101st Post: Commonly available visual references for Ming army (and why you shouldn't trust them)

This blog post was originally meant to be part of my 100th post rant, but that one kind of drag on for too long, so I decided to write a separate one. 

I think I have to apologise beforehand if my tone in this blog post sounds too condescending. I know most illustrators are not historians, and it's very hard to reconstruct a historically accurate illustration with the information (which erred plenty) given to them. With that in mind, I have to say they had done a commendable job bringing the past to life.

Men-At-Arms 251 Medieval Chinese Armies 1260 - 1520
Even though I know Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》) is usually the go-to resource for researching Ming Dynasty military, I still find it odd to use a seventeenth century military manual as the reference to research and reconstruct Ming army of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Then again, we have very few pre-sixteenth century sources to work with.

Ming Light Infantry
E1. Halberdier
The shield sucks.

I wrote my third post on this blog listing out all the shields from Wu Bei Zhi, and not a single shield from Wu Bei Zhi looks anything like that abomination. The illustrator probably intended to paint a Yan Wei Pai (燕尾牌), but he probably based his drawing from a very crude woodblock print from the novel Shui Hu Zhuan (《水滸傳》, Water Margin).
Water Margin Woodblock Print
The crude woodblock print in question.

The shield should look like this.
Ming Chinese Shield
Drawing of a Yan Wei Pai, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.

While we don't have any surviving Ming Dynasty shield, we do have this Joseon Dynasty sample to draw reference from.
Choson Dynasty Shield
Late Joseon Dynasty processional shield. It is almost an exact match to the Yan Wei Pai shown above.

Anyway, while Yan Wei Pai wasn't exactly rare, it was not very common either. Rattan shield and Ai Pai (挨牌) would be far more common.

The glaive he is wielding is known as Qu Dao (屈刀), which is a Song Dynasty weapon. Ming Chinese mostly used Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀) as their heavy polearm of choice and even then, it wasn't all that common.

Surprisingly, his outfit is okay-ish, in a "bare-bone look" way. A Ming soldier in this outfit was probably off duty, or served as town watch. However, there is at least one painting that depicts front-line troops in this outfit (even though the accuracy of said painting is questionable).

E2. Standard Bearer
The standard sucks.

The characters on that standard are almost correct, in an unintentional way. The Chinese character Ming (明) can be written as something similar to that, but only in some very obscure calligraphic font (which I doubt the illustrator knew). Modern Chinese readers will recognise the Chinese characters on that standard as Da Peng (大朋), which means "big friend". No, seriously.

The problem with Chinese characters aside, I have actually never seen a Ming flag of any kinds that has the name of the empire written on it.

The standard bearer is wearing a badly drawn Song Dynasty-style lamellar armour, again taken from Wu Bei Zhi. Song Dynasty-style armour is appropriate for early Ming Dynasty, but not later.

E3 Vase handler Handgunner
Although I hated the shield with a passion, this one is arguably worse. It's okay though, as this guy seldom shows up on the tabletop (as far as I know).

This guy is wearing an outfit that is totally unrecognizable to me. If I have to make a hard guess, I will probably say Tang Dynasty, with a weird Karate black belt. He is also wielding a handgonne, also known as pole gun, without the pole.

Chinese Rocket Wheelbarrow
F. Rocket-launcher, c. 1450
The Jia Huo Zhan Che (架火戰車) in this picture is accurate, as it is based on a replica in National Museum of China. However, the illustrator got the period wrong, as Jia Huo Zhan Che was a late Ming design. Sixteenth century Huo Jian Che (火箭車) would be much more appropriate here.

The headdresses and outfits of these soldiers feels out of place, but at least they put their shoes (but not socks) on properly. I won't say black-coloured clothes were never used (Koxinga comes to mind), but I think that's more of a Korean thing. 

I also think the patches bearing the Chinese letter Yong (勇, courage) came relatively late. Maybe mid-to-late Ming period.

Chinese Rocket Trooper
G1. Cavalry Trooper
The plate describing this cavalry trooper basically reads "he should be wearing some armour but I ain't drawing any. Just imagine he's wearing armour under his coat or something.".
Ming Dynasty Armour
Guan Yu shows how "wearing armour under robe" is done. This painting is known as 'Guan Yu Qin Jiang Tu (《關羽擒將圖》)', painted by Ming painter Shang Xi (商喜).
There's no way to fit an armour under that robe. Besides, all depictions of armoured Ming troopers have them leaving their armour fully or partially exposed.

G2. Rocketeer
The rocketeer is mostly fine, although I wonder how did the illustrator came to the conclusion that the badly drawn rocket troopers from Wu Bei Zhi are wearing leather lamellar armour (in fact, the Wu Bei Zhi illustration depicts brigandine). His helmet is also different from the illustration found in Wu Bei Zhi.
Ming Dynasty Rocket Troopers
Two Ming soldiers with Huo Long Jian, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
For some reason the illustrator decided to replace Huo Long Jian (火籠箭) with Qun Bao Heng Ben Jian (群豹橫奔箭), which isn't a handheld weapon. Then again, neither the rocketeer nor his weapon can be considered truly appropriate for this period.

