Jù Yuán Hào (聚元號) is a bow making workshop in Beijing, founded in 1720. Initially, there were about 40 bowyers in the city but by the late 19th century Jù Yuán Hào was one of the seventeen bowyers left in the imperial bowyer's guild in Beijing.
By the 1960s they were the only shop left in operation, but production seized in 1966 when the shop was closed and its inventory burned by the Red Guards. In 1998, after a hiatus of 32 years, Yáng Fúxǐ (杨福喜) reinstated the brand and is still making bows today.
According to Yáng Fúxǐ, the best bowyers -including Jù Yuán Hào- were originally located inside the palace near the Xihua gate (西華門) on the southern part of the west inner palace wall, and were part of the Nèiwùfǔ (内务府) or "imperial household department" where they were producing 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 Dongsi district, near Chāoyángmén (朝陽門). 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.1
I have not been able to verify this on the maps I have studied, which do give another western Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營) or "Bow maker's quarters" but located further from the palace, near Fùchéngmén (阜城門). There was also another quarter to the north. For more about the bowyer's quarters in Beijing, see my glossary article: Gōng jiàng yíng (弓匠營).
A map of Beijing of 1843 shows the exact location of the compound where Jù Yuán Hào was located. It was the first shop encountered once entering the south gate. Today, the street is still called Nán gōng jiàng yíng hútòng (南弓匠營胡同) or "Southern bow maker's army alley". Back during the Qing, it was a separately guarded area, no commoners were allowed in.2
The imperial bow maker's quarters in Beijing where Jù Yuán Hào was.
Located between a number of princely mansions.
From an 1843 map available on QingMaps.org.
The bows produced initially all went to the government and its troops. None were sold to private individuals. By the late Qing, the 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
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.4
The take over of Ju Yuan Hao
Up until 1910 the shop was owned by the Wang family. 7th generation owner, nicknamed Xiǎo Wáng (小王) ‘Little Wang’ became an opium addict and was forced to sell the business.
Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林), a Manchu of the Plain Blue Banner was closely connected to the bow making quarters, his grandmother was a maid in the Prince Su residence and Prince Su himself was a frequent customer. His father was in the trade as well but died young so he learned the craft from his paternal cousin Chang Juxue at the Quánshùn Zhāi (全顺斋) shop. He started at age 18 but by the age of 20 had become a recognized craftsman in the bow maker's quarters.
When Yáng Ruìlín heard that Jù Yuán Hào was coming up for sale, his wife called in the help of her eldest brother Féng Ruìxiáng (冯瑞祥), who worked for Prince Su. With the help of Feng Ruixiang in the legal matters, and some help in funding from Prince Su, Yáng Ruìlín was able to purchase Jù Yuán Hào in 1910 for 40 Mexican silver dollars.5
He also hired two senior craftsmen, Shěn Liù (沈六), an outstanding bowyer and Zhōu Jìpān (周纪攀) a notable bow decorator. Shěn Liù became a bowyer at age 16 and left Jù Yuán Hào at age 80.6
When he took over, the shop only produced bows and arrows but because the archery examinations were abolished in 1908, there was now only a very small market for them. Yáng Ruìlín added new lines of products including pellet crossbows and repeating crossbows. His work won a prize at the Panama Exhibition in San Francisco of 1915.7
Of the seventeen bow making shops inthe bowyer's quarters that were present at the fall of the Qing, only seven survived into the early Republican period. 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 except the last were blood relatives of the Yang family who ran Jù Yuán Hào from 1910.8
Jù Yuán Hào in 1935.
Yáng Ruìlín with his young son Yáng Wéntōng (杨文通)
The bow maker's quarters were photographed by Hedda Morisson in 1935. For all related photos, see this article.
Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林) at work in 1935.
Photo by Hedda Morisson. Harvard-Yenching collection.
From 1949 Jù Yuán Hào entered a brief prosperous period fueled by strong demand from mainly outer Mongolia and Qinghai. Three other bowyers from the old guild were still active and filling demands. Sometimes Jù Yuán Hào would outsource bows to them and rebrand them.9
In 1953 it was supposed to be the turn of Jù Yuán Hào to organize the ancestral workshop for the bowyers, but the state had ordered the confiscation of all temple property and celebrations seized from that year onwards.10
Jù Yuán Hào in 1957.
Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林) is in the front, left.
Young Yáng Wéntōng (杨文通) behind him, left.
The rest appear customers from Qinghai (with hat) and Mongolia.
In 1958 Mao Zedong launched the "Four Pests" campaign, an attempt to eradicate rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows. This caused an enormous demand for pellet crossbows and the shop had a hard time filling demands.11
They became one of the first joint state enterprises, called "Number One Sporting Goods Co-operative", and later "Beijing Number One Sports Goods Factory" (北京第一体育用品厂). The Party asked them to make a bow to the highest standards. Yáng Wéntōng (9th generation) worked 40 days on this particular bow, it was made with white translucent horn bellies and its back was finished with traditional designs of bats and flowers. It turned out to be for Mao Zedong himself, who was very pleased with it.12
This didn't save the shop. In 1966 the same Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution which 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. The shop suffered a great blow during this time. In a raid by the Red Guards, the shop sign, written in the hand of the Qianlong emperor was destroyed along with the shop's administration, going back to the Qianlong period, and all inventory of bows, arrows and raw materials.13
In 1998, Yáng Fúxǐ restarted work in a small workshop in Chaoyang area, Beijing. In 2006 the shop was recognized as China's national intangible cultural heritage (中国国家级非物质文化遗产).14
Jù Yuán Hào was founded in 1720 by the Wang family and was run by them up to the seventh generation owner.15
7th generation - active ? to 1910
Nicknamed Xiǎo Wáng (小王) ‘Little Wang’. An opium addiction forced him to sell the business.
