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The Military of Ancient China
China had a great need for a powerful military. Not only were armies needed to control the vast territories of China and to defeat internal rivals, but ancient China was also surrounded by potential enemies. Different Ethnic groups within ancient China such as the Qiang and Di vied for power. The settled nations around China resented the subordination, or outright annexation, that the Chinese attempted to thrust on them causing wars with groups like the Vietnamese and the Koreans. However it was the nomadic tribes to the West and North of China that caused the most problems.
A seemingly endless stream of tribal confederations and ethnic tribal groups invaded china from the heart of Asia since the founding of the civilization. At first the Chinese considered these “dog people” to be poor and week barbarians, using their dogs to trek meager supplies around a vast, endless wilderness. This all changed when Aryan invaders arrived on spoke wheeled chariots from the Eurasian Steppes (c 1700 BC). The strange warriors carried with them bronze weapons and a new form of mobility. The early settled Chinese Empires became proficient with the chariot however, the nomads had dumped the humble dog for the new form of transportation. The horse and the steppe nomads would form a close, symbiotic bond. Once the nomadic tribes learned to ride the horses their mobility and martial powers would give the Emperors of China nightmares. The steppe tribes consisted of a variety of ethnicities, Caucasian, Asian, Turkic and countless mixtures of them. They frequently warred against themselves, but occasionally a great confederation was formed and they would turn their horses towards the settled world. From the West came the Tibetans, Göktürks and Xionites. From the North and Northeast came the Xianbei, Donghu, Xiongnu, Jie, Khitan, Mongols, and later the Jurchens (manchu).
Early Chinese Armies & Xia Dynasty Warfare
Earliest Chinese armies consisted of conscripted peasants armed with simple bows, spears and stone maces. Eventually, a single family was able to dominate a portion of the Yellow River Valley. The history of the first of these dynasties, the Xia (2200 BCE-1600 BCE) is largely unknown and wrapped in mythology. In fact their existence is disputed by some, considered to be nothing more than a traditional legend. The regardless, the Chinese of the first steps of what would be a great civilization. Militarily they were the first in the Far East to use chariots and copper weapons, ideas brought by the steppe nomads from the Near East and Eurasian Steppes.
The Xia, and the following Shang and Zhou dynasties ruled territories that were much smaller than China today, equivalent to the size of a state in modern China. The armies created by these dynasties were comparatively small and unprofessional. A core of warrior elites dominated battles from their Chariots however, the early Chinese dynastic armies were poorly equipped and couldn’t manage long campaigns.
Shang Dynasty Military
The Shang Dynasty (1600 BC -1046 BC) is said to have amassed a thousand chariots to overthrow the Xia, this is certainly a greatly exaggerated figure. Perhaps 70 would be more appropriate. However, Chinese society was becoming stratified and the warrior elites who made up the chariot core had become an aristocracy. The chariots carried three people, an archer, warrior and driver. The archer had become equipped with the new and deadly but expensive compound bow. Another innovation borrowed from the derided steppe nomads, now called the Horse Barbarians and actively campaigned against. The warrior used a dagger-axe, a long handled axe with a dagger blade mounted on it. Chariots served as mobile command centers, firing platforms and shock forces. However, the bulk of the army was made up of agricultural laborers conscripted by nobles who were under the ruling dynasty. The feudal system that developed required these subservient lords to provide supplies, armor and weapons for the conscripts. The Shang king kept a force of around a thousand troops that he personally led in battle. A Shang king could muster an army of about five thousand for in border campaigns or call all his forces up in a grand army numbering around 13,000 to face down serious threats such as insurrection and invasion. Shang infantry were armed with an assortment of stone or bronze weapons, including spears, pole-axes, long handled dagger-axes and simple bows. For defense they used shields and occasionally bronze or leather helmets.
The infantry fought in massed formations under the banner of their noble or the Shang king himself. A rudimentary military bureaucracy was established in order to organize and supply these troops. The Shang rulers demanded a lot of bronze weapons and ceremonial vessels, required a lot of labor and expertise. This in turn spurred the economy as vast efforts were required for mining, refining, and the transportation of copper, tin, and lead ores.
The Zhou Dynasty Military
The Zhou Dynasty (1045 BC - 256 BC) followed the overthrew the Shang dynasty, proclaiming they had become corrupt and hedonistic. The mandate from heaven that gave a ruling dynasty its power was revoked when the Zhou defeated the Shang in battle. The Zhou dynasty is China’s longest lasting dynasty. During the Zhou advancements were made in writing and iron was introduced to China.
