Header Background Image

    Subscribe to this series’ Patreon to read ahead.

    The heated debate continued. At some point, the topic had shifted from “Should we sell the cannons or not?” to “Which ones should we sell?”

    “Cannons are out of the question! We should limit it to rifles!”

    “Have you forgotten what the Crown Prince said? What if the rifles end up being distributed indiscriminately?”

    “Wouldn’t the same issue apply to cannons like the chongtong?”

    The high-ranking officials gathered in Geunjeongjeon raised their voices as they argued.

    In the end, Sejong had to step in and take control of the situation.

    “Silence! Quiet down!”

    At Sejong’s thundering command, the officials all fell silent. Sejong turned to Hyang.

    “Are rifles even more problematic than cannons like the chongtong?”

    “Yes, they are.”

    Hyang gave a brief response and paused for a moment. After pondering deeply over something, Hyang bowed to Sejong and spoke.

    “First, let me clarify the terminology. The gapsikchotongtong will now be called ‘jangchong‘ (long cannon). The masangchotongtong will be renamed ‘masangchong’ (mounted cannon).”

    “Oh? Jangchong? Jangchong… Given its length, that’s a fitting name. Masangchong is also appropriate since it’s primarily used by cavalry.”

    “And we will only use the term ‘chotongtong‘ for the ones mounted on wagons.”

    [TL/N: These are all the names of the cannons. They vary in length and size. I may have translated them as literal English names for earlier chapters but I’m going to stick with their Korean transliteration instead from hereon.]

    “Hmm…”

    After a brief contemplation, Sejong nodded in agreement.

    “Very well. That will make it easier to distinguish between them. If anything, this change is overdue.”

    “I apologize for my shortcomings.”

    “It’s not solely your fault, so don’t dwell on it.”

    With the terminology sorted out, Hyang continued his explanation.

    “I am confident that the guns currently used by Joseon’s soldiers are far superior to those used in Ming, Japan, and even the Western barbarians. That is precisely why it’s a problem.”

    “It’s a problem because they’re superior? Isn’t the secret of the fulminating silver carefully guarded?”

    Sejong still looked perplexed. In his view, the most outstanding aspect of the new guns was the ignition method using fulminating silver (mercury fulminate).

    Seeing his reaction, Hyang provided a more detailed explanation.

    “As I mentioned earlier, even without fulminating silver, it can be replaced with matchlock. Therefore, this aspect cannot be considered a strength. The greatest advantage of the new guns lies in their unrivaled range and accuracy.”

    “Ah…”

    Finally, Sejong seemed to grasp the situation to some extent. Observing his understanding, Hyang continued.

    “Ming and Japan are nearby. As a result, Joseon has the luxury of observing their situations and preparing accordingly. However, Aden is far away from Joseon. If the secrets of our guns are leaked there, we would have no way of knowing. No, we could even tolerate the leakage. The real issue lies with the Westerners beyond Alexandria.”

    Pointing to the Europeans, Hyang elaborated further.

    “They wage wars against the Muslims and among themselves. From what I’ve heard about the state of affairs through the Ottomans, the situation there resembles the Warring States period of China. If our gun technology falls into their hands, what do you think will happen? They will relentlessly refine and improve upon it.”

    “Oh…”

    At last, Sejong and the officials understood why Hyang had been so vehemently opposed to the idea. Throughout history, both in China and on the Korean Peninsula, whenever wars broke out, various weapons and related technologies rapidly advanced. Even during the late Goryeo period and the founding of Joseon, firearms had quickly evolved to combat the wokou (Japanese pirates).

    Although Sejong and the officials seemed to comprehend the situation, Hyang provided additional explanations.

    ‘I need to ensure they clearly understand the dangers.’

    “Let me reiterate: Ming and Japan are close by. As long as we remain vigilant, we have ample time to prepare. But those Westerners are different. They are so far away that it becomes difficult for us to take precautions. However, blindly assuming that ‘they will always be ahead of Joseon’ and continually investing in military preparations can place an excessive burden on our finances. That is why we absolutely cannot allow the guns to fall into their hands.”

