Compared to the neighbouring Mongols, cavalry had never been a strong point of Chinese armies, and was part of the reason the Mongols were able to conquer China and establish the Yuan dynasty under Kublai Khan in the 13th century. The succeeding dynasty, the Ming, saw the Yongle Emperor (ruled 1402-1424) create a strong cavalry force that could face and even beat the Mongols, who were still very much of a threat at this time. He built the force around Mongol prisoners, and essentially copied the Mongol horsemen, with successful results. However after his death the cavalry, and indeed the whole army, went into a slow decline. By the 16th century a theoretically vast army was actually far smaller and in poor condition, as most of the garrison men were expected to support themselves, which became increasingly difficult and lead to real hunger, as well as making them more farmers than soldiers when not absent entirely. Threats from the Mongols, pirates, Japan and internal revolts were handled with difficulty, and an increasingly defensive attitude by the Chinese further discouraged the effective use of cavalry. In the end the Manchus swept away the Ming dynasty, which by this time (1644) could call on almost no effective cavalry at all.
The lightest elements of the cavalry performed the same tasks as light cavalry of any other time or place, although naturally the Mongol tradition made such troops particularly important here. Most Chinese cavalry were archers, so these are light by virtue of having little or no armour. All six of these poses are archers, and three are actually using their bow. One is drawing his bow, another has released his arrow and the third reaches for a new arrow, so all the poses are fine and nicely done. The other three poses include two holding a sword and one an axe. These are rather more flat in appearance simply because using such weapons requires more depth on a plastic figure, so while none of them are terrible we felt they were only adequate. The first swordsman holds a weapon of very traditional shape, but the broad-bladed weapon on the other man is noteworthy because it has a very long grip.
There is no apparent armour on any man apart from the helmet that two are wearing. The costume of loose-fitting tunic and trousers is characteristic, held in place by a sash round the waist. Four have a simple cloth covering the hair, or possibly just a headband, but the much more elaborate helmets worn by the other two is also in keeping with the period, suggesting these men are more wealthy than their fellows. The weaponry already described also looks appropriate, although sadly we could find few sources with which to confirm this in any great detail.
The horses are simply saddled and unprotected, as you would expect. The models in this set are the same as those found in the corresponding heavy cavalry set as well as several of the Korean cavalry sets, but are not the best selection. The poses are of variable quality in terms of anatomy, and some like the last pictured horse are hard to understand in terms of whether they are walking or trotting.
The sculpting of the horses is quite good, as is that of the men, with pretty good detail on clothing and faces. The quality of production however is another matter, for as you can see there is a considerable amount of flash here, in one case completely filling in half of the bow! The horses too are steeped in flash, mainly about the legs, which also suffer badly from little or no definition on one side. As it happens the side we have photographed above is the better side, but looked at from the reverse there are some real horrors here. Worse yet we found none of the figures can be persuaded to sit on their mount. Some hover well above the saddle itself, and some simply will not even do that. The figures do have a quite full appearance, presumably to suggest the loose clothing, but this goes badly wrong round the legs as nothing here fits. As well as the excess plastic is the missing plastic. As you see, two of the bowstrings have not filled properly, so again sloppy quality control.
One further observation is that the horses we found in the box are not those pictured on the back. Perhaps this is poor quality control at the factory, and you may find something different inside your example, but our samples were purchased in the normal way so we comment on what we actually find. What we find is a set which is historically accurate as far as we can tell, and reasonably well designed. The somewhat flat poses are not uncommon in this hobby, but the large amount of flash and the poor moulding spoil what looks like some good sculpts. It will take a lot of work to rescue these figures from their off-the-shelf condition, which is a great shame as if they had been better made this would have been a pretty decent set.