Famous Military Unit of the Ming Dynasty — Lang Bing (狼兵)

Ming Dynasty Wolf Brigade
Section of the Ming Dynasty scroll painting 'Kang Wo Tu Juan (《抗倭圖卷》)', depicting auxiliary troops armed with hook-like polearms. Other weapon such as Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀) can be seen in the illustration as well.
Lang Bing (狼兵, lit. 'Wolf troop') were a type of auxiliary troops organised under the Tu Si (土司, government-sanctioned hereditary chieftain) system and hailed from Guangxi region. Lang Bing were famous for their ferocity in battle, but also notorious for their lack of discipline and penchant for causing troubles.

The exact composition of Lang Bing was (and still is) a matter of debate, even during Ming period. Some considered only Tu Si troops from NandanDonglan, and Na Di (那地, near modern day Shanglin) to be "authentic" Lang Bing, while others also counted Tu Si troops from Tianzhou and Gui Shun Zhou (歸順州, modern day Jingxi) among their ranks. The majority of Lang Bing consisted of Tong Ren (獞人, modern day Zhuang people) and Yao Ren (猺人, modern day Yao people). In fact, it is generally accepted that the "Lang (狼, wolf)" in Lang Bing was derived from either Liang (俍) or Tong (峒), both archaic names of Zhuang people.

Lang Bing were frequently called to suppress ethnic minority conflicts and uprisings (even among their own people). By mid-Ming period, they also assisted regular Ming army to repel Wokou (倭寇) raids.


Equipment
Lang Bing were most famous for their skill in Yan Wei Pai (燕尾牌) and short sabres. Over the years they gradually expanded their arsenal, adopting poisoned javelins, poisoned crossbows, spears and forks. By late-Ming period, they even had their own cavalry, arquebusiers, as well as specifically trained dogs to retreive thrown javelins.

Lang Bing generally fought unarmoured.


Organisation and tactics
Under the Tu Si system, Lang Bing served as a reserve force that was only mobilised the during time of war. However, due to the high frequency of mobilisation, many Lang Bing were deployed to places far from their homeland and eventually settled there permanently. Some of these Lang Bing formed new communities and became new Tu Si, while others were either absorbed into regular army, or reorganised into semi-permanent garrisons that were more or less unofficial Wei Suo (衛所).

Lang Bing had a very high qualification standard for their commanders. In theory, an officer qualified for commanding one thousand troops in other armies may only command one hundred Lang Bing, while an officer qualified for leading one hundred troops may only lead ten. This may be due to their indiscipline nature, requiring more experienced officers to handle them.

As lightly armoured swordsmen, Lang Bing relied on their ferocious charge to close the distance and enter close combat as soon as possible, as they lacked the staying power of their better protected comrades.


Mixed reputation
Lang Bing often fought with such ferocity, it was said that twenty Lang Bing could easily overwhelm two hundred Wokou. However, because of their lack of discipline, Lang Bing were prone to break and flee if the battle went unfavourably for them. Their aggressiveness also made them more vulnerable to enemy ambush.

If left unchecked, Lang Bing often engaged in pillage, murder, rape, slavery and human trafficking at the place they were stationed.




Reference
Blog post updated with new and more accurate information taken from 明代的狼兵 on 逸佚居 (Traditional Chinese).

18 comments:

  1. Interesting post. Presumably these troops have been used for coastal/local defence against pirates, but would any have been sent to Korea? Also have you any comments on the armour and helmets of the men with armed with the "scorpion tail"?
    Thanks in advance.

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  2. Yes, a lot of them were sent to Korea during the Imjin war. In fact, probably more than the elite but less numerous ex-Qi Ji Guang's troops.

    The hat is probably a felt hat commonly worn by Ming troops.

    The armour seems to be some sort of brigandine or studded armor. If you check my leather armour post, you can find an "Armour of Yue Troop" that originated from the same region. However, whether that leather armour was used by Lang Bing or by other Chinese troops from the same region remains unknown. Some sources state that they fought unarmoured.

    (I feel like this blog post is still incomplete, might be updating it after I find more information)

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  3. I agree on the armour, its certainly a studded type. It might be the same as the "Yue Troop Armour" but does not appear to have the banded structure (though it may be that the artist has not depicted the bands). Presumably brigandine is a relatively expensive suit to make compared to the leather/cowhide types, so my be less likely.

