20 February 2015

Rattan armours of the Ming Dynasty

Teng Dou Mou (藤兜牟, rattan hat helmet)
Koxinga Rattan Helmet
Rattan helmet allegedly belongs to the Koxinga's army, currently exhibited in Zheng Chenggong Memorial Hall, Xiamen, China.
By far the most common type of rattan body defence (apart from rattan shield), rattan helmet was widely used by Chinese troops in the South China (as well as neighbouring countries such as Vietnam).

Ming Chinese Rattan Conical Helmet
Drawing of a rattan hat helmet, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Rattan hat helmets come in all variety of shapes, but the most common ones seem to be conical shaped, similar to a small coolie hat. Rattan hat helmet is usually worn on top of a padded silk cap, constructed in similar way to Qi Jia. Rattan hat helmet and Qi Jia are usually worn together.

Chi Teng Jia (赤藤甲, red rattan armour)
Ming Dynasty Rattan Armour
Chi Teng Jia, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
The Chi Teng Jia is the typical "wickerwork" rattan armour. Made of sturdy Calamus rattan, this armour is extremely lightweight, suitable for naval operations.

To make this armour, fifty catties of rattans are submerged in the water for half a month, then sun-dried for three days. This process is repeated for one year before the rattans can be fully dried. The dried rattans are then woven into twenty set of armours, before being oiled with tung oil. Rattan helmet and buckler can also be prepared in a similar way to Chi Teng Jia.

Shui Bing Jia (水兵甲, marine armour)
Ming Chinese Rattan Scale Armour
Shui Bing Jia, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
A variant to the more common "wickerwork" rattan armour, Shui Bing Jia is of the scale construction. As its name suggests, this armour is designed with naval operation in mind. Soldiers were advised to strip naked before donning this armour in order to facilitate swimming movements.

Armour scales used in this armour came from old rattan tree (which can grow into enormous size), sawn into smaller plates, painted with tung oil, and then sun-dried or baked dry. These rattan scales are sewn to a backing, which is made of ramie fabric or cotton cloth, padded with human hair and treated with tung oil mixed with bean oil of some kind as well as wax and ash.

The helmet is made of sliced gourd shell. The tin breathing apparatus is non-functional.


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