Early Zhou kings were true commanders-in-chiefs constantly at war with barbarians on behalf of their subordinate the fiefs, principalities and mini states. Militarily the early Zhou army was split into two major field armies, “The Six Armies of the west” and “The Eight Armies of Chengzhou”. The Zhou armies didn’t just campaigning against barbarian invasions though they also extended their rule over China and rival power Chinese powers. The Zhou reached their peak under King Zhao, conquering the central plains of China. King Zhao then invaded Southern China at the head of the Six Armies. However, he was killed when the Six Armies where wiped out by the Chu, a Southern Chinese state. The Zhou period saw the use of massed chariots in battle to an extent far exceeding the Shang Dynasty.
The power of the Zhou court gradually diminished due to internal rivalry and the growing ambition of the nobles. The kingdom fragmented into smaller states as leading nobles decided to create dynasties of their own. They no longer considered themselves vassals or dukes, but instead the heads of each dynastic family referred to himself as king. The Zhou dynasty persisted in a much reduced state through the turmoil of the following periods, Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, until finally dropping the title King of China after Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor was successful conquering the different warring states.
Warfare in China had become endemic during the Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC – 481 BC) as states broke away from the Zhou and consolidated their power. Zuo zhuan describes the wars and battles among these feudal lords turned kings. Warfare continued to be stylized and ceremonial even as it grew more violent and decisive. Massive pitched battles were fought between the four major states as they struggled for control of the others and the minor states. However, this was just a prelude to the even bloodier period that would follow.
Warring States Period Warfare
The Warring States Period (476 BCE - 221 BC), the former vassals of the Zhou began a long, bloody war for supremacy. Seven states now fought in a complex game of grand strategy as war became more intense, ruthless and much more decisive. The nature of war in China would never be the same. In this crucible of fire every aspect of Chinese warfare would be improved. Unlike the Spring and Autumn Period, armies in the Warring States Period used combined arms tactics where infantry, archers and cavalry all work in unison. Iron became widespread and replaced bronze in much of the weapons and armor of the era.
The first official native Chinese cavalry unit was formed in 307 BC by King Wuling of Zhao. But the war chariot still retained its prestige and importance, despite the tactical superiority of cavalry. King Wuling declared the adoption of "nomads attire with galloping marksmanship", fitting his cavalry with trousers instead of traditional Chinese robes and equipping them with bows.
The seven warring states fielded massive armies, sometimes with over almost two hundred thousand men, well beyond the size of the proceeding periods. Complex logistics were needed for such large forces, creating efficient government bureaucracies.
The Chinese probably borrowed the idea of the crossbow from the hill tribes they encountered in Vietnam. They then adapted it to their specifications, creating the preferred long range weapon during the Warring States Period. Crossbows could be easily produced and it was simple to train levy troops to use them.
Infantrymen continued to employ a variety of ancient weapons, now made of iron. The most popular continued to be the strange dagger-axe. Dagger-axes came in various lengths from 9 ft and were now used as thrusting spears with a slashing blade available if needed. The Qin particularly seemed to like the Dagger-axe, creating an eighteen foot long pike version. Swords and armor began to appear on the battle fields as well, although the swords were still typically made out of bronze. A typical heavy infantry man may have been equipped with armor consisting of a leather jerkin covered with playing card sized bronze plates and a hardened leather helmet. His main weaponry would be a polearm with an iron head and a bronze axe or dagger for a secondary weapon. Heavy infantry would have been formed up into large, close formations for battles.
Other innovations appeared on the water, massive river navies battled for control of the great rivers. The Chinese built floating fortresses that they maneuvered down the rivers into enemy territories accompanied by armadas. The fortress ships, complete with catapults, would then provide a stronghold in enemy territory. Fire ships were used to try to set them ablaze. These huge floating behemoths are like have no equal in western warfare, or any other for that matter.
The Warring States also was a time of advancement in military strategy. Sun Tzu is said to have written the The Art of War during this period. The Art of War is generally recognized today as the most influential military strategy guide in history. However, five other military writings from the time period were also produced. Together with The Art of War and a later work they are called the Seven Military Classics.
The Qin eventually became the dominate military and state. They then successfully played the other states against each other until in 221 BCE, Qin conquered the sole remaining unconquered warring state, Qi. Qi had not previously contributed to the efforts to counter the growing Qin power and when they stood alone they simply gave up. Qin Shi Huan had united China and become its first Emperor.
The Military of Imperial China
The Qin, under Qin Shi Huan, ushered in the Imperial Era of Chinese history. Although the Qin dynasty only ruled for only 15 years it set the stage for a centralized Chinese government. The institutions Qin established would last over a thousand years, serving many dynasties.
