UNIT. Late Ming Imperial Guard 锦衣卫連鐶甲


Note the bright silk robe with elaborate motifs underneath the chainmail shirt, 
these would be the eponymous "brocade robes" with dragon-snakes (boa)  

Jinyiwei, literally meaning brocade-clad guard, was the name given to the imperial military guards responsible for the emperor’s personal security, as well as serving as his secret police, throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) in China. The figure depicted represent a battlefield agent/ imperial bodyguard encased in late Ming (1600-1644) chainmail armor.

Jinyiwei were marked by their impressive physical appearance, as they were the cream of the crop of fighters. Their uniforms were made of rich brocade, hence the name. To signify their high status, top ranking Jinyiwei wore a robe with the pattern of a boa constrictor, an animal similar to the dragon – a symbol of the emperors.

The cast of the head for the figurine is molded after the legendary Chinese actor 张丰毅 
Zhang Fengyi who played Cao Cao in "Red Cliff," Jinke in the "Emperor and the Assassin," 
and one of the main characters in"Farewell my Concubine."

Throughout their existence of nearly three centuries, the Jinyiwei supervised documentation of all their cases and conducted secret reconnaissance, investigations, trials, sentencing, intelligence collection. They also developed military strategies and weaponry, all done independently from related government departments.

In the case of the Japanese invasions of Korea between 1592 and 1598, in which the Ming army successfully defended Korea from Japan’s aggression, the Jinyiwei served as secret agents gathering vast amount of intelligence about Japan.

The special badge worn by the Jinyiwei to designate their
status as an agent or a bodyguard of the Ming emperor

Domestically, they had an infamous reputation for torturing suspects in illegal ways. As they had direct access to the emperor, they inspired fear among court officials. However, in most cases, they only targeted people serving the imperial court. Common people usually were left off their radar.

For a more detailed analysis of the Jinyiwei's founding and chaotic history, you can find them in my blog.


Late Ming Chainmail armor, usually reserved for mounted troops, though the Chinese
had been aware of Chainmail, it was never adopted in mass numbers until the mid- late
Ming dynasty and the early Qing dynasty. By the 1620s, Ming armor in general 
would have appeared nearly identical to the armor of their Manchu Qing foes. Consisting
mostly of brigandine, and chainmail shirts such as these~ heavier armor like the
scaled cuirass would have been mostly phased out by this point. 

Late Ming helmet, 17th century.

Although known to the Chinese by Tang Dynasty at the latest (and probably earlier), mail armour never saw widespread use in China. Even during the Ming and Qing Dynasty period, in which mail armour was relatively common, period sources always speak of mail armour as something foreign and exotic, originated from ancient Qiang/Ch'iang people (Tibetan-Burmese or Tangut people).

Late Ming (1550-1600s) armor for generals and important guards. Consisting of a conical cavalry
helmet topped with rank signifying banners and a scale cuirass to protect the torso. As with the majority of 
Chinese troops, they are versatile in equipment- wielding both the bow, saber, and lance.

Ming military governor of a northern province, in late Ming armor, armed with a Jian and a bow, 
and encased in scaled cuirass. He sits upon either a commander's throne with the fur of a lion.

Common Chinese name for mail armour is Suo Zi Jia (鎖子甲), but Ming Chinese had another name for this armour — Gang Si Lian Huan Jia (鋼絲連鐶甲, lit. 'Steel wire linked chain armour'). According to early Qing Dynasty dictionary Zheng Zi Tong (《正字通》), Chinese mail utilise 4-in-1 weave pattern, similar to European mail.


As stated above, the Jinyiwei are marked by their extremely flamboyant silk robes, which served to make them intimidating in official functions. A full ranked imperial agent would be marked with the motif of the Boa Constrictor/ dragon.

A group of Jinyiwei serving as imperial bodyguards on the Emperor's grand tour to his 
ancestral tomb

An agent in "work" uniform, and another in his palace uniform.


To me, the helmet, sword, grip, mirror plate are all done right. The jian finger stance on the left hand hinted that dao and jian are regarded as the same thing. This also is my finding. From this posing, I conclude that Chinese culture do indeed pass down alright. It is up to people to come to grasp it and understand it.
Cross-referencing with some pictures and artifacts is a game that many play. History is story-telling, and not factual. I just speak from my studies and learning. Anyone can claim to have better understanding of any subject. I am not coming out to chase after any title. So, please yourselves in whatever you like to believe and teach. I am not out to challenge anyone.
Der said…
Hi, I just found your blog, I think it's great ...

You wrote:

"In the case of the Japanese invasions of Korea between 1592 and 1598, in which the Ming army successfully defended Korea from Japan’s aggression, the Jinyiwei served as secret agents gathering vast amount of intelligence about Japan"

Is there any evidence for this? I've read meany of the books on the Imjin War, the Guard is never mentioned.
Old Beast said…
Usually the usage on wars against Ming's enemies is very limited, since they are mostly internal agents like FBI and NSA (more like KGB) but directly took orders from the Ming Emperors- the reason being that by the Ming dynasty the Chinese are already pretty familiar with its many neighbors, its familiar with the ways of the Mongols due to being occupied by the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty, thus their language, their customs, their steppe intrigue is well known- same goes for the Jurchens, Koreans, Vietnamese, even Caucasian people such as the Spanish, Portuguese, and the Dutch. However the Japanese remained very illusory to the Chinese, though mainland Ming had suffered from Japanese Wokou pirates, none of it was important enough for the Ming to completely devote themselves in studying them, their guns- yes, their swords, yes, but not their society, nor their politics. Simply put, for most of the history between China and Japan, it was one of mutual isolation, Japan paid tributes to China from time to time, and for the most part from China's (very ethnocentric and arrogant) perspective, Japan was just one of those hermit kingdoms that paid tributes and did their own things.

However that completely changed with Hideyoshi's invasion. The fact the Japanese were able to utterly destroy half of Korea's defenses within half a month, take its capital in one month, and nearly took over all of Korea in two month showed Japan was a previously underestimated foe that must be researched thoroughly.

The Jinyiwei were deployed not only as translators and agents behind enemy lines. During one time a Ming agent was able to sneak into the camps of Kato Kiyomasa and Ukita Hideye and burn away the complete provision stock of the entire Japanese army, forcing them to completely withdraw to Busan to hide from the combined Ming and Admiral Yi's assaults. Shows how much one man could do against a whole army.

Some Jinyiwei was also sent to Japan to collect intel to help to win that war.