G3, G4. Drummers
I wonder what is so special about Ming military musicians that warrants them to be placed together with (so-called) elite troops. The drummers here are just clones of E1. Halberdier with different equipment. They should also choose a more mobile instrument instead.
Wolf Troop
Trumpets and marching drum make much more sense.
As a side note, while Gong-type instrument might gives a really Chinese vibe, it was mostly used to signal retreat. So...umm, it sort of defeat the whole purpose of military band.

H1. Civilian official
Whatever your opinion of this picture, be prepared for some cultural shock.

A civilian official in a Ming army would probably be of equal rank, or even outrank, the Ming general. He would be someone that was authorised to advice, supervise, or even lead the army, not kowtow to some unimportant general in an ornate suit of armour.

Also, a civilian official would be wearing dark green, blue or red robe, in ascending order, to indicate his rank. There were no other colour.

H2. Ming general
This Ming general is clearly based on a Ming tomb guardian statue at Chang Ling (長陵, first of the thirteen Ming royal tombs), Changping, Beijing. Like most stone statues, this Ming warrior statue is uncoloured. The reconstructed Ming general looks alright, but the illustrator misinterpreted his dress, and the colouring of his outfit (especially that sky blue robe under his armour) seems extremely unnatural.
Ming Dynasty Warrior Statue
The warrior statue in question.
This type of ornate armour was used throughout the entire Ming period, and continued to be used for a short while after the fall of Ming. Please be warned that this armour might very well be ceremonial in nature and thus unsuitable as field armour.

He also switched to a Qi Jia Dao (戚家刀) for no reason.

H3. Another standard bearer
Why is he wearing white?

White colour was, and still is, associated with death and mourning by the Chinese, so there would be a general aversion of using white colour in the Ming army (unless, of course, the army was indeed mourning someone, like a recently deceased Emperor). Both Chinese and Japanese associated white clothing with Koreans during the Imjin war, a fact that was exploited to deceive the other side to let down their guard (i.e. Siege of Pyongyang and Battle of Jiksan, although unintentional in the second case).

The standard is again unlike anything I've seen before.

Men-At-Arms 307 Late Imperial Chinese Armies 1520 - 1840
There was an outburst of military manuals and treatises in China during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, so we have plenty of resources for this period. Likewise, the quality of Osprey illustrations improved considerably.

Ming Cavalry
A1. Mounted standard bearer
This standard bearer is based on a famous scroll painting, and is accurately drawn. Then again, there are at least several hundred horsemen in the scroll, I wonder why the illustrator choose to draw this particular horsemen instead of other, better armoured ones.
There are armoured cavalry just in front of the mounted messengers in the same painting. From 'Chu Jing Tu (《出警圖》)'.
His outfit, while accurate, is more appropriate for infantry or mounted messenger.

A2. Swordsman
Bare. Foot.

To be fair, if this swordsman is based on the screen painting 'Zheng Wo Ji Gong Tu Juan (《征倭紀功圖卷》)', his outfit (including his lack of shoes) is quite accurate, as the screen painting depicts a massive amphibious operation led by general Chen Lin (陈璘) during the closing phase of Imjin war that led to Siege of Suncheon and the famous Battle of Noryang.
Section of the folding screen painting 'Zheng Wo Ji Gong Tu Juan (《征倭紀功圖卷》, known as 征倭紀功図屏 in Japanese or 정왜기공도권 in Korean)', depicting masses of unarmoured Ming troops on a small junk.
This swordsman is also the only Ming troop depicted as barefooted, but somehow every Ming trooper on the tabletop follows his (literal) footsteps.

Mandarin Duck Formation
B. Ch'i Chi-Kuang's Army c.1560
These soldiers are clearly based on the training manuals found in Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》). Their outfits are pretty spot-on (although if you look closely those are Qing period outfits), especially their nicely drawn puttees and socks. On the other hand, the Lang Xian (狼筅) could be longer and rattan shield could be larger, and shouldn't have a shield boss.

Other sources describe them as wearing white headscarves and sleeveless coat in red, white, blue and yellow colour (possibly black as well, given that these colours all represent the Five Elements). They might wear Qi Jia (緝甲) and cotton armour.

These guys might look like a bunch of peasant rabbles, but make no mistake, they were the MOST ELITE force in the entire Ming Dynasty, so much so that their discipline and ferocity terrified other Ming troops. They were also a rare example of “moral army” that never engage in rape and pillage, and would often help the locals to rebuild their war-torn home (they also didn't get along well with troops from Liangguang). The army of Joseon Dynasty was modeled after them (these troops were sent to Korea to help retrain and rebuild their army during the interbellum of Imjin war), but admittedly the rebuilt Joseon army still could not measure up to their standard.

New Vanguard 44 Siege Weapons of the Far East (2)
Ming Dynasty Cannon
C. Ming Chinese siege cannons on the Great Wall of China, 1629
Da Jiang Jun Pao (大將軍砲) is usually deployed without gun carriage, or on a three-wheeled carriage. Chinese also had heavier and more powerful cannons by this period.

