Chinese Thumb Rings: From Battlefield to Jewelry Box


Dwyer, Bede. “Early Archers’ Rings,” Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, Vol. 40, 1997; summarized by the Asian Traditional Archery Research Network at

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Selby, Stephen. Chinese Archery, Hong Kong University Press, 2000.

Sotheby’s Ltd. “Private English Collection of Fine Chinese Thumb Rings, Jade Carvings and Snuff Bottles,” London, 6 December 1995.

Sotheby’s Ltd. “By Heavenly Mandate: Important Historical Works of Art of the Qianlong Reign,” Hong Kong, 8 April 2007.

Thewlis, Graham. “Chinese Thumb Rings,” Arts of Asia Vol. 15, No. 3, May-Jun 1985, pp 80-86.

University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology Chinese Thumb Ring Collection

Far East Gallery

How the Archer’s Ring Was Used

Mongolian Draw
In Western archery, the back end of the arrow is attached to the bowstring using a v-grooved “nock,” the string and arrow are pulled back by three fingers, and the arrow is released. In contrast, many Asian cultures use a thumb release aided by a hard thumb ring to improve the control of their longer, more powerful bows. The thumb ring’s single hard point of contact with the string reduces drag and provides a faster, more accurate release. The ring also spreads the force of the pull over more of the thumb and protects it from the friction of drawing and releasing the bowstring.

Supreme among Asian archers were the Mongols, who trained from childhood and shot both forward and backward from horseback. In the “Mongolian draw” (or Mongolian release) the thumb with ring, just below the first joint, is hooked around the string and under the arrow. The last three fingers curl into a fist and the tip of the thumb is placed on the second joint of the middle finger. The index finger is then locked over the thumbnail to help draw the string and steady the arrow. This technique was common throughout Asia, as well as in Persia, Turkey, India, and parts of North Africa.


Tabbed Ring
The Asian archer’s thumb ring can be made of any hard, strong material, in either of two common styles. One type is a simple cylinder, the back edge providing the contact point with the bowstring. The other style is a lighter weight ring with a rigid tab or tongue that fits over and protects the pad of the thumb. The figure shows the correct technique for the Mongolian draw using a cylindrical ring, copied from a woodcut published by the Chinese author Gao Ying in 1637. Also shown is an example of the tabbed ring, which sometimes has an oval hole so the ring can be turned 90 degrees after putting it on to lock it to the correct orientation. Either style must be fitted precisely to the archer’s thumb to prevent the ring from flying off with the arrow. Thumb rings thus become very personal objects that cannot be exchanged with others.