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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


The Rise and Fall of Distinctive Composite-Metal Cannons Cast During the Ming-Qing Period

Vol. 41 No. 1   03/2011    


The Rise and Fall of Distinctive Composite-Metal Cannons Cast During the Ming-Qing Period


Huang, Yi-long  









Key words

military history, history of technology, material culture, composite-metal cannon, artillery    


         No later than 1620, the Chinese of the Ming Dynasty started to cast muzzle loading smooth bore bronze cannons following European models. After two decades of effort, the Ming army was able to manufacture in 1642 high quality “Dingliao grand general” cannons, which combined the advantages of advanced cast-iron technology developed in southern China and iron-bronze composite barrels invented in northern China more than a century before. Later on, Han craftsmen in the Qing army also began to mass-produce cannons with a similar structure, the “Shenwei grand general” cannons, in 1644. The quality of these composite cannons was considered unsurpassed in the 17th century because they were not only lighter and cheaper than bronze cannons, but their barrels could also endure stronger explosive pressure. Yet, this advanced cannon-casting technology was forgotten in the long peaceful period after Qing’s unification of China.
        The Qing army was forced to cast cannons in large quantities when the First Opium War erupted in 1840. Composite-metal technology became valued again, and cannons that weighed as heavy as six tons, such as the “Yaowei grand general,” were made. However, because the inner barrels were not homogeneous and the metal quality was unsatisfactory, these new cannons were no match against Western artillery, and the Qing army could not resist the Western invasion. Although muzzle loading smooth bore cannons reached their peak in the mid-19th century, they finally faded from history because of the rise of rifled artillery. This article will introduce forty-four extant Ming-Qing composite-metal cannons which have been neglected by historians, as well as attempt to compare them with similar cannons in the Netherlands and India.



Author: Huang, Yi-long
Genre: Article
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