Matchlock firearms of the Ming Dynasty

The Ming army had always put great emphasis on handheld firearm, and set up the first specialized firearm division in the world in the form of Shen Ji Ying (神機營). In fact, as the quality of Ming army deteriorated, they began to rely more and more on firearms, to the point it bacame detrimental to their close combat capability.

Ming Tanegashima Matchlock
Ming Dynasty arquebus found in Xuzhou.
Early Matchlock
Ming Dynasty came into contact with matchlock arquebus — which they called Niao Chong (鳥銃, 'Bird gun') or Niao Zui Chong (鳥咀銃, 'Beak gun') — through the Portuguese no later than 1525 AD and had begun to equip their troops with this advanced weapon in small numbers. After the destruction of the smuggling haven of Shuangyu in 1548, Chinese improved their workmanship and quality control by forcing captured Portuguese gunsmiths to teach them, and began mass-producing the weapon. Chinese gunsmiths manufactured local copies of Portuguese matchlock in very large quantities, numbering tens of thousands, and Ming troops from Southern China quickly accustomed themselves with this new weapon. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Northern troops, many of whom stubbornly refused to give up their ageing handgonnes (although they too picked up the weapon en masse during the last years of the Ming Dynasty).

Wo Chong (倭銃, 'Japanese arquebus')
Drawing of a Niao Zui Chong, from 'Chou Hai Tu Bian (《籌海圖編》)'.
As both Chinese and Japanese adopted their matchlock gun from the Portuguese, Chinese matchlock differ little from Japanese teppō (鉄砲) from a technical perspective. Nevertheless, the superior durability of Japanese gun barrel and fine workmanship of Japanese mechanism was already well known during mid-Ming period. Many Ming generals were impressed by the quality of Japanese matchlock.

Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士禎) was the only Chinese firearm specialist to further differentiate between a Portuguese matchlock gun manufactured at the armoury of Goa and a Japanese copy of the same design. He named the Portuguese design Xiao Xi Yang Chong (小西洋銃, 'Small Western arquebus') to avoid confusion with Xi Yang Chong (see below), another European matchlock design. Despite both designs being nearly indetical, Zhao Shi Zhen deemed Portuguese matchlock to be the superior one due to its simplicity and convenience.

Further Improvement
During the reign of Emperor Shenzong (明神宗, reigned 1572 - 1620 AD), the Ming Empire found itself embroiled in three different wars (the Imjin war, Ningxia campaign, as well as Bozou rebellion), another border conflicts with Burmese Toungoo Dynasty, as well as increasingly dire threat from the Jurchen. Around this time Chinese began experimenting with imported matchlock firearms from other parts of the world, no doubt motivated by the pressing needs to improve the performance of Ming arquebusiers.

Xi Yang Chong (西洋銃, lit. 'Western arquebus') or Da Xi Yang Chong (大西洋銃, lit. 'Big Western arquebus')
European Matchlock Gun
Drawing of a Xi Yang Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Xi Yang Chong is the Chinese name for European matchlock. It is characterised by its sear lock matchlock mechanism, backward-dipping serpentine (contrasted with Portuguese/Japanese snap matchlock, which has forward-dipping serpentine) as well as the long squeeze bar. Xi Yang Chong model reverse-engineered by Zhao Shi Zhen also includes a detachable forward grip known as Tuo Shou (托手).

Zhao Shi Zhen considered European matchlock to be light, mobile, reliable, and shoot farther than Japanese matchlock, but less powerful than both Japanese matchlock and Lu Mi Chong. However, it is possible that Zhao Shi Zhen based his opinion on a fowling piece not intended for military use.

Lu Mi Chong (魯密銃, lit. 'Rûm arquebus')
Fitilli Tufek
Drawing of a Lu Mi Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Lu Mi Chong was introduced to China through a Turkish emissary known to the Chinese as Duo Si Ma (朵思麻). It is based on the design of Turkish fitilli tüfek, and features the same modified serpentine lock mechanism and knob-shaped trigger as its Turkish counterpart. Zhao Shi Zhen also added a sharpened blade to the stock of the gun so that it can double as close combat weapon should the need arise.

Zhao Shi Zhen praised Lu Mi Chong for its reliability, range and firepower, which he deemed superior to both European and Japanese matchlock. Due to the increased weight and bulk of Lu Mi Chong, it was usually fired from a kneeling position.

Both Xi Yang Chong and Lu Mi Chong were eventually adopted by the Ming army. After the fall of Ming Dynasty, its successor Qing Dynasty seems to prefer the design of Lu Mi Chong over other variants, and European and Japanese matchlock became less common.

Late Ming period Lu Mi Chong
Chinese Rack and Pinion Matchlock
Late Ming version of the Lu Mi Chong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Although also called Lu Mi Chong, this matchlock arquebus features a completely different matchlock mechanism that is completely different from its Turkish counterpart. The new mechanism, seemingly based on rack and pinion principle, appears to be an indigenous Chinese design.

