Initially, armour was exclusively for nobles. The earliest known armour used by the warriors of the Shang dynasty (商) was made from turtle shells tied together with cords. Later, bronze and leather armor was introduced, and simple one-piece breastplates and lamellar cuirasses began to appear. Most of these were highly elaborate and decorated, and were often very heavy. The majority of noblemen fought mounted on war chariots, so the weight of the armour was not a major factor in its construction.
After the defeat of the Shang, the Zhou (周) used many weapons and types of equipment that originally came from the Shang. However, the Zhou incorporated some of their own different styles of armour. One type was the ge jia (革甲), a sleeveless coat of animal hide formed on a wooden dummy. The hide used was of buffalo and rhinoceros. Because of the disappearance of the rhinoceros in the region, buffalo came to be most common material. Another type of armour used by the Zhou was the wei jia, made of boiled leather on a fabric backing. Red lacquer was often used to form a protective layer for most armour used by the Zhou.
Chariots were used extensively during the Spring and Autumn Period (春秋). The chariots were mainly used as a shock weapon and a platform for archers. Since the chariot was restricted to flat terrain, charioteers could be defeated when battling well-organized infantry. Shang chariots were often drawn by two horses; later, the Zhou introduced a four-horse chariot. The crew of the chariot was made up of noblemen, so all would have worn armour.
Zhou chariots were protected by leather, and sometimes came with a canopy to protect the crew from the weather, but this was probably removed before going into battle. Chariot horses were protected by a blanket made of animal skins, with tiger skin being most popular, though sometimes horses wore lamellar peytral made of leather, which protected the horses' chests and necks. Chariot use declined during the Warring States Period (战国时期), probably because of the introduction of the crossbow and cavalry.
Most of the kingdoms of the Warring States maintained large armies, numbering anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000. With the technology and resources of the time, it was not possible to provide all soldiers with armor. Armour was most common for elite soldiers. During the Warring States era, most armour was made of leather or bronze, or a combination of both. The metal that was used most for military purposes was bronze. Wrought iron (pure iron) began to appear in the 5th century BC, but did not begin to replace bronze until the 2nd century BC.
Most infantrymen wore lamellar or coat of plates cuirasses. The lamellar cuirass worn by these men was made of hundreds of small overlapping metal and/or leather plates laced together to make a flexible and light coat of armor. Coat of plates consisted of hundreds of small non-overlapping metal or leather plates stitched or riveted together. Shoulder guards and helmets were often used, but leather caps seem to have been more common for ground infantry.
During much of the Warring States period, most light cavalry units served as skirmishers - thus armor for cavalry was rare, as it was not seen as necessary. Armor for heavier cavalry tended to be lighter than that of the infantry. Heavy cavalry armor was usually constructed entirely of leather, and lacked shoulder protection. However, in the dynasties preceding the Warring States period, cavalry armor gradually become heavier and more elaborate. (ie. Heavy Cavalry with full body protection ranging from coat of plates to lamellar from the Han Dynasty or elaborate interlocking triangular scales from the Song Dynasty)
Most evidence for armour development during this period comes from the Terracotta Warriors of Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇). Some terracotta warriors wore no armour; it is suggested that most were conscripts playing the role of skirmishers or support troops for the chariots. They are armed with crossbows and were usually placed at the front of formations. Because of the early use of crossbow technology, these conscripts may not have need armor for close fighting, instead adapting more mobile tactics similar to rifle or musket shooting by rows. Of the terra cotta warriors thus uncovered, Pit 1 has approximately 61 percent of the soldiers wearing armour, Pit 2 over 90 percent, and pit 3, being in a command compound, 100 percent.
Traces of black paint on these figures suggest that the Qin may have used black lacquered plates and lamellar for their armour. Many different styles of armour were found, but examples of armours from ancient China are rare. Qin Shi Huang ordered weapons, and probably armour too, to be destroyed by fire. This is likely the reason that so few examples of ancient armour exist today.
After the fall of the Qin in 207 BC came the rise of the Han Dynasty in 202 BC. By the time of the Han, the primary metal used in armor was iron. Early Han soldiers would have used armour and weapons captured from the Qin. The Western Han army numbered possibly in the hundreds of thousands, so armour was standardized to meet the need. Armor used by the Han included coats of plates; liang-tang, or "double-faced" armour; and lamellar cuirases made of leather that was suspended over the shoulders by cords. This armour was used by both the infantry and the cavalry. A much heavier and more expensive version, consisting of iron plates laced together, was worn by officers. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, a new style of armour was adopted: a scale corselet made of leather.
Shields were used by both infantry and cavalry. These shields were usually made of wood and often reinforced by a metal center and rim.
Armour for horses began to appear around the end of the Han dynasty, but the earliest armour yet found dates to the year 302 AD. During the Three Kingdoms Period (三国), fully armoured cavalry were extensively used as shock troops. Early horse armour came in one piece, but later horse armour came in multiple pieces: chanfron (head protector); neck guards; chest guards; shoulder guards; flank pieces; and crupper. Most cavalry served as mounted archers, and sometimes removed their arm protection to use their bows or crossbows.
The pinnacle of ancient Chinese armor development is perhaps the Shanwen jia or "Mountain pattern armour". |link=Wikipedia:Citation needed |text=citation needed |class=noprint Template-Fact |title=This claim needs references to reliable sources |date=July 2008 |cat=[[Category:All articles with unsourced statements]It began to appear during the Tang dynasty and was further perfected during the Ming dynasty. It is made from a multitude of small pieces of steel that are vaguely shaped like the Chinese character for the word shan (Mountain). This would thus explain its name. The pieces are then interlocked and riveted to a cloth or leather backing. It effectively covers the torso, the shoulders and the thighs while remaining comfortable and flexible enough to allow movement.
By the 19th century, most armour was worn mainly for ceremonial purposes and was an indicator of rank. The kind of armour that was largely used was the brigandine, a type of armour consisting of a leather or cloth garment lined with metal plates inside. Sometimes, the plates were made in different sizes and shapes to maximize protection. The Chinese brigandine comes in five pieces: the vest, pauldrons, skirting, underarm, and groin section. By contrast, the Korean version of this armour is a single piece. Brigandines were first seen in China and Korea in the 12th century AD and were used up to the 19th century. Armour use began to decline after the introduction of firearms, but shields continued to be used. Most Chinese soldiers of the times went without armour of any kind and mostly wore civilian clothing.
There are two common Chinese translation for the word armor. More may exist but Jiǎ (甲) and Kǎi (鎧/铠) are the most encountered. If one looks at the traditional Chinese characters for both of these words, it may be observed that the character for the word metal appears in the one for Kai. The same cannot be said about the one for Jia thus implying that these armors are made from materials other than metals.（Jia come from “tortoise shell”——龟甲“Gui Jia”，Ancient armor）