The Ming general at the front is a clone of the H2. Ming General, but the colouring of his clothing is much more sensible now. The kneeling trooper is wearing a late Ming arquebusier's brigandine based on a surviving example in Shaanxi Museum, which is both accurate and appropriate. The trooper standing behind him is wearing an outdated (and not very accurate) Song Dynasty-style lamellar armour though.

As a side note, the four-wheeled carriage is based on the drawing of another cannon known as Mai Fu Chong (埋伏銃, lit. 'Ambush gun'), taken from 'Gu Jin Tu Shu Ji Cheng (《古今圖書集成》)', a gigantic encyclopedia (of ten thousand volumes) compiled during Qing Dynasty.

Fortress 57 The Great Wall of China 221 BC - AD 1644
Manchu conquest of China
A Manchu attack on the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall, 1630
This scene is almost identical to the picture above, only without the cannons. Ming troopers wearing brigandines are fine (although they should be using arquebuses instead of handgonnes, those are arquebusier's armour after all), those wearing lamellar armours are not. There are way too many Ming generals in this scene, and Gou Lian Dao (鉤鐮刀) is an unusual weapon choice for them.

The Manchus appear to be from Zheng Huang Qi (正黃旗, Plain yellow banner) of the Eight Banners Army, but they are bearing the banners of Xiang Hong Qi (鑲紅旗, Bordered red banner). This is, frankly, a very serious and stupid error that shouldn't happen at all. Also, they should be using heavy Manchu bows, instead of the flimsy toys in the picture.

Fortress 67 Japanese Castles in Korea 1592 - 1598
Siege of Ulsan
Ulsan: The winter siege
A variety of armours and equipment can be seen here, but none of them accurate. Brigandine with lamellar limb defence was more characteristic of a Central Asian heavy cavalryman (i.e. Timurids) than Ming trooper. Ming army also did not make use of hexagonal shield.

Siege of Suncheon
Suncheon: the final siege
Problems with equipment aside, these heavy siege engines really shouldn't be here. Liu Ting (劉綎), who was present but did not take part in the siege, did order the construction of several siege engines, but the siege proceeded before any of the siege engines were completed.

New Vanguard 61 Fighting Ship of the Far East (1)
G. A split-hulled minelayer of the Ming places its charge against a strategic bridge held by their rivals, the Han, AD 1363
The ship in this picture is actually a fire ship or hellburner, not minelayer. It was also a late Ming design, so its appearance before the founding of Ming Dynasty was anachronistic. 

Those troops wearing Song Dynasty-style lamellar armour are actually appropriate for this period, but they really shouldn't be wearing any armour, given that they are on a boat in the middle of a covert operation.

Warrior 125 Pirate of the Far East
Japanese Coastal Pirates Wakō
Now we have barefoot samurai too!
For some reason the Wokou leader is wearing an oddly ornate but very archaic style of armour.

While Ming troops removed their shoes during amphibious operation, Wokou (倭寇, Japanese coastal pirates) took it one step further by stripping off their pants. Some Wokou even went as far as going full frontal.

The equipment worn by that fallen Ming trooper is actually appropriate for a high-ranking officer from North China, which means he shouldn't be fighting Wokou at South China in the first place. He is also wearing a overly ornate clothing under that armour.

EXTRA: Deadliest Ming Warrior
Ming Warrior
Although I seriously doubt that anyone will take this television programme seriously, but in case someone really do, let me clarify this: This bloke's outfit and armour is completely unhistorical.

Ancient Chinese took their hairstyle very seriously. When Manchu conquered China, they imposed their queue hairstyle on the Han Chinese population, on pain of death. Many Chinese chose death over a new haircut, and the Manchus are still hated to this day because of this (by more discriminating Chinese). A man with unkempt hairstyle (pictured above) would be seen as uncivilised at best and barbaric or insane at worst.

His armour is fantastical. His boots are stupid. His handgonne is shit. Besides, a San Yan Chong (三眼銃) does not require a musket rest.


  1. Very interesting analysis; with which I concur.

    I think there is something not quite right with David Sque's interpretations generally (though in fairness he can only work with what he's given by the author), as he also illustrated "The Irish Wars 1485-1603" and I thought many of his reconstructions were just a bit odd (I'm Irish). In that book it was usually apparent which sources he had used, so they were well founded, but the armour didn't look completely thought through, and on close examination did not appear to be practical.

    Have you seen Brian Bradford's "Hideyoshi's Korean Invasion"? It has some interesting black and white interpretations of Ming troops. I am not sure I accept some of them, but Brian is to be commended for the effort; as he writes in the book there is much more research on the Ming to be done.

    (First comment was the same as this one, but I deleted it to correct some spelling errors)

  2. I have been following your blog for a while. Quite a good analysis indeed.

    Just wanna say some words about the date issue of the hellburner ship and the Jia Huo Zhan Che. Were they really late Ming designs? Just because they were recorded on late Ming manuals doesn't they were necessarily late Ming designs, cause late Ming manuals such as the Wu Bei Zhi is basically a compilation of various earlier manuals. It even has items copied from the Song Dynasty manual Wujing Zongyao.

