Yang Fuxi (
One man against the crushing forces of modernity, the 48-year-old Beijing resident says he owes it to his ancestors and to the Chinese nation as a whole.
"I feel a responsibility towards history. A huge respons-ibility," he said as he sat on a stool in his small cramped workshop in a corner of a residential compound. "I know I have to do it as well as I can."
As he explains his craft, he draws on the encyclopedic knowledge accumulated by more than 100 generations of bow makers.
"A good bow should be made from Jiangsu bamboo, and should be reinforced at the ends by elm wood," he said. "It will stay flexible, at least north of the Yangtze river, where humidity is lower."
The traditional Chinese bow reached a stage of near-perfection as early as the mid-third millennium BC, according to Yang, and was in continuous use until the end of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911), the last in imperial history.
Then the ancient craft disappeared virtually overnight, as 20th century weapons technology forced itself upon a backward-looking China, leaving no one to carry on the long tradition of archery.
"Its 4,500 years of uninterrupted history would have come to an end if I hadn't succeeded in carrying it on," said Yang, a proud smile flashing across his thickly bearded face.
Yang is keenly aware of his background, hailing from an old bow-making family of ethnic Manchus, people who conquered China on horseback in the middle of the 17th century.
The 10th owner of his business, Ju Yuan Hao, he represents a link connecting the ancient trade to the future, but he readily concedes that link almost broke.
During the early days of communist rule, Yang's father was ordered to stop making bows as it was considered a wasteful occupation in a time of dire material need. Instead he spent the rest of his working life repairing furniture.
When it was time for Yang to choose a profession, he thought it safer to become a carpenter, a politically correct choice at the time but still not one that brought him satisfaction. Later he drove taxis.
"When I was 40 I decided to turn to making bows and asked my father to teach me," said Yang. "Everything I know, I learned from him."
Now Yang is in demand as he is believed to be China's last bow maker, and his skills were recently celebrated in a profile on national television.
Yang's customers, who pay 3,800 yuan (US$490) for a bow, are evenly divided between foreigners and Chinese.
Some of his customers are experienced archers like himself, but few appreciate just how much time and effort goes into making a bow.
It is an assignment that cannot be rushed, and a craftsman using traditional methods will need at least a year to complete one bow, Yang explains.
"The back of the bow has to be strengthened with layers of ox sinew," he said. "Once a layer of ox sinew has been glued onto the bow, you have to wait at least a week before gluing on the next layer."
Yang learned his patience from his father, and is not sure it exists in a younger generation addicted to the fast pace of modern life.
Bow making is gruelling and sometimes just plain dull, and while Yang has had a series of would-be apprentices he says he had to let them go before he could teach them the secrets of his trade.
"It's a big problem finding a successor. But I've still got time to wait for a person with the right character," he said.
"My son is 19, and he'd like to become the one. But he belongs to a privileged generation that's not used to the hardship my generation took for granted."
While Yang is keeping an open mind as he looks for a someone to carry on the tradition, there is only one general precondition as he sifts through potential candidates: His successor must be male.
"I'd say a woman can handle about one third of the tasks," he said. "They can put the arrows together or paint the final set. But the hard physical work of building the bow is for men, I'm afraid."
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and