Drawing of the rack and pinion mechanism, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.

San Chang Chong (三長銃, lit. 'Arquebus with three advantages')
Drawing of a San Chang Chong, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
San Chang Chong is an indigenous innovation created by Zhao Shi Zhen that combines the advantages of Japanese, European and Turkish matchlock into one compact arquebus. It features a stock similar to Japanese matchlock, already familiar to most Ming troops, as well as the matchlock mechanism and long barrel from Turkish matchlock to increase reliability, speed and firepower. Zhao Shi Zhen also intentionally lighten the arquebus so that it can be fired from standing position, similar to European matchlock. Like Xuan Yuan Chong (軒轅銃) and He Ji Chong (合機銃), its matchlock mechanism is connected to flash pan cover so that the cover opens automatically whenever the trigger is pulled.

San Chang Chong is likely the only ordinary arquebus developed by Zhao Shi Zhen. He also tried to devise multiple barrel arquebuses, weatherproofed firearms and breechloaders, with varying degree of success.

Jiu Tou Niao (九頭鳥, lit. 'Nine headed bird')
Ming Chinese Matchlock Wall Gun
A gunner firing a Jiu Tou Niao from the shoulder of his comrade, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Also known as Jingal gun, this heavy matchlock gun is closer to a light artillery piece than a musket. Ming army only used this potent weapon in limited numbers.

Ban Gou Chong (搬鉤銃, lit. 'Moveable hook musket')
Ming Chinese Heavy Matchlock Musket
Drawing of a heavy musket, from 'Jing Guo Xiong Lue (《經國雄略》)'.
Potentially the most powerful of all Chinese matchlocks, Ban Gou Chong is an extremely heavy musket comparable in size and power to a heavy rampart gun. It is even more powerful than Jiu Tou Niao (see above), and comes fitted with a swivel musket rest so that it can be used by a single gunner.

Owing to the fact that Ban Gou Chong (with its musket rest) looks superficially like a pigeon standing on one leg, it is also known as Ban Jiu Jiao Chong (斑鳩腳銃, lit. 'Wild pigeon leg musket').

Jiao Chong (交銃, lit. 'Jiaozhi Arquebus')
Drawing of a Jiao Qiang, from 'Huang Chao Li Qi Tu Shi (《皇朝禮器圖式》)'. Despite its name, this Qing period Jiao Qiang shows clear Central Asian, instead of Vietnamese, influence.
Also known as Zua Wa Chong (爪哇銃, Java arquebus), Vietnamese matchlock entered Chinese arsenal during the last years of the Ming Dynasty through border conflicts between the dying Later Mạc dynasty and local Tu Si (土司, government-sanctioned native chieftain) of Guangxi and Yunnan provinces. Ethnic minority troops such as Lang Bing (狼兵) were among the first to pick up this fearsome weapon. Ming loyalists, Chinese rebels, and Manchus alike quickly followed suit, and Vietnamese matchlock became one of the most common handheld firearms during Ming-Qing transition period.

Vietnamese matchlock gun enjoyed a very high reputation during seventeenth century among not just the Chinese, but also European observers (witnessing the ongoing Trịnh–Nguyễn War) as well. Ming Chinese considered Vietnamese matchlock to be "the finest gun in the world", surpassing even Turkish matchlock. It was said to be able to pierce several layers of iron armour, kill two to five men in one shot, yet can fire its shot quietly.

While Chinese of this period were quick to adopt and even improve upon new firearm technologies, they never managed to catch up with major European powers. Worse yet, because of rampant corruption and general incompetence of the Imperial throne, they were reluctant to phase out their own obsolete firearms, resulting in severe waste of military spending.


  1. "By late Ming period, Vietnamese matchlock was considered "the best in the world", surpassing Japanese, European, and even Ottoman matchlocks. Jiao Chong enjoyed the reputation of being highly accurate, extremely powerful (said to be able to kill two to five men with one shot), yet relatively quiet."
    This paragraph may be exaggerated. There is no way Vietnamese matchlock can be that powerful.

    1. Not necessary. Chinese records describe Vietnamese guns of up to 2.2m in length. That's way beyond the length of mere musket and closer to PUNT GUN in size. These guns should be propotionately more powerful with that size alone.

      Loading multiple shots at the same time and fire it shotgun-style was a common practice in Ming China. So one shot killing many wasn't that far-fetched.

    2. I mean look at the rare Vietnamese matchlocks on display. You can see it wasn't considered "the best in the world" when compare to Japanese, European, and even Ottoman matchlocks. There is a record about something like PUNT GUN but is wasn't those matchlocks.,0

    3. Huh? I fail to see anything wrong with the weapons. Those are fine matchlocks.

    4. Yes, fine matchlocks they are but not good enough to be described as "the best in the world". The correct order about quality of matchlock is European > Ottoman > Japanese > Vietnamese. Vietnamese was famous for theirs shooting skill not the quality of theirs matchlock.

