Our introduction to the RedBox light cavalry set explains that the Chinese cavalry arm of the 16th and 17th century was not nearly as impressive as it might have been. At this time the Chinese were mainly an infantry force with good technology, but thinking primarily of defence when it came to outside aggressors, of which the Great Wall is the most obvious example. Walls and fortifications are not the natural environment for cavalry, so when enemies got round such obstacles, as they often did, the Chinese found it difficult to catch the fast-moving raiders from the north. Despite various programmes, there was also a lack of suitable horses for such a force, since much of the country was not so well suited to the breeding and maintaining of good horses. This situation gradually got worse as the period went on, and eventually the Chinese Ming dynasty fell before the more mobile horsemen of the Manchus.
Most Chinese cavalry of the time were archers, and all but one of these poses are indeed carrying a composite bow. Two are using this, but there are also two poses using a halberd, one with sword drawn and another holding a spear. All these weapons are appropriate for the subject, and quite well done. Unlike many cavalry sets these poses are not at all flat, since the poses chosen work well despite every figure needing no assembly. The first man with the halberd holds it well in front of him (which is difficult to appreciate in our photo), so is particularly natural in appearance, but all of them are really very good.
Some of the horse poses are fine, but others are not so natural, though all are clearly moving rapidly. These same horses are also found in the RedBox set of Korean Heavy Cavalry, and are relatively simply equipped, which is fine. We thought the anatomy was a bit strange on some, particularly the heads with the dramatic stepped lower jaw, which is poor.
As something between the lightly clothed horsemen and the really heavy cavalry, these figures have a good deal of armour and plenty of contact weapons, so are much closer to the heavy end of the scale. Everyone has long robes over which they wear armour which would usually be lamellar. Styles differ here as they would in reality, but everything looks to be authentic and reasonably common. The different types of helmet on show here are also correct, and the pointed example with the aventail of leather or armour is particularly characteristic. Horse armour was known at this time, but none of the horses have any, which is likely to be the norm for such troops.
Sculpting of the men is good – better than the horses in our view. There is lots of nice detail, and the textures of the armour are well done. Faces are nice and clear, and there are even patterns marked out on the quivers, while the arrows they contain are very nicely done. The general impression is that the men are rather fat, and perhaps as a result this leads us on to a big problem, for when we tried to mount man on horse we found that none of them fit. They are not even close, and no amount of brute force could persuade them to touch the saddle, even if we had thought they would stay there. A lot of trimming and filing will be needed to marry up rider and horse, which is poor from a manufacturer that has managed to do this basic requirement well in the past.
We found virtually no flash on the men, although the horses were less clean, but not too bad even so. The man holding the halberd forward has naturally got excess plastic between weapon and body, but otherwise there is almost none of this, so a very neat job on the men at least.
Whether the Chinese officially recognised the concept of medium cavalry and employed them in a particular manner may be open to doubt, but this set works well simply as a means of depicting cavalry who could afford some armour but were not the heaviest troops. Having a wider range of horses would have been nice rather than all charging, and there is some cleaning up of the horses required, but overall we liked this set until we tried to put them together and found the men do not fit. This is a fundamental problem that will deter many, so while this is a good-looking set, it’s one major failing is unfortunately a big one.