1 May 2020

Chinese arming garments: A preliminary look


A recent comment from my other blog post reminds me that I have yet to write anything about Chinese arming garments, so this is the blog post that aims to provide some insight into various garments worn under and over Chinese armour. Unfortunately, there are very few written records and archaeological finds of Chinese armour padding, so I have to turn to period novels like Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin (both of which reflect the fashion of author's time) and other pictorial sources for reference. As such, be warned that this blog post is only a preliminary look and very much incomplete, although it is the best I can come out with until more information surfaces.

A divine messenger wearing the full suite of kerchief (light yellow) over Fu Tou (black), neckerchief (light yellow), Zhan Pao (green), Xiu Shan (red with blue border), Guo Du (light blue) and Han Yao (embroidered), but without visible armour. From 'San Jie Chi Fu Si Zhi Shi Zhe (《三界持符四直使者》)'.

For the most part, Chinese soldiers seldom wore specialised arming garments under their armours or helmets, as such equipment are perfectly functional even without underlying padding. Still, most forms of Chinese military clothing seem to be fairly thick or possibly lightly padded, which help to prevent chafing. Below is a list of various clothing items worn by Chinese soldiers either under or on top their armours (or both) that I compiled over the past few weeks.


Nao Bao (腦包, lit. 'Brain wrap') or Nao Gai (腦蓋, lit. 'Brain cover')

A Qing period helmet liner. Photo taken from Mandarin Mansion.
Nao Bao and Nao Gai are Chinese terms for helmet liner or arming cap.

Padded hat or helmet

Cotton and paper hat worn underneath rattan helmet, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Paper and cotton helmet were sometimes used as arming cap for another helmet. Some Chinese troops also wore cotton helmets on top of metal helmets.

Turban, kerchief, headband and headscarf

A sleeping guard wearing a headscarf, his helmet can be seen beside him. Note that he doesn't seem to wear the typical Chinese topknot hairstyle. From 'Di Wang Dao Tong Wang Nian Tu (《帝王道統晚年圖》)'.
Various forms of fabric head covers such as Tou Jing (頭巾), Fu Tou (幞頭) and Mo E (抹額) were almost universally worn by men across ancient China. Naturally, such headwears were commonly worn underneath helmet as well.

Left: Two flowing strips of white clothes coming out from under the helmet. Right: A man wearing a Mo E kerchief (white) over his Fu Tou headscarf (black), showing the same white flowing strips. Image cropped from modern but faithful replicas of Baoning Temple religious paintings created by Zhao Qing Sheng (趙慶生).



General Zuo Liang Yu (左良玉) on a horse. His white neckerchief is visible under blue havelock (neck flap) of his helmet. From 'Zuo Liang Yu Chu Shi Tu (《左良玉出師圖》)'.
Large neckerchief was commonly worn by Chinese soldiers to reduce rubbing between aventail and body armour.

Yun Jian (雲肩, lit. 'Cloud shoulders')

Woodblock print image showing an unarmoured horseman wearing a large neckerchief (left), contrasted with an armoured horseman wearing a Yun Jian (right). Image cropped from 'Rui Shi Liang Ying (《瑞世良英》)'.
Yun Jian is a type of short hoodless cowl that can be worn in place of neckerchief, under neckerchief, or under armour.

Jian Tun Shou (肩吞獸, lit. 'Shoulder-swallowing beast')

Two guards wearing Jian Tun Shou over their armours. From 'Shang Lin Tu (《上林圖》)'.
Jian Tun Shou, or so-called "zoomorphic spaudlers", seems to be a more ornate version of Yun Jian tailored to resemble animal heads. It was typically worn under armour, although very rarely it can be worn over armour as well (shown above).

Guardian statue of the Thirteen Imperial Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, wearing a neckerchief, a Yun Jian, and a Tun Jian Shou under armour (only animal heads of Tun Jian Shou are visible).