The Qin created China’s first professional army, replacing the unreliable peasants with career soldiers and replacing the aristocratic military leaders with proven professional generals. Taking this a step further, Qin actually stripped the lands of these aristocrats, making the fiefs loyal directly to him. Qin’s centralized, authoritarian state become the norm for China. Under the Qin and following Han Dynasties, troops conquered territories in all directions and established China's frontiers near their locations today. China was now unified and entered the golden age for Chinese history.[
Qin army formations and tactics can be gleaned from the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang found in the tomb of the First Emperor. Apparently, Qin wanted to take an army with him to the afterworld and settled on having a life size army reproduced for him out of terracotta. The formations revealed that light infantry were first deployed as shock troops and skirmishers. They were followed by the main body of the army, consisting of heavy infantry. Cavalry and chariots are positioned behind the heavy infantry, but they were probably used for flanking or charging the weakened armies of the other warring states.
The Qin and Han militaries used the most advanced weapons of the time. The sword, first introduced during the chaos of the Warring States Period became a favorite weapon. The Qin began producing stronger iron swords. Crossbows were also improved, becoming more powerful and accurate then even the compound bow. Another Chinese innovation allowed a crossbow to be rendered useless simply by removing two pins, preventing enemies from capturing a working model. The stirrup was adopted at this time, a seemingly simple but very useful invention was also implemented. Stirrups gave cavalry men greater balance and crucially allowed them to leverage the weight of the horse in a charge, without being knocked off.
During the Qin Dynasty and the succeeding, Han Dynasty, an old threat returned with a vengeance. The “Horse Barbarians” to the North had formed new confederations, such as the Xiongnu . The warriors grew up in the saddle and were unmatched in their skill with the powerful compound bow, able to consistently shoot a man in the eye at a full gallop. These nomadic warriors used their mobile mounted archers in large, quick raids into the settled lands of China. They would then retreat after creating much devastation and taking all to the loot they could carry back into the steppes before the infantry heavy Chinese military was unable to react.
In order to counter the threat from the nomadic invaders the Qin began construction of the Great Wall. The idea of creating a long static barrier to prevent incursions was revisited by Chinese rulers and construction continued up to the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD- 1662 AD). The walls and fortification would be an astonishing 5,500 miles long, when counting all of its branches. However, the wall ultimately failed in its goal to keep the barbarians at bay.
The Qin and succeeding dynasties had more success using a combination of bribes and diplomacy. This strategy focused on keeping the nomads divided, the Chinese would bribe a faction to fight another and even assist one faction in its war against an enemy tribe or coalition. However, the Han took a more aggressive approach. They used massive cavalry armies, a new development in Chinese warfare to crush the tribes on their home territory. The cavalry armies proved to be formidable, conquering large areas of Mongolia, Korea and Central Asia.
The Chinese conquest of Central Asia had put an end to the harassment by nomadic tribes in the area. This allowed for the linking Chinese and Persian trade routes. In a 79 AD ribbon cutting ceremony at Chang'an Emperor Wu cut a silk ribbon with a pair of gold scissors to officially open the Silk Road. (Note, this is the only place in the world that the ceremony has ever been so much as mentioned and that no other evidence for it exists). Products could now move from China to the Roman Empire and the ruling Chinese dynasties profited greatly from the silk trade.
The Han had broken the Xiongnu, sending them fleeing to the West. It is theorized that their ancestors emerged as the Huns on the other side of central Asia four hundred years later. However, other nomadic tribes were quick to fill the power vacuum. The victorious Chinese armies now had to hold the conquered territories and there were frequent revolts against Chinese rule.
Despite suffering occasional defeats, the Chinese maintained a strong military throughout most of their imperial history. After the fall of the Han Dynasty the army became increasingly feudal, this process was accelerated during the invasions of the Wu Hu during the 4th century as the central government became more dependent on the provinces for military power. Wu Hu, meaning ‘five barbarian tribes’ took control of Northern china and feudalism continued through the following Southern and Northern Dynasties period (420). During the following Sui and Tang dynasties ((589 AD - 907 AD) Chinese forces were able to reunite the country and restore the frontiers to where they where during the Han dynasty, ushering in a second imperial golden age. The military success of Sui and Tang, like the earlier Han, was the use of large cavalry forces. The powerful cavalry units combined with the defensive capabilities of their heavy infantry and firepower of their crossbowmen resulted in the Chinese army dominating its opposition during this period. The professionalism of the military was also restored and China created its first military academies during this period. However, during the following Song Dynasty the military again weekend as the ruling dynasty felt threatened by the military establishment. Despite this military advancements continued and the Chinese pioneered the next generation of weapons, developing gunpowder weapons such as the fire-lance and grenades. China’s military power eroded under the Song Dynasty, particularly in the critical area of cavalry. Chinese armies soon suffered disastrous defeats at the hands of the Mongols under Kublai Khan (1215 AD) . The Mongols were the premiere fighting force of the day, their conquests spanned from China to Europe and the Middle East.
