Famous Military Unit of the Ming Dynasty — Bai Gan Bing (白桿兵)

Bai Gan Bing (White Shaft Troop)
Qin Liang Yu and Bai Gan Bing, from 'Li Dai Ming Jiang Hua Pu (《歷代名將畫譜》)' by early Republican period painter Ma Tai (馬駘).
Bai Gan Bing (白桿兵, lit. 'White shaft troop') was an elite infantry unit under the leadership of Qin Liang Yu (秦良玉), the only Imperial-appointed female general in entire Chinese history. Majority of Bai Gan Bing consisted of Tu Ren (土人, modern day Tujia people) that came from Shizhu. Like other Tu Bing (土兵), they were organized under Tu Si (土司, government-sanctioned hereditary chieftain) system.

Bai Gan Bing was actually raised by Ma Qian Cheng (馬千乘), a Ming general, Tu Si of Shizhu, and husband of Qin Liang Yu (Qin Liang Yu herself was actually a Han Chinese). After Ma Qian Cheng's death, Qin Liang Yu took up his mantle and assumed command of the army. Together with troops from Zhejiang, they formed the best infantry of the Ming Dynasty.


Equipment
Bai Gan Bing famously wielded pikes with undecorated, white coloured shafts known as Bai Gan Zi (白桿子, white shaft), from which they derived their name. They were also proficient in the use of Lang Xian (狼筅), and used some glaives and swords as well. Bai Gan Bing did not use bow and arrow, but used crossbow occasionally.  

For defensive equipment, they wore cotton armour (or blanket) on top of iron armour.

Other sources recorded that they used rattan shield, and wore rattan helmet and barkcloth armour.


Orgainsation and tactics
Unlike troops from Zhejiang, which preferred multirole, mixed-unit formation (i.e. Mandarin Duck Formation) and firearms, troops from Sichuan seem to preferred single-unit formation. Bai Gang Bing were almost entirely made up of heavily armoured pikemen, and had little in the way of ranged weapon. 

Five to eight hundred warrior monks known as Luo Han Bing (羅漢兵, lit. 'Arhat troop') formed the elite core of Bai Gan Bing.


Mountaineer extraordinaire
Bai Gan Bing were renowned for their hardiness as well as their ability to navigate dangerous terrain (Tujia people were mountain dwellers). Their Bai Gan Zi, which have a hook on one end and an iron ring on another, can be locked together to make a climbing aid.

Bai Gan Bing first made themselves known during the war of Bozhou, in which Qin Liang Yu and her husband rapidly defeated seven strongholds of rebellious Miao people with three thousand and five hundred troops.

Their second battle, which pit them against Manchu force at the battle of Hun River, was ironically both their finest hour and their worst defeat. The battle of Hun River played out similarly to Battle of St. Jakob an der Birs, as a four thousand strong Sichuan force (along with three thousand Zhejiang artillerymen that deployed separately and were unable to come to their aid) was able to inflict heavy casualties on a mounted Manchu force several times their size, only to be blasted to smithereens by turncoat Ming artillery.

Despite the defeat, Bai Gan Bing did not perish. In fact, they outlasted Ming Dynasty itself, and remained active in Shizhu even after the rest of Sichuan fall to the rebel army of Zhang Xian Zhong (張獻忠).

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