Xinjiang riots: Modern Chinese army displays ancient preference for crossbow
By John Bingham
A staple of warfare in medieval Europe, they are believed to have been used in China since about 400BC, appearing in Greece slightly later.
Despite the telescopic sights and gun-like triggers which give them more than a passing resemblance to a modern sniper rifle, the crossbows wielded by members of the military units operating in Urumqi retain a striking resemblance to their ancient counterparts.
A staple of warfare in mediaeval Europe, they are believed to have been used in China since about 400BC, appearing in Greece slightly later.
Featured in Sun Tzu's The Art of War, remnants of crossbows were even found in the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, among his Terracotta Army.
Although they are believed to have been first used for hunting, the military potential of the crossbow was quickly appreciated.
Firing short dart-like missiles known as bolts further and faster than a traditional bow, they proved capable even of piercing armour.
Modern varieties can fire sleek metallic bolts or bullets.
In Europe, crossbows were used by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, where they were said to penetrate English shields.
Replacing the longbow, they remained in use for a further 400 years, after which they were superseded by guns.
In China, large, catapult-like versions were developed, employing basic mechanics to string the bow, line up the bolt and fire it in a single motion.
The repeating crossbow was widely used until the late 19th Century.