Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Sword typology and Edge Weapons forms of the Chinese Empire and related cultures with an emphasis on their relationship to Swordsmanship.

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Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Peter Dekker » Fri Oct 03, 2008 5:55 am

The Chinese Rattan Shield

Since I a acquired an antique rattan shield not so long ago I've been obsessed with learning the technique to make these. I measured the materials and ordered it at a local rattan supplier and got working. In this thread I will explain how I did it, but first I start with a brief history of the Chinese rattan shield or tengpai.

HISTORY OF THE TENGPAI

Origins
There are references to rattan shields already in the Rites of Zhou dating from approximately from 200 B.C. These however, were described as being rectangular in shape. The first circular rattan shields in official texts seem to date from the time of general Qi Jiguang. There are speculations that they were used in the earlier Song dynasty by general Yue Fei against the Jurchen invaders. Qi Jiguang himself mensions that they originated even earlier among Southern Chinese tribes. This is plausible, because the hot and moist climate there makes heavy armor extremely uncomfortable to wear. They were encountered up to at least 1900, where Imperial Troops and boxer Rebels were spotted with them by Western observers.

Development
Rattan shields went through some change over time in shape and material. The older versions were made with whatever was available: willow, bamboo, rattan or wisteria. Rattan was considered the best material to make these from and when internal trade improved considerably during the Qing, all were made from rattan.

Early rattan shields were very conical in shape and with a rim forming eaves. This makes for the strongest of rattan shields where each rim is stacked upon the other, and so any incoming weapon needed to penetrate more material. The eaves "brush off arrows" (-Qi Jiguang) and prevent weapons to slide off the shield and into the body.

While these were superior in strength, they weighed a lot more than the later shields and took more time to make. So when horses and bows gradually disappeared from the battlefield, shields became flatter and slightly smaller. This because now they were primarily used for warding off edged weapons from infantry, that struck with a lot less force than those from cavalry. While the Qing themselves held on to using bow and arrow until even the early years of the 20th cent, none of their enemies continued this practice until so late. The shields were no match for musket balls and later firearms, so maneuverability became more important. The final stage in design of these shields thus was a moderate dome with flat edge rim, primarily designed for close infantry combat.

Use
Rattan shields were frequently used in combination with piandao, deeply curved slicing sabers. Having to fight against incoming cavalry, one really doesn't want a sword that is too percussive. The shield bearers also operate on very close ranges, frequently bashing into the opponent with the shield. Later, text mention a certain paidao (literally: shield saber) used in conjunction with tengpai. Even ore later we see early pictures of men carrying shields in combination with long single hudiedao, short swords with a substantial D-shaped guard that can be used as a knucklebrow. Supporting the shield troops, and vice versa, were often men with big knives on long poles. These would finish off any opponent that had fallen after a bash of a shield bearer as they did with the Dutch on Taiwan in the later half of the 17th century. They probably also served to deal with a shield bearer's greatest threat: Men armed with hooked spears that could pull the shield out of the way from a distance. One sees the rattan shield division still armed with shields, piandao and these polearms in the 1759 Huangchao Liqi Tushi. Often they are also seen on artwork protecting musketeers and artillery.


MAKING A SHIELD

Materials
Rattan with a round cross-section of 9 mm thick appears to have been the norm for the spiraling core. In my old shield, that is of practical battlefield quality with rustic finish, this varies a little from 8 -10 mm. For the wrapping band, the stuff with the skin still on it is optimal. Wrapping band should be 5 or 6 mm wide for a normal shield. Really good Vietnamese and Tibetan shields use much narrower wrapping band, but these may take several times the time to make than the normal shields. For the handle system one uses 5 mm thick rattan of round cross-section. The handle bar is a wooden dowel. I used a broomstick that I shortened, after which I chiseled both ends to fit the shield's interior.

As for numbers, my last shield contained:
-60 meters of 9 mm thick rattan with round cross-section
-4 meters of 5 mm thick rattan of round cross-section for the handle system
-1650 meters (about a mile) of wrapping band.

It is 75 cm in diameter and about 14 cm high.


Time
Be sure to have some spare time, a good shield takes anywhere from 30 to 40 hours to make including the oiling and paint and lacquer jobs. The narrower the wrapping band, the more connections and thus the more work. More conical shields will contain more tiers and thus also more work. So a highly conical shield with narrow band is the most time-consuming shield to make, while the flatter variety with wider band takes less time.

