During the 16th and 17th centuries the Chinese Empire was easily the largest on the planet, with a vast population and an army that itself was numbered in the millions. There was no shortage of enemies either, with the Mongols to the north-west, pirates along the coast, Japanese invasions via Korea and the Manchus from the north. In addition there were many rebellions and uprisings within the Empire, and anti-bandit operations throughout the country, so China’s infantry seldom wanted for employment. During this long period there were both successes and failures, but in general Chinese armies became more disorganised and less effective as the Ming Dynasty declined, while the country increasingly found peace as the Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty gained control.
The figures in this set suffer from quite considerable amounts of flash and a quite thick and noticeable seam where the mould meets. The sculpting style is very flat which does nothing to give the figures much sense of life, although the costume, which is quite simple, is adequate represented. While the costume may be straight-forward the weapons are more of a problem, with some being little more than strands of long plastic which make it hard to identify what they are supposed to represent. A lot of trimming and tidying with a sharp knife will help, but these are fairly basic by today’s standards.
As we have already said the poses are quite flat – a feature that is hard to appreciate from flat photos shown on the web. Thus the last figure on the last row may look like he is thrusting with his polearm, but is really more just holding it over his head, which looks odd. The first figure on the top row seems to be trying to wield his polearm with one hand, which is also pretty strange, but the rest of the poses are a fair bunch. We would have liked to have seen a crossbow, although such an item is almost impossible to model well without multiple parts, so perhaps this absence is no great loss after all.
The late Ming Chinese army was far from a popular institution, and tended to be filled mostly with the lowest elements of society – criminals released from prison and those with little stake in civilian life. Most soldiers seem not to have worn armour, and instead wore clothing not dissimilar to that of the peasants. All these figures are simply and correctly dressed, and would be fairly typical of the period stated on the box, despite it being two centuries long. Weapons are an assortment of polearms and a few swords, with the later being more likely to be found in the hands of the better off and more senior soldiers. As we have said, some of these weapons are poorly defined, but as far as we can tell all are reasonable, since many designs were used at the time. There is only one spearman, which is a little surprising, and we have already expressed our wish to see a crossbow, but the bowman is OK and the man with the early handgun (in the second row) is a particularly interesting subject.
This box does not represent all elements of Chinese infantry, with the lack of officers being the most obvious. However it does a sound job of delivering the mass of ordinary soldiers with a useful range of weapons. Chinese subjects are still far too rare in this hobby, and RedBox are to be warmly commended for their dedication to covering Medieval Asian history with such a wide range of sets, but the quality of the product still leaves much room for improvement.