  3. The main problem with Osprey is that they often depict Chinese soldiers as bare-footed and wearing nothing but his daily clothes. I don't think such a depiction is correct, unless we're talking about some very specific situations (ie. amphibious operations). But even those militias or mariners would probably wear some sort of paper or leather armors, as some Song Dynasty sources suggest.

    Another issue is that they seem to deliberately ignore some very important styles of Chinese armors, despite they have access to primary sources. The Ming horseman above is an example, there are better armored ones on the scroll, yet they choose to paint a lightly armored one. Another example is from a painting they did for the Eastern Zhou period. They said that they painted an unarmored guard based on a figurine found in Marquis Zeng's tomb, yet they completely ignored the lacquered leather lamellar armor found in the same tomb.

  4. @clibinarium
    Agreed. Interpretation of source seems to be part of the problem.

    I do not have Bradford's book, which is a shame, as that is one of the few wargame scenario/supplement specifically wrote for Imjin war.

  5. @TheXanian
    Good day and welcome to my blog!

    I am aware that Wu Bei Zhi is a compilation of older books, that's why it is often possible to track various weapons found in Wu Bei Zhi to the original/earliest source.

    The hellburner can only be found in another book 《金湯借著十二籌》, which is also late Ming. Earlier naval military treatises (i.e.《籌海圖編》 ) or even shipbuilder's manual (i.e. 《南船記》) made no mention of this ship.

    I believe the only book that records rocket wheelbarrow is Wu Bei Zhi, which pretty much rule out the possibility of earlier invention. The rocket cart during the 1450s would be a massive, 600-rocket heavy cart operated by four soldiers.

    You can read more at my blog post about Ming Dynasty rocket cart, especially the part about Huo Che vs Hwacha debate.

  6. @春秋战国

    I hate to sound condescending but "Hideyoshi's Korean Invasion" isn't much better in the accuracy department.

    Unfortunately the author has no mastery of Classical Chinese and the text reflects the heavy use of secondary English sources.

    He doesn't source the various scrolls he references and the inclusion of repeating crossbowmen,Song composite lamellar,Edo period prints makes me wonder if he thoroughly studied the period.

    On the plus side his illustrations depict late Ming(post Imjin) and some southern Chinese armaments.

    Maps included would be useful for wargaming the Imjin War,and the narrative gives the reader a general sense of what occurred during a battle.

  7. @Wansui
    To be fair, I think I've read somewhere that the force under Liu Ting (刘綎) did brought some repeating crossbows (and other exotic weapons) with them to join he Imjin war, and baffled the Koreans in the process.

  8. @春秋战国

    While I don't doubt that Liu Ting/Wu Guang's native auxiliaries could have fielded crossbowmen, the book implies that crossbows and their repeating variants were as ubiquitous as the bow even amongst troops sent from the northern garrisons.

  9. @Wansui
    Uh...in that case it falls into the pitfall of "too many crossbows" that I mentioned in my previous post.

  10. Bradford's book is subject to the caveats that Wansui describes; crossbows especially. I think he's done a laudable thing in publishing the only wargamer's guide to the Imjin War, but it is a flawed gem. The lack of clear attribution of sources is a problem for some of his reconstructions and assertions, though I suppose that's beyond the scope of a non-academic work. Personally I can't criticise his lack of contact with Chinese source material, since I can't read it myself.

  11. Does it mean this illustration (from non-Western source) is more correct?

    1. Forgot the link:

  12. @Jayson
    Yes, but not COMPLETELY accurate. Later Osprey works also copied from this picture.

    For example we don't know how a suit of mail armour is worn by Ming Chinese (even though some Ming period mail shirts survived relatively intact). The guy in that picture simply wear a suit of mail on top of his civil official robe. He's also wearing the emperor's (ceremonial) helmet, but without the lamellar breastplate accompanying it.

    (I had other idea on how a suit of mail is worn, but mostly guesswork)

    The guy in white brigandine is supposedly an arquebusier captain, so he should be using arquebus, not three-eyed gun.

  13. Need to contact you via email. How do I do that?

  14. @Jayson
    My email address is chinahistory.blog@gmail.com.

    1. Your the same China History that I have met in Google+?

  15. @Jayson
    I don't usually use Google+, but if you are referring to the guy that ask about the Yari & Teppo mod, yeah, that was me.

  16. Look at this crazy picture! http://41.media.tumblr.com/308102c67aeb9ef6e8866397db1f00b2/tumblr_mi1b30pwxB1rcoy9ro1_1280.jpg

  17. @Jayson Ng
    Is that Taiping rebellion? Wow, that picture is indeed extra-crazy!

  18. Hello,

    Just found this place...amazing!

    I ran across this blog and noticed a reference to my work on the Imjin War and I would like to address some of the issues that were brought up.

