Comparison of the Ming, Mughal and Japanese militaries in the 1590s


Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
The Mughal, Ming and Japan probably had the three greatest military establishment on earth in the late 16th century, dwarfing the Spanish and Ottoman armies (both being no bigger than 200,000 when mobilized for war, and only 80,000 and 120,000 respectively in peace time).

We had a discussion with this in the Greatest Asian Armies thread, but I never had the time to present the data. Below is Civfanatic's data on Mughal army:

Province | Cavalry
Bengal 23,330
Bihar 11,415
Allahabad 11,375
Oudh 7,640
Agra 50,681
Malwa 29,668
Gujarat 26,300
Ajmer 86,500
Delhi 31,490
Lahore 54,480
Multan 18,785
Kabul 24,687
Total: 376,351 cavalry

These numbers from Volume II of the A'in-e-Akbari, a famous text on the administration of the Mughal empire. According to the Mughal court historian Abdul Hamid Lahori, the imperial forces numbered 200,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry (including musketeers and artillerymen) in 1647. In c.1600, they were probably somewhat smaller, perhaps a total of 200,000 for the imperial cavalry and infantry combined.

Total force government and provinces: 580,000.

For the fiscal year 1595-96, Mughal budget allocation to the imperial army was as follows:

As is apparent from the above chart, the Mughals spent an extraordinarily large sum of money - some 80.95 million rupees, or the equivalent of 940 tons of silver - in paying the imperial army.

The Ming frontier garrisons are as follows according to Hui Jilu and Wu Beizhi:

Twenty first year of Wanli (1593)

1) Liaodong: 83,324
2) Suzhou: 31,658
3) Yongping: 33,911
4) Miyun: 52,502
5) Changping:28,875
6) Yizhou: 34,697
7) Xuanfu: 78,924
8) Datong: 85,311
9) Shanxi:51,764
10) Yantuo: 36,230
11) Ningxia:27,773
12) Gansu: 46,901
13) Guyuan: 59,813

Total: 651,665 with 279,158 horses, oxen and camels
Expenditure: 7,154,630 liang of silver (310 tons) and 1,900,000 dan of grain.
I don't have the details of the price of grain to silver in 1590s, but in 1522, eunuchs were selling 0.45 liang of silver for each dan of grain. This mean 1,900,000 dan would roughly be the equivalent of 855,000 liang of silver or a rough total of 9 million liang of silver as the total budget or 335 tons of silver. Silver worth somewhat more in China compared to India, so the Ming military expenditure in these years was probably around 40-50% that of the Mughal military expenditure.

These doesn't include inland units, although the frontier forces made up the vast majority of the Ming expenditure.
The total force Ming had on paper was larger, but these are probably the functional units. In 1610, the board of military under Huang Jiashan estimated the entire army of the empire including the capital garrisons to the frontiers to be 1,160,000:“国家兵制,自京营及边腹主客兵一百一十六万有奇”. Yet the actual fighting force was estimated by the shangshu of the board of military Liang Yanchen in the third year of Chongzheng to be only 500,000."臣就九边额设兵饷考之,兵不过五十万” (This figure was underestimating as the Wubei Zhi and Hui Jilu was more detailed).

For Japan as posted before:

Hideyoshi registered 22,530,000 units of field and each had the potential to sent 250 soldiers, meaning he had 563,000 total soldiers.

The total forces the 4 western do could mobilize alone for the Imjin war was 330,000 and only half crossed the straight. The Eastern Daimyos like Tokugawa Ieysu (75,000 soldiers) and Date Masamune did not send their forces.

I don't have data for military expenditures or regional breakdown of the Japanese army so if anyone has the info, please share.
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Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
Japanese arquebusiers were pretty sophisticated. Besides standardized bores and drilling to fire in turns, they had efficient cartridges (hayago) that allow for fast reloading speed. This was achieved by unifying the motion of putting the gunpowder and the bullet into the bore as one singular action.


This reduces the steps needed to reload and shoot an arquebus:

First step: Take the cartridge located from the waist, and put the gunpowder + bullet from the cartridge into the arquebus bore.

Step 2: ram the bullet ball and charge into the bore using the ramrod

Step 3: Prime the pan using a separate gunpowder container, also located at the waist.

