During the Ming Dynasty, soldiers had one of the lowest social standings. Unlike the western armies, a soldier in the Ming Dynasty military was an inherited job and they came from a professional warrior class. Due to the low social status of a soldier, the morale of the troops was low and the motivation was survival.
Soldiers Chosen by Birth
This system of inherited soldiers had an inherent advantage. Casualties could be easily replaced. If a soldier died in battle, his family had to give one of its able bodied members as replacement or the family would lose their livelihood and become beggars. At times, Ming Dynasty soldiers were treated as cannon fodder.
Ming Military Equipment
The Ming Dynasty cavalry was lightly equipped. They only had archers on horses and lancers with shields. Initially such a tactic paid off, but later on the advantage sharply declined due to better strategies adopted by their opponents. The cavalry did carry sabers, but they were hardly used. The horse archers, ineffective and vulnerable at close range, avoided melee combat. The lancers relied on charging to break enemy formations and retreated if they failed.
The Ming infantry had a company consisting of 112 men. They were similar to their European counterparts and were essentially grouped in administrative units consisting of ordinary and specialist soldiers, all banded together for maximum battlefield efficiency. About 40% were spear-wielding foot soldiers and another 40% were armed with some sort of ranged weapon, such as bow, crossbow or firearm of some kind. The remaining 20% bore swords and shields.
One of the notable features of the Ming military was its centralized planning. The entire army would be re-equipped and re-trained for a specific campaign. This caused the Ming military to be bureaucratic and it could not respond quickly and effectively to an immediate threat. The use of troops for non-military purposes further reduced their battle readiness and military prowess.
The Ming Dynasty military did use a large number of new weapons like siege weapons, the fire lance which was akin to a modern anti-tank weapon, fire arrows etc. In spite of its perceived inefficiencies, the Ming military did help keep the Dynasty safe for about 300 years.