China was then ruled by the Great Khan, Kublai, who foundf the Yuan Dynasty. The Yuan incorporated Chinese gunpowder units into their military, which bring us to the age of fire arms and the end of ancient Chinese warfare. It is worth noting however that Chinese culture was able to do what the military couldn’t, the Yuan Dynasty became Chinese in almost every way .
Ancient China produced what has become the oldest extant culture in the world. The name 'China' comes from the Sanskrit Cina (derived from the name of the Chinese Qin Dynasty, pronounced 'Chin') which was translated as 'Cin' by the Persians and seems to have become popularized through trade along the Silk Road.
The Romans and the Greeks knew the country as 'Seres', “the land where silk comes from”. The name 'China' does not appear in print in the west until 1516 CE in Barbosa's journals narrating his travels in the east (though the Europeans had long known of China through trade via the Silk Road). Marco Polo, the famous explorer who familiarized China to Europe in the 13th century CE, referred to the land as 'Cathay. In Mandarin Chinese, the country is known as 'Zhongguo' meaning "central state" or "middle empire".
Well before the advent of recognizable civilization in the region, the land was occupied by hominids. Peking Man, a skull fossil discovered in 1927 CE near Beijing, lived in the area between 700,000 to 300,000 years ago, and Yuanmou Man, whose remains were found in Yuanmou in 1965 CE, inhabited the land 1.7 million years ago. Evidence uncovered with these finds shows that these early inhabitants knew how to fashion stone tools and use fire.
While it is commonly accepted that human beings originated in Africa and then migrated to other points around the globe, China's paleoanthropologists "support the theory of 'regional evolution' of the origin of man" (China.org) which claims an independent basis for the birth of human beings. "The Shu Ape, a primate weighing only 100 to 150 grams and being similar to a mouse in size, lived [in China] in the Middle Eocene Epoch 4.5 to 4 million years ago. Its discovery posed a great challenge to the theory of African origin of the human race" (China.org). This challenge is considered plausible due to genetic links between the Shu Ape fossil and both advanced and lower primates, standing, then, as a 'missing link' in the evolutionary process.
However one interprets this data (the Chinese conclusions have been disputed by the international community), the solid evidence provided by other finds substantiates a very ancient lineage of hominids and homo sapiens in China and a high level of sophistication in early culture. One example of this is Banpo Village, near Xi'an, discovered in 1953 CE. Banpo is a Neolithic village which was inhabited between 4500 and 3750 BCE and comprises 45 houses with floors sunk into the ground for greater stability. A trench encircling the village provided both protection from attack and drainage (while also helping to fence in domestic animals) while man-made caves dug underground were used to store food. The design of the village, and the artifacts discovered there (such as pottery and tools), argue for a very advanced culture at the time it was constructed.
It has generally been accepted that the Chinese 'Cradle of Civilization' is the Yellow River Valley which gave rise to villages sometime around 5000 BCE. While this has been disputed, and arguments have been made for the more widespread development of communities, there is no doubt that the Henan province, in the Yellow River Valley, was the site of many early villages and farming communities.
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In 2001 CE, archaeologists uncovered two skeletons "buried in a collapsed house, which was covered with a thick layer of silt deposits from the Yellow River. In the layer of deposits, archaeologists found more than 20 skeletons, an altar, a square, pottery, and stone and jade utensils" (Chinapage.org). This site was only one of many prehistoric villages in the area.
The First Dynasties
From these small villages and farming communities grew centralized government the first of which was the prehistoric Xia Dynasty (c. 2070-1600 BCE). The Xia Dynasty was considered, for many years, more myth than fact until excavations in the 1960s and 1970s CE uncovered sites which argued strongly for its existence. Bronze works and tombs clearly point to an evolutionary period of development between disparate Stone Age villages and a recognizable cohesive civilization.
The dynasty was founded by the legendary Yu the Great who worked relentlessly for 13 years to control the flooding of the Yellow River which routinely destroyed the farmer's crops. He was so focused on his work that it was said he did not return home once in all those years, even though he seems to have passed by his house on at least three occasions, and this dedication inspired others to follow him.
After he had controlled the flooding, Yu conquered the Sanmiao tribes and was named successor (by the then-ruler, Shun), reigning until his death. Yu established the hereditary system of succession and thereby the concept of dynasty which has become most familiar. The ruling class and the elite lived in urban clusters while the peasant population, which supported the elite's lifestyle, remained largely agrarian, living in rural areas. Yu's son, Qi, ruled after him and power remained in the hands of the family until the last Xia ruler, Jie, was overthrown by Tang who established the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE).
