22 October 2017

Zao Hua Xun Huan Pao (造化循環砲)

Ming Chinese improved heavy handcannon
Two Ming troopers shooting Zao Hua Xun Huan Pao, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Zao Hua Xun Huan Pao (造化循環砲, lit. 'Fortuitous cyclic cannon'. The 'cyclic' in its name refers to fire by rotation tactic employed by its gunners) is a type of heavy handgonne (or rather, a set of four handgonnes) and one of the late Ming attempts to improve native handgonne design in order to keep up with the firepower, accuracy and rate of fire of matchlock musket.

The weapon set consists of a spiked "shooting stick" with a small iron ring at the middle, four heavy handgonnes, as well as assorted ammunition and matches. These handgonnes, built like oversized Jia Ba Chong (夾把銃), are heavy and extremely powerful (in fact, they are almost twice as powerful as Jingal guns!). Each weighs twenty catties, comes with a two chi two cun long, iron sight-equipped barrel mounted on a two chi nine cun wooden stock, and is usually loaded from a cloth catridge containing two taels of gunpowder, one heavy lead shot weighing four taels, and thirty smaller lead shots weighing six maces each.

A full set of Zao Hua Xun Huan Pao requires five operators (although in theory it can be increased or reduced depending on the number of handgonnes used). One operator will serve as shooting stick holder, while the other four are tasked with aiming and reloading the handgonnes. Each handgonner will take turn to aim his weapon through the iron ring, but will leave the task of firing the weapon to the shooting stick holder.

As such, a team of Zao Hua Xun Huan Pao operators can achieve comparable rate of fire to that of a team of musketeers firing by rotation, good accuracy (as handgonners can focus on aimining the gun, plus the iron ring also serves to minimise muzzle rise), as well as significant increase in firepower. On top of that, the heavy handgonne is simpler and cheaper to make than a musket, making Zao Hua Xun Huan Pao far more economical as well.


  1. Hi! It's been a while since I've posted a comment (but I visit very often and love your blog, please continue writing!), and I was wondering if you've read or are aware of Tonio Andrade's "The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History."

    I don't have the book on hand for any specific quotations, but a person on Wikipedia has used his book (and bits of your blog!) as a source for expanding a few articles there, and they do a good job of outlining some of Andrade's findings and arguments, many of which you've brought to light or alluded to in the past.


    (Sections like "Early Ming Firearms," "Composite metal cannons," "Volley fire," and the last part of "Arquebus and Musket" will be very familiar!)

    I think Andrade might be reaching a bit far with this particular argument, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it too:


    Thanks! Eagerly looking forward to what you have to say about it.

  2. Unfortunately I don't have Tonio's book, although I have his other book (the one concerning Koxinga's capture of Formosa/Taiwan).

    I've read most of the Wikipedia article (quite a long read), and I think I identified several errors in the article (For example, the article treats Ding Liao Da Jiang Jun as a class of Chinese composite gun. In reality it is the name of that specific cannon). But I don't known which parts is taken from Tonio's book.

    The Chinese Wall Theory makes a lot of sense if you think about it, and if my memory serves, the theory was already around in some forms before Tonio wrote his book. However, I don't think one should discredit Chase hypothesis completely either, and Tonio's refutation of Chase hypothesis appears to have missed the point (at least to me),for while it is true that Ming Chinese considered firearms highly effective against the nomads, they probably referred to their own lighter (and more mobile) guns anyway.

    Both theories have their own merits and caveats, IMO.

    1. BTW, The caveat of Wall Theory, at least in my opinion, is that while SOME Chinese walls are very large and resistant, not every Chinese fortifications were built to offer that level of protection. Somethng like the 16th century "Classic gun (as the Wikipedia article put it)" should be enough to batter down most Chinese walls.

  3. How do you get information about China's military history? books?

    1. Mostly from Chinese primary sources, military treatises etc.

    2. that is why your content is unique, you do not start from a historiographic view built over time and common to various people, you want to have access to the purity of a knowledge, without intermediaries and disturbances, congratulations, a good historian and admirable work, I also noticed in the comments of other posts your discordance with general opinions disseminated by authors, very interesting

    3. Actually other's works still provide invaluable insights to me (and I do not work solely on primary sources), since I can't access to all primary sources by myself, and even primary sources are not always correct.

      It's also easier to work from something others have already researched.


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