    “I see…”

    Sejong nodded in agreement with Hyang’s argument.

    ***

    Hyang’s concerns were not unfounded.

    After gunpowder was introduced to Europe through the Mongols and Muslims, European nations competitively developed gunpowder weapons.

    Looking at the situation in Europe during this period, they were gradually moving away from the traditional hand cannons used by Joseon and Ming—a design where a wooden stock was attached to the back and held under the armpit.

    It was around this time that primitive trigger mechanisms and serpentines, leveraging the principle of levers, began to appear on handgonnes with wooden stocks, such as the Tannenberg Handgonne.

    [TL/N: The Tannenberg handgonne was an early hand cannon, likely the oldest surviving one from Germany. Made of cast bronze, it was a bulky weapon with a caliber of around 15mm.  It represents the very early stages of firearm technology in Europe.]

    ***

    As Sejong nodded along with Hyang’s explanation, the Inspector General pointed out a problem.

    “In that case, wouldn’t cannons also be an issue?”

    In response to the Inspector General’s question, Hyang smiled slightly and answered.

    “As for cannons… The Westerners won’t be particularly fond of Joseon’s cannons.”

    “Pardon?”

    “In terms of both performance and size, Joseon’s cannons will not meet the standards of the Muslims and Westerners.”

    “Pardon?”

    The unexpected answer provided by Hyang left not only the Inspector General who had raised the question but also the officials and even Sejong wide-eyed in astonishment.

    Seeing their reactions, Hyang began to explain the reason.

    ***

    After the concept of cannons was introduced through the Mongols, the European and Middle Eastern countries primarily viewed cannons as siege weapons.

    To breach the high, thick, and sturdy walls of enemy fortifications, European and Middle Eastern cannons gradually increased in size.

    As the cannons grew larger, they became heavier, more cumbersome, harder to aim, and slower to reload.

    It wasn’t until the late 15th century, when France realized the limitations of these large siege guns and began developing small-caliber bronze field guns, that cannons started to change.

    However, the pace of change was slow until the late 16th century, when the distinction between siege cannons and field cannons became clearer. (Note 1)

    And it was at this crossroads that the Islamic countries, which stubbornly adhered to traditional purposes, began to fall behind Europe.

    The Muslims had always overwhelmed European armies on the battlefields they typically fought on—vast open lands. For them, cannons had limited applications.

    To the Muslim nobles, cavalry symbolized their identity. Becoming infantry was considered humiliating for them. (Note 1)

    For them, the only times they needed cannons were when breaking through the walls and fortifications of enemies they had surrounded.

    These choices they made would later cause them to kneel before Europe when the era of imperialism arrived.

    ***

    Having understood the “big gun mentality” of the Europeans and Muslims through Hyang’s explanation, Sejong asked a question.

    “Then, should we also produce big guns?”

    In response, Hyang shook his head.

    “The disadvantages outweigh the advantages. There are many operational issues, and production is costly. Moreover…”

    Pausing for a moment, Hyang confidently declared.

    “I am certain that, at least in terms of firepower, we are ahead of them. And we will continue to stay ahead.”

    ‘A single bigyeokjincheonroe (Fying Thunder Strike Shocking the Heavens) alone makes us invincible for the time being!’

    [TL/N: I can’t remember what I translated this as in earlier chapters. But if you see this pic, maybe you’ll remember.

    ]

    Sejong smiled contentedly at Hyang’s self-assured response.

    “Hearing that puts my mind at ease. That level should suffice for resolving disputes between merchants or protecting trade caravans.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty. It’s just the right amount.”

    “In conclusion… It’s acceptable to provide cannons, but absolutely not rifles and similar weapons. Is that your intention?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    After hearing Hyang’s answer, Sejong looked around at his officials.

    “What are your thoughts on this matter?”

    At Sejong’s question, the officials took a moment to gather their thoughts before responding one by one.

