13 November 2015

Pen Tong (噴筒)

Pen Tong (噴筒, spurt tube) is a type of important but often overlooked gunpowder weapon of the Ming Dynasty. While nothing more than a hollowed bamboo tube filled with various types of gunpowders, it remained a crucial equipment in the Ming arsenal.

Man Tian Pen Tong (滿天噴筒, lit. 'Spurt tube of sky-filling')
Ming Dynasty Smoke Dispenser
Drawing of a Man Tian Pen Tong, from 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.
Also known as Man Tian Yan Pen Tong (滿天煙噴筒, lit. 'Spurt tube of sky-filling smoke'), this is a small bamboo tube filled with smoke-producing gunpowder. It is usually tied to the shaft of a spear, turning the weapon into a non-lethal fire lance in the process. Man Tian Pen Tong is used to deploy smoke screen, most useful during siege defence and naval warfare, but important for open-field battle as well.

Smoke screen was an important tactical element of Chinese warfare. Besides Pen Tong, smoke screens were deployed by grenades, bombs, rockets or cannons.

Fei Tian Pen Tong (飛天噴筒, lit. 'Flying spurt tube')
Ming Dynasty Flame Tube
Drawing of a Fei Tian Pen Tong, from 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.
Also known as Fei Tian Huo Tong (飛天火筒, lit. 'Flying fire tube'), Du Yao Pen Tong (毒藥噴筒, lit. 'Poison spurt tube'), Huo Long Pen Tong (火籠噴筒, lit. 'Fire basket spurt tube') and Da Zhu Pen Tong (大竹噴筒, lit. 'Big bamboo spurt tube'), this bamboo tube is filled with burning gunpowder and several disc-shaped ammunition made from a mixture of saltpeter, camphor, rosin, realgar and arsenic trioxide. When the charge is ignited, Fei Tian Pen Tong will shoot out a jet of flame as well as burning discs. The burning discs will break apart into fragments as soon as they leave the barrel and stick to whatever surface they touch, while releasing poisonous smoke at the same time.

Fei Tian Pen Tong is usually employed in naval warfare to burn enemy ships. It is the one-use, gunpowder-based version of greek fire that is lighter and more compact than its naphtha-based counterpart.

Da Huo Long (大火籠, lit. 'Big fire basket')
Ming Dynasty Da Huo Long
Drawing of a Da Huo Long, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
Da Huo Long is a variant of Fei Tian Pen Tong that shoots spherical projectiles instead of disc-shaped ones. The projectiles and gunpowder of Da Huo Long is pre-packaged inside a large paper cartridge.

Du Long Pen Huo Shen Tong (毒龍噴火神筒, lit. 'Divine tube of fire-breathing vicious dragon')
Ming Dynasty Siege Flamethrower
Drawing of a Du Long Pen Huo Shen Tong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Also known as Du Huo Pen Huo Shen Tong (毒火噴火神筒, lit. 'Vicious fire-spitting divine tube'), this is the siege variant of Pen Tong. It is a large bamboo tube filled with a mixture of poisonous gunpowder and shrapnels. When the charge is ignited, it will unleash fire, poison smoke and shrapnels at the enemy simultaneously. The poison smoke is not fatal, but will quickly disorient the affected person (a symptom of arsenic poisoning). 

Du Long Pen Huo Shen Tong is usually mounted on a long pole so that it can be used to attack enemy defenders stationed on a wall, as well as preventing its own user from inhaling the poison smoke.

Zuan Xue Fei Sha Shen Wu Tong (鑽穴飛砂神霧筒, lit. 'Tube of divine mist with orifice-boring dust')
Ming Chinese Blinding Dust
Drawing of a Zuan Xue Fei Sha Shen Wu Tong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Zuan Xue Fei Sha Shen Wu Tong is as bamboo tube filled with a type of poison dust that can cause bleeding from all orifices, unconsciousness and blindness. It does not require fire or gunpowder to spread the dust (although fire does help propagate the dust further), but its use is very dependent on the wind. 

Small amount of poison dust can be stored inside a pouch or hollowed-out egg to be used as a deadlier version of metsubishi (目潰し).

Shen Shui Pen Tong (神水噴筒, lit. 'Spurt tube of divine water')
Ming Chinese Water Sprayer
Drawing of a Shen Shui Pen Tong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Shen Shui Pen Tong is a very unique weapon and possibly the world's first water gun. It is basically a giant bamboo syringe filled with a mixture of liquid slaked lime (which can cause severe skin irritation, chemical burn and blindness) and various poisons . 


  1. Are there information on the composition of poisons used?

    1. Yes. There are many, many poison recipes recorded in Wu Bei Zhi and other Ming period military manuals.


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