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The earliest fire lances were spear-like weapons combining a bamboo tube containing gunpowder and projectiles tied to a Chinese spear. Upon firing, the charge ejected a small projectile or poison dart along with the flame. These fire lances had a range of only a few feet. Being a weapon that combines with a spear, it was initially used as a hand-to-hand weapon with the gunpowder shot designed to give the wielder an edge in close-quarter combat.
Inventors soon saw the merit in the gunpowder/tube design and fire lances then appeared independent of the spear.
Diagrams, illustrations and books from the 10th century show the fire lance being used in battle, but it saw the most prolific usage during early to mid Song dynasty, when various northern peoples encroached on Chinese soil. These short-ranged, one-shot, disposable weapons were often held in racks on city walls and gave Chinese defenders a tremendous tactical and psychological advantage when fired in volleys. They were ideal for dealing with enemies trying to scale city walls, or for holding the enemy at bay behind a breached gate.
The first fire-lances were seen in China during the 10th century, but by about 1260 they had developed into a variety of forms and although normally associated with peasant rebels, regular Song troops also used them, their use by cavalry being described at the siege of Yangzhou in 1276. They were cheap and popular for several centuries sometimes being used in racks to defend cities and remained in use until well after the Ming period. The development of gunpowder in the fire lance to have enough force to hurl a killing projectile was a key step along the development of the first true guns.
The weapon seems also to have evolved into rockets, which were used as a weapon in their own right.
- "The Genius of China", Robert Temple
- Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Part 7. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
- Little Bit of Info on the Fire Lance
- Medieval Chinese Armies, 1260-1520 (Men-at-arms S.) by Chris J. Peers. ISBN 1-85532-599-3
- Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity