17 August 2014

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

Wolf Brush
Drawing of a Lang Xian, from '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 if used right. Lang Xian is basically an extremely long bamboo shaft mounted with a sharpened iron spike, with nine to thirteen layers of branches and leaves still attached. The branches are fire hardened and sometimes attached with blades and hooks.

Lang Xian is a heavy and unwieldy weapon, and deals very little damage on its own. However when used in conjunction with other weapons, it turns into an extremely potent force multiplier. The primary advantage of Lang Xian is its length. At one zhang five chi, it is almost as long as a European pike.

When used in numbers, Lang Xian can be used to:
  • Prevent friendly troops from seeing the face of their angry, screaming enemy directly, thus maintaining morale and cohesion. This is especially important for poorly trained troops.
  • Present a wall of bushes directly onto the faces of approaching enemy troops. The constantly moving and shaking branches and leaves are greatly distracting and blind enemy troops from other dangers (i.e. a sudden spear thrust through the bush or a charging swordsman).
  • Deflect incoming arrows.
  • Entangle, deflect or throw off the aim of enemy's spear thrusts and sword slashes.
  • The branches and barbs on Lang Xian can snag on enemy's clothes and prevent them from slipping pass the weapon.
  • If opportunity presents itself, wielder of Lang Xian can attempt to catch enemy flag in order to tear it down.
  • Fend off cavalry charge (preferably with supports from other polearms).
Essentially, a Lang Xian effectively shuts down all enemy's options as it provides good protection against most forms of ranged weapons, outreaches (and thus keeping its wielder safe from) all but the longest weapons, and prevents the enemy from ever getting close. This allows even a poorly trained troop to fight on equal footing against a better trained opponent.

Over the centuries various minor modifications were applied to the base design of Lang Xian. Examples include smearing the branches with poison, adding a lance sling to the weapon, and replacing bamboo branches with artificial branches made of iron. A notable variant design is 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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