Who Invented The Crossbow In Ancient China?-Repeating crossbow

One of the most popular weapons used in ancient China was the crossbow, which contributed heavily towards the success of the Chinese states against foreigners and the supremacy of various Chinese empires. If you’re curious to know how these crossbows worked, what materials they were made of, what they were used for, who invented them, when they were invented, and when they were first used, this post is for you. If you’d also like to discover the difference between Chinese and European crossbows, keep reading.

What is the ancient Chinese crossbow?

ancient Chinese crossbow
ancient Chinese crossbow

The ancient Chinese crossbow was a ranged weapon invented during the Warring States period in ancient China. This crossbow was invented as a peacemaking device but later began to be used in military warfare and during hunting. The basic crossbows were used domestically for protection and hunting, and the complicated, more advanced versions were used in the military until the end of the Han Dynasty.

Over the years, the ancient Chinese crossbow developed into a more deadly and accurate weapon, which aided the Chinese militaries in conquering various territories and establishing dominance. The first ancient Chinese crossbows only fired about 600 paces, but as they were improved, they began firing further.     

How does the ancient Chinese crossbow work?

The ancient Chinese crossbow worked by first being set for firing when the shooter placed the weapon vertically, supported it under his feet, then hooked the bowstring with the arrow. The shooter would then stretch or pull the bowstring back, aim, and release it, launching the arrow. The elasticity of the bowstring shot the arrows and the bow after the bowstring separated from the connecting link. After a few improvements on the crossbow, a belt hook device was created that allowed the shooter to draw and hook the cord without getting off his horse. Also, with more developments came lighter crossbows that could fire several arrows at once.   

What was the ancient Chinese crossbow made out of?

Repeating crossbow

The materials used to make ancient Chinese crossbows evolved. The weapon’s frame was typically made of hardwood and painted to prevent rot. The arrowheads were made of bronze, the shaft was manufactured with wood, and the vanes were typically made of paper or feathers.

The crossbow’s trigger mechanism and other ornaments were also made with bronze. The bowstring was made of guts, silk ropes, or animal sinews, and to promote elasticity, about four bowstrings were intertwined to make one strong and elastic bowstring.

What was the crossbow used for in ancient China?

The original intended use of the ancient Chinese crossbow was as a peacemaking device to calm the battle during the Zhou Dynasty. The idea was that a war wouldn’t occur if one of the participants appeared with crossbows, considered powerful weapons at the time.

However, the Chinese military ended up using the crossbow in warfare and battle, and with the different shapes and sizes, this weapon proved deadly. Thanks to the trigger mechanism of the ancient Chinese crossbows, the Chinese military always had the upper hand in the war, and they did their best to keep this mechanism a secret. Over the years, with the invention of gunpowder, crossbows ceased to be used in Chinese wars.

Besides war, the less complicated Chinese crossbows were used domestically for hunting and protecting the household from robbers. Women could use these as well, and this variation wasn’t deemed suitable for military use as they weren’t as powerful.

Ancient Chinese crossbow history

Who invented the Chinese crossbow?

From a Chinese text from around 200BC, the invention of the Chinese crossbow is credited to one Mr. Ch’in of Ch’u. It is believed that Mr. Ch’in designed the crossbow’s mechanism so complex that other civilizations found it almost impossible to comprehend how the weapon worked. Mr. Ch’in’s approach to design ensured that the enemies couldn’t copy the Chinese crossbow.

When was the crossbow invented in China?

The exact date when the ancient Chinese crossbow was invented isn’t clear, but historians believe it was sometime between the 7th and 5th centuries BC. Ancient Chinese crossbows were crucial during the Warring State period in China up until the end of the Han Dynasty.

Although this technology existed before, Zhuge Liang often reserves praise for its ingenuity because he improved how it works. He made adjustments that made the crossbow fire faster and farther during the Three Kingdoms era. History doesn’t specify the changes, but the Chinese believe the Zhuge Crossbow was either semi-automatic or could shoot several shots at a go.

The crossbow’s popularity decreased after the Han Dynasty mainly because of the emergence of more powerful and resilient heavy cavalry. During the Song Dynasty, the countermarch technique of the crossbow was developed further, but its usage continued to decline with the rise of more powerful weapons.

When was the crossbow first used in China?

qin dynasty crossbow

According to archaeology, the evidence that suggests the use of crossbows in China date back to 400 BCE. Historians believe that by 209 BCE, 50,000 crossbowmen in the Chinese military used bronze crossbows during battles. During this time, mass production of crossbows began. Until rifles and gunpowder were invented, crossbows were powerful and crucial weapons among the Chinese.

Chinese crossbow vs. European crossbow

Like in ancient China, crossbows were popular weapons in Europe during Medieval times. The uses of the crossbow were similar for both the Chinese and the Europeans. The difference between the ancient Chinese and ancient European crossbows was that the Chinese version had a long power stroke and lower draw force, while the European version had a short power stroke and high draw force. This resulted in the Chinese crossbows firing with the same energy as the European crossbows, with almost half the loading force. In this sense, ancient Chinese crossbows were more powerful and efficient than ancient European crossbows.

Historians have also pointed out that the trigger mechanism of these crossbows differed, with the Chinese crossbow having a vertical trigger lock. In contrast, the European crossbow had a rolling nut lock.


Crossbows have existed for centuries in Chinese culture and have evolved both in design and usage. In modern China, crossbows are typically used in sports and licensed hunting. Although the ancient crossbows from China and Europe differed, the modern versions are generally similar.

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