The 16th and early 17th centuries were a period of slow decline for the ruling Ming dynasty and the country, when it found itself increasingly stretched to resource defence against threats from various directions, particularly the north, as well as numerous internal rebellions and raids. Foreign observers of the time are generally unimpressed with the Chinese martial spirit, and tactics were usually based on static defence behind walls and forts when danger threatened. On paper the number of men under arms was enormous, between one and two million, but in reality many of these were fabricated by corrupt officials, and when a crisis materialised central government struggled to raise even a portion of the soldiers that should have been available. Gaps were made up by mercenaries, generally of low quality, and mostly infantry, so there were very few cavalry available. The hope as always was that the heavy cavalry would slam into an enemy weakened by missile fire, but the reality was often very different.
Heavy cavalry were recognisable by the level of armour and equipment that they had, so were generally the most wealthy of the soldiers. Such men would have a full suit of armour, generally either lamellar or brigandine, and a weapon of maximum impact like a halberd or spear to go with the ubiquitous bow and sword. In a highly class-conscious society, status was judged by the quality of the armour and clothing, and there was no uniform as such, but all the poses here are well armoured and armed. The armour looks to be lamellar in all cases, which makes sense for an elite, and they wear a variety of helmets which are all authentic for the time. Most have extra protection on the shoulders and solid protection on the forearm, so all do indeed look very heavy. Apart from the bows and swords, these figures carry spears and halberds, although the last figure above holds a large mace and so may be an officer.
The horses are the same as those found in several other sets from RedBox released at the same time, including their light cavalry. This might seem strange, but at this scale there would be little detectable difference between mounts for the two. Certainly some heavy cavalry used armour on their horses too, so the lack of this on these animals is worthy of note, but it is far from clear how widespread this practice was so is not a problem. It should be noted that the horses we found in the box are not the same as those depicted on the box, but whether this is down to a change of mind on the part of the manufacturer, or confusion during packing we do not know. Whatever the reason, the horses are quite poor, with some less than ideal poses but, more importantly, a great deal of flash. The definition on some of the legs is very poor indeed, almost smooth, so clearly there were major problems with the making of the mould.
Although we were not impressed by the horses, the figures look great. Plenty of lovely detail, and good proportions apart from a rather rotund appearance, which can perhaps be ascribed to the amount of clothing these men are wearing. The poses are not particularly combative, and the swordsman is quite flat, but the quality of the sculpting is evident in the faces and smaller details of the complex armour, which is great. Sadly looks are deceptive, for when you try and attach rider to horse you find none of them fit any horse, nor even come close. This is a fundamental error that we would not expect of a manufacturer of this long-standing, and will seriously deter many customers unwilling to put the time in to remedy the situation. While the horses are bathed in flash, the men are almost entirely flash-free, and with no appreciable extra plastic either.
So like the rest of the batch in which this set was released, this one is a very mixed bag. Accuracy is good and so is sculpting apart from the basic inability to match man with horse, which we think is important. The figures look great, the horses do not, so this will need some work from buyers. If you are prepared to do that work then the end result will look good, but it is a pity that a well-designed set should be spoiled by what looks like poor production standards.