Zhan Ao (戰襖, lit. 'War coat')

Bodyguard of famous Song general Zhang Jun (張俊), wearing a blue-gray Zhan Ao. From 'Zhong Xing Si Jiang Tu (《中興四將圖》)'.
Zhan Ao is a knee-length war coat with long narrow sleeves, worn by common soldiers and high-ranking generals alike either as stand-alone outfit, arming garment, over armour, or over another garment. Zhan Ao comes in many variations, the most common being Na Ao (衲襖, coat made from quilting a few layers of cloth together or lightly stuffed with rags) and Pan Ao (袢襖, lightly stuffed cotton coat that became popular during Ming period). High-ranking generals typically wore richly decorated Zhan Ao made of high quality material such as leather and high-grade silk cloth.

Zhan Pao (戰袍, lit. 'War robe') or Zheng Pao (征袍, lit. 'Conquest robe')

Ming period painting 'Jian Men Qing Yuan Miao Dao Zhen Jun《監門清源妙道真君》', depicting Chinese war deity Er Lang Shen (二郎神) in his iconic light yellow war robe.
Zhan Pao appears to be the full length (i.e. calf-length or foot-length) version of Zhan Ao, although it isn't necessarily narrow-sleeved or long-sleeved. Like its shorter counterpart, Zhan Pao was worn by common soldiers and high-ranking generals alike as stand-alone clothing, arming garment, over armour, or over another garment.

Chinese generals that wore Zhan Pao over armour typically untie the right side of their Zhan Pao, intentionally exposing the armour underneath (shown above). Alternatively, some generals preferred to cover their armours entirely, but put on pauldrons over the sleeves of Zhan Pao.

Xiu Shan (綉衫, lit. 'Embroidered shirt')

Section of 'Guan Yu Qin Jiang Tu (《關羽擒將圖》)', depicting Zhou Cang (周倉) wearing a yellow Xiu Shan.
Xiu Shan is a wide-sleeved, often richly embroidered short coat typically worn over armour or other garment. It was typically worn by generals' attendants and second-in-commands.

Zhao Jia (罩甲)

Left: Xuande Emperor in seeveless foot-length Zhao Jia. Right: Two riders wearing cap sleeved foot-length Zhao Jia, from 'Ming Xuan Zong Xing Le Tu (《宣宗行樂圖)' and 'Yuan Ren Hua Lie Qi Tu (《元人畫獵騎圖》)'.
Zhao Jia is a type of front-opened overcoat that comes in a variety of collar shape (round or square), sleeve design (from sleeveless to long sleeved), and length (from waist-length to foot-length). It was widely used as military outerwear during Ming period, and most Ming armours were tailored in the style of Zhao Jia.

Long version of Zhao Jia gradually fell out of use during Qing period. On the other hand, short version of Zhao Jia evolved into Qing-style Ma Jia (馬甲, sleeveless waistcoat) and Ma Gua (馬褂, sleeved jacket).

Left: Two soldiers in short sleeved hip-length Zhao Jia. Right: Soldiers in sleeveless hip-length Zhao Jia. From 'Chu Xiang Yang Wen Kuang Zheng Man Zhuan (《出像楊文廣征蠻傳》)' and ''Kang Wo Tu Juan (《抗倭圖卷》)'.

Hao Yi (號衣, lit. 'Livery shirt')

A Ma Jia-type Hao Yi of Taiping army with a square insignia.
Hao Yi is a type of military uniform that had existed at least since Tang period but became really popular during Ming and Qing period. It usually has two insignia, either square- or round-shaped, sewn to its front and back, although unit affiliation can also be written directly onto the shirt.

Style and tailoring of Hao Yi closely follow contemporary military fashion. To illustrate, Ming soldiers usually wore Zhao Jia-style uniforms, while Qing soldiers wore Ma Jia- or Ma Gua-style uniforms.

A Ma Gua-type Hao Yi of Huai army with a round insignia.
Close-up of a badge on a Hao Yi of the Huai army. The badge reads: 銘軍 (Liu Ming Chuan's army), 右後營 (Right rearguard battalion), incomprehensible  and  unit, as well as 淮勇 (Huai's braves, one of the founding units of Huai army).

