5 February 2017

Qi Ji Guang's Che Ying (車營) — Part 1

The Mongol Threat
It was no secret that the Mongols were formidable and extremely dangerous warriors. Being an all-cavalry army, their strength lay way beyond just simple mobility and deadly horse archery, but also their unpredictability and force concentration. It is quite unfathomable, at least to modern minds that are more exposed and accustomed to Western (particularly European) style of medieval warfare, that a nomadic people with but a small fraction of Chinese population and wealth could muster a vastly larger, better trained and better equipped army than the Chinese, yet for most of the Chinese-Mongol conflicts, Chinese soldiers frequently found themselves not only outmanoeuvred but also outnumbered. In fact, it was not unusual in any given conflict to have a Mongol force that fielded more horsemen than Chinese had footmen, even though a horseman was several times more expensive to train and maintain than a foot soldier.

The ability of the Mongols to concentrate their forces essentially forced the Chinese into passive defensive warfare—utilising fortresses and strongholds to balance out the force multiplier created through concentration of force. Yet due to their superior mobility the Mongols could strike at more places than Chinese could defend, and at times of their choosing. It was under such circumstance that the Chinese invented and pioneered wagon fort tactics to defend against nomadic raids, as war carts served as "fortress that moves" that allowed Chinese troops to operate away from the protection of their fortresses.

Yet even war cart alone could not adequately defend against Mongol horsemen, whom were equally deadly in horse archery as they were in cavalry charge, and often had numerical advantage on their side. For most of China's history, Chinese troops had to rely on massed crossbows, whether handheld or vehicle-mounted, to repel these horsemen. While undoubtedly effective, Chinese crossbow was hard-pressed to match the Mongol bow.

Qi Ji Guang's Che Ying (車營, lit. 'Cart regiment')
Che Ying formed the war cart branch of the reformed Ji garrison army devised by Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光), and was arguably the most important unit of the reformed army. While it was intended to operate alongside the infantry, cavalry and logistic branch of the army, Che Ying was actually self-sufficient even when deployed alone.

Several types of war carts were used in Che Ying, which will be detailed below:

War Cart
Pian Xiang Che (偏廂車, lit. 'Side cabin cart')
Ming Dynasty War Wagon
Drawing of a Pian Xiang Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
The primary war cart of Che Ying, Pian Xiang Che is a two-wheeled cart designed to be drawn by mule. Like its namesake, only one side of the war cart (either left or right) is protected by several collapsible wooden screens, while all other sides are left unprotected. A Pian Xiang Che is one zhang five chi long and weighs six hundred catties, and comes with two large calibre Fo Lang Ji (佛狼機) breech-loading cannons. Qi Ji Guang also assigned twelve Pen Tong (噴筒) per cart, as well as one small bombard per three carts. He later added one chevaux de frise per two cart.

A Pian Xiang Che unit consisted of twenty men, divided into two squads called Zheng Bing Dui (正兵隊) and Qi Bing Dui (奇兵隊), depending on the squad's current task. Zheng Bing Dui was tasked with handling the cart, and consisted of one squad/cart leader that doubled as standard bearer, one "helmsman" that steered the cart, six artillerymen armed with Jia Dao Gun (夾刀棍) and two rocket troops (also doubled as mule handlers) armed with rockets and Tang Pa (鎲鈀). Qi Bing Dui was tasked with protecting the cart as well as directly engaging the enemy, and consisted of one squad leader, four arquebusiers armed with matchlock guns and Chang Dao (長刀), two shieldmen armed with sabres and rattan or wicker shields, rockets, and possibly staff slings, two troops armed with Tang Pa and rockets, as well as one porter. Some Qi Bing Dui also seem to incorporated two additional Lang Xian (狼筅) or pikemen. Zheng Bing Dui and Qi Bing Dui switched their task with each other daily (i.e. Zheng Bing Dui became Qi Bing Dui and vice versa every other day).

A Che Ying at full strength contained one hundred twenty-eight Pian Xiang Che, although in practice Che Ying often went above full strength.

