British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said of Russia – “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” The same can be said of its Far Eastern cousin China, a nation so unfathomable to many outside its borders that it takes the mind of the most astute man to truly understand it, and even then he can never be too confident.
For the Chinese, strategy and careful contemplation is everything, that is something even a novice can understand. All of us who have read ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu, one of ancient China’s greatest generals, are aware of just how contemplative the Chinese are; in the words of the man himself – “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.”
China and its culture was solidified during the days of the Xia dynasty, and for several millennia it fluctuated and refined itself. Through successive dynasties, such as the Han, Sui, Tang et al, China became a feared foe and much admired culture in equal measure.
From the whimsical to the transcendental, China harvested the fruits of its military success, and dominance of the Far East, in the form of creating beauty, from art to architecture, poetry to design. Its expansion and interaction with other cultures helped to bolster the mastery that is Chinese arts and crafts, whether it be the Sogdians, the Mongols or the Uyghurs.
The Warrior Nation
For any civilisation to succeed, it must have a strong military force to protect it, and help it on its way to reaching divine levels. War lords and warriors have been a crucial element in Chinese culture, yet the rest of the world is so little aware of this great warrior culture, the Terracotta Army and Sun Tzu being only a small fraction of what constituted something so magnificent.
With much misinformation coming from elsewhere and the Communist government of China at best disinterested and at worst actively destroying remnants of the country’s glorious past (even though it’s been many years since Mao’s Cultural Revolution) it is up to individuals, scholars and creatives a like, to keep this abundantly rich heritage alive in some form or another.
Step forward Jack Huang, the founder of Dragon’s Armory, a digital repository for all things related to ancient and medieval arms and armor of China. With evocative depictions of Chinese warriors and the culture they created, along with award worthy videos, Jack has nurtured a miraculous and extraordinary project. I spoke with him a little about the project, delving into the why and the how.
So, first things first, tell me about the name Dragon’s Armoury, where did you come up with it?
Well, I have always been a nerd for accurate depiction of armors. I thought that naming the site: Dragon’s Armory will elicit a sense of the orient but also something that is tangible, something that one could see in its full glory and have the data in regards to its historical context and usage. Not only armor but also soldiers and dynasties little known in the west.
You’re creating lessons about Chinese history, how do you plan to do this?
Like the French root word for history “l’histoire” which both means history but also the story, I’ll tell a good story, with fluency in English as well as a guiding hand to point to the curious and worthwhile. I am confident to say that I am a natural storyteller and if you or anyone else would camp with me I would have many campfire stories to tell, stories vibrant with its colors, emotion, and context.
The history of China is certainly immense, where do you begin?
Like my tangential mind, everywhere that struck my fancy. I am a glutton for details and aesthetics so at every point I will try to convey the mood and feel of the given era. I am also a concept artist so the visual as well as informational commitment goes hand in hand.
The imagery and tremendous amount of work you have put into your videos, designs etc is simply beautiful, where does the inspiration come from and what is your creative process?
From pursuing ancient scroll paintings and the few good examples of modern illustrations! I must say one of the reasons I started doing the blog and doing my own art about the subject is because I am deeply frustrated with the state of terrible depictions of Chinese armor across both the Chinese as well as western internet. One of the key lessons I learned (in life) is that if you want something done, and no one out there is doing a good job that represent your view, do it yourself. Lesson of the decade for me!
As for creative process, I must say I’m kind of a scatter brain, sort of an absent minded professor that could be triggered to inspirations, so I guess whatever struck my mood at the time. I am very imaginative and often times I mentally prep several subjects I wanted to do and have the ideas slosh around in my head. Usually in the coming weeks if something struck my attention (be it a moment from a soundtrack or…just my usual daydreams) I will leap up and do a piece. Whatever I draw I can usually get it done within 8 hours in a none-stop all nighter.
After doing some research of my own, I found it quite difficult to get any extensive information on ancient and medieval China. That is to say, I couldn’t see anything that had both quality information and visuals to match. Will Dragon’s Armoury be filling the gap?
I would never presume to call myself a historian, though I do hold myself to the standard to provide accurate information for all my audiences. If I make a mistake I usually go back and correct it and then post a note or a pinned comment to highlight the accurate information instead. Historians are hardcore academics and usually the figures in their head are the product of endless reading over the same age, about the same subject. One of my favorite Youtuber, an Austrian called Military History Visualized is very rigorous with his stats and his information, and in terms of pure academia, I cannot hold a candle to frankly such…better men.
I do, however consider myself a platform, a bulletin, and a spring board for tangential learning. I think what I excel more than most out there is the commitment to accurate period costumes, concept art, and narrative. After sampling my bulletins, I think most who are truly interested would dig deeper on their volition and see for themselves. I take some pride in building this bridge between China’s culture, its history with the outside world. I would also say my works are vindicated by history itself.
One of the key gap that is being rectified by my presence is the fact that finally Google searches now have more period accurate Chinese armors! I said before that I am a concept artist and when I started my blog I was actually designing it as a reference gallery for people like myself, for the artist of various game/ movie studios who wants to depict Chinese armor in its natural state. God knows I can’t leave the abysmal China-cart.com’s Halloween costumes as a reference for real Chinese armor.