Ming, Qing and Japanese armour components: A brief introduction and analysis

Armour of China and Japan
Left: An unnamed Ming Jin Yi Wei (錦衣衛, lit. 'Brocade-clad guard') in parade gear. Middle: Fu De (富德), a Manchu general of Plain Yellow Banner. Right: Horimoto Gidayu Takatoshi (堀本儀太夫高利), a samurai based on the historical Morimoto Kazuhisa (森本一久).
This blog post is intended to be an introductory article to Chinese armours of (mid to late) Ming and Qing period, their individual components, as well as a comparison between their similarities and differences. I also include a Japanese armour to the comparison in the hope that it can highlight the design considerations that went into each armours.


Ming Armour
Ming Chinese Armour Components
Components of Chinese armour (Ming).
Armour in the above picture is taken from Ru Bi Tu (《入蹕圖》). This particular suit is a parade armour, although it is reasonably representative of field armours used by Ming troops in North China. 

This style of armour is called Zhao Jia (罩甲), also known as Chang Shen Da Jia (長身大甲, long body great armour). It was derived from Bi Jia (比甲), originally a women's coat developed during Yuan period. It should be pointed out that while Ming armour was influenced by Mongolian fashion, Mongol themselves rarely wore this type of armour.

Analysis
Ming Chinese Armour Analysis
Analysis of Chinese armour (Ming).
The sleeveless and collarless Zhao Jia is clearly designed for horse archers, as it allows considerable freedom of movement for the arm and neck, both important elements of archery. However, the presence of metal armguards suggests that Ming cavalrymen were expected to engage in plenty of close combat as well. The long coat reaches down to the knees, long enough to cover entire leg (but not the foot) when its wearer is mounted. Fighting on foot in this armour is slightly less convenient, although many Ming Northern infantry fought behind the protection of relatively immobile war carts anyway.

Unlike earlier Chinese armours, Zhao Jia is simple to wear, allowing its user to suit up at a moment's notice. This was especially important to Ming border troops given the unpredictable nature of Mongol raids.

Due to the suppleness of Chinese-style brigandine, this type of armour has poor weight distribution compared to rigid lamellar or plate armour. The armguards also leave the hands and fingers of its wearer vulnerable. While this is understandable given the importance of archery in Chinese warfare, it still constitute a weakness (note that other archery cultures did make use of hand protection).


Qing Armour
Qing Warrior Chinese Armour Components
Components of Chinese armour (Qing).
Armour in the above picture is taken from Zi Guang Ge Gong Chen Xiang (《紫光閣功臣像》) depicting Fu De (富德), a Manchu general of Gūwalgiya clan that participated in the First Jinchuan War and Dzungar-Qing Wars. This armour is typical of the type worn by high-ranking Manchu generals.

The design of Qing armour was copied from late Ming period Chinese armour, with only minor modifications and improvements added in. As widespread adoption of more advanced firearms, both by Qing and their enemies, quickly rendered body armour obsolete, no further modification was required for Qing armour.

Analysis
Qing Brigandine Analysis
Analysis of Chinese armour (Qing).
In general, most design elements of Qing armour were inherited directly from Ming armour. Two-piece style brigandine with pauldrons in place of metal armguards became the standard style during Qing period, probably reflecting the change of men's fashion (although two-piece style brigandine already came into use during the last years of Ming Dynasty) .

Two-piece armour offers superior mobility to its wearer at the expense of reduced defense at the abdomen, buttocks and back thighs. Nevertheless, since majority of Manchu warriors fought mounted, these vulnerabilities were of little concern to them.

Horse Hoof Cuff
Small but plate-reinforced Ma Ti Xiu on the ceremonial armour of Qianlong Emperor.
On the other hand, modified aventail on Qing helmet fixed one of the major weaknesses (i.e. exposed throat) of Ming armour. Qing period also saw the development of Ma Ti Xiu (馬蹄袖, lit. 'Horse hoof cuff'), a flared cuff that not only keeps the hand warm, but protects the hand and fingers from many archery-related injuries as well.