Treatment
The first shield was already usable, but because of its dryness some of the connections cracked in use. With over a thousand connections and three broken now, there is no effect to the structural integrity of the shield but I rather keep them intact when hit by wooden weapons.

Rattan is very porous and willingly sucks up anything smeared on it, and I think that this is where the ultimate strength of these shields comes from. When soaked in tung oil, the shield gets much tougher because the Tung oil penetrates the fibers and dries up to a rubberish substance. One can still paint over this. I decided to seal my last shield with water-based lacquer so the tung stays inside the fibers. The thick lacquer also prevents bindings to slip when broken, fixating the entire shield.

Decoration
The shields were frequently painted with tiger designs for several reasons. One is to look fierce and scare men and particularly horses. (Used in conjunction with screams, rolls and fireworks.) The other is that the word for tiger in Mandarin, hu, sounds exactly like the verb "to protect". Tigers were frequently seen as protecting dieties, and it is known that some Chinese hung tiger signs outside their houses to ward off evil spirits, and tiger faces also frequently appear on the hats of young children to ward off evil. The tiger symbology as both a fierce animal and a protecting diety would have probably had a positive effect on the morale of the often rather superstitious foot soldiers of the time. The specialized Qing tengpqaiying or Rattan Shield Divisions even had tiger outfits, some complete with a hood with ears, eyes and whiskers.

When painting the tiger face, it is important to let go of your own aesthetics and adopt elements from existing shields or artwork and combine them into a face you like. I put too much of myself in the first shield, making it look too "alien". I guess that making an accurate reproduction of anything requires a good amount of humbleness from the artisan in order to truly represent the aesthetics of another time and place.


Picture time
Image
The beginning of the rattan shield. This is the hardest part as it takes constant pressure for it not to expand. If one doesn't wrap this part tight enough, the center will be able to move too much and turn out to be very weak.

Image
Proceeding...

Image
At the end of the rattan one uses a diagonal splice. When done properly these become as strong as the rest when wrapped.

Image
Finished splice.

Image
Time to construct the handle system. Note that the elbow rim is weaved into the shield when making it. The bar can be added later when the entire shield is done.

Image
On the very edge, two rims all wrapped in wrapping band finish the shield. This is harder than it looks, and requires the places of the splicings to be well-calculated: They should not fall in one place or the shape will be distorted and a weak spot will be created.

Image
Attaching the handle bar. First make the entire knot, THEN tighten the whole. Make sure not to damage previous wraps in getting the band through the shield.

Image
Old shield (left) and new shield (right).

When painting the face, first draw it on scale on paper and then measure important points out on the shield for the best result. They may seem rather crude and simple drawings, but they are harder to do than one would think.

Image
Image
My third shield done. The back says: He series number 3, made in the third year of the latter Qing. He means lotus, but stands for the first character of Holland. The latter Qing refers to the founding of my company that provides me the excuse to do wacky things like making shields and pretending to be part of a now-lost dynasty.

This shield went to sifu Scott Rodell.

Image
When the shield is done, and no-one is around to question your sanity, it is time to pose with it in traditional outfit and take various pictures of oneself.

(I am available for children's parties also.)

-Peter
Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.


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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Sat Oct 04, 2008 7:00 am

Peter Dekker wrote:... part of a now-lost dynasty.

This shield went to sifu Scott Rodell.
Who is very happy with it! BTW not sure the Dynasty has been completely lost...
Peter Dekker wrote:...(I am available for children's parties also.)
Are you planning on bringing your bow & arrows to the party too?

Those interested in topic will also like to see the thread:
Saber and Shield
viewtopic.php?t=181&highlight=saber+shield

Image

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Peter Dekker » Sun Oct 12, 2008 2:45 pm

Scott M. Rodell wrote:Who is very happy with it! BTW not sure the Dynasty has been completely lost...
Thanks! And it indeed seems that the dynasty is regaining some momentum. Who knows, one day we'll be hip and Qing aesthetics abundant again.
Scott M. Rodell wrote:Are you planning on bringing your bow & arrows to the party too?
It depends on the audience. With adolescents, I surely could use some blunts to discipline them!

-Peter
Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.


-Bruce Lee

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Antique Chinese Arms & Functional reproductions

http://www.manchuarchery.org
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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by alfanator » Fri Apr 24, 2009 9:02 am

Curious how strong these shields are, would a well executed cut make it through one of these shields? I suppose if it was used to deflect in motion rather than block, it would be effective.

