23 June 2016

Enemy of the Ming — Jia Jing Da Wo Kou (嘉靖大倭寇) — Part 1


Section of the scroll painting 'Wakō-zukan (《倭寇図巻》)' currently kept at the University of Tokyo, depicting a Wokou raid. 

Cause of Jia Jing Da Wo Kou

Jia Jing Da Wo Kou (嘉靖大倭寇, lit. 'Great Japanese Pirates of Jiajing period') is a term that can be used to refer to both a specific period (roughly from 1546 to 1567 A.D.) that saw a drastic spike in piratical raids on Chinese soil, as well as the pirates that were active during said period. Despite being called "Japanese pirates", many Wokou were actually multinational/extranational and included Japanese, Europeans, Southeast Asians, as well as significant numbers of Chinese among their ranks. Nevertheless, it would be foolish, and in fact disingenuous, to use heavy Chinese involvement in Wokou activities as a basis to argue for the notion that Jia Jing Da Wo Kou was a “mostly Chinese phenomenon" caused by Ming Dynasty's draconian Haijin (海禁) policy forcing oppressed people to turn to a life of piracy. Such notion not only downplays and whitewashes the active involvement of foreign actors, but also ignores the multitudes of complex external factors that sparked the phenomenon.  

Several factors contributed to the creation of a perfect storm that was the Jia Jing Da Wo Kou. First of all, the arrival of Portuguese in China in the late 1510s saw an immediate uptick of smuggling, piracy, and slave trading activities, eventually forcing the Chinese to resort to military means (i.e. Battle of Tunmen and Battle of Xicaowan) to chase them out of Guangzhou. After being driven out, the Portuguese ceased overt colonialism activities, but in the years that followed they turned their attention north and covertly embedded themselves into local smugglers and pirates from Fujian and Zhejiang, arming them with advanced European technology. Eventually, they took control of the smuggling port of Shuangyu and set the stage for the coming of Jia Jing Da Wo Kou.

Around the same time as Ming navy battled the Portuguese, the Ningbo Incident, of which a feud between two competing Japanese tribute missions spiraled out of control resulting in massive damage to local populace, happened. This caused the Ming court to restrict tributary trade with Japan to one trip every ten years, and re-tighten Haijin policy in Zhejiang. Nevertheless, while reduction of foreign trade created an environment where the Japanese must turn to illicit trade to acquire Chinese goods, it was not the real reason that incentivised the massive surge of Japan–China illicit trade during this period. The real cause lay elsewhere.

Ever since the abolishment of kōchōsen (皇朝銭) currency in the 10th century, Japan had been relying on imported Chinese copper coins to run its economy. Initially, Japan acquired Chinese coins through tributary trade, as it received particularly favourable treatment from Ming China (Chinese coins were given out as a form of reward, rather than as cash). However, China's economy began to face serious deflation during mid-Ming period due to insufficient amount of coins in circulation, and privately minted counterfeit coins (ironically minted from imported Japanese copper) flooded the market. Ming court thus reduced the amount of coin reward during tributary trade to control the outflow of Chinese coins, while also sped up its transition to a silver-based economy. This in turn caused a ripple effect in Japan, as Japan now faced with a coin shortage just when its rapidly developing economy demanded an ever-increasing amount for Chinese coins. Since Japan was incapable of minting its own copper coinage to the same quality as Chinese coins (due to a lack of tin and insufficient supply of lead, both important components in copper coin minting), it turned to clandestine trade to acquire China's counterfeit coins instead, as Chinese counterfeit coins were still superior in quality to Japanese coins. Just in time, the introduction of haifuki-hō (灰吹法), or cupellation process, in 1533 caused Japan's silver production to skyrocket, injecting the Japanese with required capital to massively expand their clandestine trade with silver-starved China, and around 1540 they quickly hooked up with Chinese and Portuguese smugglers and formed an international crime network based in Shuangyu and several other island ports off the coasts of China. Unfortunately, the lawless nature of smuggling business means that feuds, embezzlement, betrayals, opportunistic raiding and piracy, as well as bloody conflicts between smugglers were depressingly frequent occurrence, often dragging innocent bystanders into the fray. This eventually caused the crime network to catch the attention of Ming court, leading to the destruction of Shuangyu in the hands of Ming commander Zhu Wan (朱紈) in 1548. 

