28 February 2016

Xu Guang Qi's De Sheng Bing (得勝兵) — Part 1

Portrait of Xu Guang Qi currently kept at Guangqi Park, Shanghai.
De Sheng Bing (得勝兵, lit. 'Victorious troops') was the brainchild of Xu Guang Qi (徐光啟), one of the most brilliant minds of the Ming Dynasty. While a scholar-bureaucrat and had few experience in military matters, Xu Guang Qi was the student and collaborator of Jesuit Matteo Ricci, thus he was well aware of the advanced European weaponry and tactics of the time. Xu Guang Qi was a strong advocate of the adoption of Hong Yi Pao (紅夷砲), star fort and European scientific knowledge (particularly mathematic, irrigation and agriculture) in general.

The army that never was
Xu Guang Qi envisioned a small but elite hundred thousand strong standing army (later lowered to sixty thousand) that was able to face the increasing dire Manchu threat. The army would be spread out to defend the Nine Garrisons, but still able to muster quickly for a counterthrust into Manchu territories.

After the disastrous Battle of Sarhu, Xu Guang Qi made repeated requests to raise a new army. His request was approved in 1619, and he was appointed to raise and train a new army in Tongzhou and Changping. However, Xu Guang Qi faced strong opposition from within the Ming court, and Ming Dynasty was already in terrible shape economically, so his plan did not go as smoothly as he hoped. Later Xu Guang Qi's deteriorating health forced him to gave up the plan. He would attempt to raise another army through his student Sun Yuan Hua (孫元化), but that plan also resulted in failure.

Xu Guang Qi was aware that existing Ming armours offered inadequate protection against powerful Manchu bows and lances. He envisioned an extremely well-armoured Ming army that could stand up to Manchu threat and eventually defeat them. Every troopers in the new army would be protected by a complete suit of polished iron armour consisted of body armour, thigh armour, helmet, armoured mask, neck guard (aventail), spaudlers, mirror plate, armguards and belt, supplemented by leather blanket (cloak) and cloth padding. The army did not use shields except free-standing Ai Pai (挨牌).

Xu Guang Qi also divided the weaponry of the new army into four categories:
Although primarily an infantry force, the new army also contained cavalry, war wagon and artillery elements. Beside equipping his new army with advanced European weaponry, Xu Guang Qi also bought auxiliary equipment such as leather armours, poisoned crossbows and Miao Dao (苗刀, a type of straight single-edged sword used by Miao people) for the army.

Referencing earlier Ming armies, Xu Guang Qi laid out a detailed organisational framework for his new army.

Table below provides an overview to the structure of the army:
Military unit
Rough modern equivalent
Support personnel
Da Jun (大軍)
5 Ying
Da Jiang (大將)
Ying ()
5 Bu
Jiang Guan (將官)
Bu ()
5 Shao
Qian Zong (千總)
Shao ()
5 Dui
Shao Zong (哨總)
Dui ()
5 Wu
Dui Zhang (隊長)
Wu ()
Wu Zhang (伍長)
Note: Asterisk (*) indicates unit leader.

While himself a scholar, Xu Guang Qi scoffed at the practise of treating soldiers as lower class or social outcast. He called for proper treatment of soldiers, and designed the military hierarchy in the new army accordingly. All men aged between sixteen and forty were eligible to join, and promotion was based on merit.

Table below provides an overview to the military ranks of the army:
Military rank
Literal meaning
Rough modern equivalent
Monthly salary 
(in silver)
Jiang Ling (將領)* General Colonel
Qian Ba Zong (千把總)*
Thousand Captain
Lieutenant Colonel
Shao Guan (哨官)*
Dui Zhang (隊長)*
Watch Officer
Platoon Leader
Shang Shi (上士)
3 tael
Zhuang Shi (壯士)
Lance Corporal
2 taels 4 maces
Feng Bing (鋒兵)
Sharp/Elite Soldier
Private First Class
1 taels 8 maces
Dui Bing (隊兵)
Squad Soldier
1 tael 2 maces
Note: Asterisk (*) indicates officer rank. Officer ranks were only eligible for promotion when there was a vacancy.

Like many Ming armies, all troopers of Xu Guang Qi's army served as dual role unit, armed with both arquebuses and pikes or polearms.

