Qi Jiguang: Transforming China’s Defenses

2012-08-09 (China Military News from China-defense-mashup) — Qi Jiguang (1528 – 1588) was the most outstanding Chinese general of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Born in Dengzhou in east China’s Shandong province, Qi was regarded as a national hero for his contribution to fighting the Japanese pirates along China’s southeast coast.

Fighting Japanese Pirates

Japanese pirates were a persistent threat during the Ming Dynasty. In the 14th Century, regional leaders in Japan who had lost domestic wars organized smuggling through China and piracy by samurai, merchants and renin. Chinese called the pirates “wokou”.

Qi was born into a military family, the son of a general. At 17, Qi joined the army in order to inherit his father’s peerage and was stationed in Dengzhou (now Penglai) as assistant commander of the costal defenses in Shandong. From that time, he aimed to eliminate the pirates. It is said that Qi stood on the ramparts and wrote a poem on his ambition: “A peerage is not what I’m fighting for, but for the peace on the ocean.”

However, Qi’s first battle with the pirates almost ended in disaster. When a force of over 800 pirates attacked and defeated Chinese troops in Cixi, Zhejiang province, Qi went to aid the defense, but his forces could not hold the pirates, and many fled the battlefield. Only Qi’s exceptional skill as an archer saved the day, when he killed three pirate commanders and turned the tide. He then realized how difficult his goal would be.

Rebuilding the Army

The experience highlighted weaknesses in the Chinese forces, so Qi introduced two reforms.

First, he developed new criteria for recruits. He wrote explicitly in recruitment notices that his army would exclude people who were known bullies, those aged over 40, bureaucrats, the boastful, the craven, the pale skinned, and those of temperamental

character. He also required strong arms, long legs, firm muscles, sharp eyes, honesty and a respect for authority. In short, Qi demanded his troops be strong, obedient and courageous.

In addition, Qi put restrictions on recruits’ previous careers. Previously, many soldiers came from Shaoxing of Zhejiang, a wealthy merchant area. Shaoxing youth were known for being smart and calculating, even making demands of their officers in the barracks. If their demands were not met, their will to fight fell dramatically, and that mood was infectious in the forces.

So when Qi recruited, he skipped Shaoxing and focused on Yiwu, a poorer area known for the hardiness of its people. A legend about Qi’s recruiting in Yiwu recounts how the chief of one village where everyone practiced martial arts was wary of Qi’s youthfulness. The chief challenged Qi to a test of arms, promising to join Qi’s army if he lost. Despite his skills in Shaolin boxing, the chief lost and Qi recruited a village of martial arts masters.

In Yiwu. Qi rejected merchants and recruited farmers and miners, believing they could better endure hardship and obey orders. A new force was soon formed.

Changing Tactics

Qi also worked on new tactics to fight the pirates. Previously, the Chinese army attached great importance to individual combat skills, but new recruits could not withstand the pirates, whose Japanese swords were more powerful than the Chinese blades. Many experienced Chinese soldiers also feared the Japanese swords. To compensate for the weaknesses of the individual soldiers, Qi stressed coordination as well as personal strength in training his new recruits.

Qi designed units, named yuanyangzhen, or “the mandarin duck array.” Each formation was led by a captain flanked by two shield-bearers: one carrying a long shield to block arrows; the other a light rattan shield and a light spear for close combat. They provided cover for the rest of the team. Then there were two carrying bamboo langxian or “wolf brushes.”

Qi had designed the langxian as a weapon to deal with the Japanese pirates. It was made from bamboo grown in southern China. Qi selected solid mature bamboo, sharpened the front end and kept the sharp branches around it. A langxian was normally about three meters long and was used to stab at the enemy while covering the shield-bearers and the rest of the unit. Two pikemen on each side guarded the shield-bearers and langxian carriers. In the rear were soldiers carrying iron-toothed rakes to provide support.

In this way, soldiers could fight as a team and make full use of each weapon. The array could change to suit tactical needs: from a column to a line, from one formation to two or three small arrays. Its flexibility could effectively restrain the advantages of the pirates.

After a period of training, Qi’s new troops hit the battlefield and won, wiping out the pirates in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, and ending more than two centuries of harassment.

Reinforcing the Great Wall

During the Ming Dynasty, China’s national security was also threatened by the Mongol horsemen on the northern frontier. Qi was also determined to reinforce the Great Wall.

Today, the Great Wall is a symbol of China. When tourists from around the world visit Beijing, they usually see the Badaling section of the Great Wall, which was originally constructed under the command of Qi.

The Great Wall had a weak spot at the eastern end, where it meets the sea. The Mongols could easily breach the fortifications at Shanhaiguan, or Shanhai Pass. After consultation with army commander Wu Weizhong. Qi decided to extend the wall into the sea, creating the Laolongtou, or “Old Dragon’s Head,” which still inspires awe today.

The Great Wall gave Beijing reliable protection against the Mongols, who were known for their fast horses, sharp blades, and ferocity.

Passing on Insights

Alongside his battlefield victories, Qi Jiguang earned a reputation as a great military theorist. His works, such as the New Record of Effective Techniques (Ji Xiao Xin Shu) and Records of Military Training (Lian Bing Shi Ji) provide invaluable insights into warfare.

Over his long career, Qi advocated fighting only wars that were thoroughly considered, and he deplored wasting soldiers’ lives or fighting without a strategy. On the northern frontier, he sent out

large numbers of intelligence staff, both overt and undercover, to gather information about the enemy; he built watchtowers to raise the alarm more effectively; he defeated the enemy by organizing ambushes and deceived them with feints outside the pass; he guarded the Wall firmly, cutting off the enemy with heavy forces, and pursuing them with cavalry, gaining the upper hand.

Qi insisted on a comprehensive assessment of the enemy and the terrain before entering combat, in order to devise tactics that took advantage of enemy weaknesses. He also emphasized the combination of offense and defense, believing that neither should be ignored and that to combine the two was the only way to defeat
the enemy. The coordination of different weapons and forces was also important, such as the coordination of defensive troops on the Wall with mobile troops, including chariots, infantry and cavalry. When the enemy attacked, mobile troops should assist the defense; when the enemy broke through, defending troops should join the counterstrike.

Qi advocated victory through annihilation. However, he applied different strategies to different enemies. Against the Japanese pirates in the southeast, he implemented a war of attrition through a series of small battles; against the Mongol horsemen in the north, he intended to launch a massive assault in the hope of defeating the enemy once and for all.

Reflecting his insights and combat experience, Qi’s books demonstrate innovative theories of warfare in China in an era when cold weapons and firearms were used together.

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