Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1866 Qing tennai
Subjecttennai 'tiger-man' infantry skirmisher
Culture: Sino-Manchurian
Setting: late Qing empire, China 18-19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Peers ill. Hook 1997 p46 (reconstructing a swordsman, c.1790)
"Units with titles such as 'Tiger Guards' were known as long ago as the Western Chou dynasty (c.1000 BC), but the tigermen were probably an 18th century innovation.  They formed part of the Banner system, organised into small groups attached to companies of other infantry.  Their main function was to defend against cavalry by frightening the horses."

* Heath 1998 p33
"The sources unanimously agree that the primary role of the exotic Tigermen in battle was as skirmishers, in which capacity they were intended to frighten the enemy, and in particular his cavalry, by 'their wild appearance, shouts and gesticulations' -- as late as the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 it had been proposed to send Tigermen to the front specifically 'to frighten the Japanese'.  Their performance in this role is best described in the words of T.D. Forsyth and H.W. Bellew, who saw a troop of them at exercise in Kashgar in December 1873.  Forsyth records that at a given flag-signal 'javelin-men, archers and "tigers" bounded to the front, gesticulating, capering and cutting antics in an absurdly grotesque manner, ending with the line of "tigers" dispersing the enemy's cavalry by crouching under cover of their shields, and suddenly starting up with a yell and flourish of their dragons [i.e., their shields].  The enemy's horse is supposed to have re-formed and again come to the charge, and the "tigers" run together in small groups of five or six within a circle of their shields: suddenly dragon's flash before one's sight, and the whole of the skirmishers disappears behind the main line, from which the tyfu [i.e., t'ai-fu, or jingall] men now come into action.'  Bellew says that the Tigermen's duty 'was to retard the cavalry by dispersing their charges.  This they did by cutting antics and capers, and by flourishing their big shields ... and shouting, and then suddenly turning somersaults, or rolling on the ground and firing their gun-barrels as they did so, or dropping torpedoes with slow matches [i.e., fireworks] which exploded all over the field.'"

* Knight ill. Scoggins 1990 p45
"Traditionally, the Tigermen were lightly armed troops who acted as skirmishers for the Bannermen.  They were supposed to assume the fierce qualities of the tiger from their costume which imitated tiger skins.  Prince Duan (Tuan), a member of the Imperial Court who supported the Boxers, attempted to revive the Tigermen to support the uprising."

* Heath ill. Perry 1994 p19 caption
"Their function was to frighten the enemy by 'their wild appearance, shouts and gesticulations', as well as by scattering fireworks under his feet.  Tigermen appear to have been Bannermen and there were never many of them (Laurence Oliphant stated that there were only 20 in each of four regiments he saw in 1858)."


* Heath 1998 p42
"The most exotically attired troops were the Tigermen of the Hu-ch'iang ying, whose uniform comprised black-striped yellow trousers, tunic, and hood, which left only the hands and face uncovered.  Some such costumes even included a tail, while the hood was supposed to have ears and a face on top of the head -- those encountered by the French at the Battle of Tungchow in 1860, for instance, had red mouths and noses -- but the face in particular is not always in evidence in contemporary pictures.  This appears to be because they were not always well looked after, the missionary Karl Gutzlaff recording that in a parade of Tigermen at Amoy in 1832 he saw 'some without a nose, others with one eye'.  he adds that their officers wore the conventional dress of mandarins, while from a picture of Tigermen drawn in Sinkiang in 1888 we know that their standard-bearers wore the same tiger-striped uniforms as the rest of the men.
    "There was probably little if any actual standardisation in the pattern of their uniforms, which may have differed from unit to unit, or perhaps even within the same unit.  Most appear to have been randomly striped, but some instead had what Oliphant described in 1858 as 'little black twirligigs like tadpoles'.  A lady travelling in Shansi province in 1893 painted a Tigerman wearing a yellow uniform with black markings that look more like leopard spots than tiger stripes even though she described it as being of 'yellow cloth striped with black'), and such markings may have been what Oliphant intended by his description.  Also in the 1890s, another traveller saw Tigermen whose uniforms could only be seen to be striped 'when they turned round and revealed the tiger stripings on their backs and on their ochre-yellow hoods', so one has to surmise that these, rather unusually, were not striped in front."

* Alexander & Mason 1988 p20 (writing in 1793)
"A CHINESE SOLDIER OF INFANTRY Or Tiger of War  The dress of the Chinese is generally loose; the soldiers of this part of the army, with few exceptions, are the only natives whose close habit discovers the formation of the limbs.
    "The general uniform of the Chinese troops is cumbrous and inconvenient; this of the Tiger of War, is much better adapted for military action.
    "The Missionaries have denominated them TIGERS OF WAR, from their dress, which has some resemblance to that animal; being striped, and having ears on the cap."

* Bodin ill. Warner 1979 p32 (reconstructing a Tiger-man during the Boxer Rebellion)
"The Tiger-man wears a sleeveless jacket with wide stripes alternating yellow-orange and black, apparently imitating tigerskin.  The shirt and pants are of light blue cloth.  This man wears a yellow cloth turban, but a straw 'coolie' hat could also be worn.  The side aprons ... were dark blue with yellow trim around the edge.

