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The standard company numbered 100 men in the years before Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming in 1368. Each 100 man squad consisted of 40 spearmen, 30 archers, 20 swordsmen and 10 men operating firearms. Later, the army was reorganised and the standard company increased in number to 112 men, though they were likely similarly equipped. These soldiers undertook a sophisticated training program, whereby infantry were well trained for manoeuvring around the battlefield and performing specific drills in the heat of combat, much like the training system of the European renaissance.

Chinese armies of the Ming period used a wide variety of spears. All were generally quite long and tipped with a socketed, tapered steel blade. Some types had downward curving hooks projecting from the blade that were designed for dismounting horsemen. Tridents and more exotic designs existed, but it is doubtful that they were used in large numbers in the army.

Ming archers were armed with long composite bows and various types of arrows, including specialised designs tipped with deadly poison .The most interesting of these designs was the rocket arrow. The rocket arrow was said to have great range and power, piercing through iron breastplates and hardwood planks. But was apparently almost impossible to aim with, for this reason rocket-arrows were usually released in massive swarms. This greatly demoralised the enemy as they would be unable to predict the point of impact. Crossbows were also used in large numbers and probably employed in much the same way as during the preceding Yuan and Song dynasties.

Chinese swords of the Ming period had their origins in central Asian sabres. Ming infantry swordsmen usually carried a goose-quill or willow leaf sabre. The former being comparatively straighter and more suitable for thrusting than the latter, which had a deep curve and was primarily a slashing weapon. Sabres were often used in combination with a shield by special fighting squads.

In the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Chinese firearm technology was the most advanced in the world. The most widely used gun weighed roughly 5lbs and was attached to a long wooden stock which was tucked under the arm or placed over the shoulder before discharging. Ammunition came in the form of both arrows and solid balls. During Yongle’s second campaign in Mongolia, a Chinese army used arrow-firing guns to smash the Mongol cavalry in battle. In his fifth campaign, the emperor ordered his men to first attack with firearms and then to follow up with bows and crossbows–indicating these early guns must have been reasonably effective. Indeed, firearms were instrumental in the Ming conquest of Dai Viet, and proved decisive in a number of battles. However, for the most part it was artillery–not handheld firearms, which gave early Ming armies an edge.

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