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Traditional archery on show at exhibition


Historical bows, arrows and figurines are now on display at an exhibition of traditional Asian archery at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

The exhibition, "Archery Traditions of Asia", features 200 pieces relating to the traditional archery of China and other Asian regions as well as the history, folklore, rituals and the construction of traditional bows and arrows.

The invaluable artifacts are on loan from a private collector, Mr Stephen Selby, the Convenor of Asian Traditional Archery Research Network. The exhibits include ancient bows and arrows, archery equipment, bow-making tools, and the star exhibit - a 2000-year-old Chinese single-wood self-bow, which is one of the earliest examples of Chinese bows.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (October 24), the Assistant Director (Heritage and Museums) of the Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Chung Ling-hoi, thanked Mr Selby for his enormous contribution to the success of the exhibition. He hoped that the exhibition and other related programmes would enable the public to better understand Asian traditional archery and interest them in that fast-disappearing sport.

Mr Selby has spent years studying traditional Chinese archery and collecting archery-related artifacts. His expertise and assistance made this exhibition possible. He also helped in inviting overseas and mainland experts on archery to deliver talks and participate in spectacular archery demonstrations.

From the Palaeolithic period 25,000 years ago, China's ancestors had already mastered bow-making skills. Archery has long held an important place in Chinese literature as well as the folk-culture of Chinese minorities.

From Shang times (1600-1046BC), bows and arrows were favoured on the battlefield because of their long range. Bow-makers were continually challenged to improve the design of the bow to meet new military needs - smaller size, greater strength, weather-resistance and durability. Chinese military technicians invented the crossbow around 600BC.

As archery skills were considered essential in hunting and warfare, the art was absorbed into the court by the ruling classes of the Shang and Zhou (1046-256BC) periods. It became one of the six basic skills along with ritual, music, chariot-driving, writing and arithmetic, and evolved from a military skill into a religious ritual, an entertainment for guests, and finally the imperial military examination system in the Tang dynasty (618- 907).

Members of the Qing (1644-1911) Imperial court, originally residing in northeast China, brought their own distinctive style of bows to Chinese culture. They appreciated fine bows as works of art, and preferred heavy bows with long ears, capable of shooting arrows more than a metre long with steel tips that could pierce armour.

Following cultural exchange and interaction across China's borders, China's archery techniques and bow-making skills greatly influenced neighbouring regions. With the abolition of the imperial military examination system and the import of firearms, traditional bows and arrows became useless and archery a declining tradition. But some countries still retain their archery cultures. The Kyudo masters of Japan, the traditional archers of Korea, Bhutan and Mongolia, the Khasis of Northeast India, peoples of the Tibetan Plateau, Qinghai and the Xibe Manchus of Chapchal in Xinjiang proudly uphold their archery traditions.

The exhibition at the Museum of Coastal Defence and a related exhibition catalogue will give more in-depth information about Asia's archery traditions and culture. A series of activities will be held in conjunction with the exhibition. Among which, a seminar on archery will be held this Saturday (October 25) from 1pm to 5pm at the Lecture Hall of the Museum of Coastal Defence. Seven speakers from the United States and Asia will introduce the archery culture and bow-making craft of China, Bhutan, Korea, the Middle East and Japan. Conducted in Mandarin and English with simultaneous interpretation, the seminar is free with 40 seats available on a first-come, first-served basis. Advance enrolment is required. Application forms are now available at the Museum of Coastal Defence and its website:

A free carnival offering a variety of archery-related activities and entertainment will also be held this Sunday (October 26) from 2pm to 5pm at Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground, Hong Kong. A wide range of programmes, such as demonstrations on Chinese (including Tibetan), Mongolian, Korean, Japanese and Bhutan traditional archery; horseback archery; pony rides; lion-dance performance; martial arts performance; traditional dance performance and games stalls will be included in the carnival. First Bus No 82S will provide a free shuttle service between Chai Wan MTR station and the Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground that day from 1pm to 5pm. For details, please call 2569 1429.

The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau kei Wan, Hong Kong. It opens from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays. For enquiries, please call 2569 1500.

Ends/Friday, October 24, 2003

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