Japanese Armour
Japanese Gusoku Parts
Components of Japanese armour.
Armour in the picture above is taken from Taiheiki Eiyuden (《太平記英勇傳》), a nineteenth century Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) painting created by famous Ukiyo-e painter Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳).

By sixteenth century, samurai armour had evolved into its final iteration: Tōsei Gusoku (当世具足, lit. 'Contemporary complete armour'). Like its namesake, the armour covers its wearer from head to toe. Tōsei Gusoku was developed as a response to the introduction of Portuguese firearms, shift of battlefield tactic, as well as increasingly intense warfare of Sengoku Jidai (戦国時代).

Analysis
Samurai O-yoroi Analysis
Analysis of Japanese armour.
Even a rudimentary inspection on Japanese armour of this period will reveal that it is designed for foot combat. This is especially evident on the presence of groin armour, heavy emphasis on thigh protection, and the choice of footwear. Thigh armour is extremely crucial for foot combat, especially for samurai (since they did not usually use handheld shields and wielded shorter spears or polearms), as injury on femoral artery can cause death within minutes, not to mention very difficult to treat even with modern medical technology.

Samurai of this period were no longer the horse archer-duelists they once were. They became much more close combat-oriented on the battlefield, and this shift of tactic was also reflected on their armour design. Tōsei Gusoku protects virtually every part of its wearer's body, and its gaps and weak spots can be further reinforced with auxiliary armour items worn beneath the main armour, befitting a warrior that expected to see frequent high intensity close combat. Auxiliary armours such as eri-mawari (襟廻) also provide padding and better weight distribution for the armour.

Another notable feature of later samurai armours is the shrinking of spaudler (not shown in the above picture). Early Japanese ō-sode (大袖) was actually less shoulder armour and more shoulder-mounted shield. In fact, Ō-sode was designed to protected the flank and upper arm of its wearer from incoming arrows rather than the shoulder. As samurai became less reliant on archery and more on close combat, sode also shrank in size and evolved into true spaudler, which offered better protection to the shoulder and allowed more freedom of movement for the arm. Nevertheless, even with both sode and kote (籠手) equipped, Japanese armour still provides less protection to the armpit area compared to Ming and Qing armour.

Despite its almost complete coverage, this type of armour is not without weaknesses. For an armour with such complete protection, it somehow leaves the lower part of midriff (i.e. area between cuirass and tassets) completely unprotected (note that some two-piece Chinese brigandines for low ranking troops also have this weakness as well). Besides, many Japanese armours do not have backing material, so they are quite noisy to wear due to rubbing between individual armour plates. Rubbing also causes premature wear to lacing, lacquer coating, and the plates themselves.



Choice of footwear
The difference between Chinese and Japanese approach to warfare can be seen on their respective footwear of choice as well. Ming Northern troops and Manchu warriors were predominantly cavalrymen, so their footwear of choice was obviously riding boots (infantry-based Ming Southern troops continued to wear shoes with stockings or puttees, or sometimes straw sandals as well). On the other hand, Japanese warriors were predominantly footmen, with almost no cavalry to speak of, so their footwear of choice was sandals.

Ming Chinese Riding Boots
A pair of Ming-style boots, made by traditional Chinese clothing store Chong Hui Han Tang (重回漢唐).
A boot is known as Xue (靴) in Chinese language. Traditional Chinese riding boots share many similarities with neighbouring horse cultures such as the Mongols. They can be made of either cloth or leather, although military riding boots, known as Zhan Xue (戰靴, lit. 'War boots'), are exclusively made of thick, stiff leather to better protect ankle joints. Due to the colder and drier climate of North China, traditional Chinese riding boots are lined with layers thick fabric. Stockings known as Wa (襪) are usually worn underneath the boots.

Unlike Western riding boots, traditional Chinese (and many Eastern cultures) riding boots are flat-heeled. Instead they have unusually wide shafts and comparatively short vamps, which serve the same purpose as heel (i.e. to prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup and get stuck). Both Western and traditional Chinese riding boots have flat and smooth soles, also to prevent the foot from getting stuck in the stirrup. Still, boots with flat soles are more slippery, which render them less suitable for foot combat, especially on rough terrain.

