Dragon Cannon 龍身炮 (Longshen Pao)

Three-Wheeled Wooden Vehicle with Chinese Dragon Cannon  龍身炮 (Longshen Pao) - 
lit: "Dragon Bodied Cannon." Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China, 1875

By the late 19th century, nearly all of China's arms have fallen into obsolescence, in an age where modern global- spanning empires have all equipped themselves with repeater rifles, Gatling Guns and modern howitzers, the lumbering Qing dynasty still fielded culverins and swivel guns that were practically still frozen in their 16th century state.


However, despite their increased irrelevance, some were rather uniquely exquisite. One such weapon was the so called 龍身炮 Longshen Pao- or the Dragon Artillery. Likely based on the Ming dynasty "Thunder Roaring Cannon" which fires explosive fragmentation shells.

The dragon carving for the cannon- especially the bronze wrought barbels (whiskers) looked almost like its lifted out from a steampunk fantasy setting, but what's quite hard to comprehend is that this is indeed an actual weapon fielded by the Qing army.

Above: A similarly designed cannon wagon, likely another type of the Dragon Cannon with the 
dragon carving cover removed: One can see two relatively simple breech loading swivel guns 
mounted over a three wheeled chassis- 

Considering that the majority of the foes China fought during the 16th- 17th centuries were primarily mounted Mongol/ Manchu hordes on flat plains, many of the Ming artillery would preferred mobility, simple use, and rapid rate of fire over long range and raw fire power (their nomadic foes almost never had fortified cities to contend.)

A Ming dynasty wagon fort- similar to the Hussite, Cossack, Vootrekker Laagers. Cavalry reserves are placed 
within and fort wagons~ armored with spikes and protruding blades would ring out as walls of the encampment. 
Cannons such as the dragon cannon, breech loading swivel guns, and European- styled cannons would shoot from within, mostly fitted with a protective wooden screen in the front.

After the Manchu Qing dyansty displaced the native Ming in 1644, they too would see little need to change this doctrine~ though they were themselves nomads, having displaced the Ming, they have inherited the fortified cities of all of China proper. Ironically most of their foes also consisted of rapid nomads like the Mongols, Uighurs, and Cossacks who could be aptly dealt with by these light but rapid firing cannons.

Out of the endless bad blood between the Ming and the Qing, both seemed to have the exact 
preference for artillery. Some even have suggested that the Manchus purposely lagged the 
development of cannon technology so that the many ethnic groups of the 
empire would not rebel successfully.

Source for the Photos:

In 1874-75, the Russian government sent a research and trading mission to China to seek out new overland routes to the Chinese market, report on prospects for increased commerce and locations for consulates and factories, and gather information about the Dungan Revolt then raging in parts of western China.


(It should be noted, that although the Qing Dynasty was modernizing its navy and its military infrastructure 
at this time, this particular hotzone was located within the rural backwater of western China, therefore do we 
see the Qing army confidently still using old equipment against a front that are still entirely composed of technologically inferior rebels.)

Led by Lieutenant Colonel Iulian A. Sosnovskii of the army General Staff, the nine-man mission included a topographer, Captain Matusovskii; a scientific officer, Dr. Pavel Iakovlevich Piasetskii; Chinese and Russian interpreters; three non-commissioned Cossack soldiers; and the mission photographer, Adolf Erazmovich Boiarskii.

The mission proceeded from Saint Petersburg to Shanghai via Ulan Bator (Mongolia), Beijing, and Tianjin, and then followed a route along the Yangtze River, along the Great Silk Road through the Hami oasis, to Lake Zaysan, back to Russia. Boiarskii took some 200 photographs, which constitute a unique resource for the study of China in this period.

Most of the photographs are included in this album, which later became part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection assembled by Emperor Pedro II of Brazil and given by him to the National Library of Brazil.


Thank you and Merry Christmas!


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