Chinese shield designs and techniques?
Just chatting with a friend who trains Hung Gar kung fu today about viking/anglo-saxon shields and he said that his sifu trains sword and shield techniques with round shields. It got we wondering; my gut says that chinese shields weren't center grip but rather forearm strapped. Does anyone have any information on these shields. Photos, Maybe? thanx
For the typical 18th/19th century rattan/cane convex round shield, there's a loop for the forearm, and a wooden handgrip.

A good picture of a replica and an original side-by-side can be seen at http://www.chinese-swords-guide.com/ancient-chinese-weapons.html. I've seen other pics of original shields that look essentially the same.

I've seen modern kung fu shields that have much shorter handgrips, without the rattan loop on the grip. I've not seen any originals like this.

I've also see pictures of Chinese rattan shields that have 4 studs on the outside, these look like attachment points for straps. The Mongol version of this, a rattan round shield for cavalry use, has two straps attached to these 4 points. The two straps are held together in the one hand, making it a centre-grip shield. This is also to be seen in Persian and Indian art, and looks like the standard strapping/gripping method for Indo-Persian shields (some Persian shields had a double set of grips, so they could be held like this, as a centre-grip shield, or forearm-strapped). As for south Indian, I've seen art with rigid centre grip, forearm strap and soft strap handgrip, and the same double-strap centre-grip.

So, maybe this was normal for Chinese cavalry shields, which were apparently still in use c. 1820, but out of use by c. 1830. H. R. Robinson, "Oriental armour", and J.-M. Yang, "Ancient Chinese weapons: a martial artist's guide" have a picture each of a shield strapped like this, the one in Robinson is described as a cavalry shield.

So, Chinese round rattan cavalry shields, double-strap centre-grip, and Chinese round rattan infantry shields, forearm loop and wooden handgrip. The infantry shield would be the basis of the kung fu shield.
HI all.

Yes, Timo is right. Cavalry shield were always centre-gripped, and the Infantry used argived grips.

The development of shield techniques in Chinese Martial Arts are quite advanced. In battle, the Chinese often used phalanx-like formations, and ones not unlike The Turtle also. Reference is made to Rattan Shields as early as 200 B.C.

For a really good look into how the shield was used by the Infantry, try googling "Yue Fei", or "Teng Pai Chun". Yue Fei is a great historical General of the Southern Song Dynasty, who fought the Jin, and could apparently use a bow with a 300 cattie draw (the most recent description of a single cattie is about 500 grams). And the Teng Pai Chun are his elite troop, using rattan shields and single-edged Dao swords. These swords were usually quite curved, because their main use was against Cavalry, and a less-percussive blade is apparently more suitable for attacking horses. They also used their shields as much as an offensive weapon as a defensive one in close quarters.

They became so famous and efficient that they lasted as a specialised elite well into the Ming Dynasty, and may well have been absorbed into the Green Battalion under the Qing. They are known as "The Rattan Shield Army" as a matter of fact. I have limited reference material on them myself unfortunately, although I find them very interesting due to their use of Internal Martial Arts and the fact that they fought against the Mongols, yet survived well into the Ming Dynasty and possibly even longer, when the Ming was that which ousted and replaced the Yuan (or Mongol) Dynasty. There are also parts of the aforementioned Qing Dynasty Green Battalion who were expert Shield and Saber fighters. They might be worth a look too.

But, for me, the most interesting Chinese use of the shield is by the famous Tiger Soldiers, who helped General Zheng Cheng Gong expel the Dutch from Formosa (Taiwan) in the 17th Century. These soldiers dressed in costumes which were made to look like tigers (I'm not kidding) and had scary tiger faces painted on their shields... You still see this a lot with modern Chinese Martial Arts shields. This was apparently to scare horses, and it apparently worked very well, playing on a horse's natural fear of tigers. These troops would rush the enemy, not unlike a Cavalry charge, without any hesitation whatsoever. They were closely followed by troops armed with "stick swords", who dispatched those enemy who got past the tigers.

