14 April 2015

Rocket carts of the Ming Dynasty

Ever since the founding of Ming Dynasty, the Chinese had been an avid user of rocket weapon. Early Ming Dynasty rocket cart could have an upward of six hundred rockets, but subsequent redesigns reduced the number of rockets to make the cart more mobile.

Huo Jian Che (火箭車, rocket cart)

Ming Chinese Multiple rocket launcher
Drawing of a Huo Jian Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
Huo Jian Che was recorded in the sixteenth century military treatise Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》) without any specification on its size and structure. It might be the same rocket cart mentioned by general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) in his book Lian Bing Shi Ji (《練兵實紀》), written five years prior to this book.

Ye Meng Xiong's Qing Che (輕車)

Ming Chinese lightweight gun cart
Drawing of Ye Meng Xiong's war cart, from 'Deng Tan Bi Jiu (《登壇必究》)'.
Although not specifically designed as a rocket cart, this lightweight war cart designed by Ye Meng Xiong (葉夢熊) does carry enough rockets to qualify as one.

For more details on Qing Che, see my other post.

Huo Gui Gong Di Che (火櫃攻敵車, lit. 'Enemy-assaulting cart with fire cabinet')

Chinese Huo Che
Drawing of a Huo Gui Gong Di Che, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Huo Gui Gong Di Che is a type of multiple rocket launcher mounted on a two-wheeled ox cart. It is equipped with one hundred rockets and five spears. Manned by two soldiers, this is a formidable assault weapon capable of providing suppressive fire and deterring enemy assault at the same time.

 Chong Lu Cang Lun Che (衝虜藏輪車, lit. 'Hidden wheel cart of barbarian-charging')

Chinese shielded rocket wheelbarrow
Drawing of a Chong Lu Cang Lun Che, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Chong Lu Cang Lun Che is a multipurpose weapon platform that incorporates a box of forty rockets, eight spears or other polearms and two large shields, one behind the other. It uses a wheelbarrow design and thus only has one wheel.

Jia Huo Zhan Che (架火戰車, lit. 'Chariot of fire rack')

Ming Chinese Multiple Rocket Launcher
A Jia Huo Zhan Che and its various armaments, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Perhaps the most well known of the Ming Dynasty multiple rocket launchers, Jia Huo Zhan Che or "rocket wheelbarrow" as it is known in the West is an extremely versatile weapon platform. It incorporates four pods of Chang She Po Di Jian (長蛇破敵箭) of thirty rockets per pod, and two pods of Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian (百虎齊奔箭) of one hundred rockets per pod, for a total of 320 rockets. In addition, it has three Bai Zi Chong (百子銃), two fixed spears, and a cotton curtain to defend against arrows.

Ming Dynasty Rocket Cart Wall
Linked Jia Huo Zhan Che, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
The versatility of Jia Huo Zhan Che lies in its modular design. Unlike other multiple rocket launchers that are usually one-shot weapons, Jia Huo Zhan Che can quickly replenish its rockets by replacing spent rocket pods with fresh ones. The rocket pods and anti-personnel guns can also be detached and used as standalone weapons. On top of that. several Jia Huo Zhan Che can be chained together to form a mobile fortification similar to a wagon fort.

Gai Shi Wu Gang Che (改式武剛車, 'Modified Wu Gang Che')

Ming Chinese rocket wheelbarrow
Gai Shi Wu Gang Che, from 'Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》)'.
Gai Shi Wu Gang Che takes the modularity of Jia Huo Zhan Che one step further: it is a two-wheeled hand cart that can be separated into two wheelbarrows. Each wheelbarrow is equipped with two small cannons, a Huo Jian Xia (火箭匣) of twenty-seven rockets per pod, and a large shield. Like Jia Huo Zhan Che, multiple Gai Shi Wu Gang Che can be chained together to form a mobile fortification. Surprisingly, it can still be used like a normal cart to carry military supply.

This weapon is named after Wu Gang Che (武剛車), a Han Dynasty horse-drawn cart famously used by general Wei Qing (衛青) to defend against nomadic Xiongnu cavalry.

The Huo Che (火車) and Hwacha (화차 or 火車) debate

Often, any topic discussing Chinese Huo Che will inevitably bring about the comparison with Korean Hwacha (and vice versa). With national pride somehow at stakes, such discussions often degenerate into meaningless bickering and insults about "We invented it first!" and "My Huo Che/Hwacha is better than yours!"

The debate is completely pointless. Nevertheless, I will attempt to track down the earliest historical references to Huo Che and Hwacha, and hopefully clear up the confusion.

The first recorded use of Ming Dynasty Huo Che occurred in 1401 AD, during the last phase of Jing Nan Campaign. Since no detailed description of Jing Nan Campaign Huo Che can be found, this cannot be considered a definitive proof. The first unequivocal record of a Ming rocket cart can be traced to 1449 AD.

On the other hand, the first Korean Hwacha was developed in 1409 AD, only seven years after the conclusion of Jing Nan Campaign. However, early Hwacha was actually a gun-mounted cart designed to shoot unpowered darts, which obviously did not qualify as a multiple rocket launcher. In fact, rocket-launching Hwacha was a much later development only introduced in 1451 AD, three years after the perfection of Shingijeon (신기전 or 神機箭) rocket.

