8 February 2022

Zhao Shi Zhen's Ju Ma San (拒馬傘) and Ruan Pai (軟牌)

Beside improving and designing various advanced firearms, Ming firearm specialist Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士楨) also came out with many innovative ideas to improve the effectiveness of other equipment. Ju Ma San (拒馬傘, lit. 'Horse-repelling umbrella') and Ruan Pai (軟牌, lit. 'Soft shield') were two such creations. Zhao Shi Zhen was well aware of the protective qualities and usefulness of soft fabric shields like Gun Bei (滾被), Ruan Bi (軟壁) and Gang Rou Pai (剛柔牌), but he also knew that flexible protective equipment can be awkward to handle and difficult to deploy, so he designed the aforementioned Ju Ma San and Ruan Pai as portable, convenient, and easy-to-use improvements to existing flexible shields.

Ju Ma San (拒馬傘)
Components of a Ju Ma San, from 'Xu Shen Qi Pu (《續神器譜》)'.
Ju Ma San is a simple flexible shield that consists of an X-shaped collapsible wooden frame fitted with eight iron nails that serve as attachment points for the blanket, and the blanket itself, which comes with five built-in gun loops and is stuffed with cotton and human hair as well as covered in cowhide scales. Ju Ma San serves the dual purpose of a stationary shield, primarily designed to protect against the deadly Japanese matchlocks, as well as an actual parasol to protect other firearms against the elements. In addition, it also be turned into a makeshift cheval de frise by stripping the blanket off the wooden frame, utilising the sharp nails on the frame to deter cavalry charge.

Ju Ma San is usually propped up with a simple hoe, although Zhao Shi Zhen also recommended to use a Fei Meng Pao (飛礞砲) as prop if available.

Ruan Pai (軟牌)

Drawing of a Ruan Pai (top) and a Pao Jia/gun rest (bottom), from 'Xu Shen Qi Pu (《續神器譜》)'.
Despite the portability and convenience of Ju Ma San, it can only be set up on relatively flat and spacious ground, which limits its usefulness in rough and hilly terrain. To address this shortcoming, Zhao Shi Zhen devised Ruan Pai, a smaller flexible shield that takes up very little space. 

Ruan Pai replaces the X-shaped wooden frame of Ju Ma San with a tripod shaped like an upside down letter L, and cut down the blanket to a narrower size. Unlike Ju Ma San, the blanket is simply hung on, rather than attached to, the tripod.

Arquebusiers shooting from behind Ju Ma San (top) and Ruan Pai (bottom), from 'Xu Shen Qi Pu (《續神器譜》)'.


  1. For the ruanpai, where ís the gun rest placed?

    1. The gun rest is a separate equipment, designed for heavy matchlocks (wall gun/jingal gun etc.), or for use in places that not even Ruan Pai is practical (like thick bush).

  2. Do you have any more information about the dates of the author or the deployment of the Ju Ma San? Was it used more on the northern border, in repelling Wukou or elsewhere?

    1. As with most Zhao Shi Zhen's inventions, around late 1590s (post-Imjin War) to early 1600s.

      Zhao purposely designed most of his weapons/equipment to be usable in both North and South China. Ju Ma San with blanket can be used against Japanese, and without blanket can be used against nomadic horsemen.

  3. Hi. Not related to your above post, this is a pdf file PhD dissertation on the Ming as a gunpowder empire. Highly recommended.



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