Notes on Chinese Paper Armor

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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Scott M. Rodell
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Notes on Chinese Paper Armor

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:03 am

Back in February, Mythbusters called & asked me to do some research for them on Paper Armor for a up coming episode where they were going to test the "myth" (they found out it was true) that paper armor functioned as well as steel. That episode is finally out, see: ... per-armor/
& I got my one second of fame at the end of the show where under special thanks:

Scott Rodell
Seven Stars Trading Co.
flashes up for about a second (so don'y blink).

Here are my notes concerning Paper Armor I sent to Mythbusters as a basis for their recreation of Paper Armor:
According to the Wubeizhi-

"Foot Soldiers (infantry) only have closely stitched armor, made of stiff silk and cotton in varying ratios,
If the paper & cotton are both thin, arrows can penetrate, not to mention bullets,
So there needs to be 1" thick cotton (gambeson, that is a padded coat worn under armor).

Too long is inconvenient on muddy fields, too short doesn't protect"

The Wubeizhi goes on to described some detail as to thicknesses, but is not greatly detailed.

It states that 1,000 of pieces, read layers of paper are used. These have 4 layers of cotton on the "inside & outside". So it appears that the cloth is not mixed into the paper layers. Paper was quite thin in the past, so I am thinking 1000s of sheets should be around 1/2 to 1" thick.

In response to the questions: Any thoughts on what the lamination might be done with? Do you think modern day laquer would be the closest equivalent?

I can not find any specific instructions, or even much detail on how these paper armor were made, but have been giving it some thought.

There is no mention of glue or lacquer in the Wubeizhi, only stitching with silk thread. Lacquer was pretty expensive stuff. From the look of the armor in the Wubeizhi, these paper armor were scale type armor. If we assume the scales were individually made as they were in the case of metal armor, then I'm thinking that perhaps piles of paper were sewed tightly between layers of cloth, front & back. Layers of paper could easily have been cut to shape by scissors. Making small scales in this way you wouldn't have to worry about the paper shifting, nor required any highly skilled labor. Remember these were armor for the lowest foot soldiers.

Mythnusters response: I'm not sure what construction technique we will end up using - we're experimenting right now with different resins and thicknesses of paper.

My input: Concerning resins, glues, etc, there is no indication that any of these were used on paper armor, despite what you might expect.

Some Song dynasty records mention that paper from Korea was prized for making armor. A hint as to what this paper was like is that it was also used for making window screening* (the Chinese used paper over lattice just as the Japanese did, in fact, the Japanese got it from the Chinese). In the case of this type of paper being used for armor, 10 to 15 layers were used.

Records indicate that this armor used paper that was folded. So it is likely that it was cut into strips then folded back & forth in a "Z" fold running the long way. This paper was then sewn in to a "wad." My theory is that these paper wads were sewn into tight pouches of heavy cotton to make the individual scales of the armor. Then these scales were sewn on to a heavy cotton backing. This method would parallel the method of metal scale armor of the period in that the scales were made individually then worked together to make the armor. This method of making the scales wouldn't have required any special skills. Nor would it require glues as the stack of paper won't slip around in it's tightly woven pocket. Discussing the idea of gluing the paper layers together with Don LaRocca, we both agreed that this was probably not the case as it would make the paper stiff & possibly brittle; you don't want the layers of paper to crack or tear which they might if glued together. This method I am suggesting also follows the Wubeizhi instructions that the armor be sewn in tight stitches.

Armor of this type could not be pierce by arrows or spear thrusts.

*Rolls of window screen paper can be bought online.

In southern China, a number of armor are recorded that used 30 alternating layers of Calico & paper to make armor that withstood a musket shot from 100 yard and a pistol shot & was superior to steel armor. Neither could this armor be penetrated by spear or sword.

There is also a record of a bandit in the south with a 60 layer armor that made him "practically invulnerable."

So you have some choices as to the number of layers of paper, depending on the type used & whether you want to alternate the paper layers with silk or tightly knit cotton. The important thing is that it can stop a musket ball. (BTW, if you need info on period Chinese firearms, let me know).

Remember than a gambeson is worn under any & every armor type, the Wubeizhi calls for one that is 1" thick.

Scott M. Rodell
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Chinese Paper Armor in the Wubeizhi

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Wed Jul 13, 2011 1:41 pm

Here is the page from the Wubeizhi that illustrates paper armor -
Wubeizhi-PaperArmor.jpg (159.48KiB)Viewed 16079 times

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Peter Dekker
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Re: Notes on Chinese Paper Armor

Post by Peter Dekker » Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:19 pm

Scott M. Rodell wrote:There is also a record of a bandit in the south with a 60 layer armor that made him "practically invulnerable."
Here is my article on Paper Armor for HAND PAPERMAKING, issue 24, 2009 going by that very name: ... Armour.pdf

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Antique Chinese Arms & Functional reproductions
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