Famous Military Unit of the Ming Dynasty — Tu Bing (土兵)

Tujia People
Section of the Qing period scroll painting 'Huang Qing Zhi Gong Tu (《皇清職貢圖》)', depicting Tu Ren from Yongshun and Baojin counties.
Tu Bing were auxiliary troops organised under Tu Si system. In a broader context, the term encompassed all Tu Si auxiliary troops, including Lang Bing (狼兵) and Bai Gan Bing (白桿兵). The most elite of Tu Bing came from Yongshun and Baojin counties. Majority of Tu Bing from these counties were Tu Ren (土人, later came to be known as Tujia people during Qing period), although a few Han Chinese and Miao people also joined their rank.

Together with Lang Bing, they formed the main auxiliary force that fought the Wokou (倭寇) during sixteenth century, to the point Lang Bing and Tu Bing were often mentioned together as Lang Tu Bing (狼土兵, lit. 'Wolf-Tu Si troops'). In fact, distinction between Tu Bing and Lang Bing was quite blurry. These terms were sometimes used interchangeably or confused with each other.

Tu Bing from Yongshun and Baojin were also known as Hu Bing (湖兵, lit. 'Lake troops'), as both counties are under Hunan province.

Tu Bing from Yongshun and Baojin were most famous for their Gou Dao (鈎刀, lit. 'Hook knife' or 'Hook sabre'), probably a Gou Lian (鈎鐮)Gou Lian Qiang (鉤鐮鎗) or Gou Lian Dao (鉤鐮刀). They also used long spears and javelins. As Tujia people lived in close proximity with Miao people, they were also avid users of crossbow. They did not use firearms, at least initially, although they may had adopted firearms during late Ming period.

At least some of them were known to wear armour.

Organisation and Tactics
Tu Bing of Yongshun and Baojin were divided into Cun Cheng Wu Ying (存城五营, lit. 'Five City Garrison Regiments'), their five hundred strong standing army, and various Qi Bing (旗兵, banner troop) or militia reserve force.

Tu Bing fought in aggressive wedge formation consisted of one Qi (旗, banner) of twenty-four troops. In large battle, twenty-four Qi would form into a large wedge formation while maintaining their own individual formations. Like many hill people in China, they could also fight in mutually supportive spearman-crossbowman teams.

Tu Bing also employed a highly unorthodox tactic to counteract the deadly Japanese swords of Wokou: throwing soaked cloths at the Wokou to distract them. If Wokou (instinctively) parry the cloth, the wet cloths would wrap around the blades and heavily weigh down their swords, creating an opening for Tu Bing to rush in.

Service Records
Tu Bing had the reputation of being fierce and brave, but also simple minded and highly disciplined. They were highly versatile infantry capable of fulfilling almost any role. On top of that, Tu Bing were excellent mountaineers and swimmers. They served Ming Dynasty in countless battles throughout entire Ming period.

Under famous generals like Yu Da You (俞大猷), Tu Bing were instrumental in defeating Wokou in numerous battles. They also participated in the second phase of Imjin War.


  1. were they actually fighting during imjinwar?

    Or just join the war and not fighting just like wolftroop?

    1. AFAIK they actually fought the war. About 15000 were mobilised if my memory serves.

      Wolf troops also fought in the war, as far as I can remember.