After the collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220
After the collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220
This internal dissent severely weakened the Sui Dynasty, and in 618 Li
Under both the Tang and Song (Sung)
With China’s great economic success came a softening of Chinese society, widespread political corruption, and a series of weak and incompetent emperors who eventually sapped the energy of the empire. In particular, the effectiveness of both the bureaucracy and the military was decreased, helping to create the conditions for the
The Mongols would have a significant impact upon Chinese history. They established their capital at Beijing and abolished the bureaucracy based upon Confucianism and the examination system. These actions were taken specifically to negate the influence of the scholar gentry. The Mongols eventually adopted many aspects of Chinese culture and aggressively promoted its literature and art. Despite this openness, the Mongols were never able to find a solution to the Sino-Mongolian ethnic rivalry. Most of the intellectuals from the gentry class considered the Mongols to be uncouth barbarians. This ethnocentricity was exacerbated by the gentry’s resentment of the abolition of the state examination system, which blocked the gentry from gaining access to the highest levels of political power.
After the death of Kublai
By 1368 the Ming
This profoundly important historical act was the result of an intellectual battle between the newly established Confucian scholar gentry and a group of Mongolian technocrats led by the famous admiral Zheng
The Tang Empire, Eighth Century
The gentry were victorious against the technologists because they successfully implemented a three-pronged attack. In their argument to the emperor they first appealed to the ethnocentric tendencies inherent to Chinese culture. The name “China” itself means “Middle Kingdom,” and traditional Chinese thought regarded the country as occupying the prestigious position in the center of the world. This view lent credence to the argument that China had nothing to learn from the world beyond its borders. Second, the gentry emphasized the superiority of classical knowledge, from which the traditional political philosophy of the Tian
At first glance, the Ming Dynasty would seem to have survived its neo-isolationist policy, but in fact the opposite was true. By the mid-sixteenth century it was evident that the empire had entered a state of decline. A series of incompetent emperors created an environment of corruption that led to a drastic reduction in the effectiveness of the government. This widespread inefficiency had the greatest impact in the area of public works. Corrupt officials allowed the agricultural infrastructure of dikes and irrigation canals to fall into a state of disrepair, creating conditions that resulted in famine and starvation. The government lost its mandate of Heaven, and the countryside was ravaged by peasant uprisings. The resulting political chaos led to the fall of the Ming Dynasty.
Military events also played an important role in Chinese affairs during the era between the rise of the Sui Dynasty and the fall of the Ming Dynasty. Yang
Yang Jian’s two major military problems were the constant threat of invasion from the northern steppe and the fear of rebellion. In an attempt to control the military, he issued a series of decrees that placed all army units throughout the empire under the direct control of local civilian officials. These loyal bureaucrats were also directed to confiscate all privately owned weapons and store them for possible military use.
Yang Jian also began an expansionist policy, and his primary goal was to return Vietnam to Chinese control. In 602 he sent an expeditionary force to
The emperor’s son
Li Yuan, the duke of
Li Yuan adopted a military policy that proved to be very successful. The Tang
After he had secured the eastern border, the Tang emperor returned his attention toward the west. From 736 to 755 a series of successful campaigns extended the borders of the empire to the Pamir range, bringing the Tang to the frontier of Islamic civilization and placing these two great eighth century powers on a collision course. This Sino-Islamic crisis reached a flash point at the Battle of Talas River
This defeat marked the beginning of the Tang Dynasty’s decline. Decades of military campaigns had taken a toll on Chinese society, and the losses in both revenue and productivity were significant. These problems led to widespread civil unrest, which devastated Chinese society. For more than one hundred years, the emperors and their bureaucracies had failed to return the empire to a state of normalcy, and by 884 the Tang Dynasty was shattered.
With the final collapse of the Tang Empire in 907, China fell into a chaotic intermediate period referred to as the time of the Five
The Song government was faced with significant financial difficulties. The population of China had reached 140 million, and vast amounts of money had been set aside for the construction of large-scale irrigation projects. The empire had to import the vast majority of its cavalry horses, which also cost a considerable amount of money. China’s underfinanced military was grossly ill-equipped to meet the security challenges of the nomadic horsemen of central Asia. The Song bureaucracy responded to this problem by adopting a military philosophy based upon the concept of strategic defense. Money was allocated for the construction of massive fortifications that would frustrate the light horse cavalry tactics of the nomadic armies. The military theory that all defensive structures are eventually neutralized by an opposition force came to pass in the last years of the Song Dynasty. When the Song-Mongol military alliance broke down, the aggressive Mongol warriors quickly defeated the demoralized forces of the emperor and established the Yuan Dynasty. Between 1200 and 1405 the Mongols conquered Tibet, Russia, Iraq, Asia Minor, and southern and eastern Europe.
By the middle of the fourteenth century, the Yuan Dynasty began to decline. Years of famine gave rise to peasant unrest, and a secret religious sect known as the White
The Song Dynasty, c. 1050-1150
From 1351 to 1368 the
The new Ming emperor and his intellectual elite modeled themselves after the Song Dynasty. Like the Song the Ming adopted an isolationist policy that kept the government’s focus on protecting the homeland.
