8 June 2016

Bi Fu (臂縛)

Ming Chinese Armguard
A pair of Bi Fu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Bi Fu (臂縛, lit. 'Armbind'), also known as Bi Shou (臂手, lit. 'Arm and hand') or Bi Shou (蔽手, lit. 'Arm cover') is a heavy armguard (weighing five to six catties) made of segmented overlapping metal plates. It was the primary upper limb armour of the Ming army, particularly of its mounted troops. 

Ming Dynasty arm armour
A Ming cavalryman in lamellar armour. His armguards appear to be laced together rather than riveted, and only cover the outer arms. Image cropped from 'Chu Jing Tu (《出警圖》)'.
A typical pair of Bi Fu is made of overlapping metal plates riveted to dog leather backing, which are then sewn onto two full-length arm sleeves made of silk. The arm sleeves can be secured to the wearer's arms (or more likely, the sleeves of the garment currently worn by said wearer) with leather straps. 

Many variations of Bi Fu exist, some are fixed to single-piece plate spaudlers, some have additional metal plates that cover the armpits, some are laced together rather than riveted, and others only reach down to elbows.

Roman Manica Armguard
Replica Roman manica based on the the Carlisle finds.
(Source: The Roman Military Research Society
Interestingly, Bi Fu is extremely similar to manica armguard used by Roman Legionaries, although the Roman manica does not extend to the shoulder of its wearer.


  1. why qing chinese dont were these?

    1. They still use it, especially among high ranking officers and generals. Common troops switch to spaudlers (and sometimes bracers) instead.

      Reason for this change is unknown. Maybe this has something to do with the change of (civilian) fashion, just my baseless guess though.

  2. but qing chinese arm guard is not large as this one

    1. That we can't know for sure, since there are only a few armguards survived.

  3. Hello, I had a question in my head for some times, and I was wondering if the bi fu were a total invention of the ming dinasty, or already exists during the song dinasty?also,I was wondering if they were a evolution of the Mongol timurid armguard with a similar construction?

    1. I was going to answer Yuan Mongol, but now I think it was more likely come from Timurid influence.


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