2 June 2015

Hong Yi Pao (紅夷砲) and Xi Yang Pao (西洋砲)

Hong Yi Pao (紅夷砲, lit. 'Red barbarian cannon') and Xi Yang Pao (西洋砲, lit. 'Western Ocean cannon') are Chinese names for sixteenth and seventeenth century European cast iron and cast bronze cannon, respectively. Despite being named after the Dutch, known as Hong Yi (紅夷, lit. 'Red barbarian') or Hong Mao Yi (紅毛夷, lit.'Red-haired barbarian') by the Chinese, European cannons actually came from multiple sources, including British, Portuguese and Spanish.

By seventeenth century, European-style cannons became the heaviest and most advanced weaponry in the Ming arsenal, and had largely superseded local designs.

Early adoption of European artillery
Chinese-adopted European cannons
Three types of European artillery adopted by the Chinese. Top left: Fa Gong. Top right: Fo Lang Ji. Bottom: Hong Yi Pao. From 'Jing Guo Xiong Lue (《經國雄略》)'.
Despite the first official contact between Chinese and Europeans (i.e. Portuguese) ended in hostility, the Chinese fervently adopted every last bit of advanced firearm technology brought to China by the Europeans. European firearms of all kinds, such as matchlock gun, swivel gunbreech-loading swivel gun and falconet, quickly proliferated all over China.

Nevertheless, most of the adopted firearms were of the lighter variety, even though the Chinese were well aware of the existence of heavier pieces. This was most likely due to the fact that Ming as a unified dynasty had little use of lumbering siege artillery that could only be hauled by cumbersome siege train. That is not to say that Chinese artillerymen did not use heavier guns—they employed heavy coastal guns comparable in weight to Hong Yi Pao as early as 1562—but the use of heavy artillery was extremely rare, and mostly limited to purely defensive role.

A sixteenth century stone-throwing siege bombard, also known as Xi Yang Pao but unrelated to later European cast bronze cannon with the same name, as recorded by Tang Shun Zhi (唐順之). The bombard is 3.84 metre in length and weighs 4.13 tonnes, with a bore diameter of 768 mm, which put it firmly in the supergun category.
It was therefore little wonder that Chinese only began seriously considering adopting heavy European artillery after the rise of Jurchen (later Manchu). As the threat of serious Jurchen incursion loomed and counterattack seemed impossible after the disastrous defeat at Battle of Sarhu, Chinese military thinkers sought for solutions that could bolster the defence of their walls, and arrived at European cannons as their answer.

The great Luzon bronze cannon
Spanish Luzon Bronze Cannon
Possibly the only surviving Lu Song Pao casted by Huang Ke Zuan that somehow ends up in Royal Artillery Museum, London (the museum has since been dissolved).
The earliest attempt to adopt advanced European cannon was conducted by Huang Ke Zuan (黃克纘), then Assistant Minister of the Imperial Guard. In 1620, Huang Ke Zuan recruited Chinese gunsmiths from Fujian, many of whom once worked in the Spanish cannon foundries at Manila, Philippines but fled to China during Sangley massacre, and successfully casted twenty-eight bronze cannons, the largest of which weighed three thousand catties. Seven of these bronze cannons, aptly called Lu Song Pao (呂宋砲, lit. 'Luzon cannon'), were immediately hurried to the front line. Unfortunately, none of these cannons produced notable results.

Essentially, Lu Song Pao was a low quality knock-off of Spanish cannon. Although Fujianese gunsmiths that cast the cannons did work for the Spanish, they were hired as low skill workers and did not have the knowledge and expertise of actual master gunmaker. Consequently, they got many details wrong and the quality of Lu Song Pao was terrible.

Sunken ships and the first true European cannon
The earliest European cannons that entered Ming arsenal were four heavy cannons salvaged by Portuguese traders from a sunken Dutch ship, presumably lost during an unsuccessful raid against the Portuguese Macau in 1607. Under request from the Ming court, Portuguese traders sold these cannons to the Chinese, and these cannons became the earliest European cannon to be fielded by Ming army. However, while Ming court continued to ask for more cannons, the Portuguese themselves were in severe shortage of heavy artillery (a weakness that would be exploited by the Dutch in the coming Battle of Macau), and could not fulfill that request.

