In Chinese, Pinyin Qi4/1 Ji4-guang1; Wade-Giles Ch'i Chi-Kuang; Gwoyeu Romatzyh Chih/Chi Jihguang. (1528-1588). The difference between the pronunciations Qi4 and Qi1 is a matter of competing forms of Mandarin; Qi4 is traditional and widespread in Taiwan and South China, but Qi1 is now promulgated in official Mainland Chinese dictionaries.

Ming dynasty general, now revered as a hero in China's self-defense. Qi was born in Dengzhou, Shandong province, to a family with a long history of military service to the Ming. He is most famous for his battles against the Wokou pirates and resurgent Mongol forces attacking through the Great Wall.

Suppression of the Wokou pirates

Qi was first assigned to fight the Wokou in 1556 in Eastern China, around the cities of Ningbo and Taizhou. After initial failures, he was relieved of command and turned to training volunteer forces from the Hangzhou area. It was at this time that he instituted a number of crucial organizational innovations.

First, he accepted only young men from the countryside as soldiers, finding urbanites harder to discipline.

Second, he introduced the yuanyangzhen or "Mandarin Duck Formation", consisting of a leader, 10 soldiers, and a cook. These Mandarin Duck Formations were semi-autonomous cells of what we would now call Special Forces, and the whole unit was expected to die if the leader died in an unsuccessful battle. The ten soldiers could organize into two columns of five, each of which was supposed to take on a single Wokou fighter. Qi studied Wokou longsword tactics extensively, and decided he needed to have his men outnumber them five to one:

  • one shield-man to fend off arrows
  • one bamboo lance-man to entangle the swordsman's arms (the branches were untrimmed from the bamboo!)
  • two lance-men with long lances, to stab the swordsman after he was pinned down
  • one fork-man
When he was reinstated as an assistant commander in 1560, his cells switfly destroyed the attacking forces. He was promoted, and defeated a major attack at the end of 1561. It was clear that Qi's new organizational methods were responsible for the turnaround in the war.

Wokou attacks began taking place further south, in the Fujian area, and in late 1563 Qi was transferred there to command the Zhejiang and Fujian defenses. He argued that since the pirates were stronger on water than on land, the Ming forces should only fight them on land, where the Ming held the advantage. Accordingly, he set up a system of spies on the Fujian coastal islands to provide his land forces with early warning, and maneuvered his forces to meet the landing enemy. By 1567, the Wokou threat had been ended. Qi has always been given the credit for their defeat, although the Ming's decision to open foreign trade may have had something to do with it, too.

Rebuilding of the Great Wall

After his successes in the East and South, Qi was transferred in 1568 to North China, where he was put in charge of defenses against Mongol attacks. This was an administrative post, rather than a military one. Mongol rule over China (called the Yuan dynasty, but it was not actually a Chinese-headed government) had ended in 1368, but Mongol armies had never completely stopped raiding the north and northwest of Ming territory. As with the Wokou, Qi chose not to attack the Mongols where they were strongest, meaning on the hard ground outside the Wall where they could ride freely; he experimented with allowing them to break into Ming territory and only then attacking them. During his 14 years in the north, Qi rebuilt and reinforced the Great Wall extensively and also built many new lookout towers, which served the same purpose as his island warning system in Fujian.

Qi was removed from office in 1583 and returned to his ancestral home, but was recalled to service in Guangdong province, where he died in 1588.

Other accomplishments

Qi is best known for his war against the Wokou. There survive a number of shrines to him in the Eastern and Southeastern coastal regions, most notably the Qigongci "Shrine to Gentleman Qi" in Fuzhou. He is also credited with having inspired the Chen-style school of Tai Chi, through one of the training manuals he wrote for his fighters. His detailed descriptions of the Wokou's two-handed sword techniques (a form of Japanese kendo) were influential in Chinese swordsmanship.

Qi is also credited with introducing a kind of bagel to Fujian, originally as a military ration for his autonomous cells. This bagel or pseudo-bagel is still eaten around the Fuzhou area. He is believed to have played a part in the compilation of the first Min dialect dictionary, which survives as part of the Qi-Lin Bayin. And he is popularly believed to have invented a kind of secret language, of a type similar to Pig Latin, based on the Chinese fanqie principle. Secret languages of this kind are well-documented in both northern China and Fujian today.

As for his personal life, I can only quote the article cited at the bottom of this write-up:

Qi is said to have been a hen-pecked man and afraid of his wife, a woman of strong character who in 1561 took charge of the defense of a fort surrounded by pirates. They were married in 1545 and she bore no children. After 1563 he took several concubines but hid them from her. By these women he had five sons.

Perhaps this is another example of his choosing not to fight where the enemy was strong.

This write-up draws in part on the article by J. F. Millinger and Chaoying Fang in the Dictionary of Ming Biography, edited by L. Carrington Goodrich and Chaoying Fang (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1976), pp. 220-224.