More than a Game / A VERY RARE IMPERIAL PISTOL GUN-BARRELL Wanli/Tianqi (3)
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A VERY RARE IMPERIAL PISTOL GUN-BARRELL
The cast-iron barrel of slightly tapered rounded form, drilled from solid steel, the surface finely damascened in silver with stylised foliage between the front and rear sight, and inlaid with three Sanskrit characters reading Om Ah Hum above two lines of Chinese characters reading tidu junwu jianguan juchang dudu Cao, jianzao dusi Wang Zhichen between the rear sight and hammer, the reserve incised with a Chinese number two and a craftsman's name reading Pan Shanzai, the the lock plate of yellow metal, stands. 38cm (15in) long. (3).
Inscriptions: (front) 'Provincial Commander Cao of Military and Civil affairs in Charge of the Department of Works' and 'Supervisor of the Manufacturing Department Wang Zhichen'
(back) 'two' and 'Pan Shanzai'
Muskets were introduced to China in the Jiaqing period of the Ming dynasty, whereas the time when pistols were produced in China remains unknown. The present lot is different from the standard slender 'bird gun' or arquebus of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The thickness is moderate and length is more like a pistol or hand held gun. There is no comparable pistol published or recorded in a public or private collection, and it can perhaps be said to be the earliest Chinese pistol.
The three Sanskrit characters 'Om ah hum' on the body of the gun is the mantra of the Vajra Master of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, which represents the three secrets and three bodies of the Buddha. Porcelain from the Yongle and Xuande periods were often decorated with this mantra. During the Wanli reign of the late Ming period, the emperor abandoned the Daoism of his predecessor, the Jiajing emperor, and the Sanskrit mantra began to appear again on various objects.
The silver inscription reads 'Provincial Commander Cao of Military and Civil affairs in Charge of the Department of Works'. The Department of Works was a subdivision of the Bureau of Military Affairs, one of the Eight Bureau of the Ming Court run by eunuchs. In the Ming dynasty, it was not unusual for eunuchs to supervise military affairs as they could counter-balance the power of civil and military officials and report directly to the emperor. During the Zhengde reign, for example, there was the eunuch Zhang Zhong, supervisor of the Royal Stables, who participated in the quelling of Prince Ning's rebellion. Therefore, the Cao in the inscription probably refers to a eunuch in charge of the military staff bureau.
The Wang Zhichen mentioned in the inscription as 'Supervisor of the Manufacturing Department', was a native of Tongguan County, Shaanxi Province. He achieved his jinshi degree in the 23rd year of the Wanli reign (1595). In the second year of the Tianqi reign (1622), he served in the military department as Imperial inspector of Xuanfu. In the fifth year of Tianqi, he was promoted to the chief servant of the Ministry of War, and served as Governor of Jiliao. In the sixth year, he served as the Minister of the Ministry of War and the chief deputy censor. He was recalled back to the capital however, in the first year of the Chongzhen reign (1628) and implicated after the fall from grace of the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627), whereupon he was forced to retire from public service.
Guns such as muskets and the arquebus were introduced into China via two routes: the Portuguese from the sea in the south, and the Ottomans from the West overland. In respect of the overland route, the earliest guns can be traced back to the Zhengde period, when Turpan annexed Hami. The Ming dynasty rushed to help Hami but was repelled by firearms obtained by Turpan from Turkey. In the Ming dynasty, the Ottoman empire was referred to as Lumi (perhaps deriving from Rum). Zhao Shizhen (active 1552-1611) in his treatise Shen qi pu ('Record of Sacred Instruments') notes a 'Lumi gun', the illustration of which is similar to the present lot. See Zhao Shizhen, Ming qi pu, Wanli 23rd year (1598), Collection of the National Library of Taiwan, p.11.
The Ottoman empire did have direct contact with the Ming Court. During the Jiajing reign, it sent envoys to Beijing five times, guarded by these Lumi guns. In the 23nd year of the Jiajing reign (1544) the mission had an 'officer of guns and armour' called Tosuma (circa 1523-1606) who helped the Ming army and was awarded a rank in the Embroidered Guards. The production methods of these Lumi guns was passed onto Zhao Shizhen, whereupon he petitioned the Court to mass-produce these guns. In the first year of Tianqi (1621), the Ming army had a record of 2000 Lumi guns. See Xu Guangqi, Xu Guangqi ji, Shanghai, 1963, p.172.
The Portuguese also introduced guns via the sea into Southern China. In the 27th year of the Jiajing reign (1548), the Governor of Zhejiang Zhu Wan attacked Portuguese pirates entrenched near Ningbo, seizing Portuguese-made guns. The guns served as a prototype and were quickly copied and mass-produced to equip the Zhejiang army. See Pan Jixing, The History of Gunpowder in China, Shanghai, 2016, pp.547-562. According to Zhao Shizhen's records, the firepower and range of the Turkish guns was better than Portuguese guns; the Turkish guns being copied in Beijing, whilst the Portuguese guns were being copied in the South. In addition to this, Wang Zhichen always largely remained in the North, and did not venture South on official business, so it is likely that the present lot belongs to the same category of Lumi guns.
Muskets were mainly equipped in the army during the Ming dynasty, it is possible that within the army, shooting had developed as a game or competition. Although there are limited records of the hunting activities in Ming court, emperors in Qing dynasty left a number of illustrations of the imperial hunting scenes where the emperor shooting with a 'bird gun'. See a painting depicting Qianlong Emperor shooting a deer in a hunting, Qianlong, Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Armaments and Military Provisions, Shanghai, 2008, p.205.
葡萄牙鳥銃經水路由葡萄牙人傳入中國南部，時間較嚕蜜銃稍晚，時在嘉靖二十七年（1548年）浙江巡撫朱紈進剿盤踞寧波雙嶼的葡萄牙海盜，繳獲葡萄牙製鳥銃，並加以改進，大規模生產裝備浙軍。關於明代火銃討論，參見潘吉星著，《中國火藥史》(The History of Gunpowder in China)，上海，2016年，頁547-562。據趙士禎記載，土耳其人之嚕蜜銃火力、射程都較葡萄牙火銃優秀，且主要在北京被仿製，而葡萄牙鳥銃則主要在南方，加之王之臣一直經略北方，並無南下為官經歷，故此本件手銃應當屬於嚕蜜銃一脈。