Rocket weaponry of the Ming Dynasty

While first rocket was believed to be invented around twelfth century, it was not until the Ming period that rocket was employed as practical battlefield weapon. Chinese constantly sought to create more deadly rocketry, and developed many platforms to better utilise this devastating weapon, whether stationary, handheld or mobile.

Huo Jian (火箭, rocket)
Ming Chinese Rocket
Huo Jian from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
In its simplest form, a rocket or Huo Jian is just an arrow with a black powder rocket motor attached to its shaft. However, simply attaching a rocket motor to an arrow does not make an effective weapon, as the arrow becomes unbalanced and wildly inaccurate. Ming Dynasty Huo Jian has specifically straightened shaft and carefully attached counterweight to offset this issue.

While launch tube or rocket pod are preferred, a Huo Jian can be launched from anything with a fork-like structure, including tree branch and Tang Pa (钂鈀).

A normal-sized Huo Jian is four chi two cun long (same size as an ordinary arrow), with a five cun long rocket motor.


Ming Huo Jian (明火箭, lit. 'Bright fire arrow')
Ming Chinese Huo Jian
A Ming Huo Jian (right), two single shot launch tubes, and a normal Huo Jian (left), from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Also known as Ming Huo Fei Jian (明火飛箭, lit. 'Bright fire flying arrow'), this is a Huo Jian with incendiary warhead. It is often used in conjunction with Du Huo Fei Jian (毒火飛箭, lit. 'Poisonous fire flying arrow'), a Huo Jian with poison smoke warhead.


Ding Peng Jian (釘篷箭, lit. 'Sail-nailing arrow')
Ming Chinese Fire Arrow
Drawing of Ding Peng Jian, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
Ming Chinese Rocket Launcher
Drawing of a Liu Tong, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
Ding Peng Jian is a type of incendiary rocket specifically designed to set fire on the sail of enemy sailing ship. It has a secondary poison smoke warhead that prevents the enemy from attempting to put out the fire, as well as barbed arrowhead to prevent extraction.

It is usually launched from a bamboo tube called Liu Tong (溜筒, lit.'Slip tube').


Da Tong Huo Jian (大筩火箭, lit. 'Big tube rocket')
Ming Chinese Rocket Artillery
Detailed plan for Da Tong Huo Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Da Tong Huo Jian is a large (five chi long) rocket with extended range.


Fei Dao Jian (飛刀箭, lit. 'Flying sabre arrow')
Fei Qiang Jian (飛鎗箭, lit. 'Flying spear arrow')
Fei Jian Jian (飛劍箭, lit. 'Flying sword arrow')
Yan Wei Jian (燕尾箭, lit. 'Swallowtail arrow')
Ancient Chinese Rocket
Drawings of Fei Dao Jian and Fei Qiang Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Ming Dynasty Fire Arrow Rocket
Drawings of Fei Jian Jian and Yan Wei Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
These are very large (six chi long shaft, eight cun long rocket motor) rockets with differently shaped arrowhead. These powerful rockets are capable of punching through iron armour, and have poisoned arrowheads for increased lethality.

Fei Dao Jian, Fei Qiang Jian and Fei Jian Jian are sometimes called San Fei (三飛, lit. 'Three flying').


Huo Jian Pan Qiang (火箭盤鎗, lit. 'Spear with rocket tray')
Ming Chinese Rocket Spear
Huo Jian Pan Qiang and rocket (highlighted), from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
Huo Jian Pan Qiang is a spear with two attached round plates that function as rocket rack.


Meng Jian (猛箭, lit. 'Fierce arrow')
Ming Chinese Rocket Arrow
A Meng Jian and its launch tube, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
Meng Jian can refer to a type of five shot rocket launcher or its ammunition, which is a small (one chi six cun to two chi long shaft, three cun long rocket motor) rocket. Aside from its own launcher, Meng Jian can be carried by other types of rocket pod, such as Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian (see below).


Shen Ji Jian (神機箭, lit. 'Divine engine arrow')
Ming Chinese Singijeon
A Shen Ji Jian and its launch tube, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (武備志)'.
Shen Ji Jian can refer to a type of two or three shot bamboo rocket launcher or its ammunition. Like its smaller cousin Meng Jian, Shen Ji Jian rocket can be carried by other types of rocket pod, such as the famous Nest of Bees.