Tang was from the kingdom of Shang. The dates popularly assigned to him (1675-1646 BCE) do not in any way correspond to the known events in which he took part and must be considered erroneous. What is known is that he was the ruler, or at least a very important personage, in the kingdom of Shang who, around 1600 BCE, led a revolt against Jie and defeated his forces at the Battle of Mingtiao.
The extravagance of the Xia court and the resultant burden on the populace is thought to have led to this uprising. Tang then assumed leadership of the land, lowered taxes, suspended the grandiose building projects begun by Jie (which were draining the kingdom of resources) and ruled with such wisdom and efficiency that art and culture were allowed to flourish. Writing developed under the Shang Dynasty as well as bronze metallurgy, architecture, and religion.
Prior to the Shang, the people worshipped many gods with one supreme god, Shangti, as head of the pantheon (the same pattern found in other cultures). Shangti was considered 'the great ancestor' who presided over victory in war, agriculture, the weather, and good government. Because he was so remote and so busy, however, the people seem to have required more immediate intercessors for their needs and so the practice of ancestor worship began.
When someone died, it was thought, they attained divine powers and could be called upon for assistance in times of need (similar to the Roman belief in the parentes). This practice led to highly sophisticated rituals dedicated to appeasing the spirits of the ancestors which eventually included ornate burials in grand tombs filled with all one would need to enjoy a comfortable afterlife.
The king, in addition to his secular duties, served as chief officiate and mediator between the living and the dead and his rule was considered ordained by divine law. Although the famous Mandate of Heaven was developed by the later Zhou Dynasty, the idea of linking a just ruler with divine will has its roots in the beliefs fostered by the Shang.
The Zhou Dynasty
Around the year 1046 BCE, King Wu (r. 1046-1043 BCE), of the province of Zhou, rebelled against King Zhou of Shang and defeated his forces at the Battle of Muye, establishing the Zhou Dynasty (1046- 256 BCE). 1046-771 BCE marks the Western Zhou Period while 771-256 BCE marks the Eastern Zhou Period. Wu rebelled against the ruling Shang after the king of Shang killed his older brother unjustly. The Mandate of Heaven was invoked by Wu and his family to legitimize the revolt as he felt the Shang were no longer acting in the interests of the people and so had forfeited the mandate between the monarchy and the god of law, order, and justice, Shangti.
The Mandate of Heaven was thus defined as the gods' blessing on a just ruler and rule by divine mandate. When the government no longer served the will of the gods, that government would be overthrown. Further, it was stipulated that there could be only one legitimate ruler of China and that his rule should be legitimized by his proper conduct as a steward of the lands entrusted him by heaven. Rule could be passed from father to son but only if the child possessed the necessary virtue to rule. This mandate would later be often manipulated by various rulers entrusting succession to unworthy progeny.
Under the Zhou, culture flourished and civilization spread. Writing was codified and iron metallurgy became increasingly sophisticated. The greatest and best-known Chinese philosophers and poets, Confucius, Mencius, Mo Ti (Mot Zu), Lao-Tzu, Tao Chien, and the military strategist Sun-Tzu (if he existed as depicted), all come from the Zhou period in China and the time of the Hundred Schools of Thought.
The chariot, which was introduced to the land under the Shang, became more fully developed by the Zhou. It should be noted that these periods and dynasties did not begin nor end as neatly as they seem to in history books and the Zhou Dynasty shared many qualities with the Shang (including language and religion). While historians find it necessary, for clarity's sake, to break events into periods, the Zhou Dynasty remained extant through the following recognized periods known as The Spring and Autumn Period and The Warring States Period.
The Spring & Autumn Period & The Warring States
During the Spring and Autumn Period (c. 772-476 BCE and so called from the Spring and Autumn Annals, the official chronicle of the state at the time and an early source mentioning General Sun-Tzu), the Zhou government became decentralized in their move to the new capital at Luoyang, marking the end of the 'Western Zhou' period and the beginning of 'Eastern Zhou'. This is the period most noted for advances in philosophy, poetry, and the arts and saw the rise of Confucian, Taoist, and Mohist thought.
At the same time, however, the different states were breaking away from central rule by Luoyang and proclaiming themselves sovereign. This, then, led to the so-called Warring States Period (c. 481-221 BCE) in which seven states fought with each other for control. The seven states were Chu, Han, Qi, Qin, Wei, Yan, and Zhao, all of whom considered themselves sovereign but none of whom felt confident in claiming the Mandate of Heaven still held by the Zhou of Luoyang. All seven of the states used the same tactics and observed the same rules of conduct in battle and so none could gain the advantage over the others.
