When did hand cannons change to handguns? The Wikipedia article doesn’t address when the change happens in my opinion, but I could be wrong.

I’m asking mostly for curiosities sake. I know that hand cannons started in the Middle Ages, but I’m not sure when they became handguns myself. I’m also not sure if there’s any hand cannon variants out there. I’m mostly asking for a technical change.

  • 6
    Have you checked Wikipedia? Did a bit of research on early handguns?
    – Jos
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 0:32
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    Hi Abraham Ray, welcome to H.SE. I'm keeping this question open because this is not obviously answered by the Wikipedia article on handguns, but please note that we usually expect questions to include a little bit of research and to explain why basic reference sources like Wikipedia failed to answer them.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 2:54
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    Perhaps you should check the Wikipedia article again? Once you've done that, revise your question to indicate what is wrong with Wikipedia's answer. The downvotes are probably because you've asked a question that is answered by Wikipedia - please read help center to understand why we discourage that.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 12:33
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    I think the first stage is to define which characteristic (or characteristics) separates a handgun from a handcannon. Once you've done that, you can determine when that characteristic feature first appeared. Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 12:47
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    I think you need to clarify whether you mean a technical change, or a linguistic one. AFAIK, "handgun" is relatively new term (at least in common use) popularized by gun-control advocates. The commonly-used term has always been "pistol".
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 17:17

1 Answer 1



When did hand cannons become handguns?

Answer: Actually, "hand-cannons" and "hand-guns" is used interchangeably. See Heilongjiang hand cannon, note "a" explains this point with reference to Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China. Incidentally, the Xanadu Gun is also considered a hand-cannon.

If you mean to ask what came after hand-cannons, then I believe it is the arquebus.

Indeed, one of the fascinating points that emerges out of a global war- ring states perspective is that modernization— the systematic adoption of more advanced technologies and techniques— is not something that arrived suddenly in Asia in the 1800s. As other scholars have suggested, it’s a long, deep process. The first gunpowder weapons evolved in a process of mutual interadoption during a period of warfare in East Asia from 900 to 1300. They spread beyond East Asia— probably carried by warring Mongols and their allies— and took root in Europe by 1320 or so, where they evolved quickly, only to be reexported in turn. The Ming adopted Portuguese cannons in the early 1500s, Japanese and Portuguese arquebuses in the mid- 1500s, and advanced Western artillery in the 1600s. One scholar argues that China’s adoption of such artillery was China’s first “self- strengthening movement.”

Source: Andrade, Tonio (2016), The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History, Princeton University Press, p. 10.

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