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.

Tu Bing's long and storied history of military service dates back to Yuan period, and they had been active since the very beginning of Ming Dynasty. During mid-Ming period they were the largest auxiliary forces of Ming military along with Lang Bing, and together they formed the backbone of Ming military campaign against 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 can be quite blurry as they were sometimes used interchangeably or confused with each other.

Tu Bing hailing from Yongshun and Baojin Tusi were also known as Hu Bing (湖兵, lit. 'Lake troops'), as both Tusi were located inside Hunan province.


Tu Bing from Yongshun and Baojin Tusi 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, javelins, as well as crossbows. Tu Bing did not use firearms, at least initially, although they may had adopted some firearms during late Ming period.

At least some Tu Bing were known to wear armour.


Tu Ren during Ming period lived in a highly militarised society where every able-bodied male was expected to take up arms in times of conflict. Thanks to their long service experience they had a relatively sophisticated military structure, as well as the capability to quickly mobilise large numbers of troops. 

The military of Yongshun Tusi was organised using Ying-Qi (營旗, lit. 'Camp-Banner') system, which was inspired by Weisuo system of Ming army. Under this system, five hundred soldiers known as Cun Cheng Bing (存城兵, lit. 'City preservation troops') formed the standing army of Yongshun Tusi military. These full-time professional soldiers were organised into van, middle, rear, left and right companies, collectively known as Cun Cheng Wu Ying (存城五营, lit. 'Five companies of city preservation'), with the middle company being the most prestigious one directly commanded by Tusi chieftain or someone next in the line of succession, while the other four companies were led by trusted local leaders or the chieftain's close relatives. 

As Cun Chen Bing were relatively few in numbers, they were complemented by vast numbers of Qi Bing (旗兵, lit. 'Banner troops'), citizen-soldiers or militia that provided their own equipment and training. Unlike their full-time counterparts, Qi Bing were instead organised into various Qi (旗, lit. 'Banner'), which was both a military unit and a civilian administrative unit during peace time. During Ming period Yongshun Tusi had a total of 75 Qi, with 58 combat-capable Qi and 17 Qi responsible for administration and logistics.

Comparatively little is known about the military organisation of the neighbouring Baojin Tusi, although Baojin Tusi also used Ying-Qi system and likely closely resembled Yongshun Tusi. 


The basic combat formation of Tu Bing was also known as Qi, which consisted of a captain known as Qi Tou (旗頭, lit. 'Banner head') and twenty-three troops arraying in a highly aggressive 1-3-5-7-7 wedge formation. Twenty-four Qi constituted a Si (司), the basic maneuver unit of Tu Bing. During battle a Si would usually deploy into three battles (right, middle and left), each consisted of multiple smaller wedge formations.

While Tu Bing were noted to be able to go toe to toe Tu Bing also developed an unorthodox countermeasure to the deadly Japanese swords: throwing soaked cloths at Wokou swordsmen to distract them. If the Wokou (instinctively) tried to parry the wet cloths, the wet cloths would quickly wrap around their blades and weigh them down, creating an opening for the Tu Bing to rush in.

Service records

Tu Bing had the reputation of being fierce, brave and highly disciplined, but also simple minded. They were a highly versatile infantry capable of fulfilling almost any role, and in addition were also expert mountaineers and excellent sailors and swimmers. Tu Bing dutifully served Ming Dynasty in no less than sixty campaigns and battles throughout Ming period, and were instrumental in eradicating the Wokou threat. Tu Bing's crowning moment was the famed Great Victory of Wang Jiang Jing (王江涇大捷), of which they killed nearly two thousand Wokou and drowned many more in a masterfully executed funnel and ambush strategy.



  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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