Breech-loading cannons of the Ming Dynasty

Fo Lang Ji (佛狼機, lit. 'Frankish engine'), named after the Chinese term for Portuguese people, is the Chinese version of the breech-loading swivel gun, which they reverse-engineered from the Portuguese berço around 1510 AD. Fo Lang Ji quickly supplants Chinese-made cannons as the most important artillery piece in the Ming arsenal.

The Chinese created many variant designs of the Fo Lang Ji based on the basic Portuguese model.

 Fo Lang Ji (佛狼機)
Chinese breech-loading cannon
A Fo Lang Ji on swivel mount, from 'Lian Bing Za Ji (《練兵雜紀》)'.
Basic Fo Lang Ji come in all sort of size and weight. The smallest Fo Lang Ji are nothing more than handgonnes, while the largest Fo Lang Ji are used as naval artillery and siege defence.

There are many specialised version of the Fo Lang Ji, such as the Ma Shang Fo Lang Ji (馬上佛狼機, lit. 'Horseman's Frankish engine') designed to be used on horseback, Bai Chu Xian Feng Pao (百出先鋒砲, lit. 'Hundred discharge vanguard cannon') a small Fo Lang Ji with shortened barrel and an attached blade, double-barreled Lian Zhu Fo Lang Ji Pao (連珠佛朗機砲, lit. 'Rapid fire Frankish engine'), triple-barreled Liu Xing Pao (流星砲, lit. 'Shooting star cannon'), etc.

Ba Mian Shen Wei Feng Huo Pao (八面神威風火砲, lit. 'Eight directions divine might wind and fire cannon')
Ming Dynasty Bronze Fo Lang Ji
Drawing of a Ba Mian Shen Wei Feng Huo Pao, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Also known as Ba Mian Shen Wei Pao (八面神威砲, lit. 'Eight directions divine might cannon'), this is simply a fancy name for bronze breech-loading swivel gun.

Fei Shan Shen Pao (飛山神砲, lit. 'Flying mountain divine cannon')
Fei Shan Shen Pao
Drawing of a Fei Shan Shen Pao, from 'Lian Bing Za Ji (《練兵雜紀》'.
A heavy (by Ming standard) Fo Lang Ji with two pairs of trunnions. Its description is conspicuously missing in the Lian Bing Za Ji (《練兵雜紀》).

Wu Di Da Jiang Jun (無敵大將軍, lit. 'Invincible great general')
Chinese Giant Breechloading Cannon
Drawing of a Wu Di Da Jiang Jun, from 'Lian Bing Za Ji (《練兵雜紀》)'.
Wu Di Da Jiang Jun is the heaviest field artillery in the Ming arsenal until the adoption of Hong Yi Pao (紅夷砲) It weights one thousand and fifty catties. Each of its three chambers is loaded with one large stone ball and five hundred small iron shots.

Wu Di Da Jiang Jun is heavy and ponderous, and has relatively short range despite its size, and has to be mounted on a heavy cart to have any mobility at all. This means battlefield manoeuvring and adjusting muzzle elevation is all but impossible for this weapon.

The disadvantages of Wu Di Da Jiang Jun eventually lead to the development of Ye Gong Shen Chong (葉公神銃).

Wu Di Shen Fei Pao (無敵神飛砲, lit. 'Invincible divine flying cannon')
Chinese Breech-loading Gun
Drawing of a Wu Di Shen Fei Pao, from 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.
Often shortened to Shen Fei Pao (神飛砲, lit. 'Divine flying cannon'), this is seemingly the slightly shortened naval variant of the Wu Di Da Jiang Jun. It is usually loaded with a large stone ball in addition to two hundred iron shots. The iron shots can be omitted to increase penetration of the stone ball.

Like its land-bound counterpart, Wu Di Shen Fei Pao is the heaviest naval artillery available to the Ming navy until the advent of Hong Yi Pao.

Shen Fei Pao (神飛砲, lit. 'Divine flying cannon')
Shen Fei Pao
Drawing of a Shen Fei Pao, from 'Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》)'.
Seventeenth century military treatise Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》) recorded a heavy breech-loading cannon, also called Shen Fei Pao, that can be employed as field gun, siege cannon or naval artillery. It is not known whether this is the same weapon as Wu Di Shen Fei Pao, or a similar but different weapon.

Bai Zi Fo Lang Ji (百子佛朗機, lit. 'Hundred bullet Frankish engine')
Ming Chinese Cannon
Drawings of Bai Zi Fo Lang Ji, from Qing Dynasty 'Yi Hai Zhu Chen (《藝海珠塵》)'.
Developed by Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士楨), Bai Zi Fo Lang Ji is an improved Fo Lang Ji with longer and thicker barrel. It is mounted on a special gun carriage that incorporates two metal hooks and an iron bucket (filled with cotton) to absorb recoil. The wheels must be detached from the carriage in order to fire the weapon.