Combat Formation of Qi Bing Dui
As Qi Bing Dui was tasked with the protection of war cart, it often had to dismount and engage the enemy outside of wagon fort. In such situation Qi Bing Dui would form into a modified variant of Mandarin Duck Formation.

Wagon Fort Mandarin Duck Formation
Rendition of a single file of Qi Bing Dui combat formation without additional troop. Image is taken and doctored from training manuals of 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.
Rendition of a single file of Qi Bing Dui combat formation with additional Lang Xian troop. This formation was almost identical to Qi Ji Guang's revised Mandarin Duck Formation. Image is taken and doctored from training manuals of 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.

Che Ying Yuan Yang Zhen
Rendition of a single file of Qi Bing Dui combat formation with additional pikeman. Image is taken and doctored from training manuals of 'Ji Xiao Xin Shu (《紀效新書》)'.

Qing Che (輕車, lit. 'Light cart')
Ming Dynasty Light War Wagon
Drawing of a Qing Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
Qing Che is a lightened version of Pian Xiang Che that only weighs half as much, but only has one Fo Lang Ji cannon. It was only deployed in place of Pian Xiang Che when Che Ying was required to mount a longer-than-usual expedition, or deploy in rough terrain.

A Qing Che unit only had ten men, and consisted of one squad/cart leader, one porter, six gunners armed with either arquebuses or Kuai Qiang (快鎗), as well as two artillerymen. All Qing Che's crew were transferred directly from Pian Xiang Che unit (i.e. Both Zheng Bing Dui and Qi Bing Dui of Pian Xiang Che became Zheng Bing Dui for Qing Che, and assigned two war carts).

A Che Ying at full strength contained two hundred sixteen Qing Che, although in practice Che Ying often went above full strength.

Wu Di Da Jiang Jun Che (無敵大將軍車, lit. 'Invincible great general cart')
Ming Chinese Regimental Gun
Drawing of a Wu Di Da Jiang Jun Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
Sometimes shortened to Da Jiang Jun Che (大將軍車, lit. 'Great general cart'), this two-wheeled cart mounts a Wu Di Da Jiang Jun Pao (無敵大將軍砲), an upsized Fo Lang Ji and the most powerful cannon in the Ming arsenal at this point. Like Pian Xiang Che, a Wu Di Da Jiang Jun Che unit had a crew of twenty men.

A Che Ying at full strength contained four Wu Di Da Jiang Jun Che. Qi Ji Guang later increased this amount to eight.

Huo Jian Che (火箭車, rocket cart)
Ming Chinese Rocket Cart
Drawing of a Huo Jian Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
Huo Jian Che is a cart-mounted multiple rocket launcher crewed by ten men. Contrary to popular misconception, it was primarily used at moderately close range to repel enemy assault. A Huo Jian Che unit had a crew of ten.

A Che Ying at full strength contained four Huo Jian Che.

Miscellaneous Cart
Yuan Rong Che (元戎車, lit. 'Commander's cart')
Ming Chinese Mobile Command Platform
Drawing of a Yuan Rong Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
Also known as Jiang Tai Che (將臺車, lit. 'General's platform cart'), this cart serves as a mobile command platform for the general. A Yuan Rong Che unit had a crew of ten.

A Che Ying always contained one Yuan Rong Che.

Gu Che (鼓車, drum cart)
Ming Chinese War Drum
Drawing of a Gu Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
Two Gu Che accompanied Yuan Rong Che and relayed general's command through drum signals. Like Yuan Rong Che, it had a crew of ten.

Zuo Che (座車)
Chinese Carriage
Drawing of a Zuo Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
A Zuo Che is just a normal coach used for carrying high-ranking officers during a campaign.

A Che Ying always contained one Zuo Che. Qi Ji Guang later increased this amount to three.

Huo Yao Che (火藥車, gunpowder cart)
Ming Dynasty Ammo Supply Cart
Drawing of a Huo Yao Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'.
More properly known as Zi Wu Shi Yao Che (子藥什物車, lit. 'Gunpowder and miscellaneous item cart'), this supply cart was used for carrying gunpowder, ammunition and other military consumables.

A Che Ying at full strength contained four Huo Yao Che.