Yet in another strange stroke of luck, another European ship, the British East India Company Unithorne, was blown (and subsequently sunk) by a great hurricane to the coast of Guangdong while en route to Japan. The Chinese caught wind of the incident and, under the order of Ming official Deng Shi Liang (鄧士亮), mounted a salvage operation and successfully recovered thirty-six large cannons (and several smaller ones) from the sunken ship.

Two of the Dutch cannons and twenty-two of the English cannons were sent to the front line and contributed greatly to the Great Victory of Ninyuan (寧遠大捷) and Great Victory of Nin-Jing (寧錦大捷).

Learning from the Jesuits
Besides importing or salvaging European cannons, Chinese also spared no effort in learning the casting method of European cannon. Major advocates of the adoption of European cannon includes Xu Guang Qi (徐光啟), Li Zhi Zao (李之藻), Jiao Xu (焦勖) and many Xu Guang Qi's students such as Chen Yu Jie (陳于階) and Sun Yuan Hua (孫元化). Most of these advocates were either friendly to Christianity or themselves Catholics, and welcomed the knowledge and expertise of European missionaries such as Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell. While their efforts were met with many failures as well as stiff oppositions from within the Ming court, they eventually succeeded in mastering the knowledge to cast European cannon and started producing European-style artillery in large numbers.

Hong Yi Po
Ding Liao Da Jiang Jun (定遼大將軍, lit. 'Great general of Liaoning-pacifying'), a composite cast iron/cast bronze cannon of exceptional workmanship. Currently kept at Liaoning Provincial Museum.
Chinese gunsmiths did not content themselves with merely replicating what the Europeans already had, and sought to improve upon this newfound technology. They eventually developed their own unique casting method that can manufacture composite metal  (usually cast bronze/cast iron, although cast iron/wrought iron and cast iron/wrought iron/cast bronze were used as well) cannons with superior quality, greater durability, lighter weight and reduced cost than its single-material counterparts.

Other European artillery adopted by the Chinese
Besides long-barrelled cannons and culverins, Chinese gunsmiths also acquired the knowledge to cast other types of artillery from the Europeans. However, these weapons likely never saw actual deployment.

Fei Biao Chong (飛彪銃, lit. 'Flying menancing cannon')
Drawing of a Fei Biao Chong, from 'Huo Gong Qie Yao (《火攻挈要》)'.
Fei Biao Chong is the Chinese name for heavy siege mortar. As the weakening late Ming army was almost always on the defensive, this indirect fire weapon was of little use to them.

Fei Long Chong (飛龍銃, lit. 'Flying dragon gun')
Drawing of a Fei Long Chong (highlighted), from 'Huo Gong Qie Yao (《火攻挈要》)'.
Fei Long Chong is an advanced breech-loading demi-culverin introduced by German Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell in the seventeenth century.

For more details, see my other blog post.

Despite the successful adoption of European artillery (as well as the knowledge and training in European gunnery), Chinese artillerymen lagged behind their European counterparts in experience, fire discipline and trajectory calculation, and could not utilise the advanced weapon to its full potential. In fact, trajectory calculation was almost a foreign concept to many Chinese artillerymen, as the standard European practise of shooting a single round shot and let the bouncing cannonball to tear through masses of infantry would be completely ineffective against the fast-moving steppe cavalry. They were too used to the short ranged Chinese cannons employed in a fashion not unlike a giant shotgun, where accuracy wasn't much of a concern.

The adoption of European artillery also did not save Ming Dynasty from its demise like the advocates had hoped, and might have in fact sped up its destruction. While European artillery proved extremely successful against the Jurchens, Ming would soon get a taste of its own medicine as defected Chinese craftsmen disseminated the technology to the enemy, allowing the Jurchens to use this devastating weapon against the Chinese.

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  1. Good to see you posting again! Am I correct in thinking these guns were adopted after the campaigns in Korea?
    Can you expand on your thoughts on how this contributed to the decline of the dynasty; is it the problem of their ineffective deployment after having cost the Imperial treasury money that could have been better spent on other military measures?
    Thanks for all the information this blog contributes.

  2. Maybe the Jurchens (Manchus) got hold of the guns and use it to great effect.

  3. What Jayson said.

    Yes, the cannons were introduced in seventeenth century. By that time the Korean Campaign already concluded.