This situation was exploited by the pacifist philosopher Mo Ti, a skilled engineer, who made it his mission to provide each state with equal knowledge of fortifications and siege ladders in hopes of neutralizing any one state's advantage and so ending the war. His efforts were unsuccessful however and, between 262 and 260 BCE, the state of Qin gained supremacy over Zhao, finally defeating them at The Battle of Changping.
A Qin statesman by the name of Shang Yang (d. 338 BCE), a great believer in efficiency and law, had recast the Qin understanding of warfare to focus on victory at any cost. Whether Sun-Tzu or Shang Yang is to be credited with the reformation of military protocol and strategy in China depends on one's acceptance of Sun-Tzu's historicity. Whether Sun-Tzu existed as people claim, however, it is very probable that Shang Yang was acquainted with the famous work, The Art of War, which bears Sun-Tzu's name as author.
Prior to these reforms, Chinese warfare was considered a nobleman's game of skill with very set rules dictated by courtesy and the perceived will of heaven. One did not attack the weak or the unprepared and one was expected to delay engagement until an opponent had mobilized and formed ranks on the field. Shang advocated total war in pursuit of victory and counseled taking the enemies' forces by whatever means lay at hand. Shang's principles were known in Qin and made use of at Changping (where over 450,000 captured Zhao soldiers were executed after the battle) giving the Qin the advantage they had been waiting for.
Still, they did not make further effective use of these tactics until the rise of Ying Zheng, King of Qin. Utilizing Shang's directives, and with an army of considerable size using iron weapons and driving chariots, Ying Zheng emerged from the Warring States conflict supreme in 221 BCE, subduing and unifying the other six states under his rule and proclaiming himself Shi Huangdi -`First Emperor' - of China.
The Qin Dynasty
Shi Huangdi thus established the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), initiating the period known as the Imperial Era in China (221 BCE-1912 CE) when dynasties ruled the land. He ordered the destruction of the walled fortifications which had separated the different states and commissioned the building of a great wall along the northern border of his kingdom. Though little remains today of Shi Huangdi's original wall, The Great Wall of China was begun under his rule.
It stretched for over 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles) across hill and plain, from the boundaries of Korea in the east to the troublesome Ordos Desert in the west. It was an enormous logistical undertaking, though for much of its course it incorporated lengths of earlier walls built by the separate Chinese kingdoms to defend their northern frontiers in the fourth and third centuries. (Scarre and Fagan, 382)
Shi Huangdi also strengthened the infrastructure through road building which helped to increase trade through the ease of travel.
Five trunk roads led from the imperial capital at Xianyang, each provided with police forces and posting stations. Most of these roads were of rammed-earth construction and were 15 metres (50 feet) wide. The longest ran southwest over 7,500 kilometres (4,500 miles) to the frontier region of Yunnan. So precipitous was the countryside that sections of the road had to be built out from vertical cliff faces on projecting timber galleries. (Scarre and Fagan, 382)
Shi Huangdi also expanded the boundaries of his empire, built the Grand Canal in the south, redistributed land and, initially, was a fair and just ruler.
While he made great strides in building projects and military campaigns, his rule became increasingly characterized by a heavy hand in domestic policy. Claiming the Mandate from Heaven, he suppressed all philosophies save the Legalism which had been developed by Shang Yang and, heeding the counsel of his chief advisor, Li Siu, he ordered the destruction of any history or philosophy books which did not correspond to Legalism, his family line, the state of Qin, or himself.
Since books were then written on strips of bamboo fastened with swivel pins, and a volume might be of some weight, the scholars who sought to evade the order were put to many difficulties. A number of them were detected tradition says that many of them were sent to labor on the Great Wall, and that four hundred and sixty were put to death. Nevertheless some of the literati memorized the complete works of Confucius and passed them on by word of mouth to equal memories. (Durant, 697)
This act, along with Shi Huangdi's suppression of general freedoms, including freedom of speech, made him progressively more unpopular. The ancestor worship of the past and the land of the dead began to interest the emperor more than his realm of the living and Shi Huangdi became increasingly engrossed in what this other world consisted of and how he might avoid traveling there. He seems to have developed an obsession with death, became increasingly paranoid regarding his personal safety, and ardently sought after immortality.
His desire to provide for himself an afterlife commensurate with his present one led him to commission a palace built for his tomb and an army of over 8,000 terracotta warriors created to serve him in eternity. This ceramic army, buried with him, also included terracotta chariots, cavalry, a commander in chief, and assorted birds and animals. He is said to have died in 210 BCE while on a quest for an elixir of immortality and Li Siu, hoping to gain control of the government, kept his death a secret until he could alter his will to name his pliable son, Hu-Hai, as heir.