Step 4: Set the slow burning match

Step five: Fire

This is two steps below the usual six-seven steps needed to fire an arquebus, because the action to put the gunpowder and bullet into the bore would be split into separate steps. Using a hayago a reenactor was able to fire 2 shots in about 30 seconds or about 4 per minute, as opposed to non-Japanese arquebusiers without a hayago who would be firing at around 2 shots per minute:
(I didn't count his first shot nor the time it took to shoot it because it was pre-loaded when the countdown started)

Plus, the hayago allowed a more stable input of gunpowder. Without it, it is very likely that the chaos/panic of battle would cause the gunpowder input to be too low.

Information came primarily from wolflance in another forum: ???????????? vs ?????_????_????
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Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
Minor correction: You mean biggest.

The "greatest" (=best) armies were all standing in Europe and the Med.
No, I meant biggest as well as the most powerful, and I'll even argue that they are also more efficient pound for pound in many areas. Mediterranean armies were probably more efficient in certain terrains, but in most of the Eurasian terrain suitable for cavalry, they are at a notable disadvantage, in tactics, and certainly in mobility and logistics.
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Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
Japanese arquebusiers were pretty sophisticated. Besides standardized bores, they have efficient cartridges that allow for fast reloading speed.

I have read extensively into the European, Japanese and Chinese armies of this period, and I believe the Asian armies would have won more often than not on a pound for pound basis as well (it also depends on the terrain). I have not done extensive research on the Mughal armies, but I know they were also equipped with light cannons on camel and horse back and was probably similar to the northern Chinese armies. If anyone have more information, they are welcome to share.

I have posted this elsewhere

1) Japanese armies:

Japanese arquebuses were actually better designed and the gunners adopted superior tactics compared to the European army.
Logistically, musket bore was standardized and could be replaced readily. They are also lighter than their European counterparts and a lacquer was created as cover to enable firing a matchlock during the rain. There were far more arquebus in Japan than any European countries or even a combination of them.

Tactically, the Japanese were the first army to use linear tactics that emphasized offensive firepower down to the company level over melee in the form of pike, whereas Spanish armies were still using the pike dominated relatively inflexible Tercio. Spanish gunners did not volley fire and each soldiers fired on an individual basis. The Dutch and later Swedes were ahead of the Spanish in that the former adopted a defensive 10 rank line tactic while Gustavus only introduced volley fire in the thirty years war and decimated the Tercio. Japanese formations under Nobunaga were able to adopt three line rank rotation fires, giving superior firepower over the contemporary Dutch 10 rank formations, and used offensive firing tactics which was at least half a century ahead of similar European formations.

The Japanese army also probably had superior hand to hand melee ability in short weaponry compared to the Europeans. Yu Dayou casually dismissed the Europeans as having inferior melee in naval confrontations and used boarding as the standard tactic against them; "these people's only weapon is a soft sword, their naval combat ability is inferior to our soldiers, and on the ground, long spears would have subdued them." On the other hand, Qi Jiguang often avoided confronting Japanese pirates in close confined melee at all costs and used rattan shields and bamboo spearmen specifically designed to beat them (along with adopting their own tactics). The emphasis on plate armor is a bit misleading, as the majority of European infantries wore Corselet and Brigandine armor (mainly 15th century) just like the Ming soldiers, who often got the worst end of the deal in close spaced melee with the Japanese and their longer swords.

Only in cavalry and artillery were Japanese army inferior as the horses in the island did not allow heavy cavalry charges and many fought as mounted infantrymen. This became apparent when they fought the Chinese in the Imjin war. However, field artillery actually played a very minor role in 16th century European warfare and cavalry in most of the 16th century were often more skirmishers that lacked shock power.

2) Chinese armies:

In contrast to Japanese, Chinese cavalry warfare was far more experienced and tactically more efficient compared to even contemporary European ones. Heavy shock cavalry armed in mail and lance played decisive roles in the Ming army, whereas mounted gunmen in the form of Caracoles was the preferred European tactic until the very end of the 16th century. Only the Polish and the Swedes under Gustavus discarded Caracoles and adopted lancers and routed the former as a result. In addition to heavy lancers, Ming Mounted archers were superior to the Caracole gun units that played a similar tactical role in 16th century European cavalry warfare. For one, the caracoles can only stop to fire whereas Ming mounted archers could gallop and fire at the same time. The former became a static target which was highly vulnerable to cavalry assault. This was evident when battle of Mookerheyde when 400 Spanish lancers routed an entire 2,000 German unit when the later was reloading. The Ming mounted archers fought in disciplined conjunction with the lancers and whereas the Caracoles would most likely be annihilated against a superior arquebus infantry formation because of the latter's superior fireopower, the Ming cavalry could often outmaneuver Japanese arquebusers in the Imjin war, and was one of the reasons for the Ming victory at Chiksan, and Korean sources recorded that "the Japanese feared Ming cavalry".