    The book I wrote is directed towards the wargaming crowd, as such it was not meant to be a scholarly work. With that said, it was a big undertaking because nobody had ever done one that dealt with the war as seen from ALL sides. One of the major problems with studying this period is that the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean sources differ in almost every way about the war. Finding a middle ground is tough, but I chose to try to be unbiased in the research. Whereas China still has many great sources (though difficult to get a hold of even through interlibrary loan), Korea and Japan suffer from having much of their information destroyed; Japan, during the bombings in WW2 and Korea due to Japanese Occupation from the late 19th century until the end of WW2.

    No, I do not read Chinese, just Japanese, so my sources with that regard are limited to what I could get at the UCLA East Asia Library, through interlibrary loan, and have translated by my friends. However, I would like to point out that I used sources that were based on primary documents. The illustrations that you show based upon the works 經略復國要編 ,神宗實錄,兩朝平攘錄 (though I cannot pronounce them) are in many secondary source books. For example, Wang Zhaochung's work "Zhongguo gu dai bing qi" has the same illustrations as those on this site (many are used in my book). While I may have interpreted the drawings in it differently than on this site, it nevertheless shows that I was not "pulling things out of midair."

    Wansui mentioned the lack of sources about the scrolls, well, the one I saw was from an exhibit at the Asian-Pacific Museum in Pasadena, California and the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, California. This same scroll is also mentioned in one of the Osprey books.

    With regards to the armor, you are correct in saying that there is no information on how the armor was worn. In my work, much of this had to be guessed based on the information available. However, I did have some help. There are some pieces of armor located in Museums, and the curators of the Korean War Memorial museum, and the Imperial Armory of Leeds were very helpful in this area.

    Now one thing that I am still perplexed about is the Ming use of Crossbows. While this site continues to say that they were not used, both Korean and Japanese sources talk at length about them. Yi Hyong-sok's work "Imjin Chollan-sa" has mention of them throughout. This source, written in old Korean, goes into great detail, and gives the number of the troops armed with the weapons at various battles. Fore example, there is mention of 1000 used at the Battle of Chiksan. Now the type of crossbow I had to extrapolate from the combination of different sources. As stated, Liu Ting 's contingent of troops had "zhuge nu." Imjin Chollan-sa only mentions these types of crossbow, nothing else. My estimations are mearly a "ball park" figure.

    Anyway, I hope this clarified some issues. While not a scholarly work, my book was aimed at the wargames crowd. I did my best with what sources were available and I am sure that I made errors in my interpretations. However, as I stated in my book, scholarly research in the appearance of the Ming is an ongoing process. My book was researched for over 10 years (I started back in 1995), and only printed in 2010. It is now six years later and there does not seem to be much additional information available. Of course, there have been several Chinese films put out about the Ming during this time and look how they have depicted the armor won by the troops--they do not have it right either.

    This is a terrific site! Please, continue to research and present your material. It gets all us a little closer to understanding all of this.


  19. On another topic, something that I am still puzzled about is the Ming use of War Carts. Going back to the Battle of Chiksan, "Imjin Chollan-sa" mentions that the Ming used these in the battle but they were pulled by oxen who had their tails lit on fire. I looked in Zhaochung's book for an illustration of this, but I could not find one, and the closest I found was a cow with all sorts of blades tied to it; in which the tail was lit and it was sent off into the enemy ranks. I am wondering if I have it all wrong and the war carts are like those mentioned on this blog? Still, how do you account for the tails being set on fire?


  20. @Brian
    Good day and welcome to my blog!

    Never thought that the creator of Killer Katanas would come to my blog! I am both surprised and honoured.

    About the issues you addressed:

    I personally do not own your book(s), so I am in no position to actually comment about it...maybe except the "too many crossbow" part based on Wansui's opinion. China isn't much better off than Korea or Japan in this regard actually, after that 'Cultural Revolution' thing.

    One of the main issues of basing reconstruction mostly on Ming period military treatises (even though they are primary sources) is that it gives an wrong impression that Ming armies employed scores of "exotic" or "wacky" equipment. (You can read my rambling in my 100th post). Ming military authors tend to wrote about the most exotic equipment that was hardly ever used on the field. On the other hand, I can't even find ONE illustration for brigandine armour, the most common armour during Ming period, in any of the military treatises, and had to look for scroll paintings.

    China is also such a big place that military treatises written at some places do not necessary reflect equipment used at other place. (i.e. Think of the difference between English and Scots)

    (Not to mention there are a lot of exceedingly bad illustrations in period sources that contradict their own written explanation - check my post on Pa La Hu Chuan)

    Actually there are quite a bit of visual sources depicting Ming military personnel in armour. What I am not certain are (1) What was worn underneath armour (2) How mail armour (chainmail) was worn.

  21. @Brian
    Regarding crossbow issue

    Crossbow was still used by Ming armies, albeit mostly as support/secondary weapon. Although some military treatises still like to talk about it, crossbow hardly shows up in arsenal records or tactical planning records. Hongwu period manufacturing records often mention bow being manufactured in tens of thousands at a time, while crossbow manufacturing hardly exceeded 5,000 at a time.