Perhaps you could try Great River Taoist Center Forums who offer a wealth of information on this subject.


Last edited by Bennison N on Thu 11 Mar, 2010 2:17 pm; edited 1 time in total
Bennison N wrote:

And the Teng Pai Chun are his elite troop, using rattan shields and single-edged Dao swords.


"Teng pai" being the name of the rattan shield (is this the literal translation?), is Teng Pai Chun just you later "Rattan Shield Army", untranslated?

Bennison N wrote:

For a really good look into how the shield was used by the Infantry, try googling "Yue Fei", or "Teng Pai Chun". Yue Fei is a great historical General of the Southern Song Dynasty, who fought the Jin and the Yuan, and could apparently use a bow with a 300 cattie draw (the most recent description of a single cattie is about 500 grams). And the Teng Pai Chun are his elite troop, using rattan shields and single-edged Dao swords.

But, for me, the most interesting Chinese use of the shield is by the famous Tiger Soldiers, who helped General Zheng Cheng Gong expel the Dutch from Formosa (Taiwan) in the 17th Century.


Tigermen were still in Chinese armies in 1900. Sometimes in very small numbers in very far-away places, small contingents (even just 40 of them!) in armies of perhaps a few 1000. Elite soldiers, at least in status, so perhaps a few makes a difference, at least to morale.
Hi Timo.

Teng Pai is the shield. But, if you wanted to look up the Army itself, you would seem to have more luck with the Cantonese version "Tern Pai Chun" which does mean "Rattan Shield Army". I don't have any books here (I'm at work), but google had some hits with the Cantonese.

Apparently the Tern Pai Chun was developed as a specific counter to a previously undefeated Jin General's Kua Cu Ma, or Horse Tank (my translation, to give an idea of what it is). This was an armoured chariot, pulled by armoured horses and operated by armoured soldiers. The Song soldiers would crouch close to the ground, and hold their line until the horses were right on them. The shields were greased, so the horse's hooves would slip off the surface, and once the Tern Pai Chun had felled any one of the three horses pulling this rolling fortress, the other Tern Pai Chun soldiers would swarm the Tank and kill all the Jin drivers and fighters on board.

The decisive defeat this new tactic forced upon the JIn greatly contributed to their eventual overall defeat. Yue Fei, after a time when he was considered a criminal, and after being poisoned to death in jail in 1142, became the Chinese epitome of loyalty and determination. There's a saying that "it is easier to fight a mountain than fight an army of General Yue Fei”.

Or so the legend says... Legends aside, the Teng Pai / Tern Pai Chun were an important part of every native Chinese Army at least until the Qing. There were also some of the Green Bannermen, and of course the Tigermen who were expert with the shield.
Cool!
Wow thanx Timo! The photos on your link are very interesting. I had never thought of rattan for anything but baskets/furniture, but looking at the shield, those woven layers look pretty tough. Probably fairly light as well, yes? For some reason, I was picturing sharp-edged metal shields that could be used to slash/parry in combination with sword strikes, and the warriors wearing metal pointed hat-style helmets. Were these rattan shields lacquered for additional strength/stiffness?
The ones in the picture have the main rattan spiral woven together with rattan strips. This was also done with silk. The silk-woven shields were probably stronger, and maybe the spiral could be a little tighter, since the silk thread would be thinner than the rattan strips. The weave has to be tight, since otherwise a weapon can get through between the spiral bands. Some of the non-combat-oriented replicas have a very open weave (including some kung fu shields; I did read on www about the fun of having a tiger fork come through a loosely woven shield).

Rattan is fairly light, lighter than wood on average. The average thickness of the shield is less than the thickness of the rattan, so the shield won't be too heavy. But it's still maybe 1 cm or thereabouts in thickness, so it won't be that light. Maybe 75-90 cm wide. I've not seen weights for originals, but one common modern kung fu shield is specified as 5 pounds (30" diameter).

