22 May 2016

Famous Military Unit of the Ming Dynasty — Tu Bing (土兵)

Ming Dynasty auxiliary light infantry
Section of the scroll painting 'Wakō-zukan (《倭寇図巻》)', depicting Ming troops wearing white headscarves and armed with pole sickles, matching with what's been known about Tu Bing's appearance.
Tu Bing were a type of auxiliary infantry organised under Tusi system. In a broader context, the term encompasses all auxiliary troops organised under Tu Si system, including Lang Bing (狼兵) and Bai Gan Bing (白桿兵). The most renowned Tu Bing came from Yongshun and Baojin counties and consisted of Tu Ren (土人, later came to be known as Tujia people during Qing period), although some Han Chinese and Miao people could also be found among their ranks.

Along with Lang Bing, they formed the largest auxiliary forces during mid-Ming period, as well as the backbone of combating the Wokou (倭寇), to the point Lang Bing and Tu Bing were often mentioned together as Lang Tu Bing (狼土兵, lit. 'Wolf-Tu troops'). In fact, distinction between Tu Bing and Lang Bing was quite blurry. These terms were sometimes used interchangeably or confused with each other.

Tu Bing from Yongshun and Baojin were also known as Hu Bing (湖兵, lit. 'Lake troops'), as both counties are within Hunan province.

Tu Bing from Yongshun and Baojin counties were most famous for their Gou Dao (鈎刀, lit. 'Hook knife' or 'Hook sabre'), a type of Gou Lian (鈎鐮). They also used long spears and javelins. As Tujia people lived in close proximity with Miao people, they were also avid users of crossbow. Tu Bing did not use firearms, at least initially, although they may had adopted some firearms by late Ming period.

At least some Tu Bing were known to wear armour.

Organisation and tactics
Tu Bing from Yongshun county were divided into 500 standing troops called Cun Cheng Bing (存城兵, lit. 'City preservation troop'), organised into Cun Cheng Wu Ying (存城五营, lit. 'Five battalions of City preservation'), as well as Qi Bing (旗兵, lit. 'Banner troops'), or militia.

Tu Bing fought in aggressive wedge formation consisted of one Qi (旗, banner) of twenty-four troops. For larger battle, twenty-four Qi would form into a large wedge formation while maintaining their own individual wedges. Like many hill people in China, they could also fight in mutually supportive spearman-crossbowman teams.

Tu Bing also employed a highly unorthodox tactic to counteract the deadly Japanese swords of Wokou: throwing soaked cloths at the Wokou to distract them. If Wokou (instinctively) parry the cloth, the wet cloths would wrap around the blades and heavily weigh down their swords, creating an opening for Tu Bing to rush in.

Service records
Tu Bing had the reputation of being fierce and brave, but also simple minded and highly disciplined. They were highly versatile infantry capable of fulfilling almost any role. On top of that, Tu Bing were excellent mountaineers and swimmers. They served Ming Dynasty in countless battles throughout entire Ming period and were instrumental in eradicating the Wokou threat.


  1. were they actually fighting during imjinwar?

    Or just join the war and not fighting just like wolftroop?

    1. AFAIK they actually fought the war. About 15000 were mobilised if my memory serves.

      Wolf troops also fought in the war, as far as I can remember.


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