    (Note: for comparison, Chinese manufactured matchlock guns numbering tens of thousands as well, and it was still considered uncommon).

    Use of crossbow at all during Battle of Chiksan already seem VERY unusual, as Ming force participated in that battle comprised almost entirely out of cavalrymen.

    Fire-ox cart is even more fantastical, as this is a highly unconventional tactic not to be used lightly. After all, this tactic waste away valuable potential food source and civilian livelihood for minimal short-term gain, with no guaranteed to success. As Battle of Chiksan was an almost "sudden encounter" type of battle (Ming was taken by surprise at first, mistaking Japanese force for Korean reinforcement), I highly doubt that Ming force had the time or resource to prepare a tactic like that.

    Ironically, only mention of fire-ox tactic during the Imjin war (that I've read) was unleashed by Japanese force against the Koreans, using captured cows.

  22. Well, this just goes to show how different the sources can be. The Korean source "Imjin Chollan-sa" states that these weapons were used, and to make matters more interesting, that they failed because the cows became scarred from the cannon fire and stampeded in the wrong direction! On the other hand, the Japanese sources do not even mention these, and Chiksan is a single-day battle, not two.

  23. @Brian
    Japanese cannons??? Do you mean Teppo?

    I wonder which primary source "Imjin Chollan-sa" referenced (it is a secondary source right?) as even primary Korean sources did not mention fire-ox.

    A fairy comprehensive discussion on the battle can be found at Samurai Archive:

    Some of the sources quoted, like 宣祖實錄 (Joseon Seonjo), 亂中雜祿 (Nanchung chamnok) and 中興誌 are all Korean primary sources, but written in Chinese (most Joseon official documents were written in Chinese anyway).

  24. It was the Ming who had the cannon. I guess it had rained and much of the powder on both sides was wet. Many of the cannons could not be fired as a result. However, there were some that did and they scared the cows. I assume that they went off unexpectedly.

    Imjin Chollan-sa is a secondary source. It is a reprinting of the original written (I want to say either 1760 or 1860). It has updated maps over modern topography, which really helped me when I made my scenarios.

    It is written in Old Korean: a mix of Chinese and Korean. I had to go to two people, one Chinese and one Korean, to try to piece together the text.

  25. @Brian

    I am even more confused after hearing your/Imjin Chollan-sa's description of Battle of Chiksan. Did the Ming unleash the fire ox, then shoot their own cannons (accidentally?), which then cause the fire-ox tactic to fail?

  26. ...and you probably should be confused as I was. Like I said, there are three different accounts of this battle and they all have a different outcome. I basically took all three sources and hashed them together. It was the most challenging battle scenario to write.

    Imjin Collan-sa states that the night before the second day of the battle there was a heavy downpour and it dampened all the powder. In the morning the Japanese renewed the battle (Swoop adds "in cranes Wing"), and the Chinese attempted to fire their guns, but the dampness prevented many from going off. Those that did scared the horses and bulls pulling the carts and they stampeded, many into their own ranks, and they had to be shot to prevent additional damage.

    If this account is true, then I suspect that these animals were taken from the countryside. Their easily being frightened shows that they were not conditioned animals.

  27. @Brian

    ......Whoa. Now I finally caught a glimpse on how hard it was to write a scenario about Imjin war. Kudos to you for actually managed to pull it off.

  28. @Brian,
    Great to see you've found this blog Brian.

    As I mentioned above my reservations on your reconstructions in a couple of instances are simply that I haven't been able to trace the sources you worked from; others I can spot immediately, like the heavy archer in armour from Wu Bei Zhi. Although as we've both said, its a wargaming book and not an academic work, so footnotes and detailed attributions are not to be expected.

    This is a great place to discuss such things, so perhaps we can discuss a few of the drawings here? I do think the book is a great service to wargamers, nothing comparable existed before in English. You may remember a while back we corresponded about a range of figures I've been sculpting, hopefully that will be happening this year.

  29. Almost all my sources (Chinese and Korean) came from the UCLA East Asian Library, plus interlibrary load. Those titles should still be there.

    What would you like to know about the drawings?

  30. @春秋战国

    I'm fairly certain that brigandine armor was quite a common form of armor during the Mid-to-Late Ming period. The scroll painting "平番得胜图" showed that Ming cavalryman had red and dark brown brigandine armors; another scroll painting "抗倭图卷" showing Ming soldiers on a boat wearing red turbans and yellowish studded or brigandine armors. And the manual "四镇三关志" (if I remember correctly) depicted a type of armor and helmet very similar to the ones depicted on "平番得胜图". And I believe an actual late Ming arquebusier brigandine armor was found, and this was used as a reference for the recontructed Ming brigandine armor in the book "画说中国历代甲胄", although I'm not quite sure about the exact details of the find.

    So I think it's no doubt that brigandine armors and/or some types of studded cotton or paper armors were commonly used by late Ming infantry. The remaining problems are to figure out the exact details about how they were made and how they were worn.

