The Arquebus Volley Technique in China, c. 1560: Evidence from the Writings of Qi Jiguang

in Journal of Chinese Military History
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Military historians have argued that the emergence in Europe of the musketry volley fire technique and the concurrent development of systematic infantry drill was of epochal importance for world history, a key part of the famous “military revolution” that underlay Europeans’ purported military advantage over other peoples. This article shows that the arquebus volley technique was described in the writings of the famous Chinese military thinker Qi Jiguang by 1560, well before the most commonly accepted date for the technique’s introduction in Europe. Qi Jiguang’s drilling techniques were part of a long and unbroken military tradition stretching back to China’s Tang dynasty and beyond, in which drill—and the volley technique itself—played a central role. The implications for our understanding of global military history are profound. As we learn more about Asian military history we will increasingly question standard narratives of our global military past.

The Arquebus Volley Technique in China, c. 1560: Evidence from the Writings of Qi Jiguang

in Journal of Chinese Military History



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Parker 199620.


Parker 2008391.


Lipsius 1614. For more on the influence of classical models on European warmaking in the early modern period see Scott 1992 especially the examination of the musketry volley technique at 116-22.


Landtsheer 2002; Dear 2003101-29; Parrot 2012 97-99; and most importantly Parker 2007.


Reyd 1650162. I found this source through the wonderful Parker 2007.


Equiluz 159569. I found this source through the excellent González de León 2004 25-42.


Parker 2007337. He also cites two other examples.


See especially Nimwegen 2010100-112; and Parker 2007. But see also Puype 1997.


González de León 200429.


Arnold 199935.


Parker 20083.


Stavros 2013250-51.


Parker 2000414. See also Parker 1996 140-41. Italics in original. He and many others have argued that Nobunaga employed the technique in the famous battle of Nagashino in 1575 with three thousand arquebusiers divided into three rows that fired in turn defeating the enemy’s cavalry charges. Parker 1996 140-41. Stavros 2013 248-52; Brown 1948 239; Perrin 1979 17-20; Haskew et al. 2008 54-62 94 and 189. This is debatable. As two scholars of Japanese history have recently written “the commonly accepted story that attributes the victory [at Nagashino] to three thousand harquebusiers who arrayed in three ranks alternated rank by rank in stepping forward to fire enfilades and rearward to reload their weapons is a myth.” Ōta et al. 2011 42. In another work Jeroen Lamers is a bit more circumspect writing “whether or not Nobunaga actually operated with three rotating ranks cannot be determined on the basis of reliable evidence.” See Lamers 2000. The emphasis on Nagashino perhaps misses the point. There seems little doubt that the Japanese did indeed use the technique at other battles. Conlan 2008 170.


Parker 2007336-37.


Fan and Quan 2004259-60.


See for instance Huang 1981168-69; Archer et al. 2002 198; Turnbull 2012 52; Whiting 2002 449.


Clausewitz 1976esp. 119-21. I’m indebted to Sally Paine who helped clarify Clausewitz’s thought for me.


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Charles Oman cited in Kelly 200471.


Smith 2008esp. 285ff.


See for example Haskew et al. 200844.


Huang 1981172171.


Gontier 2012Chapter 1 section 3.3.


See Hall 1997178-79.


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Andrade 2011191-92239 309-10.


Andrade 2011130-31.


Swope 200975-77.


Nan 199465.


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Wu 201315.


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Li Rusong cited in Swope 2009163.


He 1606juan 12 cited in Li 2012 16. He Rubin believed that the reasons had to do with the intense northern winds which had a tendency to blow the powder out of the musket’s flashpan as well as with the greater speed of the fast lance which was less accurate than the musket but much easier to load and thus more effective against mounted adversaries.


Nakajima 2009. The collection Nakajima used is Zhu Wan 朱紈 Bi yu za ji 璧餘雜集 12 juan originally published in the Jiajing period probably around 1549.


Arnold 199937.


Arnold 199937.


Lorge 200820-22.


Parker 20083.


Cook 199442ff.


Ágoston 200593-4; Ágoston 2014 16-24; Börekçi 2006 407-38.

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