28 December 2015

Weatherproofed arquebuses of the Ming Dynasty


One of the major hurdles that prevented matchlock guns from being adopted on a large scale in North China was the complain that strong wind could blow away priming powder in the flash pan (an opinion apparently shared by Sir John Smythe from England), making the weapon very unreliable. Nevertheless, whilst the opinion had some merits, the advantages of choosing matchlock gun over primitive handgonne far outweighed any downside. To encourage the adoption of matchlock gun in North China, Ming Dynasty firearm specialist Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士楨) designed two arquebuses that are less susceptible to the elements (and to refute and shut up the complainers).

Xuan Yuan Chong (軒轅銃, lit. 'Xuanyuan arquebus')

Named after the legendary forefather of all Chinese people, Xuan Yuan Chong was Zhao Shi Zhen's first matchlock gun not derived from foreign designs. Drawing from his experience researching and reverse engineering European and Turkish matchlocks, Zhao Shi Zhen created a new weapon suitable for use in both the dry, windy North China, and the humid, rainy South China.

Ming Dynasty Weatherproofed Matchlock Gun
A Xuan Yuan Chong (top) and components of its rack and pinion mechanism (bottom), from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Xuan Yuan Chong features a long gun barrel similar to that of Lu Mi Chong (嚕密銃), a built-in vertical foregrip, a shoulder stock that can be braced against the shooter's shoulder for stability. and an internally-mounted matchlock mechanism based on rack and pinion principle, which is an indigenous Chinese invention not found anywhere else in the world. The mechanism is connected to both serpentine and flash pan cover, so that whenever the trigger is pulled, the serpentine will be lowered at the same time as flash pan cover is opened, minimising the time priming powder is exposed to open air (thus reducing the risk of priming powder being blown away by strong wind or spoiled by rain).

Drawing of a soldier reloading a Xuan Yuan Chong. The rain cover remains upright even though the gun is held in a tilted position.
To further improve the reliability of Xuan Yuan Chong under rainy weather, Zhao Shi Zhen also installed a copper rain cover mounted on a pendulum to the gun, the weight of the pendulum ensures that the rain cover will always remain upright regardless of the orientation of the gun. Due to the fact that Xuan Yuan Chong already has a well-protected flash pan, and its matchlock mechanism is embedded inside the stock, the rain cover can be made smaller to only cover the serpentine and match cord.

The combination of trigger-operated flash pan cover and small rain cover represents a much more sophisticated and practical approach when compared to the relatively crude Japanese solution to similar problems. Unlike the bulky and obstructive lacquer box, Zhao Shi Zhen's solution causes significantly less interference to the aiming, shooting, and reloading process of the gun.

He Ji Chong (合機銃, lit. 'Closed mechanism arquebus')

Ming Chinese Weather-proofed Matchlock Arquebus
A He Ji Chong and its parts, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
He Ji Chong is a further refinement of Zhao Shi Zhen's San Chang Chong (三長銃) matchlock gun, featuring an additional vertical foregrip, a redesigned pivoted matchlock mechanism (matchlock mechanism of the original San Chang Chong can already open flash pan cover), and a rain cover that is even smaller than that of Xuan Yuan Chong.

Lu Mi Chong (late Ming variant)

Late Ming variant Lu Mi Chong, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'. Note that it has no visible serpentine.
A new variant of Lu Mi Chong, not found in Zhao Shi Zhen's publications but still attributed to him, was recorded in early seventeenth century military treatise Li Qi Jie (《利器解》). Though sharing the same name, the weapon differs from Zhao Shi Zhen's design in several aspects, namely it lacks the built-in foregrip and sharpened blade of the original Lu Mi Chong, can be fitted with an optional copper rain cover, and replaces the Turkish-derived pivoted matchlock mechanism with a Chinese-invented rack-and-pinion matchlock mechanism that not only connects to both serpentine and flash pan cover at the same time, but also partially embed the serpentine.

Rack and pinion matchlock mechanism (left) and flash pan cover (right) of late Ming variant Lu Mi Chong, which is slightly different from the matchlock mechanism used in Xuan Yuan Chong. Image taken from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Interestingly, Li Qi Jie was actually published several years before Zhao Shi Zhen came out with the design of Xuan Yuan Chong. It is possible that this variant of Lu Mi Chong was the result of third party modifications of the original Lu Mi Chong, or an early prototype of Xuan Yuan Chong developed by Zhao Shi Zhen that he did not publicise.


  1. Also noticed that foreign observers during the Qing dynasty, noticed the Chinese armies carry lots, lots of umbrellas. I assume part of the reason at least is to keep their powder and fuses dry while operating their matchlocks. Strange why from Ming to Qing, they still stuck to matchlocks...not that flintlocks are weather-proof but did they ever utilized flintlocks?

  2. @Raymond
    They (Qing) did, and not just as plaything for the emperor either, and caplock too, actually. But most troops still used good ol' matchlock.

    I can only find this picture at the moment, three Qing muskets at Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution, clearly rugged and designed for military use. The middle musket is a caplock.

  3. Xuan Yuan Chong and He Ji Chong remind me of japanese wheellock guns





    1. I need to double-check my source again, but as far as I can remember, Xuan Yuan Chong doesn't have a serpentine designed to clam pyrite.

      He Ji Chong has a mechanism nearly identical to Toradar matchlock. Personally I am fairly certain it is a matchlock gun instead of a wheelock.

    2. Serpentines of both guns also point away from the "wheel" instead of towards it, so they can't utilise the friction of the wheel to ignite charge.

      However, Zhao Shi Zhen was almost certainly aware of wheellock gun, although (if I remember correctly) he considered it overly complicated and decided not to include the gun in his firearm treatise.

    3. ok, i asked because i found this on chinese internet and as chinese isn't my first language:

    4. Oh I referenced his articles from time to time.

  4. To your knowledge, has anyone actually tried to recreate the rack and pinion matchlock?

  5. Or found an example of such?

    1. No unfortunately. Nearly all finds of Ming-period matchlock gun are "barrel only", all other parts rot away.


< > Home

Random Quotes & Trivia

GREAT MING MILITARY © , All Rights Reserved. BLOG DESIGN BY Sadaf F K.