Padded armour and cotton blanket

A Qing period Gun Bei (滾被), from 'Huang Chao Li Qi Tu Shi (《皇朝禮器圖式》)'.
Some Ming troops were known to wear an extra suit of cotton armour over their metal armours, or simply drape a thick cotton blanket over armours.


Guo Du (裹肚, lit. 'Belly wrap') and Han Yao (捍腰, lit. 'Waist protector')

Section of a Ming period scroll painting depicting Guan Yu's attendant handling his legendary steed Red Hare. He is wearing a green Guo Du as well as a white Han Yao with black border.
Guo Du is a long sarong-like garment worn around the belly, while Han Yao is a fabric or leather corset worn around the lower back. Both were commonly used by soldiers and generals alike to prevent rubbing of scabbard, quiver and bow holster against armour, although it was not unusual for unarmoured soldiers to wear them (shown above).


San Chan (三襜, lit. 'Triple apron') or San Chuan (三穿, lit. 'Triple wear')

A Yuan-period terracotta currently kept in Jiaozuo Museum, shown wearing a San Chan.
San Chan or San Chuan is a type of rectangular front-and-back waist apron, so named because it usually consists of three connected pieces (a front piece, a back piece, as well as a smaller back piece that goes under the larger one when worn), although variants with only two pieces are still called by the same name. It was usually worn over other clothing but under Guo Du.

While fairly common during Song, Yuan, and early Ming, the multi-piece San Chuan appears to fused together into a full skirt during Ming period and gradually disappeared as a distinct type of clothing.

Xing Shang (行裳, lit. 'Travelling dress')

Namjar, Second Rank Officer of the Guards and Damba Baturu, wearing a light brown Xing Shang. From 'Zi Guang Ge Gong Chen Xiang (《紫光閣功臣像》)'.
Xing Shang is a type of garment that resemble a long waist apron that is split in the middle. It was worn over the legs to keep warm and protect against mud and excessive rubbing, especially during riding. It became popular during Ming and Qing period.

Hu Xi (護膝, lit. ''Knee protector) 

Two remnant soldiers retreating from a losing battle. Note the knee pads they are wearing. Image cropped from a modern but faithful replica of Baoning Temple religious painting created by Zhao Qing Sheng.
Hu Xi is a type of soft knee pad frequently worn by common folks and foot soldiers alike. They were frequently worn together with puttees and shoes/straw shoes, but almost never with boots.


  1. Another fantastic article

    appreciate your work

  2. A very interesting topic, many thanks for writing about this!

    I have a question; did Ming period (or any other period as well) helmets have an internal "suspension" type of padding? Something that allows the head of the wearer to be separated by the internal surface of the armor in order to create an empty area that would deaden the impact before touching the head itself - to make it more clear, like European or Japanese helmet liners. Thanks!

    1. Not having actually wear one myself (I don't have hair long enough to make into traditional Chinese topknot hairstyle, and there seem to be some debate on whether people let loose their hair and retie it before wearing helmet), I can't really tell if there are enough space inside the helmet for suspension padding.


      This Qing helmet looks like it fits quite snugly over a person's head without much extra space, but Qing period people shaved their head to half-bald so maybe they don't require that large a helmet.

      Can you give me a European/Japanese example of this "suspension"?

    2. This picture might help explain:

      Essentially the liner inside the helmet has a space of air in between the head of the wearer and the armor itself. In this way the helmet doesn't directly sit on the head, and I wonder if such thing existed with Chinese helmet as well

    3. If that's the case, then yes - common Ming/Qing/Joseon helmet should have that extra empty space.

  3. https://shop.samurai-armor.com/product/ukebari-kabuto-liner/

  4. Did Ming soldiers shave their head or put it in a different hairstyle to make more room for their helmets?

    1. They didn't shave their head. It's possible that they put in a different hairstyle before put on the helmet.

  5. is San Chuan almost identical to skirt brigandine? (in terms of shape and method to wear)

    1. could've San Chuan possibly be psuedo leg armor?