Wu Bei Zhi describes the Shen Ji Jian as having a swallowtail arrowhead and without fletching. However, the accompanying drawing in the same book depicts normal Huo Jian. Shen Ji Jian can carry either poison smoke or incendiary warhead.

Korean Singijeon (신기전 or 神機箭) rocket shares its name with this weapon.


Xiao Zhu Tong Jian (小竹筒箭, lit. 'Small bamboo tube arrow')
Ming Chinese Bamboo Rocket Tube
Drawing of Xiao Zhu Tong Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Xiao Zhu Tong Jian is the smallest handheld rocket launcher in Ming arsenal. It is essentially a short bamboo tube that carries ten miniature (nine cun long) poisoned rockets. It is so light (entire tube plus ammunition only weigh two catties) that a soldier can carry up to five tubes without issue.

Xiao Zhu Tong Jian is usually carried by close combat troops to be employed as surprise close-in weapon. A very large salvo of miniature rockets can be launched at unsuspecting enemy at extremely close range, just before two armies clash in hand to hand combat. It can still be employed as long range weapon like other rockets, however.


Qi Tong Jian (七筩箭, lit. 'Seven tubes arrow')
Ming Dynasty Multiple Tube Rocket Launcher
Drawing of Qi Tong Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Qi Tong Jian is a handheld rocket launcher that carries seven rockets. Instead of a single, large rocket pod, Qi Tong Jian is assembled from seven small bamboo tubes, each carries one rocket. It comes with a disc-shaped hand protector made of cowhide.


Huo Long Jian (火籠箭, lit. 'Fire basket arrow')
Ming Dynasty Handheld Rocket
Two soldiers launching Huo Long Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Huo Long Jian is a handheld rocket pod made of bamboo basketry that carries up to twenty incendiary rockets.


Shuang Fei Huo Long Jian (雙飛火籠箭, lit. 'Twin flying fire basket arrow')
Ming Chinese Rocket Bomb
Drawing of Shuang Fei Huo Long Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Shuang Fei Huo Long Jian is a very interesting weapon — it is not a rocket launcher in the traditional sense, but a rocket launching incendiary rolling bomb made of bamboo basketry. Once the fuse is lit, entire basket is rolled down a slope (or thrown from high place) into enemy formation and start blasting away with rockets from both ends.


Si Shi Jiu Shi Fei Lian Jian (四十九矢飛廉箭, lit. 'Forty-nine shot Fei Lian arrow')
Ming Dynasty Rocket Pod
Drawings of Si Shi Jiu Shi Fei Lian Jian and its rocket pod, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Si Shi Jiu Shi Fei Lian Jian is a forty-nine shot rocket pod made of bamboo basketry. It carries a type of specialised rocket that has a three-pronged arrowhead dipped in poison as well as two paper tubes attached to the shaft. The front tube is a incendiary-poison smoke warhead, while the back tube is the rocket motor. The rocket can be modified to deliver incendiary-fragmentation payload as well.


Wan Shi Fei Lian Jian (萬矢飛廉箭, lit. 'Ten thousand shot Fei Lian arrow')
Ming Chinese Multi Rocket Launcher
Drawing of a Wan Shi Fei Lian Jian, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Wan Shi Fei Lian Jian is a modified Si Shi Jiu Shi Fei Lian Jian (see above) that can carry one hundred rockets. It is mounted on a swiveling stand similar to Bai Zi Chong (百子銃).


Wu Hu Chu Xue Jian (五虎出穴箭, lit. 'Five tiger emerging from a cave arrow')
Ming Chinese Handheld Rocket Pod
Drawing of a Wu Hu Chu Xue Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Wu Hu Chu Xue Jian is a handheld five shot rocket launcher that fires small (two chi five cun long shaft, three cun long rocket motor) poisoned rocket. With a range of five hundred paces, Wu Hu Chu Xue Jian is one of the longest ranged rocket in Ming arsenal (the recorded range might be exaggerated, though), yet still light enough to be used comfortably on horseback.


