Rocket carts of the Ming Dynasty

Ever since the founding of Ming Dynasty, the Chinese had been an avid user of rocket weapon. Early Ming Dynasty rocket cart could have an upward of six hundred rockets, but subsequent redesigns reduced the number of rockets to make the cart more mobile.

Huo Jian Che (火箭車, rocket cart)
Ming Dynasty HuoChe
Drawing of a Huo Jian Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》'.
Huo Jian Che was recorded in the sixteenth century military treatise Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》) without any specification on its size and structure. It might be the same rocket cart mentioned by general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) in his book Lian Bing Shi Ji (《練兵實紀》), written five years prior to this book.

Huo Gui Gong Di Che (火櫃攻敵車, lit. 'Enemy-assaulting cart with fire cabinet')
Chinese Huoche
Drawing of a Huo Gui Gong Di Che, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Huo Gui Gong Di Che is a type of multiple rocket launcher mounted on a two-wheeled ox cart. It is equipped with one hundred rockets and five spears. Manned by two soldiers, this is a formidable assault weapon capable of providing suppressive fire and deterring enemy assault at the same time.

 Chong Lu Cang Lun Che (衝虜藏輪車, lit. 'Hidden wheel cart of barbarian-charging')
Chinese Huo Che
Drawing of a Chong Lu Cang Lun Che, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Chong Lu Cang Lun Che is a multipurpose weapon platform that incorporates a box of forty rockets, eight spears or other polearms and two large shields, one behind the other. Chong Lu Cang Lun Che is very similar to Late Middle Ages European ribauldequin/organ gun, many of which also incorporate mantlet and spears, except it use rockets instead of multiple small cannons, and only has one wheel.

Jia Huo Zhan Che (架火戰車, lit. 'Chariot of fire rack')
Ming Chinese Multiple Rocket Launcher
Jia Huo Zhan Che, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Chinese Rocket Wheelbarrow
Multiple Jia Huo Zhan Che linked together, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Perhaps the most well known of the Ming Dynasty multiple rocket launcher, the Jia Huo Zhan Che or "rocket wheelbarrow" as it is known in the West is an extremely versatile weapon platform. It incorporates four pods of Chang She Po Di Jian (長蛇破敵箭) of thirty rockets per pod, and two pods of Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian (百虎齊奔箭) of one hundred rockets per pod, for a total of 320 rockets. In addition, it has three Bai Zi Chong (百子銃), two spears, and a cotton curtain to defend against arrows.

The versatility of Jia Huo Zhan Che lies in its modular design. Unlike other multiple rocket launchers that are one-shot weapons, a Jia Huo Zhan Che can quickly replenish its rockets by replacing the emptied rocket pods with fresh ones. The rocket pods and anti-personnel guns can also be detached and used as standalone weapons. Multiple Jia Huo Zhan Che can be chained together to form a mobile fortification similar to a wagon fort.

Gai Shi Wu Gang Che (改式武剛車, 'Modified Wu Gang Che')
Ming Chinese Huo Che
Gai Shi Wu Gang Che, from 'Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》)'.
The Gai Shi Wu Gang Che takes the modularity of Jia Huo Zhan Che one step further — it is a two-wheeled hand cart that can be separated into two wheelbarrows. Each wheelbarrow is equipped with four small cannons, a Huo Jian Xia (火箭匣) of twenty-seven rockets per pod, and a large shield. Like Jia Huo Zhan Che, multiple Gai Shi Wu Gang Che can be chained together to form a mobile fortification. Surprisingly, it can still be used like a normal cart to carry military supply.

This weapon is named after Wu Gang Che (武剛車), a Han Dynasty horse-drawn cart famously used by general Wei Qing (衛青) to defend against nomad cavalry.

The Huo Che (火車) and Hwacha (화차 or 火車) debate
Often, any topic discussing Chinese Huo Che will inevitably bring about the comparison with Korean Hwacha (and vice versa). With national pride (somehow) at stakes, such topic often degenerate into meaningless bickering about "We invented it first!" and "My Huo Che/Hwacha is better than yours!"

The debate is completely pointless. Nevertheless, I will attempt to track down the earliest historical reference to Huo Che and Hwacha, and (hopefully) clear up the confusion.

The first recorded use of Ming Dynasty Huo Che occurred in 1401 AD, during the last phase of Jing Nan Campaign. However, early Ming Dynasty records did not provide any description on the Huo Che. Huo Che is actually an umbrella term that encompass all firearm-mounted carts, not just rocket carts. Earliest Ming record that clearly described a rocket cart can be dated to 1449 AD.

On the other hand, the first Korean Hwacha was developed in 1409 AD, only seven years after the conclusion of Jing Nan Campaign. However, early Hwacha did not launch rockets, instead it was equipped with several bronze guns that shoot iron-fletched darts. The rocket launching Hwacha was a much later development introduced in 1451 AD, three years after the perfection of Korean Shingijeon (신기전 or 神機箭) rocket.

Joseon Dynasty Hwacha
Hwacha, from 'Kukcho orye sorye (《국조오례서례》 or 《國朝五禮序例》)'. This is the earliest surviving blueprint of a cart-mounted multiple rocket launcher.
Choson Dynasty Hwacha
Late Joseon Dynasty gun Hwacha inspired by Huo Gui Gong Di Che, from  'Yungwon pilbi (《융원필비》 or 《戎垣必備》)'.

Relevant Passages
Ming Dynasty


Joseon Dynasty
賜軍器少監李韜、監丞崔海山馬各一匹。上御解慍亭, 觀放火車,有是賜。又賜布五十匹于火桶軍。火車之制,以鐵翎箭數十,納諸銅桶,載於小車,以火藥發之,猛烈可以制敵。



  1. Apologies for going off topic since you mentioned the 四鎮三關志,I was wondering what kind of hat is depicted in the military treatise.

    I'm guessing its some sort of 氈笠(Felt hat?) that also appears in 平番得勝圖.

    Seeing as how I have digressed from the topic of mobile rocket carts is there any way I can contact you outside this blog?

  2. Those hats are supposedly called 大帽. You can find more information here ( I assume you can read Chinese?

    ATM I only use this email account for the blog though.

  3. Does these rocket cart also use for siege purpose?

    1. Uncertain. Rocket was certainly used, but whether they were launched from carts or fixed platform was not known.

  4. What's your conclusion about the Huo Che/Hwacha debate? Do you consider them as separate developments or did they influence each other?

    1. The debate is pointless, since most debaters can't even get the name of Chinese rocket cart straight (Huo Che is NOT the Chinese name for rocket cart). Also, mounting rocket on mobile platform is not rocket science (pun very much intended), everyone can do it.

    2. My bad, I mean Huo Jian Che. So basically what you're saying is that they are separate developments totally unrelated to one another, is that correct? And also, why only the Chinese and the Koreans used rocket arrows to such great extent, but not other cultures?

    3. I do not rule out the possibility of Chinese influencing Korean design (since chronologically Chinese had it first), but we need more evidence other than chronological order to "prove" that. Again, as long as you have the means to build rocket and cart, marrying two together into one weapon isn't some sort of super unique idea.

    4. As for why only Chinese & Korean make us of rocket around this period, I think that has to had something to do with the archery culture of Chinese and Korean people (i.e. abundance of arrow maker). Just a guess though.