The Ming army had always put great emphasis on handheld firearm, and set up the first specialized firearm division in the world in the form of Shen Ji Ying (神機營). In fact, as the quality of Ming armies deteriorated, they began to rely more and more on firearms, to the point it bacame detrimental to their close combat capability.
|Ming Dynasty arquebus found in Xuzhou.|
Ming Dynasty came into contact with matchlock arquebus — which they called Niao Chong (鳥銃, 'Bird gun') or Niao Zui Chong (鳥咀銃, 'Beak gun') — through the Portuguese no later than 1525 AD and had begun to equip their troops with this advanced weapon in small numbers. After the destruction of the smuggling haven of Shuangyu in 1548, Chinese improved their workmanship and quality control by forcing captured Portuguese gunsmiths to teach them, and began mass-producing the weapon. Chinese gunsmiths manufactured local copies of Portuguese matchlock in very large quantities, numbering tens of thousands, and Ming troops from Southern China quickly accustomed themselves with this new weapon. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Northern troops, which stubbornly refused to give up their aging handgonnes.
Wo Chong (倭銃, 'Japanese arquebus')
As both Chinese and Japanese adopted their matchlock gun from the Portuguese, Chinese matchlock differ little from Japanese teppō (鉄砲) from a technical perspective. Nevertheless, the superior durability of Japanese gun barrel and fine workmanship of Japanese mechanism was already well known during mid-Ming period. Many Ming generals were impressed by the quality of Japanese matchlock.
Wo Chong (倭銃, 'Japanese arquebus')
|Drawing of a Niao Zui Chong, from 'Chou Hai Tu Bian (《籌海圖編》)'.|
Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士禎) was the only Chinese firearm specialist to further differentiate between a Portuguese matchlock gun manufactured at the armoury of Goa and a Japanese copy of the same design. He named the Portuguese design Xiao Xi Yang Chong (小西洋銃, 'Small Western arquebus') to avoid confusion with Xi Yang Chong (see below), another European matchlock design. Despite both designs being nearly indetical, Zhao Shi Zhen deemed Portuguese matchlock to be the superior one due to its simplicity and convenience.
During the reign of Emperor Shenzong (明神宗, reigned 1572 - 1620 AD), the Ming Empire found itself embroiled in three different wars (the Imjin war, war of Ningxia, and the Yang Ying Long rebellion), another border conflicts with Burmese Taungoo Dynasty, as well as increasingly dire threat from the Jurchen. Around this time Chinese began experimenting with imported matchlock firearms from other parts of the world, no doubt motivated by the pressing needs to improve the performance of Ming arquebusiers.
Xi Yang Chong (西洋銃, lit. 'Western arquebus') or Da Xi Yang Chong (大西洋銃, lit. 'Big Western arquebus')
|Drawing of a Xi Yang Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.|
Zhao Shi Zhen seems to haved conducted his experiment on a lighter model, perhaps a caliver or petronel, and came to the conclusion that European matchlock is light and mobile, more reliable, and shoot farther than Japanese matchlock, but less powerful than Lu Mi Chong.
Lu Mi Chong (魯密銃, lit. 'Rûm arquebus')
|Drawing of a Lu Mi Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.|
Zhao Shi Zhen praised Lu Mi Chong for its reliability, range and firepower, which he deemed superior to both European and Japanese matchlock. Due to the increased weight and bulk of Lu Mi Chong, it was usually fired from a kneeling position.
Both Xi Yang Chong and Lu Mi Chong were eventually adopted by the Ming army. After the fall of Ming Dynasty, its successor Qing Dynasty seems to prefer the design of Lu Mi Chong over other variants, and European and Japanese matchlock became less common.
Late Ming period Lu Mi Chong
|Late Ming version of the Lu Mi Chong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.|
|Drawing of the rack and pinion mechanism, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.|
San Chang Chong (三長銃, lit. 'Arquebus with three advantages')
|Drawing of a San Chang Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.|
San Chang Chong is likely the only ordinary arquebus developed by Zhao Shi Zhen. He also tried to devise multiple barrel arquebuses, rain-proofed firearms and breechloaders, with varying degree of success.
Ban Gou Chong (搬鉤銃)
|Drawing of a heavy musket, from 'Jing Guo Xiong Lue (《經國雄略》)'.|
Musket was also called Ban Jiu Jiao Chong (斑鳩腳銃, lit. 'Wild pigeon leg musket'), owing to the fact that when put on a musket rest, a musket looks superficially like a pigeon sleeping on one leg.
Another weapon called Da Niao Chong (大鳥銃, lit. "big arquebus") may or may not refer to the same weapon.
Jiao Chong (交銃, lit. 'Jiaozhi Arquebus')
|Drawing of a Jiao Qiang, from 'Huang Chao Li Qi Tu Shi (《皇朝禮器圖式》)'.|
Vietnamese matchlock gun enjoyed a very high reputation during seventeenth century among not just the Chinese, but also European observers (witnessing the ongoing Trịnh–Nguyễn War) as well. Ming Chinese considered Vietnamese matchlock to be "the finest gun in the world", surpassing even Turkish matchlock. It was said to be able to pierce several layers of iron armour, kill two to five men in one shot, yet can fire its shot quietly.
Jiu Tou Niao (九頭鳥, lit. 'Nine headed bird')
|A gunner firing a Jiu Tou Niao from the shoulder of his comrade, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.|
While Chinese of this period were quick to adopt and even improve upon new firearm technologies, they never managed to catch up with major European powers. Worse yet, because of rampant corruption and general incompetence of the Imperial throne, they were reluctant to phase out their own obsolete firearms, resulting in severe waste of military spending.