Verdict: Chinese invented the world's first rocket cart/vehicle-mounted multiple rocket launcher, although they only beat the Koreans to it by a mere two years.

Joseon Dynasty Hwacha
Blueprint of Korean hwacha, from 'Gukjo Oryeui (《국조오례의》 or 《國朝五禮儀》)'.

Joseon Dynasty Ribauldequin
Late Joseon Dynasty gun-mounted Hwacha inspired by Huo Gui Gong Di Che, from 'Yungwon pilbi (《융원필비》 or 《戎垣必備》)'.

Ming Dynasty

《明實錄 · 英宗實錄》

Joseon Dynasty
《朝鮮實錄 · 太宗實錄》
賜軍器少監李韜、監丞崔海山馬各一匹。上御解慍亭, 觀放火車,有是賜。又賜布五十匹于火桶軍。火車之制,以鐵翎箭數十,納諸銅桶,載於小車,以火藥發之,猛烈可以制敵。

《朝鮮實錄 · 文宗實錄》


  1. Apologies for going off topic since you mentioned the 四鎮三關志,I was wondering what kind of hat is depicted in the military treatise.

    I'm guessing its some sort of 氈笠(Felt hat?) that also appears in 平番得勝圖.

    Seeing as how I have digressed from the topic of mobile rocket carts is there any way I can contact you outside this blog?

  2. Those hats are supposedly called 大帽. You can find more information here (http://www.xn--rhtw9vlu4bfqe.tw/EastCapital/viewthread.php?tid=2633). I assume you can read Chinese?

    ATM I only use this email account for the blog though.

  3. Does these rocket cart also use for siege purpose?

    1. Uncertain. Rocket was certainly used, but whether they were launched from carts or fixed platform was not known.

  4. What's your conclusion about the Huo Che/Hwacha debate? Do you consider them as separate developments or did they influence each other?

    1. The debate is pointless, since most debaters can't even get the name of Chinese rocket cart straight (Huo Che is NOT the Chinese name for rocket cart). Also, mounting rocket on mobile platform is not rocket science (pun very much intended), everyone can do it.

    2. My bad, I mean Huo Jian Che. So basically what you're saying is that they are separate developments totally unrelated to one another, is that correct? And also, why only the Chinese and the Koreans used rocket arrows to such great extent, but not other cultures?

    3. I do not rule out the possibility of Chinese influencing Korean design (since chronologically Chinese had it first), but we need more evidence other than chronological order to "prove" that. Again, as long as you have the means to build rocket and cart, marrying two together into one weapon isn't some sort of super unique idea.

    4. As for why only Chinese & Korean make us of rocket around this period, I think that has to had something to do with the archery culture of Chinese and Korean people (i.e. abundance of arrow maker). Just a guess though.

    5. Well. For me it is just obvious where the koreans got their rocket technology from and 15th century technological achievements Eunuchs and "Exchange Students".
      The Mongols and the Kingdom of Goryeo became linked via marriage and Goryeo became a quda (marriage alliance) state of the Yuan dynasty; monarchs of Goryeo during this period were effectively imperial sons in-law (khuregen).  Goryeo provided palace women, eunuchs, Buddhist monks, and other personnel to the Mongols. Korean concubines were procured by the Khan. One of them was Empress Gi, who, through her political command and incorporation of Korean females and eunuchs in the court.
       It became prestigious to marry Korean women among members of the Yuan elite. In addition, their Mongol wives, and even concubines, exerted great influence over Goryeo politics. Sino-Korean relations were amiable, and Korean envoys' seating arrangement in the Ming court was always the highest among the tributaries. Korean eunuchs enjoyed more power than any other foreign group in the ming court

      Some fifty korean students took examination from 1315 to 1354. Although the first few Ming emperors resumed the practice of accepting Korean students to study in China, the number of students decreased greatly, compared to that of the previous dynasties. In the middle of the Ming Dynasty, the emperor even declined the Korean government’s request to continue sending students to China. Jang Yeong-sil traveled to China to study the various designs of water clocks.

  5. How were gun/cannon arrows called in the ming dynasty?

    1. I mean the first reference to rocket-like weapons in europe and Japan is about the mongols

      An illustration from the Krieg Technik of the 1420–40s:

      somewhat logical since the oldest known depictions of cannons in the west are indeed 'rockets', more precisely gun arrows

      Top: "De Nobilitatibus, Sapientii et Prudentiis Regum", manuscript, by Walter de Milemete, 1326

      Bottom: uncompleted drawing from Aristotle's "De Secretis Secretorum", manuscript, attributed to Milemete, 1326:


      Burg Eltz in Germany was besieged by Baldwin, Archbishop of Trier, in 1331. Two gun arrows in the castle armoury have been definitively dated to the time of the siege; one may be of an earlier date and was recycled as a gun arrow. The shafts are of oak, the flights of copper and the heads of iron. The longer is 67cm in length and the shorter 54cm, with a diameter at the rear of


      here we have bo-hiya


      Incendiary arrows fired from metal tubes are clearly as old as the 13th century.

    2. Gun arrow was called Chong Jian (銃箭) in Chinese.

    3. Looks like the Joseon chongtong. Is there any available illustration from the ming military treatises for 銃箭?

    4. No except the one from Shen Qiang (and a few other handgonne-sized dart guns).

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.


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