Wan Sheng Fo Lang Ji (萬勝佛狼機, lit. 'Ten thousand victories Frankish engine')
Ten Thousand Victories Folangji
A Wan Sheng Fo Lang Ji and its chambers, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
One of the greatest deficiencies of early breech-loading weapons is the gas leaking around the chamber, causing loss of power. Wan Sheng Fo Lang Ji is one of the attempts to solve this problem  it has elongated chamber to reduce leaking. In fact, the chamber of Wan Sheng Fo Lang Ji is longer than its gun barrel.

Despite its name, Wan Sheng Fo Lang Ji is actually a handgonne, not a breech-loader.

Fei Long Chong (飛龍銃, lit. 'Flying dragon gun')
Fei Long Chong
A Fei Long Chong (right), from 'Huo Gong Qie Yao (《火攻挈要》)'.
An advanced design introduced by German Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell, Fei Long Chong is a superheavy 26-pounder gun that features an extremely long barrel and extended range.


  1. This is still very strange....
    because the wiki page says:

    "Breech loading cannons were used in Majapahit conquest (1336-1350). Prior to this, the Javanese acquired firearm technology from 1293 Mongol invasion.[18] The cannon is called Cetbang and can be configured as stationary gun or swivel gun, mounted on various vessels of Majapahit navy. At that time soldiers of other kingdoms in the Nusantaran archipelago fought using melee weapons in an elevated platform in their ships called Balai, while also trying to board enemy vessels. Loaded with scattershot, the cetbang is very effective to counter this type of fighting"

    1. The way they worded the article causes some confusion. Mongol-period firerams were really primitive, they were either small (muzzle-loaded) handgonnes, or smallish bombards, or other relatively simple hand-thrown/catapult-launched bombs.

      As far as I can tell, both the breechloading gun and swivel-mounted gun are European inventions during 14th century. By the time of Majapahit conquest, they MIGHT already had access to some form of breechloading gun through direct or indirect European contact, but Cetbang certainly did not come from the Mongols.

      By the way, the pictured Cetbang at the wikipedia page are all post-1500, as far as I can tell.

    2. There has been a wide confusion among the Indonesian regarding the form of cetbang. The 1300-1400s cetbang is different from post-1450s cetbang. The images about cetbang in the internet is the post-1450 model. Identity of pao used by Mongol in 1293 invasion of Java is debated among historian. Djoko Nugroho interpret pao as thunder bomb-launching trebuchet , Pierre-Yves Manguin interpret it as cannon or firearms, while Zoetmulder interpret it as a kind of rocket.
      Interestingly, in Babad Majapahit (one of the local sources about the Mongol invasion) bedil (gun) and meriam (cannon) is mentioned. Bedil has a broad meaning in Malay languages, from pistol, rocket, and siege cannon can be referred to as a bedil. But by comparing the weapon used in China during this era, I think bedil would mean small handgonne while meriam means larger eruptor/cannon.

  2. So I got intrigued by these:
    In the book Firearms A Global History to 1700 by Kenneth chase page 241 it is stated that the swivel gun was sometimes known as "Javanese gun". Then he cites Xiaoshan leigao p. 392 as the source.
    Xiaoshan leigao can be accessed at:

    In Genre And Empire Historical Romance And Sixteenth Century Chinese Cultural Fantasies by Yuanfei Wang it is mentioned that "Zhang Xie in Dongxi Yangkao (record of the eastern and western ocean) ... the new Portugese cannon as bigger and more powerful than the familiar but less effective Javanese cannon". See
    Dongxi Yangkao can be accessed at:

    I can't read Chinese so I don't really know what's being said in the Chinese literatures mentioned above.

    1. @Raja Warastra
      From Chinese perspective, the Portuguese came from the same general direction as Java (i.e. from the south sea), but generally speaking they could distinguish a Portuguese and Javanese quite easily.

      From my understanding, at least during late Ming period "Javanese gun" was used to refer to Vietnamese muskets and not swivel gun.

      "Zhang Xie Dongxi Yangkao" only mentions that "the Portuguese came from the south of Java. Both kingdoms use similar style of cannon. Portuguese cannon is bigger, Javanese gun is smaller." Nothing in the text suggests that the Chinese considered Portuguese gun as "newer" and "more powerful" or Javanese gun being "familiar".

    2. Thank you for clearing that up. So I presume what written there is Zhuawa chong (Java gun) instead Zhuawa pao (Java cannon)?
      What about Xiaoshan leigao? Is the Javanese gun there written as "chong" or "pao"?

    3. The word used was Chong (銃) for Portuguese gun and Xian (銑) for Javanese gun. But these terms were used interchangeably (more or less) anyway.

      I haven't have time to go through Xiaoshan Leigao, it doesn't seem to have much to do with military matter.



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