This plan proved untenable, however, as the young prince showed himself to be quite unstable, executing many, and initiating a widespread rebellion in the land. Shortly after Shi Huangdi' s death, the Qin Dynasty quickly collapsed through the intrigue and ineptitude of people like Hu-Hai, Li Siu, and another advisor, Zhao Gao, and the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) began with the accession of Liu-Bang.
The Chu-Han Contention
With the fall of the Qin Dynasty, China was plunged into the chaos known as the Chu-Han Contention (206-202 BCE). Two generals emerged among the forces which rebelled against the Qin: Liu-Bang of Han (l. c. 256-195 BCE) and General Xiang-Yu of Chu (l. 232-202 BCE), who fought for control of the government. Xiang-Yu, who had proven himself the most formidable opponent of the Qin, awarded Liu-Bang the title of 'King of the Han' in recognition of Liu-Bang's decisive defeat of the Qin forces at their capital of Xianyang.
The two former allies quickly became antagonists, however, in the power struggle known as the Chu-Han contention until Xiang-Yu negotiated the Treaty of Hong Canal and brought a temporary peace. Xiang-Yu suggested dividing China under the rule of the Chu in the east and the Han in the west, but Liu-Bang wanted a united China under Han rule and, breaking the treaty, resumed hostilities. At the Battle of Gaixia in 202 BCE, Liu-Bang's great general, Han-Xin, trapped and defeated the forces of Chu under Xiang-Yu and Liu-Bang was proclaimed emperor (known to posterity as Emperor Gaozu of Han). Xiang-Yu committed suicide but his family was allowed to live and even serve in government positions.
The new emperor Gaozu treated all of his former adversaries with respect and united the land under his rule. He pushed back the nomadic Xiongnu tribes, who had been making incursions into China, and made peace with the other states which had risen in rebellion against the failing Qin Dynasty. The Han Dynasty (which derives its name from Liu-Bang's home in Hanzhong province) would rule China, with a brief interruption, for the next 400 years, from 202 BCE to 220 CE. The Han is divided into two periods: Western Han - 202 BCE-9 CE and Eastern Han - 25 -220 CE.
The Han Dynasty
The resultant peace initiated by Gaozu brought the stability necessary for culture to again thrive and grow. Trade with the west began during this time and arts and technology increased in sophistication. The Han are considered the first dynasty to write their history down but, as Shi Huangdi destroyed so many of the written records of those who came before him, this claim is often disputed. There is no doubt, however, that great advances were made under the Han in every area of culture.
The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine, China's earliest written record on medicine was codified during the Han Dynasty. Paper was invented at this time and writing became more sophisticated. Gaozu embraced Confucianism and made it the exclusive philosophy of the government, setting a pattern which would continue on to the present day.
Even so, unlike Shi Huangdi, he did not legislate philosophy for others. He practiced tolerance for all other philosophies and, as a result, literature and education flourished under his reign. He reduced taxes and disbanded his army who, nevertheless, rallied without delay when called upon.
After his death in 195 BCE, his wife, Empress Lu Zhi (l. 241-180 BCE), installed a series of puppet kings, beginning with the crown prince Liu Ying (Emperor Hui, r. 195-188 BCE), who served her interests but still continued his policies. These programmes maintained stability and culture enabling the greatest of the Han emperors, Wu Ti (also known as Wu the Great, r. 141- 87 BCE), to embark on his enterprises of expansion, public works, and cultural initiatives. He sent his emissary Zhang Qian to the west in 138 BCE which resulted in the official opening of the Silk Road in 130 BCE.
Confucianism was further incorporated as the official doctrine of the government and Wu Ti established schools throughout the empire to foster literacy and teach Confucian precepts. He also reformed transportation, roads, and trade and decreed many other public projects, employing millions as state workers in these undertakings. After Wu Ti, his successors, more or less, maintained his vision for China and enjoyed equal success.
Increase in wealth led to the rise of large estates and general prosperity but, for the peasants who worked the land, life became increasingly difficult. In 9 CE, the acting regent, Wang Mang (l. 45 BCE-23 CE), usurped control of the government claiming the Mandate of Heaven for himself and declaring an end to the Han Dynasty. Wang Mang founded the Xin Dynasty (9-23 CE) on a platform of extensive land reform and redistribution of wealth.
He initially had enormous support from the peasant population and was opposed by the landowners. His programs, however, were poorly conceived and executed resulting in widespread unemployment and resentment. Uprisings, and extensive flooding of the Yellow River, further destabilized Wang Mang's rule and he was assassinated by an angry mob of the peasants on whose behalf he had ostensibly seized the government and initiated his reforms.
