Qi Jiguang

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Qi Jiguang


Military officer


Military Life. Born to a traditional military family in Shandong, Qi Jiguang received a well-rounded education in the Confucian classics and literature in addition to the military arts. After assuming his father’s rank in 1544, Qi Jiguang performed his duties well. One of his assignments was to take a Shandong detachment yearly to defend the Great Wall north of Beijing. He did this five times between 1548 and 1552. In 1549, after taking the military examinations, he received the military Juren in Shandong in 1549 but failed to pass the higher examination in Beijing a year later. As a result, he remained in the capital to perform some duty during that time when the Mongols broke through the Great Wall and reached the suburbs of Beijing. He participated in the defense of the city, and submitted a plan to fight the Mongols on the frontier.

Coastal Defense. Appointed as an acting assistant com-missioner of the Shandong regional military commission in 1553, Qi was in charge of coastal defenses. Two years later, he was transferred to the Zhejiang commission in charge of the military farms. During that time the raids of Japanese pirates along the Zhejiang coast increased, and selected military offices were dispatched to the province to reinforce the local military organization with tactical commands. In 1556, Qi was appointed as assistant commander in charge of defending the area.

Mandarin Duck Formation. From the bitter experience of the Japanese pirates’ assault, Qi created a plan to train volunteers to defeat the invaders. His plan was approved by the supreme commander in 1557, and three thousand men from that area received military training. One of his innovations in the training program was the tactical formation known as the “Mandarin duck,” which was composed of basic units of twelve men each (one leader, two shield men, two soldiers with short bamboo lances, four soldiers with long bamboo lances, two fork men, and one cook). They advanced in that order or in two five-man columns dividing the weapons equally. Qi established the harsh regulation that all soldiers acted to protect the leader from being injured. If the leader lost his life during a battle that ended in defeat, any survivor in his unit was to be put to death. Thus, each soldier was trained in the spirit of win or die.

Tactics. During that time weapons were designed particularly to fight Japanese longbowmen and swordsmen renowned for their prowess. In Qi’s tactics, the shield was to take care of the arrows, and the bamboo lance, with its bushy branches intact, could slow down the attack and entangle the swordsman, making it possible for the other lancers to kill him. Since the Japanese swordsmen were terrifying combatants, Qi recommended five-to-one odds, organizing four basic units to a platoon, four platoons to a company, and three companies to a battalion of about six hundred men. A few muskets were assigned to each company and a battery of cannon to each battalion.

Victories. In 1562 Qi led a relief expedition to Fujian against the Japanese pirates; after several victories, Qi returned to Zhejiang. Next year Qi was appointed vice-commander on the north Fujian coast, and at the end of 1563 he was transferred to Fujian, becoming area commander for the coasts of Zhejiang and Fujian. By 1567 Qi and his forces had cleared the Fujian coast of the Japanese pirates.

Reasons for Success. Qi’s success against the pirates resulted from not only his selection and training of troops but also his defense plans and his close collaboration with civil authorities. During that time, there was a debate among military leaders on whether to meet the Japanese on water or on land. Because it was difficult to move men over-land and there were not enough troops to deploy along the coast, some thought it was wise to meet the brigands on the sea. On the water, others argued, the pirates were in their element and at their best. Qi preferred to meet them on the land and set up a three-tiered defense system, which needed an early warning system on the islands off the coast of Fujian. This system proved successful in defeating the Japanese pirates.

Northern Frontier. A major reexamination of the defense of the northern frontier was under way at Beijing when the Mongols began to pose a threat to the capital. Recommended as a successful trainer of troops, Qi was appointed vice commander of the firearms division of the Capital Army in 1567 (his father held the post before him). In 1570 he was named junior commissioner-in-chief and became senior commissioner-in-chief, the highest military rank in the empire in 1574. He retired in 1585 and died several years later.


L. Carrington Goodrich and Fang Chaoying, eds., Dictionary of Ming Biography (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976).

Albert Chan, The Glory and Fall of the Ming Dynasty (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982).

Charles O. Hucker, The Ming Dynasty: Its Origins and Evolving Institutions (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978).