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 were originally peasants from Zhejiang province, particularly Yiwu county. Qi Jia Jun numbered 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.

Residents from Zhejiang had a long history of using Lang Xian (狼筅). After they joined Qi Jia Jun, they were also armed with sabres, glaiveslong spears, javelins and Tang Pa (钂鈀). Qi Jia Jun was unusually well-supplied with advanced firearms such as arquebuses, various types of cannons and rockets, many of which were designed or standardised by Qi Ji Guang himself. They still used some older weapons such as poisoned crossbows and Bian Chong (邊銃), and retained the use of San Yan Chong (三眼銃), but only for signaling purpose.

Qi Jia Jun were also the first Ming army to equip Chang Dao (長刀). They also used some bows and arrows as well as Bian Jian (邊箭), although their skill in archery wasn't particularly noteworthy.

For defensive equipment, Qi Jia Jun 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). Except for officers, they wore little to no body armour. They sometimes used staff slings and small traction trebuchets when guarding camps or choke points.

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 personnels. 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 was the 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.

Different from other Ming armies of the time, Qi Jia Jun did not practice Xuan Feng (選鋒, lit. 'Chosen vanguard', roughly a Chinese equivalent of forlorn hope), as Qi Ji Guang disliked the tactical inflexibility of such practice.

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 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 discipline displayed by Qi Jia Jun greatly terrified garrison 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. Nevertheless, he wasn't able to solve the Wokou problem once and for all by himself.

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, hence 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 capture Moran Hill (with help from Korean warrior monks) and first to breach the wall during Siege of Pyongyang. They 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 armies.


  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.