Tonio Andrade: Animals as Weaponry

By Tonio Andrade

01 Firebird

(Source: Zeng Gongliang 曾公亮, Wu jing zong yao 武经总要, in Zhong guo bing shu ji cheng 中国兵书集成, Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press, 1988, juan 11, huo gong [p. 512].)

Firebird

Before guided missiles, humans had few ways to attack their enemies remotely, so they tried using animals. The Chinese were enthusiastic practitioners of this art. The firebird was a simple, if imprecise example. This image is from a Chinese military manual from the 1000s, and its accompanying text includes instructions: “Take a peach pit and cut it in half. Hollow out the middle and fill it with mugwort tinder. Then cut two holes and put it back together. Before this, capture from within the enemy’s territory some wild pheasants. Tie the peach pits to their necks, and then prick their tails with a needle and set them free. They will flee back into the grass, at which point the peach pits will let loose their fire.”

Fire Sparrows

(Source: Zeng Gongliang 曾公亮, Wu jing zong yao 武经总要, in Zhong guo bing shu ji cheng 中国兵书集成, Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press, 1988, juan 11, huo gong [p. 512].)

Fire Sparrows

Pheasants might have been suitable to attack a foe in the field, but what if the enemy held a city? In this case one could use urban birds, deploying hundreds of them at a time to lay waste to enemy buildings. This image, from the same eleventh-century military manual, depicts fire sparrows, and the accompanying text explains how to prepare them: “Hollow out apricot pits and fill them with mugwort tinder. Then capture from the enemy’s town and warehouses several hundred sparrows. Tie the apricot pits to their legs and then add a bit of fire [to the tinder]. At dusk, when the flocks fly into the city to rest for the night, they will settle in large groups in the houses and buildings, and at this moment the fire will flame up.”

03 Fire Ox Image

(Source: Wu jing zong yao, juan 11, “huo gong”.)

Fire Ox

If birds proved too subtle, one could also use fire-oxen, such as the one depicted here. In this case, the fire is used less as an incendiary than as a motivator. One fit one’s ox with spears and then affixed straw soaked in oil to his or her tail. After it’s set alight, the ox would charge madly toward the enemy.

Thundering bomb fire-ox

(Source: Jiao Yu 焦玉 [attributed], Wu bei huo long jing 武備火龍經, 4 juans, Xianfeng ding yi year [1857], juan 2 [copy held in Nanyang Technological University Library, Singapore].)

Exploding Fire Ox

As the Chinese perfected gunpowder mixtures, they added bombs to these living weapons, as in this image, where we see a classical fire-ox, motivated to run by the burning reeds, with a bomb on its back. The bomb was timed to explode when the poor beast reached the enemy.

05 Rocket Cat Image

(Source: Franz Helm, Feuer Buech, durch Eurem gelertten Kriegs verstenndigen mit grossem Vleis…, Germany, c. 1584, copy held at University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Ms. Codex 109, viewable online at http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/detail.html?id=MEDREN_1580451.)

Firecat and Firebird

Europeans also used animals to deliver incendiaries. Here is an image of a cat and a bird, each with a sack of burning material attached to them. The idea was to kidnap a domestic cat from the enemy’s city, attach a sack of incendiary material to it, and then shoo it home. The idea was that it would then run and hide in a hay loft or barn, which would then, if things went as planned, catch on fire.

Gunpowder Age andradeTonio Andrade is professor of history at Emory University and the author of The Gunpowder Age, as well as Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West (Princeton) and How Taiwan Became Chinese.

Ai Weiwei free to travel overseas

Today The Guardian reported that Ai Weiwei is free to travel overseas once again. One of China’s most prolific artists and controversial figures, his art and social media use has championed free speech and human rights, even as he was banned from leaving China. Weiwei has ties to Princeton, where his Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is currently on display at the University’s Scudder Plaza through December 4, 2016. His book, Ai Weiwei-isms, a collection of quotes reflecting his thoughts on key aspects of his art, politics, and life, was published with Princeton University Press in 2012.

From The Guardian:

More than four years after he was banned from leaving his native China, artist Ai Weiwei is free to travel again after Beijing authorities returned his passport.

“When I got it back I felt my heart was at peace,” the artist told the Guardian on Wednesday afternoon, just hours after police handed him back the travel document and informed him he was free to go overseas.

“I feel pleased. This was something that needed to be done,” added Ai, who has long been a vocal critic of China’s leaders. “I was quite frustrated when my right to travel was taken away but now I feel much more positive about my condition.

“I think they should have given it back some time ago – and maybe after so many years they understand me better.”

The artist posted a celebratory Instagram message alongside a photograph of himself posing with the document. “Today I got my passport,” it read.

Ai said his first trip would be to Germany, where his six-year-old son has been living since last year.

Read the rest here.

Weiwei wrote in Ai Weiwei-isms, “Once you’ve tasted freedom, it stays in your heart and no one can take it. Then, you can be more powerful than a whole country.”

Wishing him well in his travels.

New Art and Architecture Catalog!

Art and Architecture CatalogBe among the first to check out our new art and architecture catalog!
http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/art13.pdf

Of particular interest is Ai Weiwei’s Weiwei-isms, edited by Larry Warsh. Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most influential and inspiring figures. Artist, architect, curator, and activist, he has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government’s stance on human rights and democracy. This collection of quotes demonstrates the elegant simplicity of Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on key aspects of his art, politics, and life.

Also be sure to note Robert Geddes’ Fit: An Architect’s Manifesto, a book about architecture and society that seeks to fundamentally change how architects and the public think about the task of design. For further reading on architecture, check out the POINT: Essays on Architecture series, featuring titles such as David Joselit’s trenchant illustrated After Art in which the author describes how art and architecture are being transformed in the age of Google.

We’ll also see you at the College Art Association’s annual conference February 13-16 in New York, NY at booth 107. Random drawings for two signed copies of Weiwei-isms will be held. Stop by for a visit and to enter for a chance to win!

Weiwei-isms