Traditional Chinese boots are almost always pitch black in colour contrasted with pale white soles. They generally have less prominent and rounder upturned toes than Mongolian boots (even though this tradition seems to originated from China), and many boots do not have upturned toes at all.


Japanese Samurai Sandals
A waraji. Note the toes protruding over the front edge. Straw sandals are still used in traditional Japanese stream hiking known as Sawanobori (沢登り) today. 
Japanese warriors made use of flip-flops and sandals made of rice straw, called zōri (草履) and waraji (草鞋) respectively, although waraji were by far the more common of the two. Japanese sandals provide excellent ventilation (effective in preventing athlete's foot) and ankle mobility, as well as a firm grip on rocky or mossy surface, making them the prefect footwear to use in the mountainous and humid (and very rainy) Japan. While straw sandals are less durable than shoes or boots, they can be cheaply replaced and even manufactured on the fly as long as there is available raw material.

During cold seasons, divided toe socks known as tabi (足袋) can be worn together with sandals. Samurai that wanted better protection for their feet may wear armoured kōgake (甲掛) on top of the socks.

On the flip side, horse riding in sandals is generally a very bad idea, as getting accidentally stepped on by a horse is extremely unpleasant and potentially crippling. This is especially true for Japanese straw sandals, which are traditionally made shorter and narrower than the wearer's feet, providing even less protection than other sandals. Besides, a sandal does not protect the ankle like a boot does, putting the rider at high risk of ankle sprain and fracture.

63 comments:

  1. If sleeveless armor is for horse archering

    Then why joeson brigandine have sleeves

    Ps did wing brigandine also sleeveless?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sleeveless is nice to have for archery, but isn't a strict necessity. It is also a trade off between more freedom of movement vs more protection.

      Qing had both sleeveless and sleeved brigandines.

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  2. "Due to the flexible nature of Chinese-style brigandine"

    could you explain this?

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    1. Flexible as in not rigid like plate armour?

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    2. Brigandine is relatively more flexible than plate in general

      What I want ask is, is chinese brigandine is more flexible than other countries?

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    3. and I want know, how flexiblity of armor is related weight distribution

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    4. Can't think of many countries that used brigandine...anyway, if we compare a Chinese brigandine to a European brigandine, it is indeed more flexible/loose-fitting.

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    5. Flexible armour, like mail, basically let your shoulder to support its entire weight (wearing padding and belt helps a lot though). Also if you change your body position (let's say going all-four), the body part that has to support the weight change as well.

      Rigid and form-fitting armour such as plate armour can distribute its weight more evenly,thus lessen the burden to the body.

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    6. Speaking of Joseon, I really wanted to include them (and Vietnam) in this blog post as well, but my knowledge to Joseon/Vietnam armour is extremely limited, and good period paintings are hard to come by.

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    7. You guys can forget about Vietnamese armour since there is little to no evidence about it. Even harder when asks a Vietnamese doctorate about their ancestor's armour since they will tell you their ancestor go to war with bare foot and bare naked.

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    8. @Aomari2
      Good day and welcome to my blog.

      Vietnamese going to war naked isn't wrong, as similar descriptions also show up on Ming records. However that's not the entire picture, since Vietnam wasn't even unified at that time, and Ming had mostly encountered the remnant of Mac Dynasty, sandwitched between Trinh-Nguyen war.

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    9. @春秋戰國:
      If they were like that there is nothing to complain but they weren't. According to historical evidences, the basic equipment of levy class soldiers is clothes and boots beside weapons and shields.

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    10. Checked my source. Ming records describe Mac troops as having rattan hat (but did not wear it), untied hair, barefooted, and did not carry anything on their shoulder other than their weapons.

      Indeed no mention of nakedness, only barefoot.

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    11. About barefoot. That is acceptable because Vietnamese enjoy walking and running barefoot for hundreds of years. Not because they can't make or buy shoes, they simply liked it. But in war that is a different matter, because all war equipment are supply by the state including shoes.

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    12. Which state? The troops mentioned in Ming records are Mac troops of the 17th century. By that time Mac was nothing more than a shadow of its former glory.

