21 September 2015

Unique weapon of the Ming Dynasty — Chan (鏟)

Ming Dynasty Military Spade
The Chan (鏟, spade) is a unique Chinese polearm with a crescent-shaped blade. It is, for all intent and purpose, an oversized chisel or "push axe", with a vertically mounted axe head that is used in thrusting motion (instead of swinging motion like an ordinary axe). The crescent blade is sharpened on both sides, so it can still chop reasonably effectively.

The most common form of military spade is also known as Yue Ya Chan (月牙鏟, lit. 'Crescent spade') or Ang Yue Chan (仰月鏟, lit. 'Rising moon spade'). Unlike its modern martial arts descendant (commonly known as monk's spade), military spade does not have a second spade head, but mounts a butt spike instead.

Tian Peng Chan (天蓬鏟, lit. 'Tian Peng's spade')

Drawing of a Tian Peng Chan, from 'Chou Hai Tu Bian (《籌海圖編》)'.
Tian Peng Chan is a variant of Yue Ya Chan that mounts a convex crescent blade instead of concave crescent blade. It can deliver a more powerful thrust than Yue Ya Chan, but cannot parry as effectively.

Zhao Shi Zhen's modified Tian Peng Chan

Ming Dynasty Fire Spade
Zhao Shi Zhen's modified Tian Peng Chan (highlighted), from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Ming Dynasty firearm specialist Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士楨) also devised a modification for Tian Peng Chan. He attached two flamethrowers onto the weapon, turning it into a fire lance.

E Mei Chan (峨嵋鏟, lit. 'Emei spade')

A soldier with E Mei Chan, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
E Mei Chan is a very rare variant of Yue Ya Chan that seemingly originated from Jiangxi province. It has a recurved crescent blade that can be used like a hook, and its shaft is longer than Yue Ya Chan.


  1. Could the chan, especially the type with the convex blade, be useful in any capacity as an entrenching/digging tool, or was it purely a weapon?

  2. I don't think anyone has tried using a chan to shove dirt, but I STRONGLY SUSPECT it cannot be used as a tool, similar to battle axes being generally unsuitable for wood chopping.


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