Famous Military Unit of the Ming Dynasty — Tie Ren (鐵人)

Age of Empire 3 Iron Troop
Aftermath of the Siege of Fort Zeelandia, depicting Chinese troops wearing heavy lamellar armour, possibly Tie Ren. Artwork taken from 'Reise nach Java, Formosa, Vorder-Indien und Ceylon' by Albrecht Herport, an artist, soldier of VOC, and witness of the battle.
Tie Ren (鐵人 or 銕人, lit. 'Iron man') was an elite heavy infantry unit under the leadearship of Zheng Cheng Gong (鄭成功), known to the West as Koxinga. They were amongst the finest troops Ming Dynasty (or any Chinese dynasties for that matter) had to offer.

Chinese scale armour
Fragmented bronze scales salvaged from a sunken ship of Koxinga's fleet.
Tie Ren famously wielded Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀) as their main weapon, and wore a complete suit of iron lamellar armour that included an iron helmet, an iron mask painted in terrifying monstrous visage, body armour, armoured skirt, armpit armour, arm guards and iron boots, all made in the style of Manchu armour (they later retired the iron mask as it would become extremely hot under the sun). They also locked themselves inside their armour with iron chains. Because Tie Ren often served as marines and participated in amphibious assault, they sometimes discarded limb armours for ease of movement.
A short, single-edged sword (highlighted) that exhibits many characteristics unique to Southeast Asian dha, such as the very long, rounded hilt and small guard. From 'Jing Guo Xiong Lue (《經國雄略》)', written by Zheng Da Yu (鄭大鬱), a contemporary of Koxinga and follower of Zheng Zhi Long (鄭芝龍), Koxinga's father.
Other equipment of Koxinga's army included bow and arrow, grenaderattan shield, Japanese yari (槍) spear as well as Yun Nan Dao (雲南刀, lit. 'Yunnanese sword'), a sword that is most likely based on the design of Southeast Asian dha.

Organisation and Tactics
Tie Ren were usually deployed in six-man squads. Each squad consisted of two swordsmen, two pikemen and two Tie Ren wielding Zhan Ma Dao (although pikemen were sometimes omitted to include more Zhan Ma Dao), supported by three porters. During battle, the squad would operate as independent three-man cells. The deployment of Tie Ren resemble a simplified version of Mandarin Duck Formation.

Every Tie Ren was also armed with bow and arrow. During battle they were organised into archer contingent and close combat troops with a ratio of 4:6.

Warrior par excellence
The level of training and discipline of Tie Ren was best demonstrated by the famous Battle of Zhenjiang (鎮江之戰, not to be confused by another battle fought between the Qing Dynasty and British force during the course of First Opium War) in 1659. Tie Ren not only withstood and drove off repeated cavalry charges by a superior force of Manchu heavy cavalry, but actually initiated a countercharge and proceeded to slaughter them almost to a man. They were also able to disengage at a moment's notice, so that friendly artillery could fire into the ranks of their enemy at point-blank range, and then quickly resume assault.

Tie Ren were notably disciplined and fearless to the point of recklessness. Chinese sources describe Tie Ren forcibly pulling out arrow from wounded leg and resume battle as if nothing happened, while Dutch witness described them as "establishing perfect order in the ranks" and "but when the enemy has been thrown into disorder, the sword-bearers follow this up with fearful massacre amongst the fugitives". Their skill in archery was also noted to be "contrived to handle their weapons with so great skill, that they very nearly eclipsed the musketeers".

Despite their discipline and training, Tie Ren still exhibited strong piratical tendencies, and would not hesitate to engage in pillage, rape and massacre when given a pass from their commander.


  1. can i share and translate it on my facebook?

    1. Sure, as long as you link it back here.