Cotton and brigandine armours of the Ming Dynasty

Mian Jia (棉甲, cotton armour)
Ming Chinese Gambeson
Section of one of the pages of 'Rui Xi Xian Sheng Nian Pu (《瑞溪先生年譜》)', depicting a horseman wearing a long coat with cross hatch quilting pattern, possibly a cotton armour.
A Mian Jia is made of seven catties of cotton, sewn between two layer of clothes, then quilted in vertical and horizontal lines with thick thread. It is then soaked in water, stomped flat, then dried. This armour is usually knee-length, with very short sleeves that measure to five cun long.

The description of Mian Jia can be found in Jin Tang Jie Zhu Shi Er Chou (《金湯借箸十二籌》) and Yong Chuang Xiao Pin (《湧幢小品》), among other books. Unfortunately, no illustration of any kind can be found in any Ming Dynasty military treatises.

Another mention of cotton armour can be found in Ming Shi (《明史》, History of Ming), which describes "cotton armour of hundred fold" worn by the rebel cavalry of Li Zi Cheng (李自成) as "impervious to arrows and firearms".

Note that Chinese character Mian (棉, cotton) and Mian (綿, silk wadding) were used more or less interchangeably during Ming period, their distinctive meanings only became apparent during Qing period.

Ming Chinese Brigandine Armour
Section of the Ming Dynasty scroll painting 'Chu Jing Tu (《出警图》)', depicting Ming cavalrymen in brigandine armour.
Ming Chinese Brigandine Waistcoat
Section of the Ming Dynasty scroll painting 'Wang Qiong Shi Ji Tu Ce (《王瓊事蹟圖冊》)', depicting Ming cavalrymen in short brigandine waistcoat.
Brigandine was the most common armour throughout Ming and Qing period, particularly in North China. So common, in fact, that none of the military authors even bothered to include it into their treatises.

Ming Dynasty brigandine comes in two varieties — a sleeveless, cap sleeve or short sleeve long coat known as Chang Shen Da Jia (長身大甲, lit. 'Long body great armour'), or a short waistcoat known as Qi Yao Jia (齊腰甲, lit. 'Wasit-length armour'). Both varieties are single-breasted and collarless, with cover fabric usually made of ramie or cotton cloth. They generally do not include spaudlers or pauldrons. Instead, separate all-metal armguards were used to protect upper limbs.

Contrary to popular misconception, Chinese brigandine was NEVER called Dingjia (釘甲, nail armour). In Modern Chinese language, brigandine is known as Bu Mian Jia (布面甲, lit. 'armour with cloth surface'), while Ming and Qing Chinese simply used generic terms such as "armour" or "iron armour" to refer to brigandine. Brigandine and lacquered lamellar armour were also referred to as An Jia (暗甲, lit. 'Dark armour' or 'Hidden armour') in contrast to polished lamellar armour's Ming Jia (明甲, lit. 'Bright armour' or 'Exposed armour').

Faux brigandine?
Eight Banners Army Vanguard Brigade Brigandine
Brigandine armour of Qian Feng Ying (前鋒營, vanguard regiment) of the Qing Dynasty Imperial Guards, from 'Huang Chao Li Qi Tu Shi (《皇朝禮器圖式》)'.
Qing Dynasty Cotton Armour
Studded cotton armour of the Qian Feng Ying (前鋒營) of the Qing Dynasty Imperial Guards, from 'Huang Chao Li Qi Tu Shi (《皇朝禮器圖式》)'.
It is a misconception that Chinese only used the so-called faux brigandine — garment with the outward appearance of a brigandine armour, but without metal plates attached to the rivets from the inside — as military uniform or ceremonial armour. This is only true for late Qing period, in which by this time body armour ceased to be practical. Both brigandine and studded armour of all kinds (paper, cotton or leather) were used as field armour throughout Ming and Qing period.

A Qing Dynasty Mian Jia shares the same outward appearance as a brigandine, but replaces the steel plates of a brigandine with cotton padding. It is cheaper and less protective than true brigandine, but still fully functional as a stand alone battle armour. Mian Jia was issued to second-line troops such as artillerymen and low quality troops such as the Lu Ying (綠營, Green Standard Army).


  1. How common would you say cotton armour was in the late 16th century? The yellow coats depicted in the right hand panel from "Chu Xiang Yang Wen Guang Zheng Man Zhuan", is this what the armour looked like, or are they wearing a sort of surcoat and the cotton armour is worn underneath?

  2. The consensus seems to be 'quite common', however the information from Ming sources are generally scarce and vague. As there are no surviving Ming cotton armour or any illustration (unlike Qing Dynasty), I cannot arbitrarily assert that the yellow coat shown in the picture IS armour.

    My personal guess is that it is just a military uniform/surcoat.

    (I will update the blog post with another picture)

  3. Thank you for the reply, and for the extra picture, these images are very useful.
    Is there a way to subscribe to the blog to follow updates and posts?


  4. You are welcome. Thanks for your continued interest in my blog.

    I have added some subscription gadgets to the right panel of my blog.

  5. What was the purpose of studs for the cloth armor?

  6. Did Ming chinese were 1 piece brigandine? or qing style 2 piece brigandine?

    1. Both. However one piece coat was far more common. The so-called 'Qing style'started to become somewhat commonplace during very very late Ming, and then copied by the Qing wholesome after Ming's fall.

  7. Do we have any remain 1 piece ming brigandine?

    1. Yes if we count the armour of Nurhaci. Couldn't think of another example though.