|Left: An unnamed Ming Jin Yi Wei (錦衣衛, lit. 'Brocade-clad guard') in parade gear. Middle: Fu De (富德), a Manchu general of Plain Yellow Banner. Right: Horimoto Gidayu Takatoshi (堀本儀太夫高利), a samurai based on the historical Morimoto Kazuhisa (森本一久).|
|Components of Chinese armour (Ming).|
Armour in the above picture is taken from Ru Bi Tu (《入蹕圖》). This particular suit is a parade armour, although it is reasonably representative of field armours used by Ming troops in North China.
This style of armour is called Zhao Jia (罩甲), also known as Chang Shen Da Jia (長身大甲, long body great armour). It was derived from Bi Jia (比甲), originally a women's coat developed during Yuan period. It should be pointed out that while Ming armour was influenced by Mongolian fashion, Mongol themselves rarely wore this type of armour.
|Analysis of Chinese armour (Ming).|
Unlike earlier Chinese armours, Zhao Jia is simple to wear, allowing its user to suit up at a moment's notice. This was especially important to Ming border troops given the unpredictable nature of Mongol raids.
Due to the suppleness of Chinese-style brigandine, this type of armour has poor weight distribution compared to rigid lamellar or plate armour. The armguards also leave the hands and fingers of its wearer vulnerable. While this is understandable given the importance of archery in Chinese warfare, it still constitute a weakness (note that other archery cultures did make use of hand protection).
|Components of Chinese armour (Qing).|
The design of Qing armour was copied from late Ming period Chinese armour, with only minor modifications and improvements added in. As widespread adoption of more advanced firearms, both by Qing and their enemies, quickly rendered body armour obsolete, no further modification was required for Qing armour.
|Analysis of Chinese armour (Qing).|
Two-piece armour offers superior mobility to its wearer at the expense of reduced defense at the abdomen, buttocks and back thighs. Nevertheless, since majority of Manchu warriors fought mounted, these vulnerabilities were of little concern to them.
|Small but plate-reinforced Ma Ti Xiu on the ceremonial armour of Qianlong Emperor.|
|Components of Japanese armour.|
Armour in the picture above is taken from Taiheiki Eiyuden (《太平記英勇傳》), a nineteenth century Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) painting created by famous Ukiyo-e painter Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳).
By sixteenth century, samurai armour had evolved into its final iteration: Tōsei Gusoku (当世具足, lit. 'Contemporary complete armour'). Like its namesake, the armour covers its wearer from head to toe. Tōsei Gusoku was developed as a response to the introduction of Portuguese firearms, shift of battlefield tactic, as well as increasingly intense warfare of Sengoku Jidai (戦国時代).
|Analysis of Japanese armour.|
Samurai of this period were no longer the horse archer-duelists they once were. They became much more close combat-oriented on the battlefield, and this shift of tactic was also reflected on their armour design. Tōsei Gusoku protects virtually every part of its wearer's body, and its gaps and weak spots can be further reinforced with auxiliary armour items worn beneath the main armour, befitting a warrior that expected to see frequent high intensity close combat. Auxiliary armours such as eri-mawari (襟廻) also provide padding and better weight distribution for the armour.
Another notable feature of later samurai armours is the shrinking of spaudler (not shown in the above picture). Early Japanese ō-sode (大袖) was actually less shoulder armour and more shoulder-mounted shield. In fact, Ō-sode was designed to protected the flank and upper arm of its wearer from incoming arrows rather than the shoulder. As samurai became less reliant on archery and more on close combat, sode also shrank in size and evolved into true spaudler, which offered better protection to the shoulder and allowed more freedom of movement for the arm. Nevertheless, even with both sode and kote (籠手) equipped, Japanese armour still provides less protection to the armpit area compared to Ming and Qing armour.
Despite its almost complete coverage, this type of armour is not without weaknesses. For an armour with such complete protection, it somehow leaves the lower part of midriff (i.e. area between cuirass and tassets) completely unprotected (note that some two-piece Chinese brigandines for low ranking troops also have this weakness as well). Besides, many Japanese armours do not have backing material, so they are quite noisy to wear due to rubbing between individual armour plates. Rubbing also causes premature wear to lacing, lacquer coating, and the plates themselves.
Choice of footwear
The difference between Chinese and Japanese approach to warfare can be seen on their respective footwear of choice as well. Ming Northern troops and Manchu warriors were predominantly cavalrymen, so their footwear of choice was obviously riding boots (infantry-based Ming Southern troops continued to wear shoes with stockings or puttees, or sometimes straw sandals as well). On the other hand, Japanese warriors were predominantly footmen, with almost no cavalry to speak of, so their footwear of choice was sandals.
|A pair of Ming-style boots, made by traditional Chinese clothing store Chong Hui Han Tang (重回漢唐).|
A boot is known as Xue (靴) in Chinese language. Traditional Chinese riding boots share many similarities with neighbouring horse cultures such as the Mongols. They can be made of either cloth or leather, although military riding boots, known as Zhan Xue (戰靴, lit. 'War boots'), are exclusively made of thick, stiff leather to better protect ankle joints. Due to the colder and drier climate of North China, traditional Chinese riding boots are lined with layers thick fabric. Stockings known as Wa (襪) are usually worn underneath the boots.
Unlike Western riding boots, traditional Chinese (and many Eastern cultures) riding boots are flat-heeled. Instead they have unusually wide shafts and comparatively short vamps, which serve the same purpose as heel (i.e. to prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup and get stuck). Both Western and traditional Chinese riding boots have flat and smooth soles, also to prevent the foot from getting stuck in the stirrup. Still, boots with flat soles are more slippery, which render them less suitable for foot combat, especially on rough terrain.
Traditional Chinese boots are almost always pitch black in colour contrasted with pale white soles. They generally have less prominent and rounder upturned toes than Mongolian boots (even though this tradition seems to originated from China), and many boots do not have upturned toes at all.
|A waraji. Note the toes protruding over the front edge. Straw sandals are still used in traditional Japanese stream hiking known as Sawanobori (沢登り) today.|
Japanese warriors made use of flip-flops and sandals made of rice straw, called zōri (草履) and waraji (草鞋) respectively, although waraji were by far the more common of the two. Japanese sandals provide excellent ventilation (effective in preventing athlete's foot) and ankle mobility, as well as a firm grip on rocky or mossy surface, making them the prefect footwear to use in the mountainous and humid (and very rainy) Japan. While straw sandals are less durable than shoes or boots, they can be cheaply replaced and even manufactured on the fly as long as there is available raw material.
During cold seasons, divided toe socks known as tabi (足袋) can be worn together with sandals. Samurai that wanted better protection for their feet may wear armoured kōgake (甲掛) on top of the socks.