Bamboo and Wooden guns of the Ming Dynasty

As the inventor of firearms, Chinese were also one of the first (if not the very first) to build their guns out of non-standard materials such as wood and bamboo, or even stone. These guns offer several advantages over their metal counterparts, namely lower cost, easier manufacture and portability. They are, however, less durable and very prone to catastrophic accident. Ming armies used bamboo and wooden guns to supplement their metal guns, most often as one-use, disposable weapon.

For the purpose of this article, I will exclude fire lances (as these are proto-guns), Pen Tong (喷筒) (as these do not shoot bullets), rocketsdart guns and bombs. Only bamboo or wooden guns meant as low-cost substitute for metal firearms will be covered.

Zhu Huo Qiang (竹火鎗, bamboo handgonne)
Ming Chinese Bamboo Gun
Drawing of a Zhu Huo Qiang, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Zhu Huo Qiang is a simple, three chi long bamboo tube turned into a handgonne. It is reinforced with hemp rope and iron wire to reduce the risk of bursting.


Ye Di Zhu Chong (夜敵竹銃, lit. 'Night raid bamboo gun')
Ming Chinese Bamboo Firearm
Ye Di Zhu Chong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'/
Ye Di Zhu Chong is simply a bundle of (usually eight) leather band-reinforced bamboo guns loaded with incendiary projectiles. Like its namesake, it is used in night raids.


Chong Feng Zhui Di Zhu Fa Gong (衝鋒追敵竹發熕, lit. 'Assaulting and enemy-chasing bamboo Fa Gong')
Ming Chinese Bamboo Cannon
Drawing of a Chong Feng Ye Di Zhu Fa Gong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Chong Feng Zhui Di Zhu Fa Gong is a bamboo cannon that also doubles as a large Pen Tong (噴筒). It is a three chi long bamboo tube mounted on a two chi long wooden pole. The bamboo tube is treated with chemicals, wrapped with iron wires, cow tendons and hemp cloths, covered with ash, and then lacquered. Its muzzle is also reinforced with an iron hoop.

Chong Feng Zhui Di Zhu Fa Gong is usually loaded with twenty-four half catty stones, poisoned shrapnels, poison smoke gunpowder and blinding dust. It is very heavy for a handheld firearm (its stone ammunition alone weight twelve catties), but packs the firepower of a fairly large (if short ranged) cannon. It is still light enough that one horseman can carry up to four tubes with him.


Zhu Fa Gong (竹發熕, Bamboo Fa Gong)
Drawing of a Zhu Fa Gong, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
A seemingly different Zhu Fa Gong can be found in Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》). This Zhu Fa Gong is a five chi long bamboo tube treated with chemicals and reinforced with hemp rope. It also comes with iron sight.


Wu Di Zhu Jiang Jun (無敵竹將軍, lit. 'Invincible bamboo general')
Ming Dynasty Disposable Bamboo Cannon
Drawings of Wu Di Zhu Jiang Jun, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Named after Wu Di Da Jiang Jun (無敵大將軍), this is a one-use bamboo cannon that can be manufactured on the fly, is very portable, yet has the firepower to match a metal cannon. It is basically a four chi long bamboo tube mounted on a carved wood handle. The bamboo tube is reinforced with thick hemp robes to reduce the risk of bursting. For ease of transporting, the muzzle is sealed with a wooden cover to prevent the pre-loaded ammunition and gunpowder from falling out.

Wu Di Zhu Jiang Jun is usually loaded with one large stone ball and numerous lead shots and iron shrapnels, but sometimes only one stone ball is used. A unique feature of Wu Di Zhu Jiang Jun is that it utilises a cup-shaped iron sabot to reduce windage. While it is very light, it is too powerful to be used handheld, and is usually placed on a X-shaped wooden rack before firing.


Xiao Zhu Jiang Jun (小竹將軍, lit. 'Small bamboo general')
Chinese Bamboo Gun
Xiao Zhu Jiang Jun and the bags used to store it, from 'Huo Long Shen Qi Zhen Fa (《火龍神器陣法》)'.
Xiao Zhu Jiang Jun is simply a bundle of three hemp-reinforced bamboo guns measuring two chi four cun in length. It is a lightweight one-use weapon that can be manufactured in bulk.


Zhu Niao Chong (竹鳥銃, bamboo arquebus)
Ming Chinese Bamboo Arquebus
A bamboo arquebus with a trigger guard, from 'Yu Zi Shi San Zhong Mi Shu Bing Heng (《喻子十三種秘書兵衡》)'.
Zhu Niao Chong is the bamboo version of arquebus. It's cost is only half that of the metal version, and weighs much less. Zhu Niao Chong is not designed to be reloadable, rather it is thrown away after use.


Mu Shen Qiang (木神鎗, lit. 'Wooden divine gun')
Ming Chinese Wood Gun
Drawing of a Mu Shen Qiang (highlighted), from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
This weapon is probably the wooden substitute of Da Shen Chong (大神銃), but little detail is known about it.

The cannon that exploded during the Siege of Sacheon and resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Ming, was in fact a wooden cannon.


Liu He Pao (六合砲, lit. 'Six harmonies cannon')
Drawing of a Liu He Pao, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Liu He Pao is a type of wooden cannon that is made of six staves assembled around a short iron tube and then reinforced with seven iron hoops. It is literally made in the same fashion as a wine barrel. The iron tube, which forms the inner part of the second reinforce (i.e. the bottom part of the barrel), prevents the cannon from bursting easily.

Liu He Pao can be mounted on small boats, in a fashion not too dissimilar to a punt gun.
A wooden breech-loading cannon, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
A breech-loading variant of Liu He Pao can be assembled from two piece of carved wooden half-tubes. It still use iron chambers like normal Fo Lang Ji (佛狼機), though.




Other Bamboo and Wooden Guns
Bamboo version of San Yan Chong (三眼銃) and Da Jiang Jun Pao (大將軍砲) were used by the Ming armies as well.

6 comments:

  1. Some of the bamboo guns seem to have already appeared during the Southern Song Dynasty. These Ming bamboo guns are reminiscent of the Song Dynasty Tu Huo Qiang invented in 1259, which is the earliest bamboo gun and possibly also the earliest gun in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @TheXanian
    Tu Huo Qiang is, as far as I am aware, a proto-gun that is basically a flamethrower and smoke generator. It also shoots some kind of projectile, but the projectile itself is of unknown nature.

    The closest Ming counterpart of Tu Huo Qiang is probably Fei Tian Pen Tong (飛天噴筒).

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  3. @春秋战国
    But the accounts for Tu Huo Qiang mentioned that it has something called "子窠" (projectiles), and this means it's not just a flamethrower but more like a proto-handgonne. I guess the projectiles were most likely pebbles or ceramic shrapnel.

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  4. @TheXanian
    There's no general agreement on what Zi Ke (子窠) actually is. Possible candidates include paper-wrapped incendiary package, ceramic shrapnels, or solidified mixture of poisons and gunpowder.

    There are some Ming Dynasty Pen Tong that shoots shrapnels or some sort of projectile too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Were these generally used out of desperation? One would think one of the more gunpowder experienced armies would know of the risks using these cannons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not really. Ming artillerymen knew full well that bamboo guns wouldn't hold out for repeated use, so most of these weapons were one-shot, discard-after-use weapons.

      Delete

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