I believe that lacquering was standard, but I think this was for protection of the rattan rather than for strength (although protecting the rattan will make it stronger later in its life). Flexibility will make it harder to cut or pierce, so you don't want to make it stiff. 1 cm thick rattan isn't floppy, especially when woven into a spiral, but it isn't that stiff either. These shields tend to be quite convex, which will strengthen the whole structure, while still letting it deform locally when hit.

It was also usual for them to be painted with tiger-faces; this seems to have been usual even when carried by soldiers other than tigermen.
also.. another source to look at is the korean system of the muyedobotongji, a military manual from the 1700's century which was an updated version on military manuals wrote by korean generals in the aftermath of the japanese invasions by hideyoshi in the late 16th century.

the koreans did VERY badly in that war due to a cultural aversion to martial arts in koreas confucian system, except for archery, it was noted the archery trained men had very little skill in close quarters and were frequently scattered by japanese musket volleys followed by infantry charges.

japan was repulsed partly due to naval losses and partly due to the intervention of ming chinese troops which were just as skilled and more numerous than the japanese

the techniques in the korean system are very heavily based of the current chinese systems of the time includeing a form of self supporting infantry squad featuring sword and rattan shieldmen supported by men with glaives, who were supported by men with long spears etc. it was known as the manderin duck formation.

also i remember hearing that the rattan shield were said to be slightly bullet resistant if not outright bulletproof.

also, the rattan shield (or somply, any shield) is used in conjunction with a knife/ machete/ short spear in the okinawan kobudo systems (alongside the nunchuku and sai), in this system its called timbe rochin.
the learning of chinese rattan shield makes me thing kobudo system was mostly imprted from china rather than the old story of the 'improvising peasent' who wasnt allowed weapons..

i cant find it now but theres a video on youtube of a 2 person form showing a rattan shield and dao wielder facing a man with 2 section staff, aka the long handled flail not unlike the one shown in paulus hector mayers manuals

and note, the shield used aka rattan shield looks and is held in a way VERY similar to a renaissance target
In the manual on chinese shields published by the aformention chinese swords website (they are translations by chi gi quang along with some other general) say that rattan shields are no good versus guns, just arrows and spears and swords.
Michael Curl wrote:
In the manual on chinese shields published by the aformention chinese swords website (they are translations by chi gi quang along with some other general) say that rattan shields are no good versus guns, just arrows and spears and swords.


What kind of gun and what kind of rattan shield?
It seems during the imjin War heavy rattan shields were able to stop light arquebus fire from a distance, allowing troops behind to close the range for a fast close combat assault. The Japanese counter was to use very heavy arquebuses, almost small field artillery, against these and penetrate them. Note that the Japanese lacked indigenous artillery because they seem to have been unable to acquire it from any source with sufficient information on production and operation.
Against Opium War guns these shields were most likely obsolete.
The same goes for very heavy crossbows that were popular in Eastern Eurasia.
William P wrote:
also.. another source to look at is the korean system of the muyedobotongji, a military manual from the 1700's century which was an updated version on military manuals wrote by korean generals in the aftermath of the japanese invasions by hideyoshi in the late 16th century.


Muye Dobo Tongji is a nice glimpse of what was done, but not enough details. The Chinese manuals (e.g., available in English courtesy of Jack Chen, http://www.chineselongsword.com/shieldtranslation.shtml) have more.

There has been a lot of interest in Korea in reconstructing the martial arts shown in Muye Dobo Tongji, for example Shippalgi. Some video should be available on youtube.

William P wrote:
the koreans did VERY badly in that war due to a cultural aversion to martial arts in koreas confucian system, except for archery, it was noted the archery trained men had very little skill in close quarters and were frequently scattered by japanese musket volleys followed by infantry charges.


... and because they were very deficient in muskets at the start of the war, and, locally, they were outnumbered by the Japanese, and the Japanese army consisted in large part of seasoned veterans. And incompetence in command; such commanders had not been filtered out by earlier fighting.

