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Old January 4th, 2011, 02:19 PM   #1

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Chinese gunpowder


Hi, this year I'm doing a project to prove the impact of chemistry on warfare and thought a good place to start would be the formula for ancient Chinese gunpowder. Don't worry, I'm not making it just using it as an example.
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Old January 4th, 2011, 02:38 PM   #2

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I dont know the recipe for chineese gunpowder but i do know that the juse of cannons was abbandoned by the Chineese.
The emperors found the threat to great that during a revolt some cannons would fall into rebel hands. Try googleing it ;-)
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Old January 4th, 2011, 02:49 PM   #3

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I believe the Chinese formula for gunpowder lacked or didn't contain enough Saltpetre as a result it didn't go bang as much as European gunpowder
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Old January 4th, 2011, 02:51 PM   #4
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Whatever the efficiency and usefulness of Chinese "gunpowder," it seems that it did not develop into a military commodity.

Europeans and Turks seem to have developed the chemical explosive over about 150 years (1300-1450) to the point that it had military use. The early gunpowder in Europe was unstable as the chemical elements separated and limited it's explosive qualities. When "corned" gunpowder was developed, the burn was more efficient and resulted in much more reliable chemical propellants for both stone and iron shot. Very important for both maritime firepower and also for assault, and the development of defense, of fortifications.

This is part of the reason the Chinese fell behind the West after 1500.
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Old January 5th, 2011, 06:13 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pikeshot1600 View Post
Whatever the efficiency and usefulness of Chinese "gunpowder," it seems that it did not develop into a military commodity.

Europeans and Turks seem to have developed the chemical explosive over about 150 years (1300-1450) to the point that it had military use. The early gunpowder in Europe was unstable as the chemical elements separated and limited it's explosive qualities. When "corned" gunpowder was developed, the burn was more efficient and resulted in much more reliable chemical propellants for both stone and iron shot. Very important for both maritime firepower and also for assault, and the development of defense, of fortifications.

This is part of the reason the Chinese fell behind the West after 1500.
This theory is problematic, the Ming dynasty (14th-mid 17th century) utlized gunpowders to the extend that it must have had most of the property of western gunpowders (though obviously relative quality is debatable)

(some example of purely indigenous Ming gunpowder weapons, not listing out those that had obvious western influence)

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Generally, the issue with Chinese gunpowder development is

A. the need is different and not as ideal towards breakthrough development. (primarily, the need of major siege gun never really appeared, and Chinese Miltiary need during the Ming generally inclined towards gunpowder weapons that could be carried around easily, multifunctional, and generally anti-personal / small engagement geared.

B. Chinese social and government structure's strength was also it's weakness in terms of developing technologies, it is very united in comparason with western states, this have obvious pros but can also be diveraged towards negative consequences... as seen in the Ming and Qing era.
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Old January 5th, 2011, 06:19 AM   #6

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Thomas Conlan's Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior describes how Chinese gunpowder is made. I would quote the specific info, but I don't have the book in front of me right now.
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Old January 7th, 2011, 04:20 PM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RollingWave View Post
This theory is problematic, the Ming dynasty (14th-mid 17th century) utlized gunpowders to the extend that it must have had most of the property of western gunpowders (though obviously relative quality is debatable)

(some example of purely indigenous Ming gunpowder weapons, not listing out those that had obvious western influence)

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Generally, the issue with Chinese gunpowder development is

A. the need is different and not as ideal towards breakthrough development. (primarily, the need of major siege gun never really appeared, and Chinese Miltiary need during the Ming generally inclined towards gunpowder weapons that could be carried around easily, multifunctional, and generally anti-personal / small engagement geared.

B. Chinese social and government structure's strength was also it's weakness in terms of developing technologies, it is very united in comparason with western states, this have obvious pros but can also be diveraged towards negative consequences... as seen in the Ming and Qing era.
What are the dates for the examples you gave?
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Old January 7th, 2011, 09:35 PM   #8

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I guess I'm behind the power curve, here. My take on it is that the earliest solid combat applications of gunpowder in China was the Jin Campaign of the Mongols. And that the Sung made far better use of it virtually at the same time. I'm thinking 1220 - 1230, maybe?
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Old January 10th, 2011, 02:37 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Kampfringen View Post
What are the dates for the examples you gave?
A. the first item is called a "Three Eye Gun" for obvious reasons, it's basically a 3 barrelled hand cannon that can double as a mace. It's definitive starting date is unclear, though it was still widely used until the late 16th century (and some people still use real pieces of the Ming reliecs as hunting guns or cermonial guns today). Plasuible date of it's invention is probably around late 14thC to mid 15th C.

B. the second item is called "Tiger Crouching Cannon" It's a rather small but very portable piece of artillery, it can basically be carried around on horsebacks. obviously more meant for anti-personal than walls. It's starting date is most definately earlier than the Three Eye Gun and it remained popular even into the 18th century due to it's portability and that it can be operated by a crew of two or even one. It' s plausible starting date is probably early to mid 14thC.

C. the final item is called "Hornet's Nest" Though it's just one variant of many rocket arrows , the Rocket arrows are recorded very VERY early, it basically came not too long after gunpowders were used in Chinese military . it surely already existed by around the late 12th C. a very large anti-ship multi-stage version is recorded in manuels though there are significant doubt of it ever being used. however rocket arrows themself were very widely used. The Japanese were quite taken by surprised by the effectiveness of the rocket arrows used by the Chinese and later Koreans against them in the Imjin War of the late 16th C.

(it did gradually improve... early version were still fired from bows and might have been more like a fire cracker on arrow while later version were self propelled rockets)


The Japanese warriors in the late 16thC imjin war was armed with Arquebus that was essentially the same as the state of the art European onces of the time. Though they lacked much cannons, Still, they didn't do well against the Ming forces who were mostly armed with the above 3 weapons along with other conventional weapons.


Essentially though, the key that pushed European gunpowder to continously break through was

A. Constant war

B. A definate need to deal with very heavy fortifactions.

Neither existed in China, espeically not the later, most of the Ming forces' battle were about fighting light enemies on their native terrain (Nomads on the plains, pirates around the coasts, mountain tribesmen in the mountians ) where even normal heavy infantry / cavalry would already be at a major disadvantage, let alone heavy guns. Thus it's not too hard to see why the most popular Ming gunpowder weapons all had similar charactoristics of being easy to move around and genearlly multi purposed and anti personal.
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Old January 12th, 2011, 04:44 PM   #10

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Cool!
Thanks Rollingwave.
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