WI: Chinese repeating gun ("machine gun") in the 17th century

I quote Needham, that genius of Chinese history (but getting rid of that dastardly Wade-Giles).

This is Needham's source:

In the beginning of the Kangxi reign-period (+1673) Geng Jingzhong rebelled in Zhejiang, and Prince Giyesu led a government army south to overcome the uprising. Dai Zi as a simple commoner or private scholar joined this army, and presented a design for a rapid-fire machine-gun. Its shape was like that of a balloon-guitar. The gunpowder and lead balls were all contained within the back of the gun, which was opened and closed by means of a wheel mechanism. There were also two parts fitting into each other like male and female. If one lever was pulled the gunpowder and lead bullets fell automatically into the barrel, whereupon the other mechanism followed suit and moved all together. The flint was struck, the spark came out, and the gun fired off accordingly. After twenty-eight rounds, the magazine had to be refilled with bullets. The design was in principle similar to that of the guns of the Westerners. But the weapon was not at that time widely used, and the prototype was kept at Dai's home.
Needham's commentary:

If we look at Dai's inventions in order, we see that the first must have been some kind of quick-firing machine-gun. It was a time when people everywhere were trying to make devices of kind - for example, in Samuel Pepys' diary for 3 July 1662 we read that the attention of the Royal Society was drawn to a 'rare mechanician' who claimed to be able 'to make a pistol shooting as fast as it could be presented, and yet to be stopped at pleasure, and wherein the motion of the fire and bullet within was made to charge the piece with powder and bullet, to prime it, and to bend the cock.' But the problem was not practically resolved till +1713, when James Puckle developed his breech-loading gun with a revolving set of chambers which could fire sixty-three shots in seven minutes. Thereafter the line led straight to the multi-barrel 'pepper-box' pistols and revolving 'coffee-mill' guns of Ethan Alien (1837) and thence to the Gatling gun of the American Civil War (1862) and the Maxim gun of 1883. Chinese antecedents for Dai Zi's efforts are easy to find, for we have already described the magazine crossbow, widespread in +16th-century Ming use, as also the magazine eruptor, which may well have been common considerably earlier, indeed back to +1410 or even +1350. All the same, we should very much like to have further detalls about Dai Zi's guitarshaped machine-gun.
Thoughts? What could change if this invention was widely adopted by the Qing army?
 
The problem faced would be the same problem faced when Machine Guns were first adopted. That problem would be "How to keep the barrel from exploding?" If you end up fixing the problem with some of the solutions that existed in OTL (I'm thinking mainly a water jacket but the lack of industry would be a massive kicker for that) Depending on that you could have various uses, if you make something that would be heavy then Ship to Ship combat may be the best way to use it in combination with cannon (even more so if you are using water to keep the barrel cool since you have it all around you)

I'm not that knowledgeable about the tech of the era but I just don't see this being all that viable. Mainly because what I can easily see happening is a hopper fire. Since you have so much heat right below where your catch of powder and shot is it wouldn't take much for it all to be set alight. That's the main issue that I can see, that and you would have very very little range with it since the bore more then likely wouldn't be rifled.
Having it be widely adopted by the Qing couldn't really happen either because of the machinery that would be needed to create such a thing, and you're talking about ALOT of these needing to be made (depending on the role of course)
 
The problem faced would be the same problem faced when Machine Guns were first adopted. That problem would be "How to keep the barrel from exploding?" If you end up fixing the problem with some of the solutions that existed in OTL (I'm thinking mainly a water jacket but the lack of industry would be a massive kicker for that) Depending on that you could have various uses, if you make something that would be heavy then Ship to Ship combat may be the best way to use it in combination with cannon (even more so if you are using water to keep the barrel cool since you have it all around you)

I'm not that knowledgeable about the tech of the era but I just don't see this being all that viable. Mainly because what I can easily see happening is a hopper fire. Since you have so much heat right below where your catch of powder and shot is it wouldn't take much for it all to be set alight. That's the main issue that I can see, that and you would have very very little range with it since the bore more then likely wouldn't be rifled.
Having it be widely adopted by the Qing couldn't really happen either because of the machinery that would be needed to create such a thing, and you're talking about ALOT of these needing to be made (depending on the role of course)



Instead of a hopper feed go with a bar (browning) or drum feed like a puckle? gun.
 
