Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen (鴛鴦陣) — part 1

Yuan Yang Zhen
Basic layout of the early formation, from 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.
The famous Yuan Yang Zhen (鴛鴦陣), known to the West as Mandarin Duck Formation, was devised by Ming general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) during his campaign against Wokou (倭寇, Japanese coastal pirates). With this formation, Qi Ji Guang never tasted a single defeat in his campaign against Wokou, often completely annihilating his enemy with little to no casualties.

Note: Yuan Yang (鴛鴦) actually refers to ruddy shelduck during Ming period. The mandarin duck as we know it was known as Xi Chi (鸂鶒) by Ming Chinese.

The exotic name and astounding battle records shroud the Mandarin Duck Formation in myth. In reality, the Mandarin Duck Formation was very simple and straightforward and did not require a high level of martial art skills nor complex maneuvers to be effective (Qi's army was comprised of peasants and miners, most of whom were illiterate). While Mandarin Duck Formation was designed for small engagements, it could be used in large scale battles numbering thousands of troops as well.

Basic tactic
Early Mandarin Duck Squad
Rendition of a full Mandarin Duck squad in standby. This image is cropped and then pieced together from 'Wu Bian (《武編》)', 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)' and 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'. Weapons are edited to show a somewhat more realistic length.
Rendition of a full Mandarin Duck squad in combat. This image is cropped and then pieced together from 'Wu Bian (《武編》)', 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)' and 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'. Weapons are edited to show a somewhat more realistic length.
A basic Mandarin Duck squad consisted of two near identical teams of five, plus one squad leader and one porter. Each team consisted of one swordsman who was also the team leader, one Lang Xian (狼筅), two pikemen armed with long spears and one Tang Pa (钂鈀).

When facing the enemy, both swordsmen crouched at the front rank to protect all those behind them with their shields. Once the battle was joined, the swordsman with rattan shield would throw his javelin and made a quick dash to charge at the enemy, while the swordsman with Ai Pai (挨牌) stood his ground. Lang Xian were projected over the head of swordsman to provide cover, and pikemen guarded the left and right flanks of the Lang Xian. If enemy somehow managed to get pass the Lang Xian and pikemen, they had to face the shorter but no less deadly Tang Pa. 

Comparison with European pike formations
With the exception of Lang Xian, Qi Ji Guang's tactic seems to draw parallels with the opinions of sixteenth century European military writers such as Sir John Smythe, Matthew Sutcliffe, Niccolò Machiavelli and Raimond de Fourquevaux, which emphasised the advantage of shorter weapons such as halberds or swords, and recommended fewer pikemen but more halberdiers and/or targeteers (sword and target men). In Qi Ji Guang's case, Tang Ba replaced the halberd, and Teng Pai Shou (藤牌手) replaced the targeteers.

This is only natural, as Wokou hardly had any cavalry at all (they were pirates after all), which removed the largest threat to these short weapon troops.


Other blog posts in my Mandarin Duck Formation series:
Mi Zhan — the original Yuan Yang Zhen
Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen — part 1
Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen — part 2
Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen — part 3
Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen — part 4
Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen — part 5
Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen — part 6
Xu Guang Qi's Yuan Yang Wu

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