14 May 2023

Chinese fire gourd

Chong Zhen Huo Hu Lu (衝陣火葫蘆, lit. 'Phalanx-charging fire gourd')

Chinese fire gourd fire lance
Drawing of a Chong Zhen Huo Hu Lu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Chong Zhen Huo Hu Lu is an unusual weapon which is essentially a gourd-shaped iron "gun barrel" mounted on a six chi long wooden pole. Intended to be paired with a weaponised shield, this handgonne/fire lance hybrid is loaded with both lead pellets as well as incendiary gunpowder that generates poisonous smoke as it burns, and is said to be effective against both infantry and cavalry. 

A pole-less version of this weapon is famously used by several prominent characters and their subordinates in the Chinese classical novel 'Water Margin', which points to an early Ming origin for the weapon.

Dui Hei Shao Ren Huo Hu Lu (對黑燒人火葫蘆, lit. 'Night-opposing, enemy-burning fire gourd')

Chinese fire gourd weapon
Drawing of a Dui Hei Shao Ren Huo Hu Lu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
A one-use, self-defence flamethrower designed for concealable carry, Dui Hei Shao Ren Huo Hu Lu is made out of actual dried calabash shell, heavily padded with a mixture of dirt and salt water wrapped in a layer of cloth (presumably for thermal insulation), then lacquered. The gourd bottle is filled with a mixture of ash, saltpetre, and sulfur, then carefully sealed together with smoldering tinder in a way that is reminiscence of Chinese flame stick. This way, the weapon doesn't need a touch hole nor ignited separately before use, as merely unsealing the bottle will cause searing flame to jut out from its opening.

Some Chinese texts, as well as Joseph Needham's 'Science and Civilisation in China', erroneously record the weapon as "Dui Ma Shao Ren Huo Hu Lu (對燒人火葫蘆, lit. 'Cavalry-opposing enemy-burning fire gourd')", although it's clear from description that this weapon was not specifically designed for anti-cavalry use.

29 April 2023

Zhao Shi Zhen's Hu Tou Che (虎頭車) and Hu Yi Che (虎翼車)

Hu Tou Che (left) and Hu Yi Che (right) on the move, from 'Xu Shen Qi Pu (《續神器譜》)'. Note that while the protective screen of Hu Tou Che has to be dismantled and transported on the wheelbarrow, the blanket of Hu Yi Che can be simply rolled-up and carried by a soldier.
Hu Tou Che (虎頭車) and Hu Yi Che (虎翼車) are two types of war wheelbarrow meant to be used together in a formation. They are comparatively simple designs devised by Ming firearm specialist Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士楨) before he went on to develop the more complex Ying Chang Che (鷹揚車).

Hu Tou Che (虎頭車, lit. 'Tiger head cart')

Drawing of a Hu Tou Che and its sloped protective screen (highlighted), from 'Xu Shen Qi Pu (《續神器譜》)'.
Hu Tou Che is essentially a wheelbarrow of a fairly typical Chinese design, with a two handle bars and a large single wheel placed at the bottom of the barrow. Unlike its civilian counterpart, Hu Tou Che is fitted with a front wooden rack to mount the protective screen, as well as two water tanks beside its wheel that double as counterweights. Its sloped protective screen—reminiscence of frontal armour of modern tank—is the most unique component of the war wheelbarrow. Made of two layers of wooden planks, plus a row of split bamboos nailed to its outward-facing side, the lightweight yet sturdy protective screen is constructed in such a way that there is empty space between its two wooden layers that can be filled with dirt (as a defence against firearms). It is usually equipped with two large gun ports designed to accommodate the powerful Ying Yang Pao (鷹揚砲), although some variants may have one additional gun port for either heavy Fo Lang Ji (佛朗機) or Hu Dun Pao (虎蹲砲).

Hu Yi Che (虎翼車, lit. 'Tiger wings cart')

Drawing of a Hu Yi Che and its protective blanket, from 'Xu Shen Qi Pu (《續神器譜》)'.
Hu Yi Che is similar to Hu Tou Che in most respects, only differ in that it has an additional set of handle bars, two wooden racks so that its protective screen can be hung on either side of the wheelbarrow, as well as only one water tank to act as counterbalance to its protective screen. In place of rigid wood-and-bamboo composite plating, Hu Yi Che uses a large rectangular blanket as its protective screen, made in the exact same way as the canopy of Ju Ma San (拒馬傘).

Proposed wheelbarrow regiment

Hu Tou Che and Hu Yi Che deployed together, from 'Xu Shen Qi Pu (《續神器譜》)'.

Zhao Shi Zhen proposed a powerful regiment-sized unit for his war wheelbarrows, likely as a throwback to the then-active Ji Garrison war cart regiments raised by Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) decades before. A detailed breakdown of Zhao Shi Zhen's proposed regiment is available on my Patreon!

22 February 2023

Cang Shan Chuan (蒼山船) and Chong Mu Chuan (艟喬船)

Cang Shan Chuan (蒼山船, lit. 'Mount Cang ship')

Drawing of a Cang Shan Chuan, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
Cang Shan Chuan, also known as Cang Shan Tie (蒼山鐵, lit. 'Mount Cang iron') and often shortened to Cang Chuan (蒼船), is a type of small sail-and-oar ship originated from Zhejiang. Although not considered part of the "Four Great Ancient Ships of China", it was Cang Shan Chuan, rather than the more famous Niao Chuan (鳥船), that should be seen as the representative ship type from Zhejiang during Ming period.

Being an extinct ship type, much less is known about Cang Shan Chuan than other Chinese junks, although information gleaned from written materials reveals that Cang Shan Chuan has a V- or S-bottom hull that is narrower than Fu Chuan (福船) but wider than Sha Chuan (沙船), as well as wide prow and stern. It has two decks, the lowest level of the ship serves as its ballast, while the berth deck right above serves as accommodation for ship crew. All nautical operations of Cang Shan Chuan, as well as primary fighting compartment of militarised version of the ship, are located on its exposed upper deck, although reinforced superstructure can still be installed for better protection. A true sail-and-oar ship, Cang Shan Chuan also comes equipped with ten oars, each rowed by four oarsmen. Unusually, all of its oars are mounted at the port and starboard quarters, rather than evenly spread over the entire length of the ship.

Originally built as fishing vessel, Cang Shan Chuan quickly gained favour in the Ming navy during Wokou campaign due to its general robustness (which also gave rise to its "iron" moniker), all-weather mobility, and ability to traverse shallow waters unreachable by Fu Chuan. Unfortunately, being one of the smallest Ming warships, Cang Shan Chuan was seen as merely on par, rather than superior to, Japanese warships, and therefore ill-suited for ramming attack and boarding action, as it could neither plough through Japanese ships like its larger cousins from Fujian and Guangdong, nor carry enough combatants to overwhelm the superior Japanese warriors in close combat. Nevertheless, Cang Shan Chuan excelled in the roles of patrolling, scouting, rescue operations, providing harassing firepower, pursuing fleeing ships, as well as picking dead bodies out of water after a naval engagement. 

Chong Mu Chuan (艟喬船)

Drawing of a Chong Mu Chuan, from 'Deng Tan Bi Jiu (《登壇必究》)'.
Chong Mu Chuan is essentially a modified Cang Shan Chuan that is upsized, but has its bulwarks removed (presumably to cut down on weight). Devised by famous Ming general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) to better combat the Wokou, Chong Mu Chuan's greater size allows it to overpower Japanese ships more easily without sacrificing the great mobility of smaller Cang Shan Chuan.

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