    “I believe the Crown Prince’s words are reasonable.”

    “I share the same opinion.”

    As most of the officials expressed their agreement, Jo Mal-saeng pointed out an issue.

    “I humbly beg your pardon, but given the current production rate of cannons, we are struggling to even equip our own military.”

    “Couldn’t we provide the decommissioned old cannons?”

    In response to Sejong’s question, Jo Mal-saeng turned to Kim Jeom. Under Jo Mal-saeng’s silent pressure, Kim Jeom answered while breaking out in a cold sweat.

    “We have already melted down most of the decommissioned cannons…”

    At Kim Jeom’s response, Sejong clicked his tongue.

    “Tsk! Didn’t I order to keep them in storage for at least three months, just in case?”

    “We followed Your Majesty’s command!”

    “Oh?”

    As Sejong expressed his puzzlement, Kim Jeom explained what had transpired.

    ***

    The old cannons of the Joseon military were mostly concentrated in the navy. On land, they were primarily deployed in the northern regions facing the Jurchen people. However, since Hyeokjincheolloe were more suitable for dealing with the Jurchens, the northern regions had already replaced their cannons with those specifically designed for Hyeokjincheolloe.

    As a result, the only remaining old cannons were those used by the navy. However, as Hyang developed new cannons and mass-produced them, the old cannons gradually made their way into warehouses.

    The problem arose after the Tsushima campaign, when the Japanese pirates became less active. Consequently, every three months, the old cannons lying dormant in the warehouses were all sent to the furnaces.

    ***

    “So, how many old cannons are currently stored in the warehouses?”

    In response to Sejong’s sharp question, Kim Jeom wiped the cold sweat from his brow and answered.

    “I would need to check the records for the exact quantity, but it’s approximately 40 or so…”

    “What about those still mounted on the ships?”

    At Sejong’s inquiry, Kim Jeom turned to Jo Mal-saeng. This time, Jo Mal-saeng answered while perspiring heavily.

    “Around 120, Your Majesty.”

    “Hmm…”

    Upon hearing Jo Mal-saeng’s response, Sejong tapped his fingers on the armrest of the throne, deep in thought.

    ‘The two of them didn’t disobey my order. In fact, they faithfully followed it. It’s ironic that the wokou’s inactivity has led to this situation… But how should we handle this…?’

    As if sensing Sejong’s thoughts, Hyang interjected.

    “Given their urgent situation, we should start by providing the 40 cannons currently in storage.”

    “However, considering the contents of the report, they will undoubtedly complain about the insufficient quantity if we only provide 40.”

    As Sejong pointed out this issue, Kim Jeom, who had been sweating profusely, chimed in.

    “There is a solution! We still have the iron molds used for the Crown Prince’s iron molding method. We can cast new cannons using those!”

    Jo Mal-saeng immediately supported Kim Jeom’s suggestion.

    “That will work! That way, we can meet the minimum… No, the maximum quantity they require.”

    Other officials also chimed in to support the two.

    Seeing the officials’ reactions, Sejong took a moment to consider before reaching a conclusion.

    “Proceed with that plan.”

    It was the moment when the Gungisi (Military Supplies Office) craftsmen’s grueling overnight work was decided.

    ***

    Many years later, among the historians of the East and West who studied Joseon history, the era of Sejong and Hyang was referred to as “The Great Leap Era.”

    The development achieved during this period was so rapid that no neighboring country, nor any nation in Europe or the Middle East, could keep pace with Joseon, hence the name “The Great Leap.”

    The sheer volume of documents recording this development and its aftermath was staggering, making this era one of both amazement and lament for historians.

    Since the progress made during this time was incomparable to any other part of the world, it was only natural for conspiracy theories to emerge.

    The development was so illogical that even renowned scholars entertained conspiracy theories.

    Among them, the most prominent one revolved around the meteorite recorded in the Annals of Sejong.

