28 January 2019

Huo Qiu (火毬)

Huo Qiu (火毬, lit. 'Fire ball') is a type of primitive incendiary bomb made of paper, bamboo basketry, or even clay. Developed during the eleventh century, Huo Qiu is one of the earliest gunpowder weapons in the world (along with gunpowder-based fire arrow and early rocket), predating even the fire lance.

At the time of its invention, Chinese people had yet to perfect the formula for explosive gunpowder, and fuse would not be invented for another century. As thus, Huo Qiu could only burn but not explode, and did not have a burning fuse. Instead, an iron awl was used to ignite the bomb (by poking a red hot awl through the ball). Huo Qiu was usually flung by a trebuchet, although some versions could be thrown by hand or launched from a sling.

Song Chinese Incendiary Bomb
A straight awl (top) and hook awl (bottom) used to ignite Huo Qiu. From 'Wu Jing Zong Yao (《武經總要》)'.

Gun Qiu (滾毬, lit. 'Rolling ball')
Song Dynasty fire bomb
Drawing of a Gun Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Also known simply as Huo Qiu, this is the most standard form of the weapon. It is a gunpowder-filled, five layer-thick hollow paper ball wrapped in linen and sealed with rosin.

Yin Huo Qiu (引火毬, lit. 'Fire-guiding ball')

Drawing of a Yin Huo Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Yin Huo Qiu is actually the "dud" version of Huo Qiu as it is filled with pebbles and rocks instead of gunpowder. It is used for range gauging for the trebuchet before actual bombs are launched.

Ji Li Huo Qiu (蒺藜火毬, lit. 'Puncturevine fireball')
Drawing of a Ji Li Huo Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Ji Li Huo Qiu is a variant of Huo Qiu that comes with three six-bladed knives as well as eight barbed caltrops on its surface. Presumably, the bomb will catch onto whatever surface it comes into contact with due to its barbed surface, or spread caltrops everywhere if it breaks on impact. It also produce poisonous smoke while burning to deter extraction.

Pi Li Huo Qiu (霹靂火毬, lit. 'Thunderclap fireball')
Drawing of a Pi Li Huo Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Pi Li Huo Qiu is a specialised Huo Qiu designed to smoke out or suffocate enemy tunnellers and sappers. Unlike other Huo Qiu, it is made of solidified mixture of gunpowder and ceramic fragments coated with another layer of gunpowder mixture (i.e. it does not have paper or bamboo casing), with a dried hollow bamboo stem sticking through it. Once ignited, its operator uses the crackling sounds produced by the burning bamboo (which is where it got its name) as a cue to begin fanning the smoke into the tunnel. Due to the inherent danger of handling a poison smoke bomb, operators of this weapon are required to hold some Chinese liquorice in their mouths to counteract the poison.

It should not be confused with other weapons with similar names.

Chinese hand-cranked fan
Drawing of a Feng Shan Che (風扇車), a hand-cranked fan used to blow the smoke produced by Pi Li Huo Qiu into the tunnel.

Yan Qiu (煙毬, lit. 'Smoke ball')
Drawing of a Yan Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Yan Qiu is simply a normal Huo Qiu wrapped in an extra layer of redstem wormwood so that it produces more smoke while burning.

Du Yao Yan Qiu (毒藥煙毬, lit. 'Poisonous smoke ball')

Drawing of a Du Yao Yan Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Du Yao Yan Qiu is a more advanced version of Yan Qiu that comes with special gunpowder formula that produces poisonous smoke while burning.

Shen Huo Hun Yuan Qiu (神火混元毬, lit. 'Divine fire primordial ball')
Drawing of a Shen Huo Hun Yuan Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Shen Huo Hun Yuan Qiu is the Ming-improved version of normal Huo Qiu. It has a more robust paper ball reinforced with bamboo basketry frame, comes with a fuse, and is filled with updated gunpowder formula that actually explodes and produces poisonous smoke at the same time. Unlike its predecessors, Shen Huo Hun Yuan Qiu is usually thrown by hand rather than being launched from a trebuchet.