      I can clearly see them wearing mail short on torso in many painting but no leg armor

    2. Unlikely. San Chuan was probably more like Zhao Jia - clothing item that was sometimes made into armoured version.

      Sometimes people wear long coat armour with unarmoured San Chuan on top of it.

  6. i wonder was the zhanpao still used as a standalone uniform with hanyao and guodu? also do you have a clearer image of the zuoliangyu chushi tu? i cant seem to find clear pictures of it

    1. Yes.
      That ZUoliangyu painting is also the clearest I have.

  7. what do you call qing style coat? (last picture) can you call them zhanpao as well?

    1. i think zhanpao are just a name for the robe worn by warriors, because it literally translates to "battle robe", the zhanpao shown above is usually refered to as a circular collar robe, which is also a civil dress, (the sleeves got bigger in the song dynasty for civil officials). the manchu robe i think is called a changshan, which is also a regular qing period civilian wear usually with a magua ontop, the variant shown in the last picture has the iconic horse shoe sleeve

    2. That's a Xing Pao (行袍) a.k.a Que Jing Pao (缺襟袍).

      Here's an example of a similar coat. Notice the right half of the coat is shortened to facilitate riding.


  8. Very interesting! Do you have anything for earlier dynasties or is that impossible? Also I am not sure if this is out of your depth and I don't know we're to put this question but do you know when did steel or iron weapons become popluar in China?

    1. This article is only a preliminary look so it is really basic, and only covers the time period between Tang and Qing Dynassty (roughly). There are still much to learn.

      Steel and iron weapons became popular in China during Han Dynasty.

    2. Hope we can find more info on this subject soon in the future!

      Also I did do some checking and I found evidence of steel and iron being common in the late the warring states though

    3. Iron and steel were used during Warring States, but not "common".

    4. Well I have seen well sourced books claiming so during the later period. Do you have some recommendation of sources on the subject

    5. If iron/steel weapon already became common during late Warring States, then we should expect Qin Dynasty using iron weapon en masse. But most weapons found in Qin Tombs are still bronze.

    6. That would be a fallacy of induction, and weapons found outside of the terracotta army during the Qin era are made of iron

    7. That might be true - got any source that I can read on?

    8. Don Wagner's works are some extensively research works in English, as well as Bennett Bronson's "Transition to iron in ancient China"

    9. @wakawakwaka
      Thanks for the info. I've also read elsewhere that Han-style iron daos and ji are discovered in Qin era tombs.

  9. in 兵技指掌图说 qing soldiers with some weird garments are depicted

    is it merely surcoat or leather cuirass?

    1. That's just Ma Jia (sleeveless waistcoat) mentioned in my post.

  10. Not exactly related to this subject, but did the Qing army during the Opium Wars (and the Taiping Rebellion), wore armor? In drawings, they are almost entirely depicted as wearing only Hao Yi and the last picture's Manchu-style uniforms.

    1. Armour had become obsolete by then, so no.

    2. https://media.gettyimages.com/photos/tartar-soldiers-1860-circa-1880-episode-of-the-second-opium-war-from-picture-id959868498?s=2048x2048

      At least one British illustration, from circa 1880, depicts Qing cavalryman (the first one from the right) in 1860 wearing what looks like a Manchu brigandine.

      According to the link, the source is:

      Tartar Soldiers, 1860', circa 1880. Episode of the Second Opium War (1856-1860). From British Battles on Land and Sea, Vol. III, by James Grant. [Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, circa 1880]. Artist T.S.S. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)

    3. That was either a "faux-brigandine" (brigandine without iron plates and thus has no defensive value), or a non-standard, personalised equipment of a high-ranking officer.

  11. Are there any surviving examples of Yun Jian 雲肩? I'd love to see some.

    1. Yun Jian was also worn by common folk and women as clothing items, so yes, there are surviving examples, although those tend to be very ornate and I suppose are not really representative of military-style Yun Jian.


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