Deep inside mountains along the China-Myanmar border, a 26-year-old ethnic Lisu villager, surnamed Zhang, sharpens his crossbow arrows to prepare for a hunt.
For Zhang and many other Lisu, a mostly Christian minority who inhabit the border region, the crossbow is an indispensable part of their culture dating back to 200 BC.
In a country that often bans the sale of kitchen knives during political summits, it’s still normal to see ethnic Lisu openly carrying the weapon in public.
Despite a decades-old hunting ban, law enforcement remains lax and Zhang and his friends still hunt birds and rodents for sport. Before the ban, Lisu hunters traditionally went for larger game such as bears and wild boar.
Lisu technically must have a crossbow license, which are regulated by district crossbow associations.
As more young people move to urban areas for work, Cha Hairong, head of the Liuku Township Crossbow Association of Lushui city, fears the crossbow is dying out.
Cha wants to preserve the tradition by promoting crossbow shooting as a sport and attract new enthusiasts far beyond the Nu River Valley.
“Our people’s crossbow culture must enter the National Games of China. It must enter the Asian Games. It must enter the Olympic Games! So that people all over world will understand our people’s culture,” said Cha.
The Lushui government has said it is committed to the preservation of the crossbow culture.
Crossbow tournaments offering cash prizes have been held in recent years in a bid to boost interest in the sport.
Some competitors simply enjoy the camaraderie at these events.
“This is just a time where we come here to chat and tell stories,” said Zuo Zhenfu, 27, who attended a crossbow tournament in late March.