The destruction of Shuangyu should have ended or at least suppressed the crime network, yet the smugglers not only regained footing but actually grew stronger and bolder. It was obvious that the unjust imprisonment and suicide of Zhu Wan, as well as wholesale reversal of Haijin policy, played a big part in this, but there was another overlooked factor that contributed to the exacerbation of the problem: the Mongols. In 1550 Altan Khan rode pass the Great Wall and directly besieged Beijing, which greatly humiliated and frightened the Ming court. This forced the Ming court to focus its attention to the north, and China's coasts were thus neglected. Deficient in both resource and manpower to directly oppose the smugglers, Ming court turned to a policy of appeasement, while at the same time attempted to get rid of the smugglers by tacitly approve and even entice them to fight among themselves. The policy was met with limited success in some cases, for example the Portuguese largely pulled out of smuggling business after being granted legal trade rights in 1554 and gradually settled in Macau in 1557–1559 (note that settlement rights of Macau was never explicitly granted, the Portuguese simply squatted on the island until it became fait accompli), but overall it massively backfired, for it gave the smugglers free reign to cannibalise each other, and made apparent the fragility of Ming maritime defence. Before long, disparate smuggler groups coalesced into one big coalition, and the unholy union of European technology, Japanese experience in war, and Chinese shipbuilding and geographical knowledge decisively tipped the power balance in smugglers' favour. As words about plundering was easier and much more lucrative than illicit trade quickly spread, Jia Jing Da Wo Kou was set in full swing.

Chinese participation of Jia Jing Da Wo Kou and the "Japan-ness" of Wokou pirates

"About three-tenths are real Japanese, seven-tenths are followers. (When) Japanese fight, (they) drive their prisoners in front of the army."

While many factors sparked Jia Jing Da Wo Kou, they alone could not adequately explain why a multinational pirate crew consisted of both Chinese and Japanese (the Portuguese pulled out halfway) still took on an overwhelmingly Japanese characteristic, and why Jia Jing Da Wo Kou should not be seen as a mostly Chinese phenomenon. To understand its true nature, it'd be wise to explore the Chinese involvement in Jia Jing Da Wo Kou as well. 

In general, Chinese participation in Jia Jing Da Wo Kou took the following forms:

Chinese clients under the patronage of Japanese daimyō

As Japanese joined the crime network relatively late, initial cooperation between Chinese and Japanese was rather limited, mostly involving illicit trading, transportation of smuggled goods, as well as Chinese smugglers hiring Japanese warriors to either raid unsuspecting merchant ships and coastal settlements, or to protect their own shipping from the predation of other smugglers. Nevertheless, as profit grew, Chinese smugglers began to foster closer partnership with coastal Japanese feudal lords, or daimyōs, usually under invitation of the latter. This collaboration was very beneficial to both parties, but also deeply unequal—as the wielder of hard power and provider of financial backing (silver), equipment, manpower and safe haven, Japanese daimyōs held a lot more sway on Chinese smugglers than the other way around. Chinese smugglers were dependants of Japanese daimyōs at the best of times, and little more that proxies doing the bidding of their Japanese masters at worst. Such was the close relationship between Chinese smugglers and Japanese daimyōs, that after a Japanese tribute mission sent by Ōtomo Yoshishige (大友義鎮) was denied entry to China in 1558, it quickly joined up with the Wokou at Zhoushan and fought a months-long siege with Ming army, then fled south to Fujian. Almost immediately, Fujian overtook Zhejiang as the hardest-hit region of Wokou raids.

