Pellet repeating crossbow
This item has been sold.

57 x 12 x 9.8 cm


849 grams


Wood, iron, deer antler, buffalo horn, sinew


22 mm




19th century


Purchased from a dealer in Beijing in 2007


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The Chinese repeating crossbow is one of the most iconic of Chinese weapons. It is often known as Cho-Ku-Nu in English sources, more accurately transcribed in pinyin as Zhūgénǔ (诸葛弩), which literally means "Zhuge crossbow" after Zhuge Liang, a Chinese strategist and first minister of the state of Shu-Han who made use of them.

The earliest Chinese repeating crossbow was found in the Chu tomb complex Qin Jia Zui, dating to the 4th century B.C. It shot two arrows at each shot and was of a more complicated construction than later examples.

Such crossbows were still used in the field up to at least the 1860s, and civilian use even continued into the early 20th century.


This example

Presented here is the stock of a very unusual variety of the Chinese repeating crossbow. Instead of arrows, it shoots balls. With every forward motion of the lever, an ingenious system loads up a new ball, and at every backward pull of the lever it draws and ultimately shoots the bow. A deer horn trigger cleverly prevents more than one ball from entering the chamber. 



I purchased this piece from a dealer in Beijing in 2007 and had Yang Fuxi of Ju Yuan Hao fashion a bow for me. The mechanism worked perfectly but the bow was a little too weak and not of a historical design so I took it off again. Historical repeating crossbow bows can be very thick, such as on this example and Yang Fuxi lacked bamboo of that thickness.

I kept it in my collection ever since as an interesting curiosity.


Comparable examples

The only other repeating pellet crossbow I am aware of is from the Charles E. Grayson collection, catalog number 1995-0758. now in the University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology. It is published in Traditional archery from six continents: the Charles E. Grayson Collection, University of Missouri Press, 2007.


Intended use

Pellet shooting bows and crossbows in China were primarily used for sports and bird hunting. If you miss the first shot, a bird will fly away and so it makes no sense to use a repeating crossbow for the hunt. With no real way of aiming the crossbow, and the fact the ball moves through a channel make it much less accurate than regular single-shot bows and crossbows.

One starts to wonder why it exists in the first place. I think it was either an expensive toy, or perhaps used for crowd control where a series of clay balls were flung into a crowd to keep them at bay.

Pellet repeating crossbow
Pellet repeating crossbow
Pellet repeating crossbow
Pellet repeating crossbow
Pellet repeating crossbow
Pellet repeating crossbow
Pellet repeating crossbow

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