That being said, I did read a couple of wargaming rulebooks and army books, and seen the currently available miniatures (not that there are many to begin with). I think I have some (arguably extremely limited, and probably full of errors) grasps on how a Ming Chinese army is played on the tabletop, and I think “they are doing it all wrong”.
Random thoughts on Ming Chinese armies in wargaming
1. Wear some shoes!
|These barefooted and unarmoured guys are supposed to be the general's bodyguard.|
Shoes and socks were not rare nor expensive in China. The poorer class usually wore shoes and puttees, while the more prestigious ones wore black-coloured (riding) boots.
There's of course exception to the rule. Chinese troops sometimes fought barefooted during amphibious operations or in muddy environments. In this case it has nothing to do with the availability of footwear, as even the elite Tie Ren (鐵人) discarded their boots.
2. Chinese troops are either too lightly or too heavily armoured, or wearing the wrong kind of armour.
|Ming troopers wearing vaguely Song Dynasty-style (unhistorical) lamellar armours.|
Song Dynasty-style lamellar armour only works for very early Ming period (think Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Ming armies in south China also retained Song Dynasty-style lamellar armour for much longer.
3. Chinese armies are not exotic.
|These actors in funny costume certainly do not help matters.|
With some tweaking, late medieval Burgundian Ordonnance or Hussites can be used as a "count-as" Ming Chinese army passably. Of course, Joseon Koreans are, to some extent, "Ming Chinese-lite", so they count as well.
4. Too many crossbow, especially repeating crossbow.
|Ming crossbowmen, from a handscroll recently discovered in Guizhou.|
A crossbow-heavy Ming army is best represented by an auxiliary-focused force such as Lang Bing (狼兵).
5. Underrepresented pike.
|Section of the scroll painting 'Wakō-zukan (《倭寇図巻》)' currently kept at the University of Tokyo, depicting Ming pikemen.|
|A practitioner of Da Qiang. Modern Da Qiang is only about ten feet long, which is considered short by Ming Dynasty standard.|
6. Too many "Heavy Weapon" or polearms.
|No, glaives wasn't THAT common. (Source: Fanaticus Forum)|
The most common non-spear polearms in a Ming army were Lang Xian (狼筅) and Tang Pa (钂鈀), neither of which should be classified as heavy weapon. Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀) was employed with some regularity as well, but mostly reserved for elite troops (or troops that had some training, at the very least).
Speaking of Lang Xian, it was such an integral part of Ming Dynasty infantry tactic, yet I have not seen a single wargame rule that do it justice.
7. Too many spear-and-shield or polearm-and-shield.
|The paint job is superb, though. (Source: Fanaticus Forum)|
Rattan shield was always used together with a sword, but Ai Pai (挨牌) could be used in conjunction with a two-handed weapon such as Gou Lian Qiang (鉤鐮鎗), although in practice this was rarely done. Sometimes a soldier with Ai Pai would forgo his weapon altogether. On the other hand, a swordsman always brought his shield with him.
Speaking of shield......no, that white shield with a stupid tiger face painted by a three year old, courtesy of Osprey Publishing, is not historical at all.
8. War wagons are non-existent.
|Wagon fort as designed by general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光). From 'Lian Bing Za Ji (《練兵雜紀》)'.|
Note: Ming Dynasty Pian Xiang Che (偏廂車) only has two wheels, so it should be called a war cart instead of war wagon. However "cart fort tactic" just sounds so wrong.
9. Some remarks on Ming cavalry.
|Section of the Ming Dynasty scroll painting 'Ping Fan De Sheng Tu (《平番得勝圖》)', depicting Ming cavalry chasing rebel horsemen.|
And that's before I bring out the mounted version of Mandarin Duck Formation.
Sabre (instead of lance) seems to be the preferred close combat weapon of Ming cavalry. Horse armour was rarely, if ever, used.
10. Light artillery.
|Ming artillerymen and musicians, from a mural section in Fire God's Temple, Yongningzhen, Yanqing, China.|
A rough comparison can be drawn between the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, where a 41, 300 strong Swedish-Saxon force of Gustavus Adolphus deployed four 24-pdr demi-cannons, eight 12-pdr cannons, one 6-pdr regimental gun and forty-one 3-pdr regimental guns, plus about twenty cannons from the Saxon side (add another forty-eight guns if we count the Saxon artillery train that did not made it to the battlefield on time), whereas Ming Dynasty during the later phase of the Imjin war mobilised about 70, 000 to 90, 000 personnel (roughly twice the number of Swedish-Saxon force), some 1, 224 heavy cannons (roughly ten times the number of Swedish-Saxon artillery, or five times if numbers are equalised), with even more unaccounted lighter pieces.
While the numbers are impressive, a Ming "heavy cannon" is only roughly comparable in weight to a Swedish 6-pdr regimental gun (at best), while being shorter ranged and less powerful. Chinese cannons are also less maneuverable (in fact, Chinese cannons become more or less static once deployed) than European cannons of the same weight class.
|Not historical, but epic nonetheless. Art by Qun He from BLACK SHARK.|
One prevalent misconception about Ming Dynasty rocket weaponry is that these primitive rockets were primarily used to scare people or horses. This cannot be further from the truth. Chinese rockets were designed to kill (also maim, blast, burn, blind, choke, and poison, but mostly kill). They were extremely dangerous and should not be underestimated.
Korean records even describe in graphic detail about a Japanese troop being burned to death after he was hit by a Chinese incendiary rocket during Imjin war. Several of his comrades also perished with him when they inevitably catch fire trying to help the victim. Some of them even tried to make a dash for the nearby river, but none of them managed to reach it before being consumed by fire..