Breech-loading arquebuses of the Ming Dynasty

One of the major weakness of early black powder firearms was the abysmal firing rate. Chinese certainly weren't strangers to this problem, and showed remarkable ingenuity in their attempts to solve this issue.

Che Dian Chong (掣電銃, lit. 'Lightning arquebus')
Ming Chinese Breechlading Arqeubus
Drawing of a Che Dian Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Developed by Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士楨) in the late sixteenth century, Che Dian Chong is a modified Lu Mi Chong that combines a breech-loading swivel gun with a matchlock gun. Gunpowder and lead balls are pre-filled in several tube-shaped chambers that can be quickly loaded into an open breech at the rear portion of gun barrel.


Modified Che Dian Chong
Ming Dynasty Breechloading Matchlock gun
Drawing of the modified Che Dian Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Supplemental components of the new Che Dian Chong: a chamber holder (left) and a fork (right). from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Zhao Shi Zhen was quick to discover the gas leaking problem that plagued all pre-modern breech-loading firearms. While gas leaking usually only resulted in diminished power and effectiveness, it turned into a hazard if the firearm in question was an arquebus, as the gunner had to held the gun extremely close to his face in order to aim properly.

Lacking effective means (i.e. rubber, which was not discovered until eighteenth century) to seal the chamber, Zhao Shi Zhen redesigned the Che Dian Chong, hoping to at least mitigate this problem. This modified Che Dian Chong is more of an arquebus with exchangeable gun barrels than a breech-loader. It has extremely long chambers, four times the original length, that are basically gun barrels in their own right. On the other hand, the "gun barrel" of modified Che Dian Chong becomes a very short tube mounted on the end of the forestock. 

Since these modified chambers became too long to be stored inside a bag or bullet pouch, Zhao Shi Zhen designed a large chamber holder that doubled as shield and gun mount. He also included a steel fork to complete the set.


Ying Yang Pao (鹰扬砲, lit. 'Soaring eagle cannon')
Ming Chinese Breechloading Wall Gun
Drawing of a Ying Yang Pao, from 'Shen Qi Pu Huo Wen (《神器譜或問》)'.
Different ways of shooting Ying Yang Pao, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Designed by Zhao Shi Zhen as the Chinese answer to Japanese ō-deppo (大鉄砲), Ying Yang Pao is an upsized, jingal gun version of Che Dian Chong. Because of its weight and size, Ying Yang Pao has to be fired from a weapon mount (or shoulder of another soldier).


Zi Mu Chong (子母銃, lit. 'Mother-and-child arquebus')
Ming Chinese Breechloading Arquebus with Bayonet
Components of Zi Mu Chong (right) and Zi Mu Chong with attached bayonet (right), from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
This early seventeenth century Zi Mu Chong is similar to Che Dian Chong, which utilise pre-filled chambers known as Zi Chong (子銃, lit. 'Child gun'), loaded into the barrel called Mu Chong (母銃, lit. 'Mother gun') from the breech.

It also incorporates a plug bayonet, which predates French bayonet by thirty-eight years.



Shortcomings
Unfortunately, no one was able to solve the issue of gas leaking and loss of power of these breech-loading guns. Shot for shot, these weapons are less powerful than their muzzle-loading counterparts.

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