It should be noted that not all Chinese smugglers and pirates foster close ties with the Japanese. Nevertheless, with the destruction of Shuangyu and the period of free-for-all that followed, Chinese smugglers with close ties to Japan ultimately prevailed over those that did not (or did not have as close a tie). During the height of Jia Jing Da Wo Kou, virtually all Chinese Wokou leaders had close ties to Japan. 

Corrupt Chinese gentries that benefited from illicit trade

Wealthy and influential coastal Chinese gentries benefit most from the illicit trade with Japan, as they were the one capable of providing what the Japanese wanted, namely Chinese coins as well as other highly desirable goods such as silk, porcelain, saltpeter and sulfur, in bulk. Most gentries did not directly run smuggling operation themselves, at least not overtly, although they provided many support to the smugglers, including giving valuable intelligence to Wokou so that they knew where to attack.

It was in the interest of these coastal Chinese gentries to create an environment where Haijin policy was nominally in place, so that Japan couldn't trade with China and acquire Chinese coins in any official capacity, but loose to the point of unenforceable, so that they themselves were able to trade with the Japanese without government interference. To this end, they conspired to get rid of Zhu Wan, which resulted in the latter's imprisonment and suicide. Unfortunately, the devious plan worked a little too well: the smugglers thrived and grew more powerful in the lawless environment, and before long the coastal gentries found themselves losing grip of the smugglers and became the foremost victims of the monster they created. 

Willing collaborators

Beside smugglers and gentries, many people became collaborators with Wokou due to various circumstances. Some were escaped convicts, while others were tax evaders, failed businessmen trying to pay off their debt, dissatisfied imperial examination washouts, or disenfranchised poor people trying to make a living. These people often served as guides and moles for Wokou.

Press-ganged captives and slaves

Slave-taking was one of the primary goals of Wokou, and it was not unusual for a Wokou warband to take large numbers of captives during a raid. Female captives were forced to spin silk during the day, and used as sex slaves during the night. Male captives were often shaved into a Japanese hairstyle and sometimes had their tongues cut to prevent escape (escapees with Japanese hairstyle would be easily mistaken for genuine Japanese by the locals and killed), and were forced to serve a variety of roles in the warband including porters, labourers, craftsmen, physicians, food tasters, lookouts, guides and meat shields.

Outlaws and looters taking advantage of the chaos

Wars, social upheavals and natural catastrophes are usually followed by subsequent waves of violence and looting, and Wokou raids were no exception. Chinese outlaws and opportunistic looters alike took advantage of the chaos and mass panic created by Wokou raids (and the fact that Ming army would be preoccupied with dealing with the Wokou) to participate in the pillaging themselves. Many pirates and bandits timed the arrival of the Wokou to launch their own raids, while pillagers and looters followed the Wokou around, going so far as loitering on the islands where Wokou embarked on their ships and went back to Japan to wait for their return next year.

As shown above, Chinese participation in Wokou activities, whether willing or unwilling, almost always revolved around the Japanese. Thus it's fair to say that Japanese were the linchpin of Jia Jing Da Wo Kou, while the Chinese only played a subsidiary, even peripheral, role. A very telling evidence of the "Japan-ness" of the phenomenon is that, while piracy and smuggling had always existed in China, it only reached this unprecedented level of violence after Japan became actively involved. This was only natural, as the tumultuous Sengoku period saw the collapse of central authority in Japan and the rise of a new breed of self-made warlords (known as sengoku-daimyō) that usurped their predecessors and eager to expand their power by any means necessary, to say nothing of the surplus of fiercely warlike people that were skilled in arms and used to hardship produced during this era of constant conflict. Wokou "armies", whenever they were encountered, often displayed unusually high level of military discipline and morale, as well as strong Japanese military characteristics. In addition, presence of equipment and items meant for high-ranking samurai, for example good quality Japanese armours, ornate horned helmets with weird (from a Chinese perspective) decorations, war fans, conch horns, and kage-ryū (影流 or 陰流) swordsmanship manual, all point to the fact that there were many Japanese warriors of high social standing among their ranks, rather than just vagabonds and masterless rōnin as commonly believed.