    The main enemy of the late Ming Dynasty, the Manchus, were a group of semi-nomadic people. While Manchus were great warriors, they were not particularly good at siege warfare, especially against firearm-equipped Ming army. When worst comes to worst, Ming troops could always find shelter behind the safety of their walls.

    The arrival of European cannon changed all that. While at first it was used to great effect against the Manchus, soon after the Manchus acquired the technology as well (through captured cannons and Chinese gunsmiths). With their major weakness gone, the Manchus could now lay siege to Ming cities with impunity.

    Without the star fort (see my previous post), Ming forts and cities basically fall like wheat. There are also numerous accounts of towers or sections of wall being collapsed by Manchu cannons.

    Don't get me wrong though XD, the Ming was already on its last legs, with or without the cannons. After all the Ming Dynasty was not destroyed by the Manchus (technically), but by a massive peasant rebellion.

  4. Ming Dynasty's greatest fault was being too passive behind those walls. If they were a little more active, they could have held out a little longer. But I guess this was all the work of the sick ministers.

  5. @1stmdvet

    Welcome to my blog.

    The issue with Ming was more complicated than that - the couldn't hide behind their wall, but they couldn't go "active" as well. Facing the better trained, better disciplined, and better equipped Manchu in open battle spell (almost) certain doom for the Ming troop, with or without Hongyi cannon.

    The fall of Ming was caused by many factor, snowballed up into one basically unavoidable calamity. The Manchu, weak and untrained troops, severe mistreatment of soldier and craftsman (soldiers were treated as slave or beggar, or worse), collapse of economy, extra-heavy tax, little Ice age, inept bureaucrats, political infighting, all contributed to the fall of Ming.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Congratulations to the author of this blog so wonderful.

      Hi, My name is Eder Gallegos

      At this point I find myself writing a book about the technical and military challenges of the Spaniards in Asia (XVI-XVII centuries) and I'm just inquiring about the "Maestranza real" (factory guns) in Manila. I read that you do mention in this blog about Hispanic guns were used by the Ming dynasty as "Lusong Pao" (Cannon Luzon).

      Could you give me some literature or more data about it, I am very interested and wish you could make an entry about it. (Please contact me: goseder@gmail.com)

      A hug from MEXCO and congratulations.

  6. Fire control and trajection calculation wasn't something really developed by anybody until the mid 1700s. It would have been super rudimentary in basically every country.

  7. I found an odd assertion that in this book that late as 1630, the Ming did not have the ability to produce reliable Hong-yi cannons. Is there any truth to that you are aware of? (page 34 if you want to take a look) https://www.google.ca/books/edition/Jesuit_Mission_and_Submission_Qing_Ruler/KX4xEAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1

    1. I don't have exact dates, but it seems implausible. Kong Youde defected to Later Jin in 1631, captured Dengzhou, thus brought over the cannons to be reverse-engineered by the Jurchens. This suggests that Hongyi cannon cannons were already in production before that.

    2. the writer of that book claims the Jurchens have the technology to make Hongyi cannons BEFORE the Ming. That the Ming had inferior cannon technology during that period.

    3. "Inferior cannon" is commonly accepted due to Jurchen use of lost wax casting. But Ming definitely had the technology before Jurchens because it was the defectors that bought the technology to them, and they heavily relied on defected Chinese gunsmiths to make cannons for them.

    4. Yeah but that book suggested the Ming literally didnt have the technology to do so while the Jurchens did. Thats really streching things I feel.

    5. I can confidently say that it is wrong. I reread the paper『明清獨特複合金屬砲的興衰』. The paper mentions a small surviving Hongyi-type composite cannon cast in 1628 called "捷勝飛空滅虜安邊發熕神砲" currently in the possession of Great Wall Museum.

      There's also a broken piece of Hongyi cannon cast in 1624 in the possession of Quanzhou Maritime Museum. Another cannon, cast from the same production run, is with Zheng Chenggong Memorial Hall.

  8. In what book did Tang Shun Zhi write about the Western Ocean Cannon? Is there any evidence it was built? From the specific measurements provided it seemed like it was a weapon that was actually built.

    1. The book is Wu Bian (《武编》) written in 1559. Unfortunately there is no evidence that it was built/bought/used AFAIK.

    2. Well from the specific measurements it seems like it was something built, and 1559 was before any missionaries were showing people European works. Do you know the context behind the book and any other info the book had on Western Ocean cannons.


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