

A Guangxu (1875-1908) period map

Another map dated the 26th year of Guangxu, corresponding to 1900 was purchased by Rudolph P. Hummel in Beijing in 1934.8 It shows:

Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow maker's quarters"
In the west at the familiar location near Fùchéngmén (阜城門).

Jiàn gān hútòng (箭杆衚衕) or "Arrow shaft alley"
Just east of Fùchéngmén (阜城門).

Běi gōng jiàng yíng (北弓匠營) or "Northern bow maker's quarters"
Now in the northeastern spot, along the wall just south of Dōngzhímén (東直門).

Nán gōng jiàn yíng (南弓箭營) or "Southern bow maker's quarters"
Located in the spot just northeast of Chāoyángmén (朝陽門).

I could not find string makers on this map.

 

Known shops in Beijing

Of the initially about 40 shops in existence according to the Yang family, about 7 survived into the early Republican Era.9

They were:

Jù Yuán Hào (聚元號)

Tiān Yuán (天元)

Guǎng Shēng (广生)

Lóng Shēng (隆生)

Quánshùn Zhāi (全顺斋)

Tiānshùn Chéng (天顺成)

De Ji Xing (德纪兴)

(All but the last were blood relatives of each other.)

 

Ju Yuan Hao in 1935

Jù Yuán Hào in 1935.
Yáng Ruìlín with his young son Yáng Wéntōng (杨文通)

 

Culture

The bowyer's guild would perform annual worship at the ancestral temple to the Yellow Emperor, who they regarded as their ancestral master, the one who perfected the bow. Each year on the 21st of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, one of the seventeen bowyers took turns in organizing and paying for the festivities at the day of worship. On the day itself, all bowyers were off, held a feast, and watched a Peking opera. In 1953 it was the turn of Jù Yuán Hào but the goverment would not allow it and confiscated all documentation from the ancestral temple.10

 

Known Qing bowyers

Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林)
Purchased Jù Yuán Hào in 1910. Active in the trade circa 1908-1966.

Shěn Liù (沈六)
An outstanding bowyer. Worked from age 16 to 80. Employed from 1910 by Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林), worked there until his retirement.

Zhōu Jìpān (周纪攀)
A notable bow decorator. Employed from 1910 by Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林).11

 

The end of Chinese bow making

The Cultural Revolution started in 1966. It was set to purge traditional elements of Chinese society, specifically the sì jiù (四舊) or "Four Olds"; Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. This meant cutting off all traditional lineages of craftsmen and both remaining shops, Chángxìng (長興) and Jù Yuán Hào (聚元號) were forced to stop production. Most of their administration and inventory destroyed in the process.12

Some bows escaped this tragic fate and survived in foreign collections.
 

Notes
1. Interview with the last successor of Ju Yuan Hao, (专访聚元号传人杨福喜 弓箭行最后的手艺人) by Liu Xinyin. (Chinese)
2. The History of Ju Yuan Hao Bowmakers of Beijing, anonymous author. Translation by Stephen Selby for ATARN.org.
3. Ibid. and Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Baidu article.

4. Undated but collected in the 18th century, this Qianlong period map is called 京师全图 and found on maps of Beijing. Shuge.org.
5. The circa 1800 map is called 京师城内首善全图 and found on Maps of Beijing. Shuge.org.
6. From an 1843 map available through Leiden University
7. Interview with the last successor of Ju Yuan Hao, (专访聚元号传人杨福喜 弓箭行最后的手艺人) by Liu Xinyin. (Chinese)
8. Found on maps of Beijing. Shuge.org.
9. Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Baidu article.
10. The History of Ju Yuan Hao Bowmakers of Beijing, anonymous author. Translation by Stephen Selby for ATARN.org.
11. Article: 为毛主席打造神兵利器的神秘人原来是他(3) by by Qiu Wei (Chinese) and Interview with the last successor of Ju Yuan Hao, (专访聚元号传人杨福喜 弓箭行最后的手艺人) by Liu Xinyin. (Chinese)
12. The History of Ju Yuan Hao Bowmakers of Beijing, anonymous author. Translation by Stephen Selby for ATARN.org and an interview with Wu Yonghua by Stephen Selby, published online at ATARN.ORG.

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