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Artefacts of Qing dynasty's Eight Banners on display

About 50 military artefacts of the Eight Banners and weapons used by the imperial court, which vividly tell the history of the Qing dynasty, will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence from tomorrow (November 2) until April 30, 2008.

The exhibition, Cultural Relics of the Eight Banners of the Manchu, which features artefacts carefully selected from the Shenyang Palace Museum, will give visitors an opportunity to better understand the military system of the Manchu and the martial culture of the royal family of the Qing dynasty.

Nuerhachi, the founder of the Qing dynasty, was a native of Nuzhen. In 1583, he established an army in Hetuala and subsequently unified all tribes of Nuzhen. His son Huangtaiji renamed Nuzhen as "Manchu" and named his empire "Qing". After conquering various Mongol tribes, Huangtaiji waged a large-scale war on Ming China. When the Ming dynasty was overthrown in 1644 by an insurgency in China, Qing took advantage of the ensuing chaos, sending troops into China and began its 268 years of rule in this "middle kingdom".

It is believed that the Eight Banners system created by Nuerhachi was the key to Qing's military victories over its rivals who were superior in number. When the Nuzhen went hunting, each hunter would contribute one arrow, and there was a leader for every 10 hunters. Based on the hunting rule, Nuerhachi developed a military system called Banners. Originally, there were only yellow, red, blue and white banners. They also represented the four compass points when the Nuzhen went hunting or fighting in battle. In 1615, another four banners were added. The new banners were bordered banners - a red banner with a white border and the other three in yellow, blue and white with a red border. In peacetime, the Eight Banners shared land, population and properties, and in wartime fought under the command of Nuerhachi.

The Eight Banners system was a hybrid of military and political institutions, and provided military, political, economic, and administrative as well as judiciary services to Manchu society. Since the soldiers were highly organised and of sturdy build, they formed an invincible force. After the Qing dynasty came to power, Mongolian and Chinese Eight Banners were also established.

The Manchu placed great importance on martial arts and had a long tradition of hunting on horseback. The imperial Qing court incorporated the promotion of martial arts as state policy. Every bannerman, whether commoners or nobles, had to excel in mounted archery. Training focused on archery and use of firearms was also arranged for the bannermen on a regular basis.

Qing emperors also held "Mulan Autumn Hunting" every spring and autumn and hunting excursions in northern China to experience their ancestors' nomadic way of living. A dress parade by the emperor was held every three years. Emperors sometimes even personally led armies into battles and so the Forbidden City was in possession of an extensive arsenal of imperial weaponry.

When Nuerhachi first raised his revolt, the cavalry of the Eight Banners mainly used bows, arrows, broad swords and spears. During the reign of Huangtaiji, the bannermen started using firearms seized from Ming troops. They also replicated Portuguese cannons and trained cannon squads. After Emperors Yongzheng and Qianlong adopted a seclusion policy, firearms were produced using conventional methods, which halted the development of firearms.

Manchu costumes were also designed for riding and mounted archery. The Manchu lived in a cold climate at high altitude and subsisted by hunting, so everyone wore robes. The typical Manchu robe was round-collared, tight-sleeved, and folded across in front from left to right to make archery on horseback easy. Boots also allowed them to move freely on horseback.

Under the rule of the Manchu, Chinese culture and education were promoted to appease the Chinese. The civil service examination that was practised in the Ming dynasty remained as a means to recruit talent for the imperial court and the bannermen were encouraged to learn from Chinese culture. The Eight Banners were gradually sinicised and lost their warlike spirit. In the early Kangxi period, the Manchu had to rely on the Green Standard Army (Chinese Banners) to put down the Revolt of the Three Feudatories. From the mid Qing period onwards, the Eight Banners became too weak to deal with internal uprisings and external threats.

A lecture chaired by the Assistant Curator of the museum, Mr Wong Nai-kwan, will be held on November 4 to introduce the preparation work of the exhibition. In addition, a workshop to introduce Manchurian culture through games will be held on December 16. These two activities, both conducted in Cantonese, will be held at the Lecture Hall of the museum at 3 pm. For details, please call 2569 1429.

The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It opens from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of Coastal Defence's website at or call 2569 1500.

Ends/Thursday, November 1, 2007
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