"Nowadays Wokou are skilled in sharp swords, sharp arrows and arquebuses. Now what skill can (we) use to counter (them)?"
— Ling Xi Yuan (林希元)


Japanese weapons had a reputation of being well-crafted and deadly, and were feared by the people that encountered them. Japanese swords, in particular the ōdachi (大太刀), were especially dreaded, owing to their intimidating length and capability to inflict grievous and horrifying wounds. The fearsome reputation of ōdachi and its demoralising effect on Ming troops caused many Wokou to pick up dual-wielding, using two ōdachi at the same time, ōdachi paired with a shorter Japanese sword such as kodachi (小太刀) or wakizashi (脇差), or ōdachi paired with a dummy wooden sword. Surprisingly, regular-length swords were rarely seen or mentioned.


Though overshadowed by Japanese sword, the spear used by the Wokou was no less deadly. Long spears allowed Wokou warriors to easily outreach Ming troops armed with shorter weapons such as Lang Bing (狼兵), which gave them a significant advantage, although they were no match to Chinese troops armed with spears of similar length, as Japanese method of spear handling (i.e. holding spear in the middle) put a limit on their reach.


Japanese bow was the principal ranged weapon of choice of the Wokou. Commonly called yumi (弓), it was a large bamboo-wood laminated bow optimised for launching long, heavy arrows with great force, albeit at relatively short range. Wokou archers were able to use the weapon to deadly effect, at times even outshoot Ming archers.

Matchlock arquebus

Thanks to their connection to the Portuguese, Wokou were able to acquire matchlock guns well before their counterparts in Japan (in fact, matchlock gun was introduced to Japan through Wokou). Accurate and deadly, matchlock gun was rightfully considered to be one of the most dangerous weapons in the Wokou arsenal.

Wokou during the early phase of Jia Jing Da Wo Kou (before/around the destruction of Shuangyu) actually had very little in the way of matchlock firearms, as they can only obtain the weapon through trading with (or simply seizing from) the Portuguese, or looting defeated Ming troops. This began to change in the late 1550s/early 1560s, as mass production of matchlock firearms finally took off in Japan, especially after Ōtomo clan (大友氏), a major sponsor of Wokou activities, became an important manufacturer of matchlock guns. Still, Wokou were never able to acquire enough matchlock guns to revolutionize their tactics or achieve a decisive edge in firepower over Ming army, and they remained primarily a close combat-focused threat.


Wokou also made limited use of a variety of cannons such as European-style Fo Lang Ji (佛朗機) and Fa Gong (發熕), as well as an older type of Chinese cannon known as Tong Jiang Jun (銅將軍, lit. 'Bronze general'), which they acquired either through their connection with Chinese and Portuguese smugglers, or by seizing from defeated Ming garrisons. However, due to lack of experience Wokou were not particularly competent artillerymen.


Most Wokou fought unarmoured and bare footed. They seldom wore trousers and footwear, and many went around in undergarments or even completely naked. However, Wokou leaders tend to be well-armoured and mounted, and Wokou that planned to launch direct assault on walled cities would also don heavy armour. 

Though rarely encountered, sometimes Ming army did run into unusually well-equipped and well-trained Wokou that were significantly more dangerous than their peers.

Other equipment

Wokou also used improvised shields made from wooden doors, as well as siege equipment such as axe, pickaxe, battering ram, scaling ladder, siege tower and Yun Che (雲車, lit. 'Cloud cart', a movable cart used to spy on enemy city). They were also known to employ various traps such as tripwires, trapping pits and punji stakes made of bamboo. Some Wokou also adopted Southern Chinese weapons, notably crossbow and Tang Pa (鎲鈀), presumably due to Chinese followers among their ranks. 


