San Yan Chong (三眼銃)

Ming Chinese San Yan Chong
Drawing of a San Yan Chong, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Perhaps the most iconic handheld firearm in the Ming armies, the San Yan Chong (三眼銃, lit. 'Three-eyed gun') is an iron handgonne that has three short barrels arranged in a triangular layout. It allows the gunner to discharge three shots in quick succession before needing to reload, compensating for its lack of accuracy somewhat. San Yan Chong was the preferred firearm of border cavalry, particularly those from Liao Dong (遼東, present-day Liaoning) Garrison.

The adoption of matchlock firearms rendered handgonne obsolete. However, Ming armies never phase out handgonnne from its arsenal entirely. On the contrary, use of handgonne, particularly San Yan Chong, actually increased towards the end of Ming Dynasty.

San Yan Qiang (三眼鎗, lit. 'Three-eyed spear')
Drawing of a San Yan Qiang, from Qing Dynasty military treatise 'Fang Shou Ji Cheng (《防守集成》)'.
San Yan Qiang is not a iron handgonne, but a three shot rocket launcher attached to a spear. Its three tubes are made of bamboo.

Zhao Shi Zhen's Improvements
Ming Dynasty firearm specialist and inventor Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士幀) recorded or developed several variants of the San Yan Chong in an attempt to keep up with the performance of matchlock arquebus. While this was ultimately an exercise in futility, his designs substantianlly improve the performance and versatility of this aging weapon.

Zhao Shi Zhen advocated the use of longer and thinner wrought iron barrels, made in the same way as that of the matchlock gun, to replace the short and thick (and thus heavy and unwieldy, not to mention inaccurate) cast iron barrels of the old San Yan Chong. He also designed a wooden bedding to separate the barrels, so that shooting from one barrel will not heat up the other two.

Guo Chu San Yan Qiang (國初三眼鎗, lit. 'Three-eyed spear from the early years of the Ming Dynasty')
Ming Chinese San Yan Qiang
Drawing of a Guo Chu San Yan Qiang (highlighted), from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
The supposed progenitor of San Yan Chong (indeed it closely resemble a fire lance), this variant has a spearhead fixed between its three barrels. Although Zhao Shi Zhen claimed that he learned Guo Chu San Yan Qiang from a mysterious old Daoist outside of Gongde Temple, this weapon was most probably devised by himself or his contemporaries, as multiple barrel handgonne was uncommon during the early years of Ming Dynasty.

It is not known if this is the same weapon as San Yan Qiang or not.

Ma Shang San Yan Chong (馬上三眼銃, lit. 'Horseman's three-eyed gun')
Ming Chinese San Yan Chong with Spearhead
Drawing of a Ma Shang San Yan Chong (highlighted), from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
This variant is also known as San Yan Qiang (三眼鎗, lit. 'Three-eyed spear'), but different from the rocket launching version. It has a spearhead mounted at the butt of the pole. Like its namesake, it is usable on horseback.

Xin Gai Ma Bu Xiang Yi San Yan Qiang (新改馬步相宜三眼鎗, lit. 'Newly modified three-eyed spear that is suitable on foot and on horseback')
Ming Dynasty Upgraded Triple barrel Handgonne
Drawing of a Xin Gai Ma Bu Xiang Yi San Yan Qiang, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
This is simply a Ma Shang San Yan Chong with all upgrades advocated by Zhao Shi Zhen implemented. Zhao Shi Zhen designed two version of this weapon — a longer version used by infantry, and a shorter version used on horseback.

Xian Chong (鍁銃, hoe gun) and Jue Chong (镢銃, spade gun)
Highlighted Xian Chong (above) and Jue Chong (below), from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Xian Chong and Jue Chong are simply Ma Shang San Yan Chong with its spear attachment replaced with a hoe and a spade, respectively.

San Shen Tang (三神钂, lit. 'Three divine ranseur')
Ming Dynasty Matchlock Handgonne Trident
Drawing of a San Shen Tang, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
A general conscious among many Ming generals and bureaucrats was that matchlock arquebus was only suitable in South China, while handgonne was only suitable in North China. While this conscious was ultimately untrue (Qing Dynasty troops used plenty of matchlock gun in North China without issue), it did influence the development of Ming Dynasty firearms.

While Zhao Shi Zhen clearly wasn't fooled by this poor excuse, he still designed the San Shen Tang, probably as short-term replacement for the San Yan Chong before the eventual adoption of arquebus (which never happened).

San Shen Tang was designed to be usable in both North and South China. It incorporates a detachable matchlock mechanism as well as a Tang Pa (钂鈀), mounted at the butt of the pole. With the matchlock mechanism attached, San Shen Tang can be braced and aimed like a matchlock gun (although it is still less accurate than a true matchlock gun), or it can be used like an ordinary handgonne by removing the mechanism.
Shooting San Shen Tang
A soldier shooting San Shen Tang, and a horseman shooting Ma Shang San Yan Chong. From 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
In a sense, San Shen Tang can be considered a saner and more practical successor of the Xun Lei Chong (迅雷銃).


  1. Hi. Would you happen to know the Korean term for these weapons?

  2. Sorry to bother but I found it.

  3. I am actually quite surprised to learn that Joseon Koreans inherited so many Ming-style firearms.

  4. Yes. Seungjachongtong. This is probably the most iconic handgun type which became the base for several other variants.

  5. The Seungjachongtong is similar to some early Ming Dynasty (one-barreled) handgonne, but there are not exact match AFAIK. Probably a Korean indigenous design.

  6. how can they shoot while riding on horse back?

    1. TBH I have no idea. Historical sources only tell us these weapons were used on horseback, but do not teach us how to do so.

      My guess is that the gunner slow down his horse (or stop altogether) before he fire the gun. Alternately, maybe a long fuse can be used.

    2. they probably fired them the way horse archers were able to use their bows