William P wrote:

japan was repulsed partly due to naval losses and partly due to the intervention of ming chinese troops which were just as skilled and more numerous than the japanese


Probably not as skilled in close fighting, certainly much less numerous, but well equipped with artillery. The size of the Chinese intervention was limited by logistics, not just support of the army, but also avoiding starving the Korean population.
Timo Nieminen wrote:
William P wrote:
also.. another source to look at is the korean system of the muyedobotongji, a military manual from the 1700's century which was an updated version on military manuals wrote by korean generals in the aftermath of the japanese invasions by hideyoshi in the late 16th century.


Muye Dobo Tongji is a nice glimpse of what was done, but not enough details. The Chinese manuals (e.g., available in English courtesy of Jack Chen, http://www.chineselongsword.com/shieldtranslation.shtml) have more.

There has been a lot of interest in Korea in reconstructing the martial arts shown in Muye Dobo Tongji, for example Shippalgi. Some video should be available on youtube.

William P wrote:
the koreans did VERY badly in that war due to a cultural aversion to martial arts in koreas confucian system, except for archery, it was noted the archery trained men had very little skill in close quarters and were frequently scattered by japanese musket volleys followed by infantry charges.


... and because they were very deficient in muskets at the start of the war, and, locally, they were outnumbered by the Japanese, and the Japanese army consisted in large part of seasoned veterans. And incompetence in command; such commanders had not been filtered out by earlier fighting.

William P wrote:

japan was repulsed partly due to naval losses and partly due to the intervention of ming chinese troops which were just as skilled and more numerous than the japanese


Probably not as skilled in close fighting, certainly much less numerous, but well equipped with artillery. The size of the Chinese intervention was limited by logistics, not just support of the army, but also avoiding starving the Korean population.


the korean armies strength was in archery, either mounted or on foot, but it shunned close quarter combat arts for aformentioned reasons.
korea didnt have that core of martial elites within the ruling class,
As for the military situation in Joseon, the Korean scholar official Yu Seong-ryong observed, "not one in a hundred [Korean generals] knew the methods of drilling soldiers":[69] rise in ranks depended far more on social connections than military knowledge.[70] Korean soldiers were disorganized, ill-trained and ill-equipped,[70] and they were used mostly in construction projects such as building castle walls.[71]



so it wasnt really the japanese musket volleys, that caused the koreans to be scattered, it was more what came straight after aka hordes of angry samurai charging at you

wikipedia wrote:

Numerous battle accounts from the Annal of Joseon dynasty and various essays, diaries of Korean officials and commanders show that musket alone could not ensure victory. By employing both musket and arme blanche ("cold steel", swords, lances, spears, and the like), the Japanese were able to achieve success during the early phase of war. Indeed, the ferocious charge of Japanese troops with spears and swords were often more decisive than with muskets. This is because the Koreans, who fare fairly well in ranged combat by employing small firearms and bows, were poorly trained in close combat, and lacked battlefield experience and discipline. Thus Korean soldiers were unable to hold their line against charging Japanese soldiers. The following words from a Korean military official named Shi-eon Lee to the Korean king clearly shows such weakness:

Quote:
The King asked him (Shi-eon Lee),
"You have already told me about the low accuracy of Japanese muskets. Why, then, are Korean armies having great problem with defeating them?"

He then answered, "The Korean soldiers cower before the enemy and flee for their lives even before they have engaged the enemy. As for the commanders, they seldom leave their positions because they fear that they might be executed for deserting. However, there is a limit to executing deserting soldiers since there are so many of them. Truly, the Japanese aren't good musketeers, but they advance so rapidly that they appear right in front of the Koreans in the time Koreans can shoot only two arrows. It is said that Koreans are good archers, but they seldom hit the targets when the enemy is too far away, and are too scared to shoot when the enemy is near because they fear Japanese swords. Archery often becomes useless because Koreans, fearing the Japanese arme blanche, can barely shoot. The Japanese are reputed to be good swordsmen, but it is possible for Koreans to draw swords and hold their ground. However, the Koreans seldom do this and merely run for their lives."