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Peter Dekker » Fri Apr 24, 2009 9:27 am

I think the shields are very strong, and pretty hard to cut. I've not done a sword vs. shield test yet but I will probably do so in the future when I've made more of them and got one to spare. With about 35-40 hours in the making, it is hard for me to sacrifice one for testing. But I guess in the end my curiosity will win!

I have cut rattan strips with a saber for testing and much like bamboo they have a tendency to want to split lengthwise, even if you hit them from the side. You can cut through a single 10mm thick shield-core piece with ease when it is fixed, but it gets harder when it is not so well fixed and can bend along with the cut. In this case, the cut is almost always redirected across the length of the rattan, and will not easily make it through.

The shield is traditionally also soaked in tung oil, and then painted and lacquered. The tung oil dries up to a rubber-like substance that impregnates the shield. The lacquer and paint also help to hold everything together and to make the surface slippery. Accounts of the Opium War describe how they could resist blows of British naval cutlasses quite well.

Other factors that are probably into play:
1. The (well-maintained, not dried out) shield is quite resilient, absorbing much of the shock. The bearers arm adds to this.
2. The shield will be moving, and most blows will be divided over a relatively large surface and not the edges.
3. Like bamboo, rattan can only be cut well at about 45 degree angles. There is little chance you're getting such a good hit at the edge of the shield with enough power to spare to cut through the two wrapped cores that make the outer rind.
4. And even if one does, one might wonder if you would want that. Even if you manage to make a 5-10 cm long gash in the edge, you still won't get the guy behind it. But this will risk your sword or saber getting stuck in the shield, making you very vulnerable for the counter the shield bearer is waiting for.

A period text on military equipment published in the late Qianlong and early Jiaqing reigns states that these shields were supposed to last for about 8 years. Which is quite long considering that they also had to drill with them.

-Peter
Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.


-Bruce Lee

http://www.mandarinmansion.com
Antique Chinese Arms & Functional reproductions

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Nik » Fri Apr 24, 2009 12:10 pm

Given that the arm holding the shield gives way on impact, it should be almost impossible to cut it in half, and hard to penetrate it. The straightforward way is to get over or under the shield, aiming at the legs. However, there is a group tactics behind its use. The shield also offers a bit of protection against archers, which otherwise would have a field day on not so well-armored combatants.

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by alfanator » Fri Apr 24, 2009 6:38 pm

Facinating stuff Peter, great work on making them! I saw cheap replicas of these shields on Opera stages when i was a kid and always wondered why anyone would use one to defend against a steel weapon. The replicas were of course made for stage use :)

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Peter Dekker » Sat Apr 25, 2009 4:45 pm

Nik wrote:Given that the arm holding the shield gives way on impact, it should be almost impossible to cut it in half, and hard to penetrate it.
I haven't tried yet, but I'm almost sure that even if the shield would be fixed there would be no way to cut it in half. The edge of a well-oiled shield gives enough resilience to absorb a lot of the strike, and the remaining force may not be able to penetrate more than 5-10 cm. I'll let you guys know when I've actually performed such tests.

The shields are a lot more prone for penetration by a spear or sword tip, but this would also make the weapon get stuck in the shield, providing the bearer with temporary control over the weapon.

alfanator wrote:I saw cheap replicas of these shields on Opera stages when i was a kid and always wondered why anyone would use one to defend against a steel weapon. The replicas were of course made for stage use
Yes many of these replicas wouldn't be very effective. Opera and Wushu examples are made with far less connections between the rings of the core-spiral, some only have 240 connections while there are thousands in a historical shield. I can probably make these in a few hours, compared to 35-40 hours of making a proper shield. A standard historical-grade shield contains about a mile of wrapping band at the least, some even a few miles when done with very narrow wrapping band.

-Peter
Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.


-Bruce Lee

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:22 pm

alfanator wrote:... how strong ... would a well executed cut make it through one of these shields?..
Having cut a variety of materials, I sincerely doubt it. Let's not forget that rattan shield were widely employed, right thru to the end of the Qing dynasty. It is hard to imagine they would have stayed in such widespread use if out could easily cut thru them. General Qi Jiguang wrote that they stopped arrows, though they couldn't stop rounds from matchlocks of the late Ming.

Cutting thru fairly solid objects is harder than the uninitiated realize. Noted that most practitioners are only cutting single mats, they don't even add a bamboo core.