In the field of artillery, the idea that European armies were ahead is also simplistic. First, heavy cannons were rarely adopted for battlefield and was more of a siege weapon. The Spanish were the first to mount cannons on wheels and their cannons were usually no more than a heavy shotgun. Yet in the area of light artillery for field combat, the Chinese arguably outperformed the Europeans. It is highly probable that Chinese units since the late Ming had more cannons per personnel than European armies down to the 18th century, the Ming soldiers were already commonly equipped with field cannons in the Imjin war (something which I have yet to come across when reading l6th century European warfare). Typical Chinese infantries had 10 cannons per 1,000 soldiers in the 17th and 18th century whereas Europeans only had 1 and at most 6 again under the reforms of Gustavus.

Ming field cannons were behind in heavy cannons for siege but were probably better designed than their European counterparts in light artillery. In 1585, Juan de Mendoca described Ming cannon as "of huge greatness, and better made than ours".
Furthermore in the wars against Li Zicheng's rebellion in the 1630s, gazeteers of Suzhou showed that gunners using telescope to spot targets, which predates its use in Europe. In the 1620s, even in the field of heavy artillery, the Ming caught up when they introduced large Hongyi cannons and briefly surpassed European designs when they created lighter iron cored cannons.

Northern Chinese units still relied on composite bows, but southern Chinese units were increasing their use of muskets and Qi Jiguang's manuals showed that over 50% of the men were armed with muskets, which was comparable to the percentage of musketeers in contemporary tercio units.
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Feb 2011
No, I meant biggest as well as the most powerful, and I'll even argue that they are also more efficient pound for pound in many areas.
Which are these areas? It cannot be siege warfare or the navy by any stretch of imagination, so it must be limited to land warfare. But how can the Japanese whose infantry relied to a great deal on imported European weapons technology (arquebuse) or the Ming which soon came to rely on European weapons technology too (Jesuite production of cannon) be more powerful than the Europe of the military revolution?
Feb 2011
2) Chinese armies
One could give an eloborate answer dealing with all the details you mention or one could make it quick. The Ming soon afterwards lost against a semi-nomadic force whose main battle weapon was still the bow, whereas the weakest large European state, Russia, had been beating similar steppe opponents since the mid-16th century. Shouldn't this comparative approach tell you something?
Feb 2011
Northern Chinese units still relied on composite bows, but southern Chinese units were increasing their use of muskets and Qi Jiguang's manuals showed that over 50% of the men were armed with muskets, which was comparable to the percentage of musketeers in contemporary tercio units.
I have no idea how representative the numbers in these manuals are for the overall state of the Chinese army, probably not much, but again the point is your method is flawed. The existential threat for China came from the north. This is where the large battles were fought, whereas campaigns on the southern frontier against even more underdeveloped opponents rather had the character of police action. And on the northern frontier, bow and arrow remained the decisive weapons of war through the 17th, 18th and perhaps even much of the 19th centuries, not much different from 2000 years before.

Now how can a martial culture relying on bow and arrow, the Chinese one, be considered militarily stronger than the European one relying on the progressive development of firearms?


Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
Aetius it's like you haven't been reading. Manchus weren't just "bow and arrow" nomads but had their own cities and sophisticated artillery divisions, and most of the Manchu army was not comprised of bow wielding Manchus in the first place. This had been told again and again:

The majority of the Eight Banners actually consisted of Chinese and Mongols who had joined the Manchus before 1644. A secret report by Prince Yi, brother of the Yongzheng emperor, noted that in 1648 Manchus made up only 16 percent of the banner forces; 75 percent were Han Chinese, and 8.3 percent were Mongols. By 1723 the percentage of Mongols remained the same, Han Chinese declined somewhat to 68 percent, and Manchus increased to 23 percent.
-Chinese Society in the Eighteenth Century, pg 141

Such Chinese banners provided the majority of gunnery and artillery expertise.

The Ming soon afterwards lost against a semi-nomadic force whose main battle weapon was still the bow, whereas the weakest large European state, Russia, had been beating similar steppe opponents since the mid-16th century. Shouldn't this comparative approach tell you something?
The "semi-nomadic" force defeated Russia too in the 1690s: