9 April 2015

Flintlock firearms of the Ming Dynasty


Zi Sheng Huo Chong (自生火銃, lit. 'Self-fire generating gun') (ca. 1635)

Ming Chinese Flintlock Musket
Drawing of a Zi Sheng Huo Chong, from 'Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》)'.
Seventeenth century military treatise Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》) authored by Bi Mao Kang (畢懋康) is the only Ming military treatise to record a flintlock gun with clear illustration (although the illustration appears to depict a miquelet lock, rather than a "true" flintlock). The weapon, called Zi Sheng Huo Chong, is said to be weatherproof and more convenient than matchlock gun. 

Jun Qi Tu Shuo is far from the only evidence of flintlock gun in Ming China. As will be detailed below, there are several other references that suggest that flintlock firearm was a relatively common knowledge in China at the turn of the seventeenth century, and may even have entered limited service with Ming army. Unfortunately, Ming Dynasty did not survive long enough to allow for widespread adoption of this advanced weapon.

Pi Li Huo Chong (霹靂火銃, lit. 'Thunderclap gun') (ca. 1599)

Ming firearm enthusiast and specialist Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士楨) might had been the first to comment on a firelock gun called Pi Li Huo Chong. Regrettably, although Zhao Shi Zhen successfully reverse-engineered the weapon for his own use, he did not elaborate on the details of its ignition mechanism, and considered the gun to be too expensive and complicated for large-scale adoption.

Xu Guang Qi's attestation (exact date unknown, possibly 1605)

Flintlock firearm was also attested by Ming polymath and military reformer Xu Guang Qi (徐光啟) in one of his memorials to the throne. While Xu Guang Qi did not specifically describe a flintlock gun, nor make a clear distinction between matchlock and flintlock weapon, he did attest to the existence of particularly well-crafted arquebuses that can "use stone (i.e. flint) to ignite fire".

Arquebus and musket mentioned in Bing Lu (《兵錄》) (ca. 1630)

In a section discussing about arquebus and musket, seventeenth century military treatise Bing Lu also attested that both weapons can be equipped with either matchlock mechanism or flintlock mechanism.

Fu Shou Ji (伏手機, lit. 'Concealed hand machine') (ca. 1632)

Fu Shou Ji is a type of firearm of unknown nature encountered by Chen Zi Yi (程子頤), author of military treatise Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》), during a military operation to put down a rebellion. He later reverse-engineered the weapon, renamed it Li Gong Guai (李公拐, lit. 'Lord Li's crutch'), and attempted to promote it to Ming army. 

While Fu Shou Ji is NOT a flintlock gun, Chen Zi Yi compared it favourably to both matchlock and flintlock, and lamented that even the rebels have access to superior firearms that Ming army didn't have. This suggests that some forms of flintlock gun may have entered limited service with Ming army during his time.


  1. used by the peasant rebels? Interesting

    Mongolian snaphance used by hunters:


    Drawing From Notes of an East Siberian Hunter, first printed in 1865. Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Cherkasov
     who published the drawing, called them “Primitive” .... of course they fell out of fashion about 2 centuries before in Europe. We know from the European visitors (jesuits and tribute missions) before the chinese rites controversy, chinese craftsmen copied the latest extravagant luxury clock and gun trends from Europe (tribute gifts, jesuit libraries over 10,000 books, trade via macau or southeast asia and chinese merchant 'rangaku/European studies' in the late ming/early qing dynasties before it was outlawed, only to be revived again in the form of self-strengthening movement)...
    I can only imagine what that was like, Kunitomo Ikkansai built his own air gun based on the info extracted from imported European books...


    Europeans listed dozens of operating workshops.... yes matchlock was never replaced fully. The Qing were paranoid in monopolizing knowledge from the Chinese commoners, Tiangong Kaiwu, 神器譜 and others had been lost in china, but copies found in japan unfortunately we will never know for sure what has gone forever. In addition antiluxury policy is nothing new to chinese history...With the fall of the Yuan dynasty in 1368, much of what the Mongols had built, including their water-powered clocks, was destroyed, a backlash against the conspicuous consumption, at the expense of the Chinese, of the Mongol court. The following videos an idea about what they must have looked like:


    ... i would say guns' depiction matters a lot...
    Why is that so? Maybe in order to keep hidden 'military engineering' details? Roman art was like that (roman empire was as oriental despotism as qing china), since any common man could buy and the qing had their gun control law:

    Gun control law seems to had been a widespread practice in asia:

    The Hmong gun family just can be a southern chinese invention, known to southern china, hakka people, Taiwanese aborigines, indonesians (Chinese immigrants), amongst others.... Surely in the case of tribal minorites in the qing empire, it must had been much harder to outlaw

    Crude snaphance:

    At 13:15, you see how it is fired:

    In short: antitechnology (uprising issues) and antiluxury measures. Every new technology is for a few at the beginning, consequently luxury

    There is a whole blank space, it only took a few Chinese sea battles against the Portuguese to obtain frankish cannons qne and matchlocks. the Dutch were the best musketeers in Europe at that time, the Russians hired Dutch masters to train their army... both russia and Netherlands were equipped with snaphances and defeated by china in the 17th century and captured as prioners of war... and really no spoils of war and no renewed military intelligence? Too weird....
    It is clear from all your posts featuring muskets, China was a growing market, inventive and creative in dealing with them until then one day, that mentality simply disappeared

    1. After all, ming was founded by peasants armed with firearms

    2. I suspect the Mongolian snaphance may be a relic from their Dzungar Khanate past (imported from Russia then presumable reverse-engineered).

      Yes, one of the biggest problems of Manchu Qing Dynasty was their anti-intellectualism, they intentionally stunted technological progress for fear of rebellion of their subjects, and put their core interest (retaining ruling power) above the well-being of the nation under their rule.

    3. Do you have any more info on Jeong Duwon getting those flintlocks?

    4. Jeong Duwon went to China in 1631 and met João Rodrigues, who was at Beijing at the time, and João gifted him with a gun (among other gifts like telescope) which the Koreans called “Seopo (西砲)” or "Western cannon", although from description we can know that it's a flintlock gun.

      King Injo, who was worried about the Jurchen threat at the time, wanted to mass-produce the weapon, but he was met with extremely strong resistant from within Joseon court, so ultimately the Koreans did not adopt it.

    5. It would make sense that he got flintlocks from a portugese person and the flintlock in that chinese manuel was a portugese style gun. Then that definitely means there were flintlocks in late Ming China. Do we have any idea if the flintlocks were actually used? What about other locks like snaplocks and wheellocks?

    6. @wakawakwaka
      It is uncertain if the flintlock gun recorded in Jun Qi Tu Shuo came from the same source as Jeong Duwon, as there were other Portuguese and Spanish in China at that time.

    7. I am saying that it is very likely that Portugese flintlocks were being used in late ming times on perhaps a limited scale from all the evidence we have. Do you know of any other sources? Also what about other locks being used in Ming China?

    8. @wakawakwaka
      Yes, possible.

      Zhao Shi Zhen also mention about some kind of non-matchlock gun (possibly a wheellock although can't be certain) which he successfully replicated, but decided against adopting it on a large scale due to overcomplicated design.

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. On the Chinese wiki page for muskets it also mentions that there was another book, the Bing Lu talking about flintlocks in the 1630s. Do you have any ideas about that?

      Here is the page i am referring to https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%B3%A5%E9%8A%83

  2. "In the year 1631, Korean diplomat Jeong Duwon (정두원 or 鄭斗源) brought several flintlock guns from Beijing to Korea. This suggests that flintlock may had entered limited service in Beijing by that time."

    The Koreans would encounter flintlock guns several times more, including the ones captured from Russians during the Qing-Russian border conflicts. They tested it several times, made some prototypes, but ultimately never adopted it.

  3. "Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》) also mentions a special arquebus that is "faster and more convenient than both matchlock and flintlock", known as Fu Shou Ji (伏手機, lit. 'Hidden hand machine') and used by peasant rebels. Ming army reverse-engineered the design, and named it Li Gong Guai (李公拐, lit. 'Master Li's crutch')."

    Maybe this was an improved flintlock design?

    1. We have no idea. Fu Shou Ji is described as "can be shot and reloaded regardless of heavy rain and strong wind, "internal tinder can burn for days" and "more convenient than slow match and flint stone".

      Since there's mention of burning tinder, it's unlikely to be a wheel/flintlock type weapon that only generate spark when the trigger is squeezed.

    2. My personal opinion is that it was some of modified tinderlock mechanism which would more convenient than a matchlock firearm and easier to use than flint stone. Though I wouldn't think that a tinderlock gun would fair any better in the rain. Though it would probably fair slightly better in the wind than a standard matchlock. The main reason I think it was some form of tinderlock is due to the fact it doesn't require specialized material to ignite it, any form of tinder wood or fungus would be enough. Which would be beneficial to rebels who might have a hard time getting ahold of match cord.

    3. what is a tinderlock gun exactly?

  4. Great job finding all these new sources! Hopefully in the future more explicit sources on this subject could be found!

  5. Can I ask why was the reference to Korean emissary Jeong Duwan deleted?

    1. Because as it turns out Jeong Duwan got his flintlock as a gift directly from European missionary, so it cannot be used as evidence of flintlock uses in Ming army.


< > Home

Random Quotes & Trivia

GREAT MING MILITARY © , All Rights Reserved. BLOG DESIGN BY Sadaf F K.