Even if it could reliably work, I doubt the invention would have been that complementary to the Qing army's arsenal, considering that mobility was more important for campaigns in Central Asia. The logistical load of the machine guns + ammo would also have been a consideration for supply sergeants and tightfisted court officials.

Such weapons would also likely swing the balance of power away from the Manchus to the Green Standards or even to the citizenry, which would only destabilize Manchu rule. So it's more likely that the Qing would simply confiscate the blueprints for said repeating gun and ban anybody from trying to engineer them.
 
So it could, theoretically speaking, work in the Qing navy? The hopper fire thing seems serious though and the Chinese did not use cartridges AFAIK. On the other issues, there's some evidence that both Koreans and Chinese soldiers used rifled muskets by the 17th century and the Qing probably did have the capacity to build many elaborate guns - this Dai Zi was apparently really good at things like this (building cannons much faster than Jesuits, for example). Also, this is the early Kangxi era we're discussing, when 1) there were many Chinese enemies left and 2) the government was quite interested in gunpowder innovation. I suppose it can be given only to the Manchu and Mongol banners if necessary.
 
How do you do either of those without a cartridge?



For the bar, drill a series of chambers along the length of a flat sided bar for the ball and charge, like an ammo strip for a volleygun. The bar is slid to the breech opening to align individual chambers with the bore and locked down and the chamber fired through a touchhole as they line up. Puckle gun used a drum, of drilled out powder chambers, that was revolved by hand or ratchet like a revolver. Each chamber was locked down and fired as it aligned with the barrel bore. To me both systems would appear to be gunner and assistant type operations for best performance.
 
Last edited:
Also, a Chinese source states that a Jesuit was commissioned to make a cannon shooting shrapnel shells but failed to build one even after an year. Eventually Dai Zi was commissioned, who designed a working shell-shooting cannon in just 8 days which worked excellently against the Mongols.
 
For the bar, drill a series of chambers along the length of a flat sided bar for the ball and charge, like an ammo strip for a volleygun.
Then you would either need a very long bar or one that doesn't have that many charges in it since you would need them separated by a fair amount to make sure that none of the other chambers were ignited by a stray ember.
The bar is slid to the breech opening to align individual chambers with the bore and locked down and the chamber fired through a touchhole as they line up.
That is something that would need to be EXTREMLY precise and since would be done by hand, how exactly do you make something that will let you know when you're lined up perfectly and yet be easy enough to move to be able to actually pull. Not to mention, making a series of them the same would be very difficult, but you need them to be precise otherwise you won't have a good lineup and the ball won't go into the barrel and explode the gun.
Puckle gun used a drum, of drilled out powder chambers, that was revolved by hand or ratchet like a revolver. Each chamber was locked down and fired as it aligned with the barrel bore.
Yet the OP is asking about having it adopted by the Army, and a machine like that would take too much time, be too heavy and cost too much for the government to go with it.
 
Then you would either need a very long bar or one that doesn't have that many charges in it since you would need them separated by a fair amount to make sure that none of the other chambers were ignited by a stray ember. That is something that would need to be EXTREMLY precise and since would be done by hand, how exactly do you make something that will let you know when you're lined up perfectly and yet be easy enough to move to be able to actually pull. Not to mention, making a series of them the same would be very difficult, but you need them to be precise otherwise you won't have a good lineup and the ball won't go into the barrel and explode the gun. Yet the OP is asking about having it adopted by the Army, and a machine like that would take too much time, be too heavy and cost too much for the government to go with it.



The whole gun and bar magazine ensemble was made by a gunsmith, the precision apparently wasn't a terrible problem, and wouldn't have been for Chinese artisans. The puckle gun (and tripod) looks to be two man transportable. I imagine the Chinese would have mounted either weapon on wheeled barrows as they did light cannon/rockets.
 
Top