27 November 2014

Leather (and other animal-derived) armours of the Ming Dynasty

Pi Jia (皮甲, leather armour or hide armour)
Ming Chinese Cowhide Scale Armour
Pi Jia, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Pi Jia is a type of hide armour made of raw cowhide. To make this armour, a cowhide is cut into small scales, painted with tung oil, baked dry, then hammered together with powdered iron. This process is repeated again and again until every piece of cowhide scales become iron-hard. The hardened scales are then laced together into a suit of armour.

Pi Jia is used by the rank-and-file. It is usually worn on top of paper armour.

Long Lin Jia (龍鱗甲)
Ming Chinese full body leather scale armour
Long Lin Jia, from 'Yu Zi Shi San Zhong Mi Shu Bing Heng (《喻子十三種秘書兵衡》)'.
Long Lin Jia is a cowhide scale armour that covers the entire body of its wearer. 

For more details, see my other post.

Yue Bing Kui Jia (粵兵盔甲, 'Armour of Yue Troop')
Yue Bing Kui Jia, from 'Chou Hai Tu Bian (《籌海圖編》)'.
Armour used by the militia-sailors from Yue region (粤, present-day Guangdong and Guangxi province, particularly Guangxi). This armour is made of cowhide, cut into multiple bands and treated with tung oil, then riveted together horizontally (effectively turning it into a studded leather armour). Its spaudlers can be further reinforced with cow horn plates.

Yue Bing Kui Jia was considered the best among leather armours.

Chu Zhou Pi Jia (處州皮甲, 'Hide armour from Chu Zhou')
A type of hide armour used by Ming troops from Chu Zhou. Recorded in Huo Long Shen Qi Zhen Fa (《火龍神器陣法》), this armour is made of raw buffalo hide, cut into multiple strips and assembled in the likeness of a Zheng Long (蒸籠, bamboo steamer), then painted with tung oil and dried. 

Chu Zhou Keng Bing Pi Jia (處州坑兵皮甲, lit. 'Hide armour of Keng Bing from Chu Zhou')
Chu Zhou Keng Bing Pi Jia, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Auxiliary armour commonly used by Keng Bing (坑兵, lit. 'Tunnel troops', referring to troops recruited among illicit miners) from Chu Zhou that only protects the left side of the body. It is usually worn on top of another armour.

The lower part of this armour can be lifted and hitched with a hook so that it will not hinder the wearer's movement.

Armour made of unusual material
Besides common cow and buffalo hide, Chinese sometimes made armour out of very unusual animal or animal parts.

Tan Ni Kai (唐猊鎧, lit. 'Lion armour')
Ming Chinese Lion armour
Tang Ni Kai and helmet, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
Tang Ni Kai is a rather unusual armour made of molded pangolin hide. To make this armour, five pangolin hides are boiled in a solution of water, radish seeds and lopseeds to clean up the sludges, then cooked together with saltpetre, Glauber's salt and Sal ammoniac for an entire day. The pangolin hides are then molded and cut into lamellae or scales and assembled into a complete suit.

Chuan Shan Jia Jia (穿山甲甲, 'Pangolin armour')
Ming Chinese pangolin scale armour
Chuan Shan Jia Jia, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Chuan Shan Jia Jia is made of pangolin scales. Said to be extremely tough, it is usually reserved for high-ranking officers.

Isinglass armour of Guangzhou
Militias from Guangzhou also made armours and shields out of isinglass (hardened fish glue made from fish bladder). This armour was said to be extremely tough and bulletproof.


  1. Regarding "Isinglass armour of Guangzhou"...was it mentioned if it's other materials soaked in isinglass or is it somehow pure isinglass in solid form?

    1. The record says "palm-sized plate” so I presume it is solid pure isinglass...

  2. Could you provide more info on the isinglass armor of Guangzhou? I wonder how did it look like and how it was made?

    1. Unfortunately there isn't any more info that I could find - it appears to be a type of scale armour made from solid isinglass plates.

      Come to think of it, I should have call it "fish maw armour" instead?

  3. What is the dating for the picture of depicting Yue Bing Kui Jia, from 'Chou Hai Tu Bian (《籌海圖編》)' ?

    1. The book was published in 1561-62, so the armour dates to at least that time.

  4. I have been looking at the Zheng Wo Ji Gong Tu Juan (《征倭紀功圖卷 drawing and there is a soldier on one of the boats with what seems a leather armor similar to the Yi people MET one. Are there any other Ming sources depicting an armor of that kind?

    1. 征倭紀功圖卷 is a Korean painting (I only find out recently). There are plenty of soldiers (Liu Ting's Sichuanese troops) in the painting wearing Yi armor.
      As far as I can tell it is the only Ming-era painting that depict that kind of armor.

    2. Do you know the ethnic composition/procedence of Liu Ting's Sichuanese forces? They were Tu Bing of Yi extraction, from other tribal groups, regulars from Wei Suo or a mix all of them? I tried to research the topic once but English sources are quite poor. And what was their involvement in the Imjin war? Did they arrive too late to do anything?

    3. I actually don't know and is also trying to find out. It is possible that "Yi" armour were not exclusively used by them though.


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