At its height in the 18th century, the Qing dynasty ruled over a vast territory. There was great cultural and geographical diversity within the realm and so naturally, there were considerable differences in the design, construction, and use of arms and armor throughout the empire as well.

This lack of standardization became problematic for military planning of larger campaigns when for example a thousand spears ordered for the frontier battles differed in construction, size, and cost depending on where they were made.

By the late 18th century, the Qianlong court started to bring back the large variety of arms to a smaller number of standardized styles. They published regulations on the use of materials and production of each of them.1

One of these texts is the Qīndìng Gōngbù Jūnqì Zélì (欽定工部軍器則例) or "Imperially Commissioned Regulations and Precedents of Military Equipment for the Board of Works" of the 13th year of Jiaqing, 1808. It was written for the Board of Works, one of the six ministries under the Qing, which was responsible for public works, infrastructure, and the production of government equipment, among others the arms for the Green Standard Army. Its roughly 6000 pages describe in great detail the manufacture of all sorts of military equipment, from flags and tents to armor, firearms, and edged weapons. It describes the materials used, and time spent by the different craftsmen. It took me over a decade to find a copy but I finally own one, and it is a treasure for the Qing arms enthusiast.

Notes to introduction
1. Ulrich Theobald; "Space and Place in Administrative Military Regulations of Qing China: An Evaluation of the Legal Type of "Zeli"" Published in Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident No. 40, Legalizing Stace in Imperial China. Presses Universitaires de Vincennes. 2016. Pages 183-206.

The Qing military rattan shield

In this article, I present to you my translation of the Qīndìng Gōngbù Jūnqì Zélì entry for the téngpái (藤牌) or "rattan shield". They were used by special skirmishers along with the páidāo (牌刀) or "shield saber".


Rattan shield examples

Left: An antique Chinese rattan shield. Mandarin Mansion inventory.
Right: 18th-century illustration of a rattan shield. Victoria & Albert museum, accession number 851-1896.


Zhili manual

"Tigermen" using rattan shields in a Qing military manual.
Full title 兵技指掌图说, published 1843.



Construction of the rattan shield

Tengpai regulationsConstruction of the rattan shield chapter of the Qīndìng Gōngbù Jūnqì Zélì.


My translation:

Every rattan shield diameter is 2 chi 6 cun. Depth 8 cun.
(Approx 91 cm diameter, 28 cm deep)

Made of woven rattan. The [inside] face is finished with red clay oil. Attached are two rattan hoops and one wooden handle. A color painting of a tiger head on the outside face completes the manufacture.

For the above is used:

Rattan cane 3 jin 4 liang 8 qian.
(Approx 1970.5 grams)

Rattan skin 2 jin 3 liang 2 qian.
(Approx 1313.7 grams)

The rattan worker spends 2 workdays 8 li on it.
(Approx 2 working days, 1 hour and 10 minutes.)

Wooden handle is 1 chi 8 cun 5 fen long. Diameter 1 cun.
(Approx 64.75 cm)

A pair of steel seals.

Red rain tassel 1 liang.
(Approx 37.3 grams)

Hemp cord 1 qian.
(Approx 3.7 grams)

Tassel worker spends 3 li workday.
(Approx 26 minutes)

Outside face color painted tiger head surface, 6 chi 2 cun 4 fen square, uses:

Cantonese gum 1 liang. [This is gum made of the skin of bovine cattle.]
(Approx 37.3 grams)

[Potassium] alum 1 qian.
(Approx 3.7 grams)

Starch 1 liang 2 qian 5 fen.
(Approx 46.6 grams)

Indigo flower 7 qian 5 fen. [Cantonese Indigo flower.]
(Approx 28 grams)

Dalu 6 qian 2 fen. [Unknown component.]
(Approx 23.1 grams)

“Heaven's great color” 7 qian 5 fen. [Probably a reddish black.]
(Approx 28 grams)

Orpiment 1 liang 2 qian 5 fen.
(Approx 28 grams)

Vermillion 6 qian 2 fen.
(Approx 46.7 grams)

Huizhou inkstick 1 qian.
(Approx 3.7 grams)

Tung oil 1 liang 5 qian 6 fen.
(Approx 58.2 grams)

The painter spends 6 fen 2 li workday.
(About 8 hours and 55 minutes)

Inside red earth oil finish, 6 chi 2 cun 4 fen square, uses:

Tung oil 1 liang 5 qian 6 fen.
(Approx 58.2 grams)

Southern red clay 1 liang 5 fen.
(Apprix 39.2 grams)

The oiler spends 5 li workday.


Tiān gōng (天工); "Day of work". It is unclear how many hours were considered a day of work.

Gāng qián (鋼鈐); "Steel seal". Probably metal washers that close the small hole at the center of the rattan coil that makes the shield. Some later shields have a brass boss here.

Hóng yǔ yīng (紅雨纓); "Red rain tassel". Red dyed yak hair that was used as tassels on helmets and spears as well.

Guǎng jiāo (廣膠); "Cantonese gum". A glue substance made of cattle hide.

Báifán (白礬); "Potassium alum". Used as a mordant for dyes.

Dìng fěn (定粉); "Starch". Probably used as a binder for some of the pigments.

Guǎng diàn huā (廣靛花); Cantonese Indigo flower. Used for blue dyes.

Dàlù (大碌); Unknown substance. Probably a pigment.

Tiān dà qīng (天大青); “Heaven's great color”. Qīng () is a word used to describe a wide array of colors. For example, it is used to describe the greenness of lush young grass, the black wool of a black sheep, the blue of a clear blue sky. In combination with tiān (), "heaven", it is used to describe a reddish black.

Shí huáng (石黃); "Orpiment". Literally, "stone yellow". A highly toxic, orange to bright yellow arsenic sulfide mineral, commonly used as pigment up to the 19th century.

Yín zhū (銀硃); "Vermillion". A.k.a. "Chinese red" or cinnabar. A toxic mercury sulfide, or anything corresponding to that color.

Huī mò (𡽪墨); "Huizhou inkstick". Prized black Chinese ink, produced in solid form. Its main component is soot and animal glue.

Tóngyóu (桐油); "Tung oil". A prized oil used for finishing wood.

Nánpiàn hóngtǔ (南片紅土); "Southern red clay". Probably laterite, an iron and aluminum-rich clay.
Using 南片 for "southern" is a Hakka custom.


Further reading

Glossary article: Téngpái (藤牌)
Article: Making of the Chinese rattan shield
Article: Construction of the Qing dynasty long spear


Do you have anything for sale?

I might be interested in buying it.

Contact me

Persian steel shield with fine Qajar style painted dome.


Peculiar shield with catching hook, used by the Santali people of Bengal.


An understated, elegant khukuri of substantial proportions with fine layered blade.


A very rare Chinese saber guard dating from the height of the Qing dynasty.


Of classic shape, with a leaf-shaped blade on a socket, connected by a cast bronze base.


With iron, silver overlaid hilt. Its associated scabbard features fine quillwork.