Subject: 民兵 militiaman
Culture: Cantonese Chinese
Setting: Liangguang 19thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
"The martial arts have long been associated with military training and local defense. These links, however, are more complex than they first appear. From at least the time of the Song dynasty officials were able to make an increasingly clear distinction between the martial arts as a social practice (predominantly carried out by civilians) and actual military skills (as practiced by soldiers). The two areas were seen as clearly distinct, if still related, fields of studies. One might lead to a career in the other, or it could lead to a number of other things.
"And that was the problem. Many of the activities of martial artists tended to be less than savory. During the Ming and Qing dynasty opera and other street performers were often associated with the martial arts. These rootless individuals were looked down on by most elements of society. Other martial artists got jobs as military escorts or guards for local businessmen or property owners. The state was not always enthusiastic about the creation of independent pockets of military power controlled by these sorts of free agents. Finally, a disproportionate number of martial artists seem to have run afoul of the law and ended up as bandits or pirates.
"[....] Robert J. Anotony [SIC = Antony] discusses one of the common strategies employed to deal with the problem of wayward tough kids (often with some training in boxing and weapons) in his monograph Like Froth Floating on the Sea: the World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China. When the piracy or banditry problems flared up in Guangdong one of the first things that the local government often did was to start hiring 'braves' (basically independent mercenaries) to stiffen the local regiments and to organizing village, clan and gentry led militia units.
"This was not an entirely new strategy, though the south did tend to embrace it with a particular enthusiasm. During the 1510 Rebellion a Confucian statesman named Yang Yiqing (1454-1530) proposed a strategy for containing the spread of the violence by actively absorbing into the state as many under-employed young men with military training as was financially possible. He petitioned the throne to authorize the Minister of War to hire civilian volunteers for limited terms of service (most of the Ming army was hereditary at that point) and to institute a special set of military exams that would select civilians who possessed great strength, archery skills, the ability to ride, and martial artists who specialized in the pole, spear, sword, chain or unarmed boxing as well as those who had studied military texts. These individuals were to be recruited on generous terms, payed and equipped well, and given low-level leadership posts, such as being named a 'military trainer.' The suggestion of Yang and others were accepted and this strategy became a common practice for dealing with security concerns during both the Ming and Qing (David Robinson, Bandits, Eunuchs and the Son of Heaven, pp. 84-85).
"Both Robinson and Antony point out that there is one critical element of Yang’s plan [th]at is often missed by modern readers. Rather than just bolstering local defense, Yang was really attempting to engage in direct economic competition with local bandits chieftains, rebels leaders or invaders who might also wish to employ the services of these same young men. Creating extensive militias in times of crisis not only gave the state a valuable source of reserve troops, but it also made the situation less volatile by controlling a large and unpredictable set of actors.
"It is critical to understand this so that we can really grasp the full relationship between martial arts training and militia service in southern China during the Qing dynasty. From at least the Ming period on both the state and society were making increasingly clear distinctions between the martial arts as a civilian social institution (which was sometimes implicated in low level violence) and the actual business of warfare (which involved rifles, cannons, fortifications and massed cavalry charges).
"Yes knowing some boxing could be an asset to military training. Knowing pole or spear fighting would be even better. But martial artists were intentionally sought out for recruitment into militias in large part because of their social marginality. This was a crowd that was overwhelming young, it worked cheap and local leaders were worried about what they might do if left to their own devices. Putting them to work for the duration of the crisis seemed to be a good idea."
"This is the world that Kung Fu evolved in. It had its roots in the late Ming, an era that saw the heavy use of firearms, and it reached its full flowering in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, another era in which the use of guns was routine. Again, we need to remember that most martial arts styles are not as ancient as they claim to be. Most of them date to exactly this period.
"Further, many of these modern styles are also very practical. Choy Li Fut, Pakmie and Wing Chun all saw themselves as primarily self-defense arts. They were created in dangerous urban environments dominated by organized crime and drug smuggling. Handguns and knives were common, yet there was a perceived need for additional self-defense tools.
"This shouldn’t really be all that surprising. Combat happens at a variety of ranges, and sometimes you don’t have your gun or you cannot deploy it. That is why military units and police forces around the world tend to be at the forefront of hand combat training. Simply saying “I don’t need to know how to defend myself because I own a gun” is not really an option. The creators of the modern martial arts knew this, and unless you can integrate these arts into a world with guns you are not really fulfilling the vision of their founders. It is probably not an accident what while we don’t know much about Ip Man’s career as a police officer, the one story that is widely repeated has to do with him using his Wing Chun to defeat an individual who is attempting to point a gun at him."
* Bennett 2018 p63
"Many staff weapons became highly decorative and flamboyant, and were displayed at formal gatherings or carried in processions to show the status of prominent individuals. Others remained inherently practical, retaining the features that had made them valuable on the battlefield in previous centuries. Some continued to be standard issue to soldiers; during the Opium Wars, British troops observed that their Chinese opponents regularly carried spears, halberds, and large glaive-type weapons, showing a remarkable longevity. They were also popular within Chinese martial arts, and continue to be used in this capacity today."
* Tom/Rodell 2005 p
* Bennett 2018 p76
"Local variation was still very much a feature of swords used by military units posted further out in the provinces, as well as local militias and civilians. It is still possible to find swords which were either developed or doctored to accommodate individual users or particular circumstances, showing use of these weapons at a more immediate, local level (even when that use was frequently officially prohibited by the government).
* Yang 1999 p
"[T]he hudiedao seems to have been the favored sidearm of martial artists and militia members in the region for much of the 19th century. During the 1840s and 1850s the government purchased huge numbers of these arms and trained thousands of people in their use. Double swords really were an 'official' weapon of local government backed paramilitary groups.
"That may seem odd from a modern perspective. We tend to treat butterfly swords as a highly exotic 'Kung Fu' weapon. They are regarded with an aura of supernal mystery. But the truth is that if you already know how to box, it[']s not that hard to give someone the rudimentary training they might need to use this weapon effectively. Additionally the hudiedao were small enough to be treated as a sidearm that would not get in the way of a bow, rifle or spear (the primary arms of most local troops). Given that the militias of the 19th century were actively recruiting martial artists and boxers, issuing hudiedao made a lot of sense."
* Bennett 2018 p76 caption
"Frequently referred to as hudiedao or 'butterfly swords', the flat rear surface meant these swords could slide back to back to look like one weapon and be carried in the same scabbard."
"During the 1840s government trainers provided daily drilling to literally thousands of militia members on the use of the hudiedao in and around Guangzhou. I suspect that this, more than anything else, might help to explain the subsequent popularity of the weapon with local martial artists. After all, individuals like Leung Jan and Chan Wah Shun were a product of this environment. Should we be surprised that the two most commonly taught weapons in Wing Chun (the hudiedao and long pole) were also among the most commonly issued militia arms?"
[....] "The hudiedao was in fact one of the most commonly issued and encountered weapons in southern China. The government purchased them in large numbers and issued them to the gentry led militia forces of the mid 19th century. At the same time they were adopted in mass by a wide variety of civilians, ranging from private guards and opera singers to sailors and merchant marines."