27 March 2015

Qi Ji Guang's Yuan Yang Zhen (鴛鴦陣) — Part 1

Yuan Yang Zhen
Basic layout of the early formation, from 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.
The famous Yuan Yang Zhen (鴛鴦陣), known to the West as Mandarin Duck Formation, was devised by Ming general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) for his campaign against Wokou (倭寇). With this formation, Qi Ji Guang never tasted a single defeat during his campaign, often completely annihilating his enemy with little to no casualties. Named after ruddy shelduck*, which is known to form lasting pair bonds, the formation was also characterised by having two identical or near-identical teams working in tandem.

*Note: Yuan Yang (鴛鴦) actually referred to ruddy shelduck in Ming official documents as well as among some Ming literati. The mandarin duck as we know it today was known as Xi Chi (鸂鶒) during Ming period.

The exotic name and astounding battle records shroud the Mandarin Duck Formation in myth. In reality, Mandarin Duck Formation was very simple, straightforward and did not require a high level of martial skills nor complex manoeuvres to be effective (Qi's army was comprised of peasants and miners, most of whom were illiterate). While Mandarin Duck Formation was primarily designed for small engagement, it could be easily scaled up for use in large battle numbering thousands of troops as well.

Basic tactics
Early Mandarin Duck Squad
Rendition of a full Mandarin Duck squad on standby. This image is cropped and then pieced together from 'Wu Bian (《武編》)', 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)' and 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'. Weapons are edited to show a somewhat more realistic length.
Rendition of a full Mandarin Duck squad in combat. This image is cropped and then pieced together from 'Wu Bian (《武編》)', 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)' and 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'. Weapons are edited to show a more realistic length.
A basic Mandarin Duck squad consisted of two near identical teams of five, plus one squad leader and one porter. Each team consisted of one swordsman who was also the team leader, one Lang Xian (狼筅), two pikemen armed with long spears and one Tang Pa (鎲鈀).

When facing the enemy, both swordsmen crouched at the front rank to protect all those behind them with their shields. Once the battle was joined, the swordsman with rattan shield would throw his javelin and made a quick dash to charge at the enemy, while the swordsman with Ai Pai (挨牌) stood his ground. Lang Xian were projected over the head of the swordsman to provide cover, while pikemen guarded the left and right flanks of the Lang Xian. If enemy troops managed to somehow get pass the Lang Xian and pikemen, they still had to face the shorter but no less deadly Tang Pa. 


  1. great animation about the formation

    from a Chinese documentary about Qi Ji Guang

    1. I have seen it. The animation is creative and well done, but I am not very impressed with the portrayal of the formation itself.


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