The development of Chinese weaponry between 589 and 1644 reflected the dominant military philosophy of the most prominent dynasties. The Sui, Tang, and Song military policies were oriented toward the defense of the “Middle Kingdom.” This attitude was reinforced by Confucian
The most important weapon used in sieges was the
The defensive, infantry-oriented philosophy of the Song changed with the onset of the Yuan Dynasty. The nomadic heritage of the Mongols emphasized constant movement. The most important weapon in the Yuan arsenal was the
The Ming made improvements to traditional weapons, such as the crossbow and catapults, and initiated significant progress in the use of gunpowder and explosive devices. Small handheld grenadelike
This orientation toward service continued during the Tang Dynasty but was tempered by the impact of Confucian philosophy. The Tang armed forces consisted of six hundred militia units that ranged in size from eight hundred to twelve hundred men. Control of the army was transferred from the old aristocratic families under the Sui to the scholar gentry that now ran the newly formed Ministry of the Army. The armed forces were divided into two basic groups, the infantry and cavalry, with sections divided into smaller units consisting of two hundred, fifty, and ten men. The Tang also developed a permanent cadre of professional officers, and the enlisted ranks consisted of men who rotated to duty for a specific number of months. This system was established so that soldiers could support themselves through agriculture, thus reducing the government expense of supplying the army. In times of great military danger, the Tang would also employ mercenaries to increase the size of its armed forces.
By the early eighth century, the cost of sending a large expeditionary force to a particular trouble spot became too expensive. The ministry created nine frontier commands and adopted the philosophy of a defensive army. By 737 the militia was replaced by a totally professional armed force, and these units were placed in the region of a powerful provincial official who would make decisions about their deployment. Each group constructed a fortified base of operations that served as a regional sanctuary in times of trouble.
The military strength of China began to decline under the Song Dynasty. The emperors were so fearful of a military uprising that they dissolved the successful organizational model that had evolved during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. They took control of the military decision-making process away from the generals and placed it under the tight control of the civilian government. Most important, the Song emperors used the enlisted ranks of the army as a social welfare program, providing employment for the poorest sectors of society. This system lowered the status of the military, and by the middle of the eleventh century the average enlisted man was receiving about one-tenth of his formerly allotted wages. This great inequity decreased the operational effectiveness of the army and eventually caused numerous mutinies.
The military organization under the Yuan Dynasty reflected the aggressive, loyal heritage of nomadic warriors, and was based upon the decimal system, with the smallest and largest units consisting of ten and one thousand men, respectively. Within the Mongol organization, each individual soldier occupied a unique position in the unit and was responsible to perform a specific task. The Mongol army was always divided into three operational units that controlled the left, right, and center of any military operation. All individuals within the Yuan armed forces were expected to carry out the necessary functions of a successful soldier. Both generals and enlisted men stood guard duty, and every member of the unit strictly obeyed the orders of his superior. Promotion was based upon skill, and it was quite common for a commoner to rise to the level of a great general. The martial qualities of bravery, discipline, and strength made the Mongols a very successful military organization.
The Ming military organization mirrored that of the Song. Its focus was directed primarily toward the defense of China and the control of the military. The government implemented a system that divided the country into military districts under the control of the civilian leadership. The logistics, supply, and training for the military were controlled by a Board of War.
Military strategy and doctrine in the period between 581 and 1644 were profoundly influenced by the writings of China’s great ancient military philosophers. These theorists were in turn influenced by the important philosophical systems that dominated ancient Chinese intellectual life. The four most important early schools of thought were Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism, and Legalism. Both the ethical codes and social models espoused by these philosophies formed the intellectual framework in which China’s military theories were constructed.
The fifth century
These two opposing philosophical schools would have the deepest impact on the evolution of Chinese military doctrine. The Confucian emphasis on the development of a strong personal ethical code would always be in conflict with the aggressive nature of the martial arts. This would be the basis for placing the military under the control of the gentry-dominated bureaucracy. The Mohist stand against offensive war would lead to the development of a “Grand Defensive Strategy” that would greatly influence the development of training, tactics, and weaponry.
The philosophical foundation for tactical operations can be found in the writings of the
Finally the implementation of these theories under battlefield conditions was influenced by the philosophy of
The vast majority of Chinese sources have yet to be translated into English, although some have been translated into French, German, and Russian. The most important medieval sources are three military manuals that were used by the Tang, Song, and Ming Dynasties. The earliest of these is Li
Sunzi, the military theorist who wrote Bingfa (c. 510
The primary chronicle of the Yuan Dynasty is the Yuan Shih (1370), originally composed in ten volumes by Song
Graff, David A. Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300-900. New York: Routledge, 2002. _______. “Yüeh Fei.” In The Reader’s Companion to Military History, edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Huang, Ray. “Ch’i Chi-kuang: The Lonely General.” In 1587, a Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981. Lorge, Peter. “War and Warfare in China, 1450-1815.” In War in the Early Modern World, edited by Jeremy Black. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999. _______. War, Politics, and Society in Early Modern China, 900-1795. New York: Routledge, 2005. McNeill, William H. “Ch’i Chi-kuang.” In The Reader’s Companion to Military History, edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Peers, Chris. Imperial Chinese Armies, 200 B.C.E. to 1260 C.E. Illustrated by Michael Perry. 2 vols. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1995. _______. Late Imperial Chinese Armies, 1520 to 1840 C.E. Illustrated by Christa Hook. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1997. _______. Medieval Chinese Armies, 1260-1520. Illustrated by David Sque. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1992. _______. Soldiers of the Dragon: Chinese Armies, 1500 B.C.-A.D. 1840. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2006. Roberts, J. A. G. A History of China, Prehistory to c. 1800. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Turnbull, Stephen. Chinese Walled Cities, 221 B.C.-A.D. 1644. Illustrated by Steve Noon. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2009. Eternal Emperor: Emperor Wu Zetian in the Tang Dynasty. Documentary. Peninsula Audiovisual Press, 2007. Khubilai Khan: Fall of the Mongol Hordes. Documentary. Atlantic Productions, 2005. The Warrior. Feature film. Sony Pictures, 2001.
China: The Qing Empire
China: Modern Warfare
India and South Asia: Medieval