8th generation - active 1910 to ?
Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林) lived from 1884-1968.
He learned the craft from his paternal cousins Quanshun, Zhaichang, and Juxue.
Purchased Jù Yuán Hào from Xiǎo Wáng in 1910 for 40 Mexican silver dollars.
His work won a prize at the Panama Exhibition in San Francisco of 1915.
9th generation - active ? to 1966
Yáng Wéntōng (杨文通), lived from 1928-2006.
Son of Yáng Ruìlín (杨瑞林).
Made a bow for Chairman Mao.
10th generation - active 1998 to present
Yáng Fúxǐ (杨福喜)
Son of Yáng Wéntōng (杨文通).
Restarted the business in 1998, after a hiatus of 32 years.
Additional photos of the shop
The shop in the 1950s.
Yáng Wéntōng (left), Yáng Ruìlín (right).
Yáng Ruìlín in his shop in the 1950s.
The late Yáng Wéntōng (left) with Yáng Fúxǐ (right).
A young yours truly (left) with Yáng Fúxǐ (right)
Photo taken in the former workshop at Chaoyang, Beijing in 2005.
In the next 15 years both our facial hair would get out of hand.
Works by Jù Yuán Hào
Extant bows by Jù Yuán Hào are rare but encountered from time to time. A number of years ago I sold a Jù Yuán Hào bow that I believe was by the hand of Yáng Ruìlín.
Other bows I have encountered over time:
- -A bow in the posession of the Yang family. Cut in two to hide it from the Red Guards in the 1960s.
- -A broken example owned by Jack Farrel. Published in Glade magazine, N0.91, Spring 2001, p.69.
- -One formerly in the Dr. Charles E. Grayson collection now in the Museum of Anthropology of Missouri accession number MAC 1994-0668. Grayson’s notes state that the bow was made in the 1950’s. It's covered with snakeskin and bark.
- -An example in the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde (ethnological museum) in Leipzig. This example was published in an article by Jan H. Sachers in Traditionell Bogenschießen 66, November 2012, pp. 72-75.
A typical example of a Jù Yuán Hào bow of the 1950s.
Decorated with snakeskin, communist stars, doves, and bright pigments.
According to Yang Fuxi, the bows produced by Jù Yuán Hào are of a type called "Jīn jiǎo mù fǎn qū fùhé gōng" (筋角木反曲复合弓) or literally "Sinew horn wood recurve composite bow". He uses mainly buffalo back sinew, and thick, durable bamboo from Jiangxi province. For arrow shafts he uses liùdàomù (六道木) that he gets from farmers from the suburbs of Beijing.16
-The History of Ju Yuan Hao Bowmakers of Beijing, ATARN.org.
-Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Wikipedia article.
-Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Baidu article.
-Republican era bow by Ju Yuan Hao. Mandarin Mansion archive.
-Photos of my visit to his shop in 2005. Facebook album.
-Photographs of bow and arrow making in Beijing 1930s. Manchuarchery.org.
-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)
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.
5. Ibid. and Ju Yuan Hao. (Selby's original translation mistook the name of the bow making shop for additional names of cousins.) Chinese Baidu article and Online Chinese article 为毛主席打造神兵利器的神秘人，原来是他（2) by Qiu Wei.
6. Online Chinese article 为毛主席打造神兵利器的神秘人，原来是他（3) by by Qiu Wei 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)
7. The History of Ju Yuan Hao Bowmakers of Beijing, anonymous author. Translation by Stephen Selby for ATARN.org.
8. Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Baidu article.
9. The History of Ju Yuan Hao Bowmakers of Beijing, anonymous author. Translation by Stephen Selby for ATARN.org.
12. Ibid. 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)
13. Ibid. and Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Baidu article, and Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Wikipedia article.
14. Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Wikipedia article.
15. The History of Ju Yuan Hao Bowmakers of Beijing, anonymous author. Translation by Stephen Selby for ATARN.org, Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Baidu article, and Ju Yuan Hao, Chinese Wikipedia article.
16. 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). There are a few discrepancies in this article. It mentions the date of the take over from little Wang at 1906 instead of 1910 usually mentioned. It would make more sense that this is the correct date, it's more appealing to buy such a shop before the archery exams were abolished in 1908 than after when the market collapsed. Also the article describes a number of arrows whose names are not reflected in Qing official writings. Finally, it states that Giuseppe Castiglione had made a mistake in painting Qianlong, because Qianlong used owl and "blue geese" feathers and the feathers in this painting are fantasy, plus that the were too short and probably more close to European feathers. In fact, the feathers depicted are from the great argus pheasant and are drawn true to life. They also exactly accord to the Qing regulations of the time, as stipulated in the Huangchao liqi tushi (皇朝禮器圖式). Shorter feathers were common in the 18th century, and are also seen on various older antique arrows.