restricted access The Fire-lance, Ancester of All Gun-barrels
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The Fire-lance, Ancestor 01 All Gun-barrels ]oseph Needham The history of the fire-lance can be seen as the progressive development of the use of gun-powder in China. At some moment after the first invention of the deflagrati珊, ultimately explosive and detonative, mixture of saltpet肥, sulphur and charcoal, it occurred to someone to enclose the low-nitrate powder in a tube, and make it play upon the enemy. From this derived in the course of time all barrels whatsoever, ranging from bamboo1 through carton-paper and leather to copper, bronze, wrought iron, and cast iron. Exactly when this crucial step was taken we may shortly see, as we first study the most important statements about the use of fire-lances in the dynastic histories and similar texts. Essentially, the fire-lance or fire-pike constituted a five-minute flame-thrower, in the guise of a rocket attached to the end of a pole, with its open end directed towards the adversary; if sufficient supplies were available, one can have little difficulty in imagining that the weapon would have discouraged enemy troops from climbing up and invading one's city wall. Secondly, we may go on to have a look at some of the many types of fire-lances described and illustrated in the military compendia: these culminated in the larger 'eruptor' (as we call it), no longer hand-held, but mounted on various kinds of stands or carriages. Many other questions will then present themselves, for instance, the relation of the fire-lance barrel to the blow-gun, its persistence in warfare, its passage to the West by way of the Arabic world, and its adoption there, with finally some comments on how effective it was in combat. See J. Needharn, Science and Civilisation in China, (Carnbridge, 1965) IV: 2, 61-5 for further reference to the írnportance of this natura1ly-occurring rnaterial for so rnany aspects of Chinese technology, a wonderful ready-rnade tubing useful for an infinity of purposes. 295 ]oseph Needhαm Now to begin with we can trace a parallelism between fire-lances and bombs. As the following table shows, we can divide fire-lances into weakcasing types and strong且casing types. In each of these we can find,的 time goes by, a slow birth of the projectile, for it was not long before men found that the flames of the low-nitrate gunpowder would carry out with them, at a considerable velocity and with no little force, solid objects of many kinds. Those we term 'co-viative projectiles' (coining a word), because the gunpowder was not fully propellant, and the object or objects did not occlude the whole bore of the tube. Two distinguishable developments have to be portrayed by the table: the progressive strengthening of the tube, and the incorporation of projectiles in the powder. Therefore, we fir前 divide the prototypic fire-lance into two sorts: those with relatively perishable tubes and those with metal tubes. We can further divide the former into simple types: those with two or more barrels, and those in which the bamboo tube was contained within a winding of iron wire. Then comes the missile series. It starts with sand particles, designed to blind and confuse the enemy, goes on to lead pellets and miscellaneous bits of broken metal and pottery, preferably with sharp edges, and reaches its climax with the dispatch of actual arrows.2 Eχactly the same sequence is repeated in the case of the metal-barrel firelances , except that the books present no eχample of the simple barrel or the sand 一 in fact one gets the strong impression that the reason for the introduction of the metal barrel was the need to emphasize the element of co-viative projectiles. e-K VP- > -hy- - •• A. , .... m ω ﹒ 吧 .nnuEA pr nr Tube of barnboo or other relatively perishable rnaterial Tube of rnetal (copper, bronze, wrought iron or cast iron) Sirnple barrel Figs. 3, 4.8.17 Double barrel (or rnore) Figs. 13, 14 Sand Co-viative Arrows dust projectiles Fig. 12 Fig. 6 Figs. 7, 8, 16 Double Co-viative Arrows barrel projectiles Fig. 11 (or rnore) Figs. 9, 15 Figs. 13, 14 True gun or proto-gun projectiles Figs. 2, 17 Strengthened with iron wire Figs. 1, 12 Stages in the development of the fire-Iance Here we corne extrernely close to the earliest bornbards, which fired off arrows rather than cannon-balls,的 in the case of Walter de Milarnete's pictures. They...


Subject Headings

  • Bodde, Derk, 1909-2003.
  • China -- Civilization.
  • Sinologists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Philosophy, Chinese.
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