15 June 2016

Famous Military Unit of the Ming Dynasty — Qi Jia Jun (戚家軍)

Qi Ji Guang Army
'Heng Yu Da Jie (《橫嶼大捷》)' painted by Ma Hong Dao (馬宏道) in 1988 to commemorate Qi Jia Jun's great victory at Battle of Heng Yu.
Perhaps the most widely known, and the most elite military unit of Ming Dynasty, Qi Jia Jun (戚家軍, lit. 'Army of House Qi') was the army raised and trained by none other than general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) himself. Troops of Qi Jia Jun hailed from Zhejiang province, particularly Yiwu county, and numbered about three to four thousand initially, but became much larger later on.

The circumstance that resulted in the conception of Qi Jia Jun was quite dramatic. In 1558, a rumour of a newly discovered silver mine at Ba Bao mountain (八保山, also known as 八寶山) of Yiwu attracted a silver rush of miners from nearby Yongkang county, which drawn the ire of Yiwu locals that wanted to keep the silver mine for themselves. What was essentially a small dispute between two neighbouring counties quickly escalated into a massive, months long armed conflict that resulted in the death of several thousands (Yiwu emerged victorious, however the rumor turned out to be false). Qi Ji Guang, who happened to be at Yiwu at the time, was so impressed with the ferocity of Yiwu locals that he immediately wrote to Hu Zong Xian (胡宗憲), his superior, and requested to disband his current army and raise a new one from Yiwu. The request was granted, and the rest is history.

Residents from Zhejiang had a long history of using Lang Xian (狼筅), and continued to do so after they joined Qi Jia Jun. They were also armed with sabres, glaiveslong spears, javelins and Tang Pa (鎲鈀), and were the first Ming unit to equip Chang Dao (長刀).

While troops of Qi Jia Jun used bows and arrows, including Bian Jian (邊箭), their skill in archery was good but not particularly noteworthy. In contrast, they were unusually well-supplied with advanced firearms such as arquebuses, various types of cannons as well as rockets, many of which were designed or standardised by Qi Ji Guang himself. Nevertheless, older weapons such as poisoned crossbows, staff slings, small traction trebuchets and Bian Chong (邊銃) continued to see limited use. Qi Jia Jun also retained the use of San Yan Chong (三眼銃), albeit only for signalling purpose.

Troops of Qi Jia Jun were probably heavily armoured as Qi Ji Guang himself repeatedly stressed the importance of armour in his military treatises. They also made use of rattan shields, Ai Pai (挨牌), Ding Pai (釘牌) and specialised equipment such as Ruan Bi (軟壁) and Gang Rou Pai (剛柔牌).

Organisation and tactics
The core of Qi Jia Jun was Zhong Jun (中軍, lit. 'Central army'), consisted of arquebusiers, artillerymen, supplemental troops (such as crossbowmen and handgonners), scouts, signallers and other logistical personnel. Zhong Jun served as the command, fire support and reserve force of the army. They usually fought behind the cover and protection of Bu Cheng (布城).

Subordinated to Zhong Jun were close combat specialists that fought in Mandarin Duck Formation. For a more thorough overview of the formation, please refer to my other blog posts here, here and here.

The bane of Wokou
Qi Ji Guang's enforcement of military discipline was draconian and ruthless to the extreme. Officers and sub-commanders would be executed if even one troop under his command showed sign of cowardice, and death of an officer in battle would result in the execution of his entire unit. Yet so utterly disciplined was the Qi Jia Jun that Qi Ji Guang himself once boasted that he never had to punish his troops. When Qi Ji Guang was transferred to Ji Garrison and brought his old army there, he instructed his troops to stand in the wilderness under heavy downpour for an entire day, and not a single troop faltered or questioned his order. The iron discipline displayed by Qi Jia Jun greatly dumbfounded and terrified Northern troops.

With an army so elite, Qi Ji Guang scored victory after victory in his campaign against Wokou (倭寇). He fought thirteen major battles and countless smaller skirmishes against numerical superior Wokou, and won every single one of them, often killing thousands of Wokou while suffering little to no casualties in return (the worst casualty Qi Jia Jun suffered from a single battle was sixty-nine dead). Qi Ji Guang's twelve-year campaign basically eradicated all Wokou from South China.

The original Qi Jia Jun technically dissolved after their merger with Ji Garrison troops and formed Bu Ying (步營), although Qi Ji Guang's legacy would persist for much longer. After Qi Ji Guang's death, Ming troops from Zhejiang province, hereinafter known as Zhe Bing (浙兵, lit. 'Zhejiang troops'), would continue to train in Qi Jia Jun's fashion. Although they could never live up to the standard of the original Qi Jia Jun, Zhe Bing were still one of the best troops Ming Dynasty had to offer.

