17 August 2014

Unique weapon of the Ming Dynasty — Lang Xian (狼筅)


Wolf Brush
Drawing of a Lang Xian, from a Korean print of 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.

Lang Xian (狼筅, can be written as 筤筅, lit. 'Wolf brush'), sometimes translated as "wolf bamboo" and "multiple tipped bamboo spear", is arguably the MOST uniquely Chinese weapon ever devised, and one of the most effective weapons if used right. Essentially a long bamboo spear with layers of branches still attached, there is much more to this unassuming weapon than meets the eye.A typical Lang Xian is roughly one zhang and five to six chi long (around 4.8 m/15.75 ft to 5.12 m/16.8 ft), and weighs seven jin (4.13 kg/9.1 pound). It is made of sturdy tortoise-shell bamboo with its leaves trimmed away but still retaining nine to thirteen layers of branches (branches from other bamboo can be artificially attached if there are insufficient layers), which are fire-hardened and shaped to either point outward or point forward, and finished with tung oil to strengthen them further. To give the weapon some modicum of offensive power, its branches are smeared with poison, and a small iron spearhead is fitted to the top end of the bamboo culm.

A clumsy and unwieldy weapon, Lang Xian deals very little damage on its own. Nevertheless, it is a superb defensive weapon and, when used correctly in conjunction with other weapons, can become a potent force multiplier. The advantages of Lang Xian lie in:
  • The projection of layered branches, combined with the extreme length of the weapon, creates an extremely large defensive silhouette that nearly covers the wielder's entire body, effectively closing off most lines of attack from the front.
  • The layered branches of Lang Xian allow the weapon to deflect incoming projectiles such as arrows.
  • Effectively a man-portable version of abatis, Lang Xian is also great at fending off cavalry charge, more so when supported by other weapons.
  • The branches and barbs on Lang Xian can snag on enemy clothes, preventing them from slipping pass the threat range of the weapon.
  • Wielder of Lang Xian can project a fence of branches directly onto approaching enemy troops, using the constantly moving and shaking branches to distract and blind them from other dangers (i.e. a sudden spear thrust through the branches or a charging swordsman).
  • If opportunity presents itself, wielder of Lang Xian can also attempt to catch enemy flag to tear it down.
Essentially, a Lang Xian effectively shuts down all enemy's options as it provides good protection against most forms of ranged weapons, out-reaches and thus keeps its wielder safe from all but the longest weapons, and prevents the enemy from get around the weapon. This allows even a poorly trained troop to fight on equal footing against a better skilled opponent.

Over the years various minor modifications were applied to the base design of Lang Xian. Examples include adding a lance sling to the weapon, and replacing bamboo branches with artificial branches made of iron. A notable variant is known as Xian Qiang (筅槍, lit. 'Brush spear'), which reduces the number of branches to four or five layers, sacrificing some defensive potential for increased maneuverability and lethality.


  1. Is this weapon only use for formation? Did people also use this weapon for duel or self defence?

    1. The weapon is very heavy and bulky, so I doubt its usefulness as a self defense weapon. It could have been used in small scale "gangster fight" though.


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