Weapons of the Ever Victorious Army

This question was posted on the China History Forum: “The Ever Victorious Army was the Qing army that helped put down the Taiping and Nein Rebellions and It was the first Chinese army which was trained in European tactics. My question is, does anyone know what kind of weapons did they use?” I replied:

 According to Smith, 1978 Mercenaries and Mandarins, and Carr, 1992 The Devil Soldier (two of the most recent references on the subject of Ward and the Ever Victorious Army), at its beginning in 1860 and 1861, when the force numbered only several hundred, the Foreign Rifles we armed with revolvers and breech-loading rifles. The revolvers mostly were American Colts, with perhaps a few other makes familiar on the American frontier. The Colt percussion revolvers .44 Dragoon, and .38 Navy, were quite common.

The rifles were Sharps .577 percussion carbines, most likely from the lot of 6000 produced for the British in 1855, which had seen service in the Crimea (it was probably too soon for the Sharps New Model 1859 straight breech model to have turned up in China). As the Foreign Rifles grew into the larger Ever Victorious Army (EVA) between late 1861 and the end of 1862, there were not enough breech-loading rifles available to arm a force of 2000 to 4000, and rifled percussion muzzle-loaders became the norm. The 1851 and 1853 British Tower musket was a .702 rifled percussion model that was increasingly available after the Crimean War when, during the late 1850s, the 1853 Enfield .577 percussion rifle gradually replaced the Tower as standard issue to British troops. Both fired the Minié bullet and were known popularly as British Minié rifles. 

When in 1862 Admiral Sir James Hope began to provide the EVA with materiel support from the British surplus store of Tower and Enfield rifles in India, the EVA then had access to a sufficient number of weapons to arm the force through its days under Gordon to its final muster in May of 1864. Andrew Wilson, in his history of the EVA under Gordon, says “a thousand of the men [Ward’s men in early 1862] were armed with Prussian rifles of the old pattern.” These may have been the 1848 Dreyse .61 percussion rifle, also called a Needle Gun.  

When Li Hung-chang’s Huai army came to Shanghai in 1862 and began training with the EVA, some sources say that the Huai Army already had a small foreign rifle unit 洋槍小隊, and that as the Huai army grew in number it acquired many more foreign rifles. An initial search through online Chinese sources about the kind of foreign rifles the Huai army used did not turn up anything as specific as the foregoing, which I suppose is not surprising as Chinese then would have not been very well acquainted with the nomenclature of Western arms. More research on this lays ahead, in general sources on the Huai army, and in more detailed Chinese accounts such as 干醒民, 上海一八六二年 – 叫化兵入城, and personal journal diaries and journals.

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2 Responses to Weapons of the Ever Victorious Army

  1. James Lande says:

    The article pingbacked from Kung Fu Tea, is an interesting account of the impact of firearms on Japanese and Chinese martial arts. The author believes that popular notions “…get the actual history of Chinese martial arts wrong…” and create “…a vision of an unreal past.”

    This struck a chord with us because Yang Shen and Yankee Mandarin have not delved into the weaponry and technique of martial arts. Such have not turned up in many sources for the books, and so our view of the armies in the China of the 1860s is that the soldiers were ordinary men barely trained well enough to handle a sword or pike, a gingal, or a matchlock. That’s if they were Taiping or Imperial troops. The Foreign Rifles and other similar units officered by Westerners, and Li Hung-chang’s Huai Army after training with Frederick Townsend Ward, were armed as described in our post above about the Weapons of the Ever Victorious Army. Individuals in these forces may have trained in martial arts with one or another of the schools prevalent then, but it appears the average soldier would not have been particularly adept at kung-fu 功夫.

    The Kung Fu Tea article notes that in books and films about martial arts “…the vast majority of Kung Fu stories tend to be backwards looking. They look back to a simpler time before the coming of the gun, when more ‘civilized’ methods of defense still held sway.” Our experience of Chinese films goes back well before the Kung-fu movie craze. Chinese wu-hsia 武俠 films of the sixties, Shaw Brothers films probably being the most prolific, told stories in which the wu-shu 武术 was concerned largely with swords and swordsmanship, and less often a variety of pikes or halberds. These films certainly harkened back to a simpler time when the hero, usually a wandering swordsman, seems to most often gotten caught up in contention between one school of wu-shu seeking vengeance against another school for some humiliation. There were no firearms, and none of the noisy bare-handed kung-shou 空手 that replaced the sword genre in decades following. In spite of trite plotting and the conventions of the genre, such as leaping up to rooftops (or the famous walking on tall bamboo in Crunchy Tiger Hot-pot Dragon), these wu-hsia films seemed more enjoyable for their realism. The genre did not last all that long, either, so it did not have enough time to completely wear itself out.

    Elsewhere, the Kung Fu Tea article points out that “…in only 50 years China was able to radically transform not just their military arms, but the entire social and military structure that produced and supported them. It had taken all of Europe nearly 200 years to complete this same transformation.” China’s mid 19th-century rapid advance in military arms and organization may have been due as much to historical accident as anything else. Early in their quandary over how to face the West, Chinese military mandarins who later would have extraordinary political influence fell in with Western proponents of modern arms, tactics, and organization who accelerated Chinese acquisition of the concepts and techniques of warfare. The deep impression initially made upon Li Hung-chang by Ward, and by other Western officers leading Chinese units against the Taiping advance on Shanghai, slashed through the Gordian Knot of Chinese Luddite conservatism with dramatic demonstrations of undeniably effective military prowess. One could speculate that had Li been forced into the company of just about any other Western officer at that time, his impression of their raffish character might have entirely disgusted him. Ward was possibly the one man capable of calling up Li’s confidence and even admiration, and of capturing the heart and mind of the mandarin.

  2. Pingback: Forgetting about the Gun: Firearms and the Development of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts. « Kung Fu Tea

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