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    13. @春秋戰國: Trinh and Nguyen lords, of course.

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    14. The Vietnamese military didn't only use levies as troops no? Did they not have professional soldiers? And from what I've seen from statues in Vietnam, it seems that they depict famous generals wearing armor that seems similar if not identical to Chinese armor from various periods.

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    15. @Unknown
      Vietnamese most certainly had some form of professional military and/or royal guards. Also given that they are at close proximity with China, heavy Chinese influences are to be expected (although they are quite different also).

      Vietnam is also an international hub of sort, so influences from Japanese, Europeans and SE Asians (i.e. Siam etc) are also very evident on their weaponry.

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    16. @春秋戰國
      Later Ly to Ho dynasty Era: Fubing system from Tang dynasty.
      Later Le to Early Tay Son Era: Ming dynasty military system with modifications.
      Taken from "Lịch triều hiến chương loại chí" (歷朝憲章類誌 lit. Various dynasty encyclopedia).

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  3. Since the Zhao Jia is commonly worn by northern soldiers who are usually mounted, what kind of armor(s) would southern infantry wear?

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    Replies
    1. Zhao Jia as well, usually (but not always) only waist or thigh length.

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  4. http://blogfiles.naver.net/20150329_124/53traian_1427563969981mv11C_JPEG/mongol_japan.jpg

    Is this a mongol armor or qing armor?

    some data claim this is a mongol armor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unmistakably Qing, probably late Qing even. Japanese mislabeled the armour.

      If the size (especially the siyah) is any indication, the bow on the side is probably a Qing bow, or Qing-influenced Mongol bow.

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  5. Have I understood correctly that the 罩甲, Zhao Jia, is a description of form, i.e. long skirted/sleeveless/collarless? But it could be of various material, e.g. scale, brigandine, mountain pattern etc.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, and it is not necessary long skirted and not necessary even armoured.

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  6. Did the Chinese ever developed equivalent of elbow and kneepads? I would assume it's difficult to armor these joints and still maintain mobility.

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    Replies
    1. No AFAIK. They usually just extend the armour skirt to cover the knees.

      The manica-like armguard does protect the elbow.

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    2. I've seen knee pads on a Song period warrior sculpture from southwest China. So I think knee pads did exist, but they were probably not commonly used or limited to certain regions.

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    3. Do you have a picture of it?

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  7. Very comprehensive analysis.

    Just a note though, it seems the samurai of the period had leather shoes or boots for riding, but they might not be considered part of the set of the Gusoku.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsqsL15C4OA

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    Replies
    1. I am aware of it. Samurai did ride horse sometimes after all so they got to have some riding equipment top. It just isn't as common as the waraji.

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  8. Do you have a picture of inside of chinese brigandine?

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    Replies
    1. This is an example of a Qing brigandine for the rank and file, with iron plates only cover the bare necessity of body.

      http://i.imgur.com/XQXlWKv.jpg

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    2. do you think ming brigandine use simillar size of plate as this one?

      and do you know how many rivets were use to hold each plate and their locations

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    3. @s ss
      Probably similar, although not many Ming brigandine survived so I can't be sure.

      For rivets, depending on the location, two to four rivets. Body plates have three, for example.

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  9. The illustration of samurai armour, though done during Edo era is actually the classic O-yoroi type during the Heian era. The boxy cuirasse with a lot of colourful lacing, large shoulder guards are indicators of the old style. Sengoku and subsequent Edo era armour are tighter fitting lamellar with less lacing and sometimes riveted like European armour. Some also use Portuguese style full plate cuirasse.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I identify the armour as a more contemporary version mainly due to its seven kusazuri instead of the usual four, found on O-yoroi armour. Its Do also strikes me as quite curved.

      The sode are indeed larger than most sengoku period armour, which I think is also an attempt to reincorporate O-yoroi elements into Edo period armour.

