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I saw a movie called "The Hero" from 2002. I know the movie has a lot of artistic scenes, and less to do with reality. In one scene, many of the Chinese archers laid on the ground and used a big composite looking bow.

enter image description here

So far I have found no evidence on this kind of archery, but as a practicing archer I see some sense of this method. First of all, if you use your full body strength with two hands, it could significantly increase the force without investing heavy equipment. Since archers in an army aren't concerned with precise shooting as much as causing heavy damage by shooting an area, the method would make some sense. As I tried to search on the topic, it seems to be fiction. Does anybody know of any source mentioning these kinds of bowmen?

  • There are many different sorts of bows shown in the scene. Which one are you talking about? – Rohit Jan 11 '15 at 13:53
  • the one in the very beginning (0:06-0:15). The archers prepare the arrows, and laying on their back, then draw the bow. – CsBalazsHungary Jan 11 '15 at 13:58
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    I remember seeing an historical documentary that talked about this; in that case it did not mention Chinese archers, but from SE Asia (IIRC from Birmania or Siam). Cannot provide more references, sorry. – SJuan76 Jan 11 '15 at 21:32
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    Only the lazy ones. – Tyler Durden Jan 25 '15 at 23:40
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    Here is a modern version on the British PIAT WWII anti-tank weapon. The firing pin had such a huge and heavy spring, it was easier to cock the weapon lying on your back and using your legs than to try and do it standing. Also you're less likely to get shot. – Schwern Jan 26 '15 at 21:00
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Yes

It's a variant of the belt claw technique of arming crossbows. Possible reasons include extended range due to a greater pull and presenting a smaller target profile for opposing crossbowmen.

Bear in mind that military techniques varied throughout Chinese history, and that much of current theory is based on conjecture. Here's what we do know:

  • Chinese armies during the Warring States period (the period depicted in the film Hero) were swelled by the practice of levee en masse, hence the relatively large army sizes of ancient China in comparison to that of Europe.
  • The primary ranged weaponry of these conscript armies was the crossbow, which was easy to use, mass-producible, and customizable to fulfill different roles.
  • The Qin army practiced ranked crossbow volleys, where one rank fires while the other reloads, similar to Napoleonic infantry.

That's it. While there are a number of texts depicting military strategy, there are no surviving manuals depicting the nuts and bolts (pun intended) of military technique from the period. Much of what we do know of the armies of the Warring States was gleaned from the accounts of Sima Qian's Shiji, which gave only cursory mention to military technique, and from archeological finds from the Terracotta Army at Xian, which is akin to looking at a cup and guessing that I used it to drink coffee when I was really drinking whiskey.

The only evidence that shows that this version of the belt claw technique was used during the Warring States period is the record of the same technique being used during the Song dynasty, which arose more than one thousand years later, and the remains of similar equipment found with the Terracotta Army.

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    Shouldn't your conclusion be "no, only for loading crossbows"? The movie shows the crossbowmen firing supine, whereas your sources only indicate doing so for loading. It would be highly inaccurate to fire like they did in the movie. – congusbongus Jan 26 '15 at 8:27
  • @congusbongus accuracy in the army wasn't that important since they had to spray an area with arrows. Anyways I accepted this answer because it provides some base for the movie. I was sure it wasn't a very widespread technique. Loading crossbow is also a believable concept. – CsBalazsHungary Jan 27 '15 at 7:33
  • @congusbongus Yes, no, maybe. The movie depicted a siege where the archers were firing oversized siege crossbows over city walls, in which case accuracy would be secondary to volume and range. But anything I'm giving you is just a semi-educated guess. – Ryan Chew Jul 3 '15 at 12:23
  • The viewing limit for this book has been reached, so we can no longer see it. – roberrrt-s Oct 16 '17 at 11:19
  • @RyanChew: Yes; massed archery fire was always used in a fashion we today would regard as artillery-like. For similar reasons, Napoleonic line infantry was used in a fashion that we might think of as machine gun like, with a well trained battalion of 500 men firing about 1500 rounds per minute. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 16 '17 at 20:17
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Found this image, I can't find one of it being fired, but you can see they definitely work in teams to load over-sized crossbows.

  • I can't see anything to suggest a date for the image though. – sempaiscuba Aug 11 '17 at 20:12

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