Unlike contemporary European powers where the use of firearms stimulated the development and refinement of plate armour, Chinese never developed plate armour in the first place. They instead turn to the millennia-old philosophy of "conquering the unyielding with the yielding" for a solution.
Ruan Bi (軟壁, 'Soft wall')
|Ruan Bi, from 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.|
Ruan Bi is an improvised defensive structure or mantlet against small caliber firearms. It is a wooden frame covered with old cotton blanket, and could be further reinforced with wooden planks.
Gang Rou Pai (剛柔牌, roughly translated as 'Shield of inflexibility and yielding')
|Details on the layering of Gang Rou Pai from 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'. This shield was a military secret, and thus did not have a drawing.|
Being a makeshift mantlet, defensive properties of Ruan Bi leaves something to be desired. Realising this, general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) developed the Gang Rou Pai. Gang Rou Pai is constructed on similar principles as modern composite armour —— by layering different materials together.
The outermost layer of a Gang Rou Pai consists of cow hide, nailed onto a wooden frame (at both sides). A waterproofed cloth bag stuffed with three catties of fine silk wadding is sandwiched between the cow hides, and crumbled paper balls form the innermost layer. These layers are nailed together with bamboo nails, and the wooden frame will be covered with another bag of silk floss as well. Entire shield will be painted with ash paint.
Gang Rou Pai can reliably stops arquebus balls from up to forty paces away. It lose its effectiveness at thirty paces though.