    -Sejong Year 5 (Gyemyo Year, 1423), October 1st: A meteorite fell in Gangeum-hyeon, Hwanghae Province, creating a sound like thunder. Officials were dispatched to perform the Haegwae ritual (a ritual to dispel strangeness). (Note 2)

    Using this recorded fact, conspiracy theorists claimed the “Alien Arrival Theory.”

    “It wasn’t a meteorite that fell, but a UFO crash! They utilized the aliens rescued from that UFO to achieve this great leap!”

    Mainstream scholars scoffed at such claims.

    “One of the key figures of the transformation, the Crown Prince, began to stand out after being appointed as the Crown Prince in Sejong Year 3 (Sinchuk Year, 1421). Check the calendar first!”

    Putting that aside, the fact that countless “world’s first” achievements occurred during this period gave rise to such conspiracy theories.

    Among them was the “world’s first mass production of standardized cannons.”

    And this, too, was Hyang’s work.

    Until then, the common method of casting cannons was the clay mold method, which involved creating a mold using casting sand, pouring molten bronze into it, and completing the process.

    The problem with the clay mold method was that it was time-consuming to create the mold using the casting sand.

    To address this, Hyang introduced the iron mold method.

    The cannon was divided into several parts, and corresponding molds were made from cast iron for each part. These molds were then assembled into one, with an iron core placed in the center, and molten bronze was poured into it to complete the cannon.

    Once the poured bronze had cooled sufficiently, the outer iron molds were disassembled, and the iron core at the center of the cannon was removed, instantly producing one cannon.

    This made the mass production of cannons much easier.

    This wasn’t entirely Hyang’s original idea.

    It was the method used for mass-producing cannons in Joseon during the late Joseon period after adopting the technology from Qing China. (Note 3)

    ***

    Note 1: Guns, Sails and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion, 1400–1700 by Carlo M. Cipolla

    Note 2: The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, National Institute of Korean History, http://sillok.history.go.kr/id/kda_10510001_002

    Note 3: Weapons and Armor of Joseon by Min Seung-gi, Garam Planning

    Want to read ahead? Support Kirara on ⬇️

    🌟 Unlock a World of Exclusive Content: Join the Donation Drive Now! 🌟

    ⏰ Update: Due to popular demand, the deadline has been extended until the end of May! Hurry, Donation Drive 4.0 Ends in:

    00
    Days
    00
    Hours
    00
    Minutes
    00
    Seconds

    Dear BlossomTL readers, an incredible opportunity awaits you! From March 25th, 2024, until May 31st, 2024, you have the chance to unlock a treasure trove of advanced series on our secret site. Don't let this limited-time offer slip away!

    By participating in this donation drive, you'll gain exclusive VIP access to all current and upcoming series, free from any limitations, individual subscriptions, or pesky ads. Imagine having unlimited access to your favorite stories, whenever and wherever you want!

    🔑 Here's Your Key to Unlocking the VIP Experience:

    1. The donation drive ends on May 31st, 2024 - act fast, as time is running out!
    2. Your donation directly supports the continuous translation of the series you love.
    3. Once the drive concludes, all participants' accounts will be upgraded to VIP status.
    4. As a VIP member, you'll have unlimited access to all current and future series.
    5. Pledge a donation worth a 1-year subscription to become a lifetime VIP member!
    Exclusive Content

    Unlock access to all current and upcoming series

    Ad-Free Experience

    Enjoy your favorite stories without interruptions

    Lifetime Access

    Become a lifetime VIP member with a one-off donation!

    🌱 Help BlossomTL Grow:

    Your donation plays a crucial role in the growth and improvement of our platform. The funds raised will be used to acquire new series, maintain the site, and invest in upgrades to enhance your reading experience. Together, we can create a thriving community of passionate readers!

    Stay tuned for more updates about the donation drive on our Discord server. If you have any questions or want to learn more, feel free to reach out to Kirara on Discord or via email at translationblossom@gmail.com.

    Seize this rare chance to become a VIP member and unlock a world of endless reading possibilities! Donate Now and secure your lifetime access before it's gone forever!