Shen Qiang (神鎗)

Ming Dynasty Handgonne
Drawing of a dart-shooting Shen Qiang, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Drawing of a shrapnel-shooting Shen Qiang, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Shen Qiang (神鎗, lit. 'Divine gun' or 'Divine spear'), also known as Shen Ji Chong (神機銃, lit. 'Divine engine gun') and Shen Ji Huo Qiang (神機火鎗, lit. 'Divine engine fire lance'), is a dart-shooting handgonne of the early Ming Dynasty. Developed by Mu Ying (沐英) to defeat the war elephants frequently encountered in Yunnan border, this handgonne was subsequently employed in Ming-Hồ War. After the conquest of Vietnam, Shen Qiang was further improved by Li Deng (黎澄, original Vietnamese name Hồ Nguyên Trừng or 胡元澄). Ming court soon caught wind of this new weapon and quickly introduced Shen Qiang into the Imperial Guard, forming the Shen Ji Ying (神機營, lit. 'Divine engine regiment') in the process.

Early Ming Dynasty handgonne
A Yongle period bronze handgonne with touch hole cover.
Shen Qiang has several marked improvements over older handgonne designs. It comes with a touch hole cover that reduces the risk of misfire and prevent the gunpowder in the touch hole from being spoiled. It is also the first Ming firearm to utilise sabot, which greatly improves the power of the weapon.

Shen Qiang shoots heavy metal-tipped dart made of Ceylon ironwood, which is considered expensive, inaccurate and hard to use (less experienced gunner sometimes jam the dart tip-first into the barrel). Newer handgonnes such as Kuai Qiang (快鎗) and San Yan Chong (三眼铳) replace the heavy dart with lead shot. There's also a late model of Shen Qiang with wrought iron barrel, that shoots poisoned lead shrapnels instead of wooden dart.

Seungja Chongtong
Joseon Dynasty Seungja Chongtong (승자총통 or 勝字銃筒), a handgonne that can shoot either wooden dart or lead shot.
Korean inherited dart-shooting firearm from the Chinese and derived many new designs on their own (the first Hwacha, for example, was mounted with dart-shooting cannons instead of rockets). They also retained the use of wooden dart for much longer.


  1. The 天字 gun fired the long stick. Trừng made almost 100,000 of them (looking at the serial number). Attached to the long stick (with a sabot at the other end) was an explosive package with fuse. This is stick with the sabot and package is called the Fire Lance. The Fire Lance is a projectile. The 天字 gun usually has a 15 to 17mm bore and weights a couple of kilograms.
    The next gun by Trung was the 奇字 with a 50mm bore, weighing 6-8 kilos. It fired grapeshot attached to the sabot. Of course Trung devised numerous other guns (how about serial numbers -- perhaps that was Yongle's invention to keep track of his Magic guns. Yonge forbid the use of these guns in souther China.
    However, it was probably these guns which killed the Chinese in Vietnam (then Giao Chi) 50,000 killed in an ambush stretching miles in 1426 (by 3000 Vietnamese) and then 90,000 out of 100,000 Chinese in late 1427 forcing the Chinese to allow Giao Chi to become a separate country!

    1. I haven't research into Lam Sơn uprising that much, so while I have some idea on what happened, I don't know about the weapon/troops composition of both forces. Aren't one of the Ming commander killed by a dart or javelin?

    2. I double-checked the biography of Hồ Nguyên Trừng again. It seems that he stayed with the Ming well after Vietnam regained independence, so it was unlikely that he forged the guns for the uprising.

      (And I think Vietnamese gunsmiths could make their own gun without him anyway)

    3. In late 1426, 4000 men or so from the Lam Son group ambushed 100,000 men under Wang Tong (who was wounded). The initial ambush stretched out some distance and attack the front of the marching column and the second ambush was at the back and cut off the supplies, carts, etc --- Lam Son claimed 50,000 killed and 10,000 captured while the Ming records acknowledge 20,000 to 30,000 killed and 10,000 captured. The net result was Wang Tong was immobilized and called for reinforcements. in Oct 1427 100,000 came down from Gwangsi and never made it to Wang Tong and were completely wiped out. The Lam Son ambush positions were marked by flooded plains/rice fields or mountainous terrain. The Ming were unable to counter-attack, etc. OBVIOUSLY, the Lam Son guns, cross bows were reaching across the mud but face to face combat was out of the question. Although Hồ Nguyên Trừng remained in Beijing, his research and further development obviously was used by the Lam Son group. The intellectual leader of the Lam Son Group was a fellow mandarin (Nguyen Trai) with Trừng beginning in 1400 and is suspected of being in China until circa 1422-3 when he joined the Lam Son group, changed their tactics, strategy and plotted out how to win against the Ming. Xuan De's thoughts on how to get out of Giao-chi were reflected in Lam Son's request to the Ming Emperor on ending the troubles by allowing "Annan (or An Nam in Vietnamese)" to again become a vassal kingdom sending tribute to the Ming Emperor. Since some of the talented Vietnamese became eunuchs working directly with the Ming Emperor, we can surmise they were aware of conversations by the Ming Emperor and could relay the text of those conversations outside the Forbidden City.
      The thing to remember is that the TRUNG guns were not allowed out of northern China before 1424. The small gun fired the Fire Arrow (with an explosive package attached) and a sabot was attached to the arrow. The bigger gun used two sabots -- the first between the powder and the multiple missiles (grape shot) known as 木马子 (or Mộc Mã Tử in VN) and the second was placed atop the missiles (so they didn't spill out) and was known as 木送子 (Mộc Tống Tử ). FYI: the double wads are still used today on smooth-bore muzzle-loading guns but no longer are made of wood. The Koreans used the double wad/wedge/sabot for their guns used against the Japanese boats -- think about it. Grape shot fired from the second deck of a turtle ship down onto the single deck of a Japanese boat -- great advantage and foresee by Trung who also emphasized the Dai Viet (or Dai Ngu) war boats should have a second deck and his guns should go on that deck.

    4. Ahhh, it all makes sense now. So 木馬子 and 木送子 are two different things, I always thought of them as the same thing!

  2. In World War I the British copied the Fire Arrow with the Mills Bomb N°23 fired from an infantryman's rifle by using a blank round. It was basically a grenade attached to a stick placed inside the barrel of the rifle.