UNIT: Ming Troopers 明兵
Ming trooper: Medium infantry and cavalry would have been equipped in this manner, with a brigantine armor that's colored with either blue, red, white, brown, and sometimes green, depending on the regiment and expertise- which ranged from frontier guards to musketry company. On their hats and backs they would have been marked with the symbol "勇" that meant "brave." They would have been assigned with a variety of weapons ranging from saber, composite bow, lances, tridents, and primitive gunpowder weapons such as the three eyed gun or fire lance, later Ming troopers would have access to western muskets.
Heavy Ming trooper: Most of the heavy infantry and heavy cavalry would have been equipped like this, where the brigandine armor is replaced with a long scale, lamellar, or mountain- scale coat armor. His rank and regiment is marked by the small pennon and feathers that peaked out from his helmet. He would- like their lighter counterparts be armed with a variety of weapons and be deployed as vanguards of assaults leading their lighter armored counterparts. Like the standard troopers, both Ming infantry and cavalry usually the wears steel arm guards reminiscent of of the Roman Manica.
Ming Lieutenant: A medium level Ming field officer is usually dressed similar to a heavy trooper. The only differences being several emblems of power that designate his station. His hat is prominently decorated with not only banners but also several variety of feathers~ sometimes multiple banners (as in the case of generals.) Occasionally, generals also had dragons sewn on their coat armors. Although they are distinguished by their poofball shoulder tassels (usually on parades,) they are rarely during combat.
Heavy infantry, guard troops. Imperial guards are similarly armed. These heavy troops are usually entrusted with guarding important officials and key cities, or escorting the emperor on his grand tours. Armored with heavy lamellar coat armor that linked his upper and lower body, a war trident, and a recurved composite bow. The senior officers usually would be provided with gilded lamellar and mountain scale armors with a mirror plate fixed before the cuirass.
For nearly 300 years, troopers were the backbone of the Ming army. These versatile medium infantry served in nearly every role imaginable and was crucial to the preservation of the dynasty. Taking advantage of the vast manpower of the empire, these hereditary (see below) professional soldiers could reliably be deployed in 100,000 to 130,000 on extended campaigns. However, in terms of morale, generally these units were somewhat lacking, because Confucian society generally regarded soldiers with disdain, a soldier's life was one locked in endless toils. Because of their low birth, all of them would be unable to escape from their station, that combined with the frequency where they would be forced on high attrition suicidal assaults meant these lot generally had a grim, survival driven outlook on life. This is compensated somewhat by their decent equipment, a wide array of versatile weapons, and if they were lucky- competent commanders that would be assigned to them.
EARLY MING vs LATE MING:
The early Ming dynasty army largely concentrated on mounted warfare and one could think of it as modeled after the Mongol way of the preceding Yuan dynasty- though with the addition of considerable ethnic Han backed firepower with large section of crossbowmen and primitive gunners. The later Ming army, on the other hand, due to the decline of its military prowess as well as its territorial losses would have shifted from mobile aggressive warfare to become a much more defensive army- with deployable war wagons, gunners equipped with western muskets, and rocket carts.
Left: Ming dynasty at its zenith in early 15th century during the reign of the Yongle, Hongxi, and Xuande Emperors. Beginning in the 14th century, the Ming armies drove out the Mongols and expanded China's territories to include Yunnan, Mongolia, nearly half of modern Xinjiang and Vietnam. Right: A drastically weakened Ming in the 16th century after long periods of internal misrule and after suffering ceaseless invasions from the northern steppes.
The Ming infantry had a company consisting of 112 men. They were similar to their European counterparts and were essentially grouped in administrative units consisting of ordinary and specialist soldiers, all banded together for maximum battlefield efficiency. About 40% were spear-wielding foot soldiers and another 40% were armed with some sort of ranged weapon, such as bow, crossbow or firearm of some kind. The remaining 20% bore swords and shields. It should be noted, aside from the Han Chinese, had always been a great contingent of Mongol, Hui, and Liang people in the army at all times.
Ming military institutions were largely responsible for the success of Ming's armies. One of the notable features of the Ming military was its centralized planning. The entire army would be re-equipped and re-trained for a specific campaign. On the positive note, it created a very adaptable army that is usually well equipped to deal with the majority of the foes they encountered- including with a amount of siege equipment- from grenades to swivel guns and mortar wagons. On the negative note, this system also caused the Ming military to be bureaucratic and it could not respond quickly and effectively to an immediate threat. This slow mobilization speed- when put on the defensive could be disastrous, although the Wei-Suo system (below) did alleviate some of the defensive strain.
The troopers doctrine the brutal nature of centralized Ming organization. Quickly drawn up, armed, disarmed, and rearmed with different sets of weapons, then sent on long marches and high attrition battles- and if killed, replaced by another kin in the roster. They were like kits of painted soldiers with detachable toy weapons. Or Play-Doh to be wielded by some distant planner.
The early Ming's military was organized by the Wei-suo system, which split the army up into numerous "Wei" or commands throughout the Ming frontiers. Each wei was to be self-sufficient in agriculture, with the troops stationed there farming as well as training. Like the Fubing system of the Tang dynasty, this garrisoned frontier effectively created a lattice of fishscale- like self sufficient defensive zones that would force any invaders to be bogged down by their defenses while the imperial column could relieve them.
This system also forced soldiers to serve hereditary in the army. During the Ming Dynasty, soldiers had one of the lowest social standings. Unlike the western armies, a soldier in the Ming Dynasty military was an inherited job and they came from a professional warrior class, this was created in imitation of the Mongol military system of the preceding Yuan dynasty. Like the immortals of the Achemenid Persian army, This system of inherited soldiers had an inherent advantage. Casualties could be easily replaced. If a soldier died in battle, his family had to give one of its able bodied members as replacement- thus even should the army suffer sufficient losses, it could be relatively swiftly replenished with replacements.
Although effective in initially taking control of the empire, the Wei-Suo military system proved unviable in the long run and collapsed in the 1430s, with Ming reverted to a professional volunteer army similar to Tang, Song and Later Han. By the middle and the later portion of the dynasty, the Ming had a much more professional army that is more focused, better drilled, and better equipped, but that that was also more expensive to maintain- this, coupled with the financial ruin brought by corruption and misrule, made the maintenance of the army a major problem for the dynasty.
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