Famous Military Unit of the Ming Dynasty — Tie Ren (鐵人)

Age of Empire 3 Iron Troop
Aftermath of the Siege of Fort Zeelandia, depicting Chinese troops wearing heavy lamellar armour, possibly Tie Ren. Artwork taken from 'Reise nach Java, Formosa, Vorder-Indien und Ceylon' by Albrecht Herport, an artist, soldier of VOC, and witness of the battle.
Tie Ren (鐵人 or 銕人, lit. 'Iron man') were a type of elite heavy infantry unit that served the legendary Zheng Cheng Gong (鄭成功), known to the West as Koxinga. They were amongst the finest troops Ming Dynasty (or any Chinese dynasties for that matter) had to offer. Formally known as Hu Wei Zhen (虎衛鎮, lit. 'Tiger Guard Garrison'), the formation of Tie Ren was inspired directly by the heavily armoured cavalry of the Qing Dynasty.

Chinese scale armour
Fragmented bronze scales salvaged from a sunken ship of Koxinga's fleet.
Tie Ren famously wielded Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀) as their weapon of choice. They were heavily armoured, wearing an iron helmet, an iron mask painted with terrifying visage, a possibly double-sided (i.e. iron plates on both sides of heavy cotton backing) armoured coat fastened with chains, an armoured skirt, armpit armours, armguards and iron boots. Because Tie Ren often served as marines and participated in amphibious assault, they sometimes discarded limb armours for ease of movement.
A short, single-edged sword (highlighted) that exhibits many characteristics unique to Southeast Asian dha, such as the very long, rounded hilt and small guard. From 'Jing Guo Xiong Lue (《經國雄略》)', written by Zheng Da Yu (鄭大鬱), a contemporary of Koxinga and follower of Zheng Zhi Long (鄭芝龍), Koxinga's father.
Other equipment of Koxinga's army included bows and arrows, grenadesrattan shields, Japanese yari (槍) as well as a type of sword known as Yun Nan Dao (雲南刀, lit. 'Yunnanese sword'), most likely based on the design of Southeast Asian dha.

Organisation and tactics
Tie Ren were usually deployed in six-man squads. Each squad consisted of two swordsmen, two pikemen and two Tie Ren wielding Zhan Ma Dao (although sometimes pikemen were omitted to accommodate more Zhan Ma Dao), supported by three porters. During battle, each squad would further divide into two three-man cells that operated independently.

Every Tie Ren was also an archer. During battle, they were organised into archer contingent and close combat troops with a ratio of 4:6.

Warrior par excellence
The level of training and discipline of Tie Ren was best demonstrated by the famous Battle of Zhenjiang (鎮江之戰, not to be confused by another battle fought between the Qing Dynasty and British force during the course of First Opium War) in 1659. During the battle Tie Ren not only withstood and drove off repeated cavalry charges by a superior force of Manchu heavy cavalry, but actually initiated a countercharge and proceeded to slaughter them almost to a man. They were also able to disengage at a moment's notice, so that friendly artillery could fire into the ranks of their enemy at point-blank range, and then quickly resume assault.

Tie Ren were notably disciplined and fearless to the point of recklessness. Chinese sources describe Tie Ren forcibly pulling out arrow from wounded leg and resume battle as if nothing happened, while Dutch witness described them as "establishing perfect order in the ranks" and "but when the enemy has been thrown into disorder, the sword-bearers follow this up with fearful massacre amongst the fugitives". Their skill in archery was also noted to be "contrived to handle their weapons with so great skill, that they very nearly eclipsed the musketeers".

Despite their discipline and training, Tie Ren still exhibited strong piratical tendencies, and would not hesitate to engage in pillage, rape and massacre when given a pass from their commander.


  1. can i share and translate it on my facebook?

    1. Sure, as long as you link it back here.