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  4. Or it could be the 'studded paper armour' mentioned in my other post, or "studded cotton armour" similar to Qing Dynasty ones. It is very hard to judge armour type base on painting alone (sigh).

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  5. Two other blogs I've read interpreted the studs as floral patterns similar to the one's depicted in Yuan Qu Xuan(元曲選).

    Off topic but do you have any idea how common the Pao Du (袍肚 Waist Guard?) and Jian Jin(肩巾 Scarf?) are amongst lower ranking Ming troops.

    Though I do know that Qi Jiguang specifically stated in Ji Xiao Xin Shu that southern troops used a sash instead of a waist guard to secure armor.

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  6. Good day Wansui, and welcome to my blog.

    As with all painting, it is hard to assert whether it is studs or just floral patterns without other evidence to back it up, although IMO it is more likely to be studs or quilt pattern. The Yuan Qu Xuan picture (such as this one http://www.wdl.org/zh/item/2876/) that I Google up also strikes me as studs as well.

    It is clearer in the Wakō-zukan, where Japanese Wokou are depicted as wearing clothing with various detailed floral patterns, while Ming troops are depicted in, well, 'black dots'.

    Pao Du and Jian Jin are quite common among Ming troops, even high ranking ones (although certainly not universal). IMO these are the most iconic equipments of the Chinese troops.

    Although Qi Ji Guang did not specifically mention Pao Du, it could be wear together with a sash.

    Some Korean website (in English language) that I've read seems to suggest that the Jian Jin is used to store rations during the march. I cannot verify it though, maybe that is a Korean-only practice.

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  7. Thanks for welcoming me,you have a done a great job translating classical Chinese/military terminology that I couldn't grasp.

    A shame that there isn't any surviving Ming brigandine/patterned clothing,from the books I read armor reconstruction is mainly based on paintings while there's a few exceptions such as Ming Shenzong's personal armor that have been excavated.

    I can spot some troops in the background wearing the Jian Jin in 抗倭圖卷.
    http://i.imgur.com/bJWs1gU.jpg

    If the Korean explanation is correct that explains why Joseon troops are depicted with large bellies in the 北關遺蹟圖帖.

    Were the Chinese the only ones to wear turbans in the shape of a Fu Tou(幞頭) or did the Joseon Koreans wear them as well?

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  8. There seems to be at least two surviving very late Ming Dynasty period brigandines in China, however those are virtually identical to Qing brigandine, so it might actually belong to the Jurchen.

    No, they put the military supply in the 肩巾 (scarf), not 袍肚. (According to that website, anyway).The large bellies are likely artistic license.

    Although I am not well versed in Korean history to answer your last question, some Korean painting I've seen depicting troops that are very identical to Ming soldier, maybe they wear those as well.

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  9. In the 唐將書帖,Ryu Seongryong states that ex Qi Jiguang troops wore 白幍巾,is that the turban depicted in the first picture?

    Is the 太功記 depiction of southern troops anachronistic or does it have a historical basis(Other Ming armors in the text are copied directly from the Wu Bei Zhi)?
    http://i.imgur.com/B02MbQh.jpg

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  10. @Wansui

    Very possible. Wakō-zukan also depicts other troops that match the description in 《唐將書帖》 very closely.
    http://i.imgur.com/rDp5Cag.jpg

    I know too little about the 太功記 to comment, the drawing does seem to match the 'general appearance' of Chinese troops, but get a lot of details wrong / exaggerated.

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  12. http://pds27.egloos.com/pds/201412/06/23/a0306823_54829842c38f3.jpg

    could be this picture is lang bing?

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    Replies
    1. My God, are those LITERAL werewolves?

      Well the banner wrote 猿兵三百, so they should be monkey-troops? Must be those weird circus legion brought over by Liu Ting.


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    2. some korean think that could be a picture of lang bing

      they translate that chinese letter as wolf trooper

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    3. http://pds21.egloos.com/pds/201412/21/34/a0053134_5495d8c01f486.jpg

      here is a big picture

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    4. I think 狼 and 猿 are quite easy to distinguish though.

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  13. Replies
    1. You are free to share it as long as you credit and link back to me.

      Delete

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