Wokou was not a unified and static entity, but rather a loose coalition of disparate pirate crews. As thus, Wokou's organisational structures naturally varied from one crew to another, and Chinese knowledge about their inner workings was understandably scarce. Nevertheless, Ming period sources were still able to, as well as put in the effort to, distinguish between different types of Wokou and pirates.

Japanese Wokou

Japanese Wokou were called Wo Nu (倭奴, lit. 'Japanese slave') or Wo Yi (倭夷, lit. 'Japanese barbarian'), as well as Zhen Wo (真倭, lit. 'Real Japanese') when there was a need to differentiate Japanese Wokou and their Chinese followers. Wokou that stayed in China for some time were called Jiu Wo (舊倭, lit. 'Old Wokou'), while those recently arrived from Japan were called Xin Wo (新倭, lit. 'New Wokou').

Wokou leaders were called Wo Shou (倭首, lit. 'Wokou head') or Wo Qiu (倭酋, lit. 'Wokou chieftain').

Wokou followers

Chinese followers of Wokou were called Cong Wo (從倭, lit. 'Wokou follower'), Cong Zei (從賊, lit. 'Enemy follower'), or simply Pan Ni (叛逆, lit. 'Rebel').

Chinese pirates 

Chinese pirates were called Hai Kou (海寇, lit. 'Sea bandit') or Hai Zei (海賊, lit. 'Sea thief'), or named after their places of origin, such as Zhang Kou (漳寇, lit. 'Zhang bandit', i.e. Fujianese Zhangzhou pirates) and Quan Kou (泉寇, lit. 'Quan bandit', i.e. Fujianese Quanzhou pirates).

Pirate leaders were called Kou Shou (寇首, lit. 'Bandit head'), Kui Shou (魁首, lit. 'Ringleader'), Ju Kui (巨魁, lit. 'Giant ringleader'), as well as Ni Shou E (逆首惡, lit. 'Rebelling evil head') when there was a need to differentiate them from Japanese Wokou leaders.


Other foreign pirates, including Europeans and Southeast Asians, were called Fan Kou (蕃寇 or 番寇, lit. 'Barbarian bandit'). Mountain bandits were called Shan Kou (山寇, lit. 'Mountain bandit').


"Wokou formation is not tumultuous, one after another (they are) straight yet slanted. Butterflies fly at the sound of conch horn, in a line like a long snake (they) walk. At the wave of a fan (they) all disappear, (when) the sword slashes come (they are like) a field of flower." 
— a poem by Feng Meng Long (馮夢龍) from Stories Old and New

Early Wokou raids on China were limited in scale and reach, usually consisted of no more than a few hundred pirates raiding unsuspecting ships or defenceless coastal villages. However, this changed drastically during Jia Jing Da Wo Kou, as Wokou now attacked in the thousands or even tens of thousands, and were able to lay siege to towns and cities. The massive increase in numbers also changed how they move and fight.


Wokou generally dwelled in pirate lairs built near smuggling ports or on secluded islands off the coasts of China. However during a raid they preferred to spend the night inside houses seized from their unfortunate victims, or (very rarely) lodgings provided by their Chinese collaborators, although they were able to camp almost anywhere. Being extremely cautious, Wokou often posted lookouts on the roofs, intentionally left the windows open, as well as dug observation holes into the walls of their dwellings. They also refrained from eating served foods and drinks unless their captives had tasted them first.

On the move

While on the move, Wokou usually formed into a linear formation known to the Chinese as Chang She Zhen (長蛇陣, lit. 'Long snake formation'). They preferred to split into multiple 30-strong groups and marched in a loose single-file line, with the strongest warriors forming the leading group and rearmost group, while other groups consisted of a mix of good and poor warriors. Each group would be spaced 0.5~1 kilometre apart from adjacent groups, to the point that entire line can occupy dozens of kilometres of space. In addition, there were small 2- or 3-man teams scattered around the groups to screen their advance. These screening teams swung around their Japanese swords menacingly while marching with the main groups to scare away onlookers. 

