Chinese History:


Chinese history is a good place to start for reestablishing traditional Chinese swordsmanship. The pattern for my gambeson came from the Banner Army in the Qing Dynasty. Our weapons are from this time as well. Here is a brief summary of the Banner Army.


The banner military system began with Nurhaci in the early 17th Century of chinese history. It was at its best throughout the 17th Century, declining in the 18th, and taken over by modern military methods in the 19th Century.

Chinese history the banner army
Banner armour in the Beijing Military Museum: (Courtesy of Katiekellert - Flickr)

It began with four banners, moved to eight in about 1616, which is how we usually think of it, and was subdivided by ethnicity into twenty four. The Manchus had taken over the Han and didn't want to lose this position by reason of inferior numbers. If they let Manchus mix with Han too much, they would be reassimilated. So the Manchus fratenised with the Mongols a little, but not with the Han. The Manchu and Mongol Bannermen had horses. The Han soldiers had to walk and do the ground duty type jobs. Each of those groups had seperate banners within the Banner Army. The Banner colours were ranked in importance as well. That said, there was some fluidity. You could be promoted to a higher banner. You could also change ethnicity, especially in the latter years. By the end of Banner Army prominence in Chinese history, all descendants of Banner families were automatically considered Manchus.


The Banner colours had their own flags. Each company was made up of about 300 households. There were approximately 25 companies under each banner. These companies were stationed in different locations and if a fighting force was needed, each garrison contributed 300 men.

Chinese History we know that the three top Banners were the Pure Yellow, Bordered Yellow and Pure White. The top three belonged especially to the Emporer. The other five were loyal to particular Manchu ruling princes, also known as the Iron Cap Princes.

By order of rank, the lower five Banners were Pure Red, Bordered White, Bordered Red, Pure Blue and Bordered Blue. So this means I made my gambeson in the colours of the sixth ranked banner. Oh well,
everyone knows it's more fun galloping to battle on a horse, with a sword in your hand than hanging about guarding the Forbidden City, doing dishes and entertaining the nobles.... actually they all went to battle in the beginning. As time went by, the usefulness of the banner army declined from a fighting force to a show of political force, the Green Army was added and modern methods of warfare eventually put the Banners out of a job.

There are still many very good examples of the Banner Army armour. Some of them are pictured on this page. Usually the parade armour is the best preserved. It is more decorative, worn by officials, and characterised by taller helmets with high plume holders. Just try wearing one of those on a horse while wrapping your Dao overhead for a slice at the enemy. Your arm would bump into the spire on the way round. The armour was dingjia - nail armour. It had steel plates riveted together inside the layers of cloth. The lower part, protection for the legs was called a tasset.

Picture below: Blue, Bordered Yellow and Bordered White Banners, courtesy of Katie Kellert, Flickr.

chinese warriors bannermen

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