Xiao Wu Hu Jian (小五虎箭, lit. 'Small five tiger arrow')
Ming Chinese Mini Rocket Arow
Drawing of a Xiao Wu Hu Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Xiao Wu Hu Jian is the lightened, but no less deadly, version of Wu Hu Chu Xue Jian. It shoots slightly smaller rockets than the full-sized version.


Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian (百虎齊奔箭, lit. 'Hundred tiger running together arrow')
Ancient Chinese MLRS
Drawing of a Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian is a box-shaped wooden rocket pod that carries one hundred Meng Jian rockets. It is a bulky weapon that has to be laid on the ground before firing, but can be mounted on wheeled cart or warship as well. When mounted on a mobile platform, Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian can be modified to accommodate larger Shen Ji Jian rocket.

Together with Chang She Po Di Jian, it is the main armament of Jia Huo Zhan Che (架火戰車).


Qun Bao Heng Ben Jian (羣豹橫奔箭, lit. 'Prowl of leopards stampede arrow)
Ming Dynasty Multi-launch Rocket System
Drawing of a Qun Bao Heng Ben Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Also known as Qun Bao Chu Lin Jian (羣豹出林箭, lit. 'Prowl of leopards emerging from a forest arrow'), this is a octagonal wooden rocket pod that carries forty Shen Ji Jian rockets. Like Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian, it has to be laid on the ground before firing. The rocket pod is slightly flared so that it can spread the rockets over a large area.


Chang She Po Di Jian (長蛇破敵箭, lit. 'Long serpent breaking enemy arrow')
Ming Chinese Handheld Multiple Rocket Launcher
Drawing of a Chang She Po Di Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Chang She Po Di Jian is a wooden rocket pod that carries thirty medium-small (two chi nine cun long shaft, four cun long rocket motor) poisoned rockets. Unlike other weapons in this article, Chang She Po Di Jian is specifically designed with handheld shooting in mind without sacrificing firepower or number of shots. It even comes with a "gun sling" that allows the soldier to carry the rocket pod over his back.

Together with Bai Hu Qi Ben Jian, it is the main armament of Jia Huo Zhan Che (架火戰車).


Qun Ying Zhu Tu Jian (羣鷹逐兔箭, lit. 'Convocation of eagles chasing hare arrow' )
Ancient China Handheld Multiple Rocket Launcher
Drawing of a Qun Ying Zhu Tu Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Qun Ying Zhu Tu Jian is a double-ended rocket pod that carries thirty small (one chi four cun long shaft, three cun long rocket motor) poisoned rockets on each ends, for a total of sixty rockets. Like Chang She Po Di Jian, it comes with a "gun sling" for ease of carrying.


Yi Wo Feng (一窩蜂, lit. 'Nest of bees')
Ming Dynasty Nest of Bees
Drawing of a Yi Wo Feng, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
See my other post.


Huo Jian Xia (火箭匣, rocket box)
Ancient China Rocket Launcher
Drawing of a Huo Jian Xia, from 'Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》)'.
Huo Jian Xia is a box-shaped rocket pod that carries twenty-seven poisoned rocket. It is the main armament of Gai Shi Wu Gang Che (改式武剛車).


Shen Huo Jian Ping (神火箭屏, lit. 'Divine fire arrow screen')
Ming Dynasty Rocket Barrage
Drawing of a Shen Huo Jian Ping, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Shen Huo Jian Ping is a stationary rocket launcher that carries one hundred rockets. It can be activated by a pressure plate Zhong Huo Ku (種火庫).


Huo Long Shen Ji Gui (火龍神機櫃, lit. 'Fire dragon divine engine cabinet')
Ming Chinese Mobile Rocket Pod
Drawing of a Huo Long Shen Ji Gui, from 'Huo Long Shen Qi Zhen Fa (《火龍神器陣法》)'.
Huo Long Shen Ji Gui is a box-shaped rocket pod that carries thirty-six Shen Ji Huo Long Jian (神機火龍箭, lit. 'Divine engine fire dragon arrow', but really just a fancy name for ordinary rocket). It is possibly the earliest iteration of Ming Dynasty multiple rocket launcher.

Huo Long Shen Ji Gui is light enough that one man can carry two at the same time. However, it is not a handheld weapon, and must be laid on the ground before firing.

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