* Jowett ill. Embleton 2016 p43 (reconstructing a Tiger Man, Yeh Ming'Ch'en's army, Canton 1857) 
"This soldier of Yeh Ming'Ch'en's Imperial force is part of the garrison defending Canton from British attack in 1857.  Tiger men were an exotic 'shock force' of the 19th-century Imperial Army, and were often seen in complete striped costumes.  On this occasion the standard-bearer has only donned the Tiger headdress with his standard uniform, a short blue tunic and yellow trousers covered with blue leggings; the chest disc bears the family name of his general, 'Yeh'.  The traditional winged-tiger flag (here with coloured streamers) was probably not particular to the Tiger units, but one like this was captured at Canton; the tiger and other decorations on the flag are made from gold foil.  The Tiger man's stripy cloth headdress had a bamboo inner structure which was supposed to provide some protection; like his bamboo shield decorated with a tiger's mask design, it was naturally useless against firearms."

* Heath 1998 p58 (describing Tigermen observed 1793-1893)
"... Tigermen at the Battle of Noui-Bop in Vietnam in 1885 ... wore ordinary uniforms and were distinguished only by a hood 'of yellow fabric striped in black in imitation of the skin of a tiger', but Tigermen more usually wore an entire uniform of such distinctively striped material."


* Bodin ill. Warner 1979 p32 (reconstructing a Tiger-man during the Boxer Rebellion)
"The Ten nai, or Tiger-men, were an integral part of most of the formations of the Pa chi, or Manchurian Bannermen. The Ten nai were used as skirmishers in the Manchu battle formation. Armed with a long sabre and a grappling hook on a chain, they were intended to break up cavalry charges.
    "[...] The bright uniform of the Ten nai, combined with loud yelling, was intended to scare away enemy cavalry. If these tactics did not work, the Tiger-men were supposed to break up the enemy cavalry charges with their sabres and grappling hooks."

* Heath 1998 p58
"They were customarily armed with sword and shield even in the 1890s, but a posed photograph of a Tigerman taken in 1900 shows him holding a polearm, while his shield is resting against his knees. In 1873 an eye-witness recorded that a short matchlock ('set in a socket of wood') was fitted behind the shield and doubled as the hand-grip.  Tigermen seen at drill that year are said to have 'loaded and fired it very dextrously in the midst of their performances'."

* Jowett ill. Embleton 2016 p44 (reconstructing a Tiger Man, Yeh Ming'Ch'en's army, Canton 1857) 
"Nearly all Chinese troops at this time were armed with spears, halberds, bows, or straight swords such as the one carried by this man."


* Bodin ill. Warner 1979 p32 (reconstructing a Tiger-man during the Boxer Rebellion)
"The painted shield which this man carries bears a brightly painted face with the Chinese character Wang (king) above the face's forehead.  'King is a lesser title which has probably been presented to the commander of this particular unit of the Ten nai by the Emperor."

* Alexander & Mason 1988 p132 (writing in 1793)
"They are armed with a scimitar of rude workmanship, and a shield of wicker or basket-work, so well manufactured, as to resist the heaviest blows from a sword.  On it is painted the face of an imaginary monster, which (like that of Medusa) is supposed to possess the power of petrifying the beholder."

* Peers ill. Hook 1997 p46 (reconstructing a swordsman, c.1790)
"The shield, with its ferocious face motif and the character 'wang' on the face's forehead, is often associated with wearers of the striped 'tigerman' costume, but was not restricted to them."

* Heath 1998 p50-51
"Mesny records the existence of three types of shield, consisting of the tun, made of bamboo overlaid with lacquered or varnished rawhide, 'effective against pistol, sword or spear' but useless against rifle bullets; the allegedly bullet-proof t'ang tzu-pai; and the plaited rattan or cane teng-pai, which could resist a sword blow or an arrow but was ineffective against even a matchlock bullet.  All were circular and convex, weighed about 5 lbs (2.3 kg), and appear to have averaged about a yard (91 cm) across, though it is clear from pictorial sources that some were actually bigger, while others had a diameter of no more than about 2 ft (61 cm).  The thickly plaited cane, rattan or bamboo radiated spirally from the centre, where it was reinforced by a metal boss that was invariably surrounded by a red fringe.  It was held by passing the forearm through a rattan loop on the back, and gripping a rattan or wooden bar.
    "The outer surface was invariably painted with the face of a creature often described by those that saw it as an 'ogre', 'dragon', or 'hideous monster', but which was intended to be a stylistically rendered tiger, designed to frighten the enemy (whence the nickname of 'tigers' occasionally applied, rather inappropriately, to Imperialist troops).  The face was often rendered very simplistically with daubs of black, yellow, white and red paint on the otherwise uncoloured bamboo surface, with the central boss and fringe generally serving as the creature's nose.  Because the markings on a real tiger's forehead were a very close imitation of the Chinese character wang, meaning king, this was almost invariably borne at the top of the shield, the Chinese regarding the tiger as the king of beasts."