The extreme length of Wokou marching line served to prevent entire warband being completely encircled by the (often numerically superior) Ming army. Furthermore, if one of the groups came under attack, Wokou in that group can use conch horn to alert other groups of the line, who would then rush to their aid, or ambush the attackers from another direction.

Wokou walked in a slow but orderly gait, and can march for days without slowing down. As they operated in hostile land, Wokou generally avoided going near city walls or into alleyways.


Wokou often set the place ablaze after they were done pillaging, using fire and smoke to cover their escape.


Since they were frequently outnumbered, Wokou put heavy emphasis on misdirection, terror, and ambush tactics to distract and confuse Ming army sent to deal with them and strike where they least expect. Wokou often forced their captives to run ahead to soak up firepower and demoralise Ming troops, and they also disguised as civilians, refugees, or even Ming troops to get pass heavily defended choke points or launch surprise attack on their enemy. When they had to fight face to face with Ming army, Wokou often used mirrors and gleams of their polished swords to disorient and intimidate Ming troops, as well as dispatched one or two warriors (likely the same people that formed the screening team) ahead to taunt Ming army, baiting Ming troops to waste away their ammunition or break ranks in anger. Wokou would always try to outflank or ambush their enemy, both during combat and using feigned retreat.

Nevertheless, the most infamous Wokou tactic was undoubtedly what the Chinese called Hu Die Zhen (蝴蝶陣, lit. 'Butterfly formation'). Hu Die Zhen was not so much a battle formation but a distraction tactic used during the triggering moment of an ambush, in which Wokou swordsmen laid in hiding would suddenly reveal themselves at the signal from a war fan with their first swords flourishing high, then slash from a low angle with their second swords while panicked Ming troops had their attention drawn away by the first swords. The Chinese probably likened the sudden rising of dual-wielding Wokou swordsmen to a startled kaleidoscope of butterflies, hence its namesake.


Wokou often performed actions that were seemingly diametrically opposed to their real intent to throw off their enemy, forcing them to chase shadows. They would intentionally poise to attack while preparing to retreat, or seize boats and ships before escaping by land.

When under pursuit, Wokou would intentionally leave behind some of their valuables, captured women, or decoy luggage to lure Ming troops to go for the loot, so that they can either escape to safety or turn around and launch a surprise attack on the distracted Ming troops. Masters of ambush all, individual Wokou often broke off from their warband and went into hiding by themselves during a chase, and waited for the Ming troops to run pass them before launching a coordinated ambush on their pursuers' back. Such was their skill in ambush that Wokou appeared to have an instinctive grasp on seeking out hiding spots as well as timing to launch the ambush, to the point that they were capable of ambushing their enemy this way without any prior planning.

Wokou were also known to use traps to injure or slow down their pursuers, as well as using disguise to blend into the crowd.

The Dreaded

Although Wokou were less numerous than Mongols, they were perceived as no less a threat. Bei Lu Nan Wo (北虜南倭, lit. 'Japanese in the South, Mongols in the North') became a common saying during mid-Ming period to denote the two major threats faced by Ming Dynasty at the time. Jia Jing Da Wo Kou caused incalculable damage and suffering to China's coasts, to the point that there are observable population decline in the affected regions during this period as massive numbers of people were killed, abducted to Japan, or displaced by the chaos. Unlike Mongol raids, which were seasonal and predictable to some extent, Wokou raids happened all year long and were almost completely unpredictable (although Wokou were also influenced by monsoon winds, the winds mostly affected where Wokou would land, but not the timing of their raids). Furthermore, whereas Mongol raiders would simply return to the steppe once they amassed enough plunder, Wokou would often stay and infest China's coasts, raiding one place after another and gradually moving inland.

