19 May 2016

Some random mythbustings

There are many false information about Ming Dynasty military (and ancient Chinese military in general) floating around on the internet. Here are some of the more well known ones, and the truth behind these myths.

Myth 1. Rattan shield is bulletproof.
Qing Dynasty Rattan Shield
A Chinese rattan shield, late Qing (Boxer rebellion) period. (Source: Zemanek-Münster)
Rattan shield is NOT bulletproof.

Ming period military writers such as Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) explicitly stated that rattan shield won't protect its user against arquebus rounds. There were, however, attempts to make rattan shield bulletproof by reinforcing the shield with cotton blanket, even though these attempts most likely resulted in failure (see my second point).

Myth 2. Cotton armour is bulletproof.
Korean cotton armour
Late Joseon Dynasty cotton armour known as Myeonje Baegap (면제배갑 or 綿製背甲), designed to withstand not just arquebuses and muskets, but modern rifles such as Remington Rolling Block rifle. (Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
This myth has some rings of truth in it, as the bulletproof quality of cotton material was attested by various Ming and Qing period texts. Chinese even used soaked cotton blankets to fend off bullets. Outside of China, cotton was used by US Confederates (in the form of cotton bale fortification, cotton bale-reinforced train car, and cottonclad warship) and Depression-era criminal gangs (as makeshift ballistic vest) to defend against firearms.

Nevertheless, actual effectiveness of cotton armour was disputed even during Ming period. Song Ying Chang (宋應昌) once experimented with the effectiveness of soaked cotton blanket against Japanese matchlock gun, and concluded that a Japanese arquebus could pierce two soaked cotton blankets from eighty paces (i.e. about 420 feet or 128 metre) away, and three to four layers from fifty paces (i.e. about 262.5 feet or 80 metre) away.

Qi Ji Guang also designed a composite shield known as Gang Rou Pai (剛柔牌), which was said to be superior to normal cotton blanket. Yet even his superior design could only stop an arquebus round from about forty paces (i.e. about 210 feet or 64 metre) away at the closest. Nevertheless, Qi Ji Guang considered this safe distance good enough for his troops.

Myth 3. Koxinga's Tie Ren (鐵人) wore bulletproof iron armours. 
Ming Chinese Tie Ren Iron Troops
A Chinese warrior, most probably a Tie Ren, in a full suit of metal armour. He is wielding what appears to be a Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀). From 'Georg Franz Müller von Ruffach Reise nach Batavia', 1681.
"Every one was protected over the upper part of the body with a coat of iron scales, fitting below one another like the slates of a roof, the arms and legs being left bare. This afforded complete protection from rifle bullets and yet left ample freedom to move, as those coats only reached down to the knees, and were very flexible at all the joints."
— Dutch Formosa governor Frederick Coyett, in his book titled Neglected Formosa ('t Verwaerloosde Formosa).

This myth probably stem from above quote, however the "rifle bullet" is actually a mistranslation of the Dutch "zijdegeweer". Correct translation of the word should be "side-arm", referring to a type of sword or sabre commonly carried by Dutch troops of the time.

(Special thanks to Peter Dekker of Mandarin Mansion for the corrected translation.)

Myth 4. Koxinga never fielded arquebusiers/musketeers.
Koxinga Arquebusiers
Contemporary Dutch newspaper depiction of the Battle of Baxenboy, 1661. Koxinga's troops (labeled 'G') on the right side of the picture can be seen exchanging fire with Dutch musketeers. From 'Verovering van Fort Zeelandia op Formosa door de Chinezen en de marteling en moord op de gereformeerde predikanten', 1661, attributed to Crispijn van de Passe (II), 1662 - 1663.
Koxinga actually fielded arquebusiers in considerable number. 

"At the time (Battle of Zhenjiang), Zheng troops' forward platoon used pikes, mixed with round shields. Second formation (consisted of) arquebusiers with Japanese guns."
— Early Qing period historian Ji Liu Qi (計六奇), in his book 'Ming Ji Nan Jue (《明季南略》)'.

Owing to his good relationship with Japan (Koxinga was half Japanese), Koxinga had better access to high quality matchlock guns than many of his contemporaries (however by that time Vietnamese matchlock had surpassed Japanese matchlock in quality, range and firepower, so Koxinga did not have decisive advantage). During his conquest of Formosa (present-day Taiwan), he also employed so-called "Black Boys", or ex-black slaves, as musketeers.

Myth 5. Chinese lost the knowledge to manufacture Han Dynasty-style crossbow mechanism during Ming period.
An ornate, silver inlaid Han Dynasty-style crossbow mechanism, from 'San Cai Tu Hui (《三才圖會》)'. San Cai Tu Hui was published in 1609, twelve years before Chen Zong You (程宗猷) published his crossbowman's manual.
They didn't.

While Ming Chinese did switch to a type of inferior, deer antler crossbow trigger, they probably did so out of economic consideration, as crossbow was rendered obsolete by firearms. Han Dynasty-style crossbow trigger had fallen out of use, but never completely forgotten.


  1. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/eb/2c/4a/eb2c4af690346e7ff6ca4af655bcbab1.jpg

    Is this a picture of tie ren?

  2. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/2d/41/b8/2d41b8898767355332ed2ee2f6fe3871.jpg

    than this is a real thing?

    possibly tie ren armor?

  3. Hey, this is probably a weird place to post this but I just wanted to say thank you for this site. It's been really interesting and useful for me since it seems like the only alternative has been Swope or something. I appreciate your balanced/critical approach to all the sources you draw upon.

    Also, I was wondering--are you RollingWave from TWC/Historum/Samurai forums etc.,? Have you also posted on 4chan's /his/ before?

    1. @Bleb
      Hello and welcome to my blog!

      No, I am not RollingWave, as I don't participate in forum discussion. I do not play Total War games (except RomeTW 1, briefly), and have never been to 4chan.

  4. Unrelated, but there is source said that Konxiga charge toward European castle/fort.

    Why does Konxiga charge toward their castle? Is Ming Chinese castle so fragile that a frontal charge can bring it down?

  5. I blame the myth no.1 to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which exaggerated rattan armor like something made out of Kevlar.


< > Home

Random Quotes & Trivia

GREAT MING MILITARY © , All Rights Reserved. BLOG DESIGN BY Sadaf F K.