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    2. Agree, it's the Edo equivalent of O-yoroi. It is interesting because it was deemed as cumbersome and impractical during the Sengoku period. Worn mostly by Daimyo who want to show their ancient lineage. Curiously, it did retain the style where the right arm has no sleeve guard to make drawing the bow easier (a characteristic of Heian era horse archers). But as you said, using sandals is more for foot combat. The actual Heian armour set includes some form of furry shoes / boots.
      http://www.yurukaze.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/O-yoroi-the-early-Japanese-armor-of-samurai-class-of-feudal-Japan-02.jpg

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    3. Updated my blog post slightly to include the sode change.

      Kote was originally archery sleeve that protect the left arm from being hit by bowstring (from botched shooting), that's why only the left arm has it originally.

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  10. As there were no wars during the Edo period, the Japanese greatly romanticised the samurai image and had gone back to the classical style.

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  11. any protection between ming long coat armor?

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  12. Replies
    1. If you mean what is worn beneath the armour, most likely only normal clothing.

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    2. so middle spot is compeletly vulunerable right?

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    3. I still don't really get yoir question, but if you mean lower midriff (that body part not protected by Samurai armour), Ming long coat armour doesn't have this problem.

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    4. What I mean

      If Ming long coat armor is not overlapped would'nt that make middle of torso compeletly vulnerable?

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    5. No? Although the plates didn't overlap there isn't any gap either.

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  13. I know ow the use of chainmail armor is somewhat limited or even rare in East Asia compared to other parts of the world, but would it be known that a shirt of mail would be used in conjunction with these armors? I'm curious if this was historical since I am planning in the future to assemble my own suit of late Ming and early Qing styled brigandine armor.

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    Replies
    1. @Unknown
      All I can say is "possible".

      On one hand, mail armour was worn under other armour since Tang period (we got a mural from Dunhuang to prove it), although it was evidently quite rare. In the rare case that someone was described as wearing multiple layers of armour (i.e. 兀顏光 from Water Margin), he was often described as something extraordinary.

      On the other hand, many Qing painting depicts officers wearing mail shirt alone.

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    2. I see. I know that Japanese mail used both techniques, but do you know if Chinese mail was riveted and or butted?

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    3. Chinese mail is 4-in-1 Riveted.

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    4. Thanks for the info! I'll keep watching this blog as there's not a great deal of sites that go in depth with Chinese arms and armor like yours. And whenever this suit will come together, hopefully sometime next year, I'd like to share it to get your input!

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    5. I will be looking forward to that.

      Delete
  14. Ming brigandine pic
    http://imageshack.com/a/img924/8953/XN0QTU.jpg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I am aware of it, although I personally think that it is from early Qing (or Southern Ming contemporary to early Qing Dynasty).

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    2. Mr chen

      where do you get this picture?

      https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-vjrZnRNfzMk/VwS1ylgyzXI/AAAAAAAACoU/ERw7GACzSnkGj5KjrxpPpBeIg1pl7jVVQ/s640/songzmd.jpg

      Delete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-cSwntu_ux1g/VhWmOyi6-7I/AAAAAAAABGw/C-MSlGqNWjQ/s640/412.jpg

    I've never seen this kind of 2-piece armor

    especialy that skirt armor. Do you know anything about this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From 《王瓊事蹟圖冊》,a set of scrolls depicting Wang Qiong's(1459-1532) achievements.

      In this particular scroll Wang Qiong is the Military Commissioner of the 3 passes(Taiyuan border garrison).

      The individuals with waist length brigandine and brigandine tassets is presumably some sort of ensign/messenger.

      Delete
    2. @Wansui
      Good day, it's been some time.

      To this date I am still not sure what to make of these "brigandine tassets". It is similar, yet also very different from Qing period "apron". I also remember there's one mural in Fire God Temple that depicts similar tassets, but on traditional Chinese armour.

      Delete
  17. Great post, is there any reason why there is a significant difference between the Ming and the Qing armour, and what is the difference between Chinese armour and Mongolian armour?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The change from one piece to two piece armour actually happened before the fall of Ming Dynasty. Qing simply inherited the latest armour style from Ming.

      Mongolian armours are (for the most part) direct copies of armours used by the cultures they fought with/conquered. So Mongols in China used mostly Chinese-style lamellar armour, while Mongols in Middle East used Middle Eastern-style armours, etc.

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