Zhe Bing participated and fought valiantly in Imjin War. They were the first to breach the wall during Siege of Pyongyang, and also helped to rebuild Joseon military during the interbellum. When a battle went awry (such as the disastrous Battle of Sacheon), Zhe Bing voluntarily stayed behind to cover the retreat of other Ming forces.


  1. Did Zhe Bing use arqebus during im jin war?

    I can't find any script about ming's military usage of arqebus in im jin war

    1. Certainly. A quote from the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty:


      "倭銃筒" is Japanese arquebus, obviously.

    2. Kenneth Swope did a lot of research on this era, I think you can find his books quite insightful.

  2. did they wore brigandine? if so what would be the colour of the brigandine?

    1. Qi Ji Guang kept stressing the importance of equipment, and admonished his troops about the danger of not wearing armour, so yes, Qi Jia Jun most definitely used some kind of armour. He never specified what kind of armour though, unfortunately.

    2. chinese sources never went into detail about these sort of stuff which is really unfornutate for content creators since theyll have to guess how did they looked like, which is a tad bit disappointing

    3. Qi Ji Guang did bring out about awarding one "silver armour (whatever that means)" to the best performing troop in one of his battles, and in the 14-chapter edition of Jixiao Xinshu (written after he finished his business with Wokou), he discussed about quilted armour.

      This may suggest that his troops DIDN'T wear quilted armour, but I am far from certain.

  3. Hello, greatmingmilitary. I would like to ask you a few questions.

    The troops:
    -Tie Ren (iron troops)
    -Qi Jia Jun
    - Bai Gan Bing (White shaft troop)
    -Lang Bing (wolf troops)
    -Warrior monks

    Are they considered elite troops?
    Are they the best infantry in the Ming dynasty?

    Is it possible to assume that the wokou would, on average, have the same feats, military skills as the average Japanese samurai?

    And could they, the ming troops I mentioned, in hand-to-hand combat rival and be better than Japanese troops like wokou and samurai?

    I read here that the qi jia jung won convincingly, in smaller numbers, and practically didn't lose to the Japanese wokou, and the few Shaolin monks were also many times better, but I was wondering if you can consider the pirates to be, at least mostly samurai soldiers.

    1. @Desconhecido
      Good day, and welcome to my blog.

      Some of the troops you asked were considered elites, but others not so much.

      Tie Ren were elite troops, and Qi Jia Jun under direct command of Qi Jiguang were also elites. They were some of the best Infantry of the Ming Dynasty.

      After Qi's passing, Zhejiang troops never achieved the same top-notch quality again, although they were still formidable soldiers capable of handling themselves.

      Lang Bing were simply fierce auxiliary troops, but not elites. Similarly, I do not consider Shaolin monks to be elites.

    2. It's difficult to compare Wokou to Samurai, since they fought under very different circumstances and for different purposes.

      There were many hardened criminals and warriors among the ranks of Wokou, as former samurai that fought for the losing side sometimes became Wokou, and they often enjoyed tacit support from Sengoku warlords. However, Wokou were still pirates, so they were organised (you can say "optimised") to run raiding/smuggling/trading operations, not fighting year-long military campaign against another army.

      Back to the Ming elites. Yes, I'd say they were more than a match for the best warrior Japan had to offer on all levels: individual combat prowess, as a military unit, and as one cog of a larger military machine.

  4. Thank you so much for answering me, greatmingmilitary. His work is excellent on the blog. Very interesting content.

    Too bad the Qi Jia Jun kept the high quality for a short time, apparently.

    As the Ming pushed Japanese troops back to Japan and won an Imjin war, I figured they would have very strong troops in China.

    I know that a war is complex, there are many factors involved and I knew that the Japanese had supply problems, but perhaps ming also had problems.

    Do you know if there were other notable infantry, of good performance in that dynasty?
    If so, will you update this section of the blog talking about them in the future?

    1. Qi Jia Jun was clearly geared towards fighting Wokou, you can say they served their purpose after Wokou were largely eradicated. Even Qi himself made adjustment to their tactics and kits after he was transferred to Ji Garrison.

      I missed Bai Gan Bing in my previous reply. I'd say they were very good soldiers, but not "elites" per se. While Tie Ren were elite troops that belonged to a larger army (i.e. Koxinga's army), Bai Gan Bing WAS Qin Liangyu's army.

      Yes. I will introduce other famous units (not necessary elites) in the future.


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