Ancient China Weapons

Ancient Chinese were among the first nations to use crossbows. They also developed innovative techniques to make new weapons and armor.

At the same time, they adopted the developments that already existed in armies of nearby tribes, such as nomadic cavalry.


The Bow

  • The bow was the “must-have” weapon of ancient Chinese armies. It was the most common weapon since the Neolithic period. People who were good with it were highly respected.
  • In the early history of Chinese warfare, a battle would start when bowmen fire torrents of arrows into the enemy. Also, bowmen had the role of covering the infantry during the course of battle.
  • Everyone in ancient Chinese armies had to know how to use bows. Charioteers and cavalry used it too.

The Crossbow

  • The crossbow was the signature weapon of ancient Chinese warfare since the Warring States period when it was invented.
  • This was the weapon that made the difference between China and its enemies. China has proven the ability to make technical developments and to use them efficiently.
  • The expansion of the Han Empire became possible thanks to the efficiency of the crossbow. Skilled crossbow corps could eliminate the enemy’s cavalry units in a couple of minutes. Chinese used this advantage to deal with “barbarian” tribes.
  • The crossbow was used in defense too, and it was a useful means of protecting Chinese cities and fortifications.


The Sword

  • Swords were introduced around 500 BCE. At first, they were made from bronze, and later from iron. The imperial army of the Han dynasty had swords with sharper and more resilient cutting edges.
  • However, the sword was never quite as popular as the bow and crossbow, which were the signature weapons of the Chinese military.

Other Weapons

  • Chinese infantry also used the halberd, daggers, javelins, spears, and battle-axes.
  • The imperial army also used catapults to throw stones at the enemy. This was primitive artillery.


  • Ancient weapons such as arrows and crossbow bolts were seriously dangerous. Warriors had to protect themselves by wearing armor. The first kind of armor that ancient Chinese wore was made of tiger skin, but it didn’t serve its purpose well.
  • A better version was made of hardened leather that covered the chest and back. More flexible armor was made of rectangle-shaped pieces bronze combined with tanned and lacquered leather. That is the type of armor we can see in the terracotta warriors that were made in the 3rdcentury BCE.
  • The Han period soldiers wore armor that was made at least partly of iron.
  • Armor and helmets were often adorned with images of fearsome creatures, made in ivory or precious metals.
  • Shields were made of bamboo or letter at first. Since these materials did not offer enough protection, the Chinese started using elements made of metal bronze or, later, iron.
  • Charioteers wore full-length armor coats, since they did not need to move much. As for the cavalry, the whole horse was protected just like the rider.



What was the most widespread weapon that was used in ancient China?

It was the bow and, later, the crossbow.

Did the first warriors in ancient China use swords?

No, they only started using swords around 500 BCE.

The development of which weapon helped the Han empire expand its territory?

It was the crossbow.

What was the first armor made from?

It was made from tiger skin.