  31. @Killerkatanas

    The Ming still occasionally used crossbows as a secondary/support weapon, but late Ming crossbows seem to be of less quality than early Ming or Song crossbows. I've read somewhere that this was because by the late Ming the technique for making intricate crossbow triggers had already been lost. Another reason was probably because of the usages of firearms replaced the crossbows. However, it seems that certain Ming troops from peripheral regions still relied on their crossbows, such as the Wolf Troops from Guangxi and Guangdong, known for their use of poisonous crossbows.

    The repeating crossbow "Zhuge Nu" was an unlikely choice of battlefield weapon. The Ming technological manual "天工开物" mentioned that it was mostly used as a civilian weapon for defence against unarmored bandits.

    Fire-oxen pulling carts also seems to be highly unlikely. I've heard about the fire oxen and seen an illustration of it with blades attached, but never heard about those fire-oxen pulling carts. And moreover, I've read that most of the Ming troops at the Battle of Chiksan were cavalry, and that their encounter with the Japanese was quite sudden. I think it's quite unlikely that they had the time or the resource to prepare such a tactic.

  32. @The Xanian
    Actually brigandine became commonplace earlier than that. Chinese switched to brigandine around 1496 at the latest, and probably earlier. Because brigandine and its variants were so common, military writers did not feel the need to write about them, so it did not show up much in military treatises.

    You are right about Ming armies did not use much crossbows. However, the notion that they lost the knowhow to make intricate crossbow triggers was a myth - they never lost it, they simply stop using it.

    The myth stem from a statement in 《蹶張心法》that describes how Cheng Zong You acquired an antique Han crossbow trigger from a cave (later recorded in Wu Bei Zhi as well). While we have no reason to doubt his statement, Cheng Zong You was but a civilian at the time, so he naturally did not have access to more sophisticated military technology. More importantly, 《三才圖會》, an encyclopedia written in 1607 and published in 1609 (Cheng's book was published in 1621), already recorded a Han crossbow trigger.

  33. @Brian,

    B3 and C2 are the two I am curious about. I've not been able to relate them to sources I am familiar with. I am not questioning their legitimacy, just that Wansui and myself have not been able to work out where they are drawn from.


  34. Concerning B3 and C2, I got these from a book on Chinese armor that I ran across at UCLA. The book was a guide to historical costume in Chinese cinema. The armor was related to the period of Coxinga, but the text stated that the design of the uniform followed the common trend of the Southern Ming troops of the late 16th to 17th centuries.

    Unfortunately, this was one of the books that I had to make quick photocopies of, so it was not included in my bibliography.

  35. @Brian
    Chinese movies are generally really, really bad choice for researching period costume/armour/anything. There's only one Coxinga-related movie that I am aware of ('The Sino-Dutch War 1661') and it is quite bad in the costume department.

    That said, it does still pretend to be (somewhat) historical and not simply throw out purely fantastical armour. There are worse movies out there.

  36. I'm glad there's someone like you out there in these nets. Yeah, I've been very frustrated with this particular Osprey book's illustrations. It's such so supremely subpar compared to everything else they had, even artworks for obscure peoples like the Saka or the Hephthalites. But NOT for the Ming, GOD FOR BIT nothing accurate or detailed or beautiful for the empire that drove out the Mongols and reinvigorated China for the next three hundred years, God forbid should the west see the Chinese as somehow simultaneously spinelessly weak, cheap, and imperialistic in the Ming era as well. Gee, no wonder Total War, Extra History, or anything else in the west generally jump straight for samurais when thinking of Asia at all. We don't even have a good impression to the legions of nerds and history lovers.

    I've been a long time admirer of your blogs (I am currently working on new articles for the Dragon's Armory series) and I am so glad I found this.

    There just isn't a place in the westerner's imagination for what a Chinese warrior/ soldier look like. There is no conception of what he is about, and now with the last century I'm not entirely sure the west is even capable ascribing virtue or bravery to the Chinese as a whole whenever military affairs are concerned at all. There are even tens and hundreds of comic-tards from the west that simply created their power fantasy story with Samurais where the Chinese INVADED Japan and just commenced to plunger and massacre innocent Japanese (both in their version of "history" or in their fantasy world) Oh boy it shows how insane what others imagines you to "be" when they don't know how you are raised, what you believe, what really happened, or what your ancestors believed in. Oh, yeah, let alone never read one of your people's books and only imagine Qin ShiHuang and Mao when they think of Chinese leadership.

    Oops, long rant, sorry about that, but just shows if anything how much I appreciate your effort to bring information and knowledge about one of my favorite historical periods. Thanks again and God bless.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I think the weak and twisted images of China in western world are largely cause by the chaos, wars and decline of China during late 19th to mid 20th, that's over one hundred years, it's not easy to turn this tide around, but we still survive and are reviving again now! Trust me, give China another 20 years to develope and whole situation will be totally different, websites like this are gradually show up is the very proof of it!