Wokou warriors were noted to be quick on their feet and fearless of death, often willing to fight to the last man when cornered, although they were not above retreating if the situation warranted it. They were also expert swordsmen and archers, and their martial prowess became greatly feared and exaggerated by Chinese witnesses. Ming sources are abound in records of incredible martial feats such as catching arrow with bare hands, breaking several spears with one sword swing or continue fighting after suffering numerous fatal wounds (even after being set on fire!).

Despite being pirates, Wokou were terrible at naval warfare, in part due to their small numbers and inferiority of Japanese ships (even though they also used Chinese junks, either captured or provided by their Chinese collaborators). Naval engagement between Ming fleet and Wokou fleet almost always resulted in the defeat of the Wokou. Some Wokou even went so far as burning down their own ships once they landed, and avoided naval engagement altogether.

Other blog posts about my Wokou series:
Enemy of the Ming — Jia Jing Da Wo Kou — Part 1
Enemy of the Ming — Jia Jing Da Wo Kou — Part 2 (currently under revision)
Enemy of the Ming — Jia Jing Da Wo Kou — Part 3 (temporary hidden for future revision)


  1. Nice investigation. But I just wanted to know from what sources you get this > "The presence of equipment and items meant for high-ranking samurai... all point to the fact that there were many Japanese warriors of high social standing among the Wokou, instead of just vagabonds and rōnin as commonly believed."

    1. Good day. It is based on my own observation and deduction based on various sources describing the Wokou, in particular Qi Jiguang's writings and biography. As mentioned in my article, there were many equipment encounteded by Ming troops that shouldn't be accessable to average Japanese or Chinese outlaws.

  2. " Ming documents are abound in records of incredible martial feats such as catching arrow with bare hands, breaking several spears with one sword swing or continue fighting after suffering numerous fatal wounds (even after being set on fire!)."

    Ah those are all very fun, would you be able to post scans of the source documents too? I've learned a lot from your blog that I haven't heard of anywhere else

    1. @Unknown
      I only have access to digitised version. The original text are:

      "引弓射之,賊悉手接其矢,諸軍相顧愕貽" (bare handed arrow catch)
      "一賊出哨亭外,我兵攢槍刺之,賊斫一刀,十數槍齊折" (breaking dozens of spears with one slash)
      "須臾一賊嗔目咬牙,作叱咤聲,舉刀對斫,火噴星流,著地舞來,眾兵攢刺十數槍,尚能跳起四五尺。" (Wokou continue fighting after being stabbed by spear a couple dozens times)

  3. Breaking spears with sword swings, catching arrows, fighting while on fire all sound awesome! What's the source for those accounts, were they taken seriously or meant to excite?

    1. Most of them are probably exaggerated, I think.

  4. How does one wield an odachi in just one hand, let alone dual wielding it? Even if you are super strong, wouldn't it still be better to wield it two handed?

    1. One can dual-wield odachi with some effectiveness in combat with effort, but it probably doesn't confer any practical benefit. It was probably meant as a show-off/intimidation.

    2. Which sources mention the dual wielding?

  5. To what extent (if any) did the Japanese pirates raiding China inspire Hideyoshi's plan to invade and conquer China and inspired the Imjin War?

    1. Personally I don't think there's strong correlation between Wokou raids and Hideyoshi's motivation/ambition and Imjin War. Hideyoshi did try to gather information of China from former Wokou, but that seems to be about it.

  6. Do we have any sources on what kind of armor the wokou might've worn? The pic in your article shows one of them having lamellar or scale armor of some sort. Also it looks like he's wearing a kabuto since it has ears typically found on japanese helmets. In addition, there's three prongs sticking out of it which I assume could be maedate or antlers as well as a red plume interestingly.

    1. The armour in that painting is likely a sloppy Chinese attempt to draw a Japanese armour, so it isn't accurate to the finest detail.

      As far as written records go, there are records of "bronze helmet", "bronze armour", "gold (coloured) armour", "good quality suozi armour", "helmet decorated with gold and silver horns and multi-coloured threads" and so on, often worn over red-coloured garments. However, by and large most Wokou didn't wear any armour.


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