20 June 2022

Ming Chinese cavalry tactics — Part 2

In my previous blog post, I briefly touched some of the tactics used by Ming cavalry against their nomadic enemies. In this one, I will delve deeper and discuss a formation used in Dao Chao (搗巢) operation, or more specifically, the formation used during the return trip of such an operation.

Jiao Lu Chao Chu Bing Zhen (剿虜巢出兵陣, lit. 'Barbarian nest suppression mobilisation formation')

Drawing of Jiao Lu Chu Bing Zhen Tu, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
By its nature, Dao Chao operation was a reactionary counter-raid operation that sought to locate, pillage, and destroy a Mongol settlement, preferably while the Mongols themselves were away raiding elsewhere. Intelligence, speed, and secrecy were heavily prioritised for Dao Chao operation, but direct engagement with the Mongols was discouraged and avoided whenever possible. Needless to say, a sophisticated offensive tactic or formation was not needed for attacking a defenseless camp filled with women, children, and elderly. However, once the raiding was done, the raiding parties were several days of travel away from friendly territory, and being burdened by captured livestock, chopped heads and other spoils of war. This was where they were at their most vulnerable, as the Mongols would surely retaliate and attempt to take back their stolen property.

Raiding party (highlighted) facing south, taking a defensive posture during return trip.

As such, Jiao Lu Chao Chu Bing Zhen was not an offensive formation, but a defensive one. It was actually two formations in one: the returning raiding party and supporting force. The raiding party would be arrayed in a T-shaped formation, with the slowest and most vulnerable livestock and herders placed in the middle, flanked on both sides by troops encumbered by collected enemy heads but still able to fight. The most capable fighting men and troops that did not carry any spoils of war formed into battle lines behind them to perform rearguard duty. The rearguards must remain on high alert as they often had to engage in fighting retreat against the riled Mongols, usually multiple times, throughout their journey back to safety.

Supporting force (highlighted) facing north, forming a U-shaped formation.
During Dao Chao operation, the main body of the army would act as supporting force that only moves a short distance away from friendly territory to rendezvous with the exhausted raiding party for the last stretch of return journey. The formation used by supporting force is not explained in details in the military treatise, although it can be inferred that the centre formed a secure hollow circle to receive the raiding party, whereas left and right wings would move past the raiding party to engage and chase away the Mongols trailing behind.

A more in-depth look of Dao Chao operation is available to my patrons only and can be accessed here!  If you like my work, please consider supporting me via Patreon!


  1. With the plethora of terms within chinese that are broadly translated into english as barbarian, i've started to become curious of what kinda nomadic terminology was used in their many languages to refer (derogatorily) to the chinese. The only one that comes to mind for me is Khitan which is hardly comparable to the arsenal of much harsher words within chinese XD

    1. One example I know (still used in present day) is "hujaa", but that one is relatively recent.


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