Xu Guang Qi designed five basic formations (with several variant sub-formations) for his army. These formations were Fang Zhen (方陣, square formation), Qu Zhen (曲陣, crooked formation), Yuan Zhen (圓陣, round formation), Zhi Zhen (直陣, straight/column formation) and Rui Zhen (銳陣, sharp/wedge formation). All formations were simple, straightforward and easily scalable.

Fang Wu (方伍, square team)
Ming Dynasty Square Formation
Layout of a Fang Wu, from 'Xuan Lian Tiao Ge (《選練条格》)'.
Fang Wu was the basic square formation for Wu-level tactical unit. Five troopers were deployed inside a six chi by six chi square, supported by one porter standing behind them. Two polearm troops stood at the front, two pikemen stood at the back and the team leader stood in the middle of the formation, armed with a Lang Xian. The leader was allowed to switch out his Lang Xian for a pike, but not shorter polearm.

The porter also carried a spade (that doubles as carrying pole and quarterstaff).

Every troopers, including the porter, was armed with an arquebus, but some troops could switch to bows and arrows instead. After shooting, team leader and pikemen would pass their arquebuses to the porter and prepare for close combat.

Yuan Wu (圓伍, round team)
Round formation was not applicable to Wu-level unit, as five troopers were too few to form a proper circle.

Qu Wu (曲伍, crooked team)
Ming Dynasty Inverted Wedge Formation
Basic layout of a Qu Wu, from 'Xuan Lian Tiao Ge (《選練条格》)'.
Qu Wu was the basic crooked formation for Wu-level tactical unit. It was quite similar to Fang Wu, but the team leader was positioned behind other troopers.

Zhi Wu (直伍, straight team)
Ming Chinese Column Formation
Basic layout of a Zhi Wu, from 'Xuan Lian Tiao Ge (《選練条格》)'
Zhi Wu was the basic column formation for Wu-level tactical unit. In this formation, team leader was positioned at the front, with alternating polearm troops and pikemen formed into one column behind him. The column was six chi long.

Rui Wu (銳伍, sharp team)
Ming Dynasty Wedge Formation
Basic layout of a Rui Wu, from 'Xuan Lian Tiao Ge (《選練条格》)'
Rui Wu was the basic wedge formation for Wu-level tactical unit. It was basically an inverted Qu Wu, but the pikemen were still positioned behind polearm troops.

Yi Zi Ping Wu (一字平伍, lit. ''One' ideograph horizontal team')
Ming Dynasty Line Formation
Basic layout of a Yi Zi Ping Wu, from 'Xuan Lian Tiao Ge (《選練条格》)'.
Yi Zhi Ping Wu was a variant formation of Zhi Wu. In this formation, the team deployed into a tighter line formation, only four chi spacing. The team leader was positioned at the centre, two polearm troops stood at his left and ride side, and two pikemen guarded the flanks.

Er Zi Ping Wu (二字平伍, lit. ''Two' ideograph horizontal team')
Ming Chinese Formation
Layouts of Er Zi Ping Wu, from 'Xuan Lian Tiao Ge (《選練条格》)'.
Er Zi Ping Wu was another variant formation of Zhi Wu. In this formation, the team deployed in two ranks. Two polearm troops formed the first rank, the team leader and two pikemen formed the second rank. The formation would advance or retreat in "waves", i.e. the first rank would stand its ground and wait for the second rank to move past it, and vice versa.

This formation was possibly used to facilitate a primitive version of "fire and manoeuvre" tactics.

Other blog posts in my De Sheng Bing series:
Xu Guang Qi's De Sheng Bing — Part 1
Xu Guang Qi's De Sheng Bing — Part 2
Xu Guang Qi's De Sheng Bing — Part 3-1
Xu Guang Qi's De Sheng Bing — Part 3-2
Xu Guang Qi's De Sheng Bing — Part 4
Xu Guang Qi's De Sheng Bing — Part 5


  1. In Lianbingshiji, I found out about this item which is related to the Huobing 火兵 of the cavalry and infantry department: "火擔者,火兵也。擔,扁挑也。用鐵尖扁擔,便於肩挑,又可擊刺,亦農中戰器也"
    "火兵;每名鐵尖扁擔一根". Do you know what is this weapon/item? I saw a depiction of it in the 部队图 in Lianbingshiji, but I don't know what it is.

    1. 鐵尖扁擔 is just a carrying pole sodded with an iron spike.


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