    5. We simply don't know what standard was used by Ming Chinese to measure the quality of matchlock guns. If for example they thought longer = better, then 2.2m Vietnamese guns were undoubtedly the best.

      Also, I personally don't think European guns were superior to the Ottomans, or Japanese guns being inferior to both. All countries produced good guns and terrible guns.

    6. William Dampier in Supplement of The New Voyage Round The World 1688 had described that there were Tonkinese artillery pieces. Each gun has a long barrel of about 6~7 feet and a tripod or a three-spikes-fork to land on the ground.
      I think it could look like this picture:

      Anyway, can you read the vertical scripts on the right of this picture?
      I mean those 2 letters above "大交鎗"

    7. Long barrel can give a powerful shot with high muzzle velocity and high accuracy. That's the reason why Turkish and Indian prefer longer barrels.

    8. @Unknown

      Your first picture depicts a Jingal gun, which was already in (limited) use during Ming Dynasty, but I agree that Vietnamese matchlock could be somewhat similar.

      TBH the first thing that spring to my mind is the Hmong "monkey gun", although to my knowledge 17c Vietnamese matchlock was closer in design to Portuguese (Japanese) style.

      Yes, I can read Chinese. The first two letters are "素鐵", literally "plain iron", or undecorated iron. "素鐵大交鎗" means "Big Vietnamese musket with undecorated barrel".

      I suspect another Qing musket known as Xian Qiang 線鎗 came from Vietnam as well.

    9. Thank you.

      I forget to add that William Dampier actually said that Tonkinese didn't have any artillery piece and he said that Tonkinese use those gun instead and it came well. Those gun could be carried well on one man's back and required 2 persons to deploy on battlefield. Those gun could be used to shoot across rivers and soldiers usually use them to clear a pass.

    10. @Unknown

      I don't know the exact context, but aren't Vietnamese made quite a lot of cannons (those they put on their warships, for example)?

    11. Cannon were used only in great campaigns and defence. There were several great battles in the period of "Trinh Nguyen phan tranh". And of course there were many small scaled marches in gaps between two great campaigns.
      In those occasions, those long guns were usually used.

    12. The longer the gun, the higher the velocity of the bullet. It would have travelled further and with more killing power.

  2. Do you know if the Ming ever manufactured pistols?

    1. Most likely not (although they were aware of the pistol), but I need to double check.

  3. Would you happen to know specifically, what made the Jiaozhi Arquebus so advanced (specifically with regards to its design features, such as bore, caliber etc.)? Thank you in advance, and great article by the way.

  4. I posted a comment here the other day, but I think my internet at that very moment also glitched out and prevented me from sending it through. So I'd like to send another one just in case. Sorry about any possible inconvenience this may have caused.

    As was the case prior to this day, I was just curious regarding whether you could tell me as to what made the Vietnamese "Jiaozhi Arquebus" so good, with regards to the characteristics and features of the rifle including (but not limited to) caliber, bore etc.

    Thank you so much in advance for your response, and great answer by the way.

    1. Yes, I notice the comment the other day and wonder why it went missing.

      Surviving Vietnamese matchlocks (that I've seen) are quite similar to the Japanese ones, so the difference in quality probably lies with craftsmanship/accuracy/barrel length/calibre etc. In fact, the Jiaoqiang pictured above is quite diffent from actual Vietnamese arquebus.

    2. May I ask what is the Vietnam arquebus source? The one pictured looks like Indonesian design, like this ancient Indonesian matchlock musket :

      Or this Indonesian flintlock musket:

      Or this obsolete 19th flintlock musket with Jenawi swords (pedang Jenawi) :

      They all shows very crude design, maybe the design originates from 15th or 16th century without Western influence?
      Javanese flintlock blunderbuss with seemingly Western influence can be seen at:
      Another blunderbuss from Nias Island, Indonesia also has Western feel to it:

      Batak "Western" blunderbuss:

      Sasak muskets... Obvious import from the West

      Now you may notice obvious differences between "native" and "western" design.... May I ask what is the source of Java arquebus? Maybe a readable source? I need it for research about Indonesian pre-17th century firearms, thank you.

    3. Hmmm, maybe that's the reason why Vietnamese arquebus was also called Java arquebus? The Indonesian guns you linked look almost identical to Hmong “monkey gun”.

    4. I'm aware of Monkey guns of the Hmong people, my theory is both Indonesian and Hmong gun is older than European influenced guns.... But it's need more research. That's why I asked you the source of the Vietnam and Java arquebus...

    5. The soure that liken the Vietnamese gun to Java gun come from a Qing period record known as 《南越筆記》, among several others. They don't come with illustrations though.