btw the japanese had been exposed to cannons but didnt adopt them from europeans like they did with the musket.
in fact, the europeans presented a mortar to the court of the japanese and though the japanese were 'impressed' they rejected the thing as something to be used
the reasons for this are unknown, but the japanese had the capacity to make guns, evidenced by a few breechloaders attributed to nobunaga,, so the technology was there the japanese didnt adopt it.
but unlike in korea and china japanese cannons were very rare

in anycase, the ming chinese were much more capable of facing japan on close quarter terms.
they were much better trained and drilled in all aspects of war, i.e much more of a martial culture, the chinese were also more organised

and this source is interesting (wiki once again)
The army had a prescribed strength of 100,000, though actual strength was much lower. According to the collection of letters left by Song Yingchang, the actual strength of the Ming army that crossed into Korea in late 1592 was 36,000 - eventually reinforced to over 38,000 by early February - composed mostly of garrisons from the north, including 3,000+ men who were trained by officers with experience against Japan-based pirates a couple decades prior under Qi Jiguang and other generals.

that said, the fact the japanese had at least 150,000 men doesnt help matters,

but its extremely clear koreans beat japanese only when they could keep the japanese from closing to melee combat. mostly through the employment of field artillery.



but.. im gonna leave the talk of the imjin war at that since its mostly irrelevent, needless to saay in sun the korean army of the time was woefully bad at actually fighting
The book on Chinese shields by Jack Chin (note, the translation is quite poor and I don't recommend the purchase to anyone, I feel quite underwhelmed myself) says that rattan shields are ineffective against shields. Since the translated book is by Qi Jiguang I simply take the generals word on it. Now ineffective doesn't mean that it won't stop some musket fire some time, but it means that it is not a sure protection against it.
William P wrote:

but.. im gonna leave the talk of the imjin war at that since its mostly irrelevent, needless to saay in sun the korean army of the time was woefully bad at actually fighting


Off-topic to this thread at least. We can always continue elsewhere, in its own thread, if you wish.
this is what i was referring to regarding korean use of the rattan shield

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ji_Xiao_Xin_Shu
In the Ji Xiao Xin Shu general Qi introduces the so called 'Mandarin Duck Formation' (Yuan Yang Zhen, 鸳鸯阵). This formation consisted of a unit of eleven soldiers and one person for logistics.

1. 1 squad leader (with the squad flag)
2. 2 men with sabers and rattan shields
3. 2 men with multiple tip bamboo spears
4. 4 men with long spears
5. 2 men with tridents or swords
6. 1 cook/porter (logistical personnel)

This squad was drilled in coordinated and mutually-supportive fighting with clearly defined roles for everyone. In a smallest fighting unit of 5 men (excluding the squad leader), there are the following roles:

1. One multiple tip bamboo spearman attached to one saber-and-shield man to protect him by entangling the Japanese pirate and his weapon, should the saber-and-shield man become vulnerable during combat.....
2. 2 spearmen to thrust at the enemy should the multiple tip bamboo spearman become vulnerable.
3. The saber-and-shield man to protect the spearmen should they themselves become overextended and vulnerable.
4. The trident man would act as a supportive backup.

If the squad leader was killed in battle, the whole squad would be put to death.

this also gives a very practicallook at the use of it within a battlefield context.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGkjQydeICQ&feature=related like this
(Much) earlier Chinese shields from the Warring States, Han, and Three Kingdoms eras were basically oblong bucklers with fist grips (at least if we're getting an accurate impression of the distance the shields were held away from the body). I think there's plenty of evidence for Chinese armies (particularly swordsmen, and on occasion crossbowmen) using both fist-gripped and arm-strapped shields throughout the "medieval" eras with the relative popularity of each varying across historical periods and geographical locations.
Here be some...


 Attachment: 28.38 KB, Viewed: 1992 times
Tigerman.JPG
A Tigerman.

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Bambai - Mongol shield.JPG
A Bambai - Mongol Rattan Buckler.

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Teng Pai.JPG
Teng Pai - Looks well used...

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