Wang Gan Che (望杆車, lit. 'Lookout pole wagon')
Ming Chinese Mobile Watchtower
Drawing of a Wang Gan Che, from 'Si Zhen San Guan Zhi (《四鎮三關志》)'. 
Wang Gan Che is a mobile observation post that allows its user to observe events over long distance. Unlike other vehicles in Che Ying, Wang Gan Che was used in military exercise only.

Zheng Xiang Che (正廂車, lit. 'Front cabin cart')
Drawing of a Zheng Xiang Che, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Zheng Xiang Che is a two-wheeled war cart with protective wooden screen at the front, in contrast to Pian Xiang Che which is protected by wooden screen at the side. It was the first war cart used by Qi Ji Guang at Ji garrison. After the formation of Che Ying proper, Zheng Xiang Che was largely supplanted by Pian Xiang Che, although still remained in active service.

Chong Che (衝車, assault cart)
Chong Che is a small armed wheelbarrow similar to Du Lun Che (獨輪車) designed by Yu Da You (俞大猷). Chong Che was used to reinforce weak points during a march, deployed into square inside the wagon fort as a "fort within a fort" to protect the commander and his immediate subordinates, and spearheaded assault against enemy horsemen.

Armour and firepower
Only by combining the defensive capabilities of wagon fort and firepower of gunpowder weapons did Chinese managed to match or even surpass their deadly nomadic foes, and Qi Ji Guang's Che Ying very much reflected this military thinking. A full Che Ying was able to bring four (later eight) light cannons, , forty-two small bombards, two hundred fifty-six swivel guns, five hundred and twelve arquebuses and more than eight thousand rockets to the field. This level of firepower was truly tremendous by any standard.

Other blog posts in my Che Ying series:
Qi Ji Guang's Che Ying — Part 1


  1. Very interesting post; I've been a bit mystified before about how such wagons were used (having seen them in manuals). They are reminiscent of the wagons of the Taborites in medieval Bohemia, who used them to counter heavily armoured knights.
    The thing I always wonder is; are there accounts of their use in battle? I ask because very clever but complicated schemes can founder in the heat of battle. I assume they were effective if Qi Ji Guang utilised them, though.

    1. Chinese war carts are two-wheeled, so they are less stable than Hussite/Taborite war wagons, but can form into formation faster.

      I think this is because Mongol attack often happen so suddenly that the army must be able to form into formation at the first sign of trouble. Even then, sometimes the army would STILL forced to send out its own horsemen to delay and buy time for the rest. OTOH, Mongol did not make much use of foot soldier, thus unlike the Taborites, Chinese needed not to worry about foot soldier flip over the wagon (until the Manchus came along...).

      Qing period literary inquisition largely and intentionally destroyed most accounts of battle for Ming war carts, which led to later (Republican) historians conclude that "Ming did not make use war wagon". However, new and more recent researches largely overturned that conclusion.

    2. Wagon fort tactic is actually as straightforward as it can be: Form into a square (or multiple smaller squares as the situation warrants), then blast away with cannons. Both Qi Ji Guang and Yu Da You's war carts were still mobile during the "wagon fort" formation though.

      During Qi Ji Guang's time, Ming was largely at peace with the Mongols, but Qi Ji Guang did still deploy the war carts in Qing Shan Kou (青山口) in 1568 to repel a Mongol raid.

  2. If possible, can you tell me how the Manchus countered the Chaying?

    1. They used their own war carts to counter Ming war carts.

  3. really?
    If you know the formation of the Manchurian wagon fortress, please let me know.
    I'm interested in the detailed organization and contents of the wagon.

    1. Yes. I am not as well-versed in Manchu, but I will try to find what I can.

    2. Jurchen war cart is called Dun Che (楯車), or shield cart. It is a two-wheeled giant pushcart with a layered shield in front made of thick wooden planks and covered in cowhide and/or iron sheets.

      By the time they fought Ming, one Niru (basic Jurchen military unit consisted of 300 men) was assigned 12 Dun Che, or 3 carts per 100 men. Each cart was pushed by 30 men.


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