Shao Zei Mi Mu Shen Huo Qiu (燒賊迷目神火毬, lit. 'Bandit-burning, eye-irritating divine fire ball')
Drawing of a Shao Zei Mi Mu Shen Huo Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Shao Zei Mi Mu Shen Huo Qiu is another Ming-improved version of Huo Qiu. It is a large yellow clay ball coated in a layer of colloidal fluid made from Japanese Persimmon (for waterproofing), with another thirty layers of paper glued over it. The ball is filled with explosive gunpowder, blinding and poisonous smoke gunpowder, ten paper firecrackers and Di Shu (地鼠), as well as multiple caltrops. It also comes with waterproofed fuse as well as an attched rope that allows it to be flung like a bolas.

Shao Zei Mi Mu Shen Huo Qiu is very similar to Qun Feng Pao (羣蜂砲).

Tian Huo Qiu (天火毬, lit. 'Heavenly fire ball')

Drawing of a Tian Huo Qiu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Tian Huo Qiu is yet another Ming-improved version of Huo Qiu. It is essentially a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with small pebbles (to increase its weight) and a special mixture of highly flammable gunpowder. The special mixture is highly unstable and will burst into flames as soon as it comes into contact with air, so Tian Huo Qiu does not require a fuse and can be thrown directly.

Tian Huo Qiu is essentially a much deadlier version of Japanese metsubushi (目潰し) blinding egg, although unlike the Japanese version it is launched from a sling rather than being thrown by hand.


  1. very cool weponry, I see were the japanese exploding trebuchet drawing in a ofsprey book took inspiration from the thunderclap fireball,showing their lack of research regarding asia once again.I recnetly found this picture from one of their qing era book ,and they depicted a miao in a nakhi armor.I can understand why they did this but they could equally have used the Qian rebellion leather laminar armor that is miao,sigh.

    1. can i see this leather laminar armor ?

    2. By the way, which book does that Japanese thunderbomb picture come from?

  2. I forgot to put the trebuchet image https://pin.it/6uj6cbkkovp54l
    This is the wrong miao image https://pin.it/xped4plrrkaw3x
    Here is the real miao laminae http://www.davidleffman.com/zhang-xiumei-and-the-miao-war/

    1. That Zhang Xiumei laminar armour is actually made of iron, as far as I can tell.

    2. how are thoes plates hold together? i can see lower parts are holded with chain but cant see anything on torso

  3. I think it's also chain, but I don't really know. Their is a detailed description in a website but it's in Chinese. So far I doubt that this armor is still intact, even tho the guy say it is. I really hate how much information is not available for people simply because things aren't publicly displayed in exposition or websites.

  4. Not relevant to the article but I got two questions been meaning to ask you,what is the sword for the hero coming up in 'for Honor' base on, it seem to be the only one that took real life inspiration with the rest being fantasy base

    And when did curvatures/ Sabres start to appear in China.

    1. You mean the two-handed "straight katana" weapon? Honestly I am not sure what it is based on - it can be a passable representation of Miaodao if the last third of the blade is curved.

  5. I think it looks really similar to a variation of 唐横刀

    1. The problem about so-called "Tang Dao" is that it is more or less the Chinese equivalent of Viking Horned Helmet or Japanese Ninjato, as most "replicas" on the market have dubious historicity (which ironically makes it perfect for games like For Honor). The replica you linked is slightly more accurate than most though.

      For "authentic" Tang sword, it's better to reference the few Kara-Tachi (which are almost certainly Tang period swords imported from China) stored in Shōsōin Treasure House of Japan.

    2. Yeah I did meant the sword for the new Wu Lin warrior and if you want to look at Tang swords look at swords during the Tang Dynasty,blades like the Kara-Tachi were never meant to be used in combat it's more of a piece of jewelry then a weapon.

      And 春秋戰國 THANK YOU, honestly some people use that as another way to bash the katana saying it's a glorified( or renamed) made with the worst steel ever, Tang dao, when the Katana didn't really start to exist until muromachi period and it's an evolution of the Tachi which is an evolution of the warabeita-to.

    3. While the few Kara-Tachi in Japan aren't meant for battle, they do provide valuable insight to the design, steelmaking and decoration techniques of Tang period sword.

      BTW, I should refer you to this invaluable article on katana steelworking:


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