      As the decedents of dragon, we must have faith for ourselves! We'll regain our rightful place in the world again!

    3. Be wary not to let too much nationslism to spill into this blog.

    4. Sorry I don't mean to cause any trouble, I'm simply replying to Chaoticawesome1. Besides, I'm not just speaking this due to nationalism, it's fact, China is "坐二望一" now, although we still have many issues but we're also reviving. And you're doing great job for introducing the more accurate historical facts to the world and Westerners, I really thank you for that! Keep up the good work!

    5. It’s okay to be proud of your country or culture, but what position China is now has very little to do with what Ming China was/did.

    6. Yes, you're absolutely right, but how are people doing in the "present" will also affect how people look at the "past", people’s opinions to the “past” will also change by the present, more or less. If we’re doing great now, people will become more willingly to know our past in a “positive way”, because they want to know why we are good in the present. And vice versa. Just like saying: “All history is contemporary history”, in some way.

      I really appreciate your fabulous blog! There were really not many of this kind of sites for common westerners/foreigners before 2010s.

    7. While you have a point, this actually have more to do with the availability of easy-to-access/understand historical material, as well as how people in question treat their own culture.

  37. @Chaoticawesome1

    Good day and welcome to my blog. Glad you like it.

    I must say there is indeed a quite significant gap between the West's "general impression" of Ancient/Ming China and Chinese's own impression. However, bias, misunderstanding and stereotyping are to be expected, given that large amount of untranslated resources are not available to them.

    I myself probably misunderstood a lot of things about Western cultures too.

    Speaking of fantasy and RPGs, while I am not a tabletop wargamer (yet?), I really hate the mix-and-match approach to create a fantasy-China-counterpart (i.e. that recent expansion of Age of Mythology)as this approach usually lose all the flavours that make China Chinese.

  38. This is a very enlightening post. Thank you for that. I have a somewhat related question: do you have any tips for creating a Ming-based faction/army in Warhammer 40K? Or any ideas?

    1. I do have some ideas in my head, although I lack the expertise/experience to put together entire fan codex like Mathias Eliasson's Warhammer Army Project etc.

    2. I'm not asking so much of you. Rather, I want to have insights on what would be good lore, and what should I avoid doing?

    3. Well, I imagine a space marine chapter based off the Koxinga's Tieren force, which I found really fits the "elite" feels of 40k Space Marine.

    4. 40k verse is fairly stuffed with...stuffs, and a lot of Asian niches are taken up by Imperials and Tau, so I don't really like the idea of yet another new race etc - it can be done and done well, but takes more efforts.

    5. It isn't yet finished, but I tried to make up a chinese-based SM chapter. Take a look if you want:

    6. That's very interesting! It actually makes me want to write one for myself!

      How do you come out with the space marine armour looks?

    7. Thanks!

      With this program: https://bitbucket.org/chaptergenerator/chaptergenerator/downloads/

  39. Looking at the picture you posted as well as other picture from 征倭紀功圖卷 , it seems to me that most armored infantry seems to be from the yi minority. Everything from the capes, brestplate with fauld and helmets but no limbs armor, dark red or black in color,etc... Why is that ? Where they really yi in the imjin war ? They are far from thier homeland ,could it be because the drawer made a mistake ? I wasn't the first to make this connection apparently. What do you thingk ?

    1. That painting was reputed to be painted by a follower of Liu Ting. Liu Ting was the commander of Ming army from Sichuan region (majority of his military achievements came from defeating Burmese Toungoo Dynasty), so yes, there were Yi people that fought in the Imjin War.

    2. Indeed.I was quite surprised to see that Yongning tusi chief She Chongming had to send 20000 Yi troops to Liaodong before the She-An Rebellion. How long would it takes to mobilize tusi infantry troops from Sichuan to Liaodong ?

    3. Ming frequently shift Southern troops to the North, so there will always be Southern troops available one way or another. I suck at estimating actual mobilisation and travel time though.

  40. I have a question concerning your critique of the Ulsan siege plate from the Osprey book Japanese Castles in Korea. You say: "A variety of armours and equipment can be seen here, but none of them accurate. Brigandine with lamellar limb defence was more characteristic of a Central Asian heavy cavalryman (i.e. Timurids) than Ming trooper." Yet throughout the rest of this blog and in the comments are ample discussion about Brigandines being the primary Ming style of armor. So can you tell me more what specifically is wrong with the armor in this illustration? Is it the Lamellar plates (but in your June 1 2016 blog post you say that lamellar never disappeared from use in China)? I'm new to Chinese armor and just a tad confused. Thanks!

    1. Good day and welcome to my blog. My critique being specifically targeted at "brigandine AND lamellar limb defence", not brigandine in general.

      Ming troopers usually had:
      1) brigandine ONLY,
      2) brigandine with segmented armguards,
      3) Lamellar armour ONLY,
      4) Composite armour of lamellar, scale, laminar, and mountain scale

      They generally didn't mix brigandine and lamellar together.

    2. Thanks very much for the welcome and especially your informative reply. I hope I can learn more here in the future.