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:31 pm

Nik wrote:... The straightforward way is to get over or under the shield, aiming at the legs...
Going under the shield to the leg can be tricky, though it is certainly one target option. The problem is that it takes much longer to go around the enemy's shield than it does for him to counter-cut to the head.
Nik wrote:... there is a group tactics behind its use. The shield also offers a bit of protection against archers...
Indeed, the Shield as a battlefield tool, the role of the targeteer is to hold the line, it is the spearmen, protected behind them, that do most of the killing. Qing period illustrations show Tengpai used to form both loose & tight shield walls & as guards to shield archers, musketeers, & artillery positions.

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by xingyi24 » Thu May 07, 2009 9:23 pm

Did they really just "hold the line" or did they have techniques for "shield beating?" All the illustrations I have ever seen from china show swords, but in other cultures and manuals, hooking tools, like axes, show up often, that could pull down a shield for a spearman to poach its carrier. Can anyone recommend a good anthology of depictions that might shed some light on my ignorance?

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Peter Dekker » Fri May 08, 2009 7:04 am

They served well in holding the line in occasions but are noted to be offensive as well. But it really depends on what age we are talking about. They deployment from late Ming times differed from early to mid. Qing, which again differed from late Qing.

When the Dutch engaged in battle with the army of Coxinga on Taiwan, they also faced a front-line equipped with rattan shields. Commander Frederick Coyett noted in a report of the battle that they were used like cavalry, that is running into enemy lines and bashing the men off their feet whenever the could. A second line with semi-polearms would cut up those who fell while the rattan shield bearers dealt with those still on their feet. It must have been slaughter. Some shield bearers were noted to attack with total disregard of their own safety, recklessly running into the Dutch lines "as if they had another body to spare", Coyett noted.

Qi Jiguang's mandarin duck squads did much like Scott Rodell explained in his post, they always had spears and other pole-arms to back them up that probably went for the kill. Probably here the shield bearers were the first to make contact and primarily had to keep the opponent busy so the spears could join in. It is already hard to deal with a shield bearer, if there would be a spear poking at you as well chances of survival would be getting rather slim.

On many battle paintings of the second half of the 18th century we primarily see rattan shield bearers on the second line. The first to engage are musketeers and I guess they get protected by the rattan shield bearers when reloading. A third line often consisted of archers on foot, also backing up the shield bearers and musketeers. All the way in the back is often a large body of mounted Manchu archers that will always try to encircle the opposing force, according to the age-old methods of deployments of mounted archers recorded since ancient antiquity. In this case the projectiles would do most of the killing.

I've had a number of Chinese spearheads with hooks, and can well imagine these would be very difficult to deal with with a shield. I recall a line drawing used on the cover of a late reprint of Philip H. Kuhn's "Rebellion and its enemies in late Imperial China" also shows a group of rattan shield bearers dealt with in this manner. In all cases is of great importance that they act as a unit with other weapons. If there had been musketeers or archers to back them up the hooked spear wielders wouldn't have stood much of a chance.

-Peter
Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.


-Bruce Lee

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by xingyi24 » Fri May 08, 2009 12:17 pm

Thank you for your close and entuned response to my question. You have been informative and have thrown in much to lead me to study on my own. My appreciateion is greater than this note coveys.

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Sat May 09, 2009 7:50 am

Peter Dekker wrote:... When the Dutch engaged in battle with the army of Coxinga on Taiwan, they also faced a front-line equipped with rattan shields. Commander Frederick Coyett noted in a report of the battle that they were used like cavalry...
Those interested in this topic will enjoy a very interesting book on the Fall of the Ming, "Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty," that describes the arms, armor & battle of the period, including engagements between the Dutch & Coxinga's forces, see-
http://www.amazon.com/Coxinga-Fall-Dyna ... 913&sr=1-1

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Re: Tengpai: The Chinese Rattan Shield

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:04 am

Peter Dekker wrote:... Qi Jiguang's mandarin duck squads did much like Scott Rodell explained in his post, they always had spears and other pole-arms to back them up that probably went for the kill. Probably here the shield bearers were the first to make contact and primarily had to keep the opponent busy so the spears could join in. It is already hard to deal with a shield bearer, if there would be a spear poking at you as well chances of survival would be getting rather slim...
Video of Koreans demonstrating the Mandarin Duck Formation-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1J_R2dh ... re=related

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