The Fall of Han & Rise of The Xin Dynasty
The rise of the Xin Dynasty ended the period known as Western Han and its demise led to the establishment of the Eastern Han period. Emperor Guangwu (r. 25-57 CE) returned the lands to the wealthy estate owners and restored order in the land, maintaining the policies of the earlier Western Han rulers. Guangwu, in reclaiming lands lost under the Xin Dynasty, was forced to spend much of his time putting down rebellions and re-establishing Chinese rule in the regions of modern-day Korea and Vietnam.
The Trung Sisters Rebellion of 39 CE in Vietnam, led by two sisters, required “ten odd thousands of men” (according to the official state record of Han) and four years to put down. Even so, the emperor consolidated his rule and even expanded his boundaries, providing stability which gave rise to an increase in trade and prosperity. By the time of Emperor Zhang (r. 75-88 CE), China was so prosperous that it was partners in trade with all the major nations of the day and continued in this way after his death. The Romans under Marcus Aurelius, in 166 CE, considered Chinese silk more precious than gold and paid China whatever price was asked.
Disputes between the landed gentry and the peasants, however, continued to cause problems for the government as exemplified in the Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion (142 CE) and the Yellow Turban Rebellion (184 CE). While the Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion began as a religious movement, it involved a large number of the peasant class at odds with the Confucian ideals of the government and the elite. Both of these revolts were in response to governmental neglect of the people which worsened as the late Han Dynasty became increasingly corrupt and ineffective. The leaders of both rebellions claimed that the Han had forfeited the Mandate of Heaven and should abdicate.
The power of the government to control the people began to disintegrate until full-scale revolt erupted throughout the country as the Yellow Turban Rebellion gained momentum. Han generals were sent to put the rebellion down but, as soon as one enclave was crushed, another would spring up. The revolt was finally put down by the general Cao Cao (l. 155- 220 CE). Cao Cao and his former friend and ally Yuan-Shao (d. 202 CE) then fought each other for control of the land with Cao Cao emerging victorious in the north.
Cao attempted a complete unification of China by invading the south but was defeated at the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 CE, leaving China divided into three separate kingdoms - Cao Wei, Eastern Wu, and Shu Han - each of which claimed the Mandate of Heaven. This era is known as the Period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280 CE), a time of violence, instability, and uncertainty which would later inspire some of the greatest works in Chinese literature.
The Han Dynasty was now a memory and other, shorter-lived dynasties (such as the Wei and Jin, the Wu Hu, and the Sui) assumed control of the government in turn and initiated their own platforms from roughly 208-618 CE. The Sui Dynasty (589-618 CE) finally succeeded in reuniting China in 589 CE. The importance of the Sui Dynasty is in its implementation of highly efficient bureaucracy which streamlined the operation of government and led to greater ease in maintaining the empire. Under the Emperor Wen, and then his son, Yang, the Grand Canal was completed, the Great Wall was enlarged and portions rebuilt, the army was increased to the largest recorded in the world at that time, and coinage was standardized across the realm.
Literature flourished and it is thought that the famous Legend of Hua Mulan, about a young girl who takes her father's place in the army and saves the country, was developed at this time (though the original poem is thought to have been composed during the Northern Wei Period, 386-535 CE). Unfortunately, both Wen and Yang were not content with domestic stability and organized massive expeditions against the Korean peninsula. Wen had already bankrupted the treasury through his building projects and military campaigns and Yang followed his father's example and failed equally in his attempts at military conquest. Yang was assassinated in 618 CE which then sparked the uprising of Li-Yuan who took control of the government and called himself Emperor Gao-Tzu of Tang (r. 618-626 CE).
The Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) is considered the 'golden age' of Chinese civilization. Gao-Tzu prudently maintained and improved upon the bureaucracy initiated by the Sui Dynasty while dispensing with extravagant military operations and building projects. With minor modifications, the bureaucratic policies of the Tang Dynasty are still in use in Chinese government in the modern day.
Despite his efficient rule, Gao-Tzu was deposed by his son, Li-Shimin, in 626 CE. Having assassinated his father, Li-Shimin then killed his brothers and others of the noble house and assumed the title Emperor Taizong (r. 626-649 CE). After the bloody coup, however, Taizong decreed that Buddhist temples be built at the sites of the battles and that the fallen should be memorialized.
Continuing, and building upon, the concepts of ancestor worship and the Mandate of Heaven, Taizong claimed divine will in his actions and intimated that those he had killed were now his counselors in the afterlife. As he proved to be a remarkably efficient ruler, as well as a skilled military strategist and warrior, his coup went unchallenged and he set about the task of governing his vast empire.
Taizong followed his father's precepts in keeping much of what was good from the Sui Dynasty and improving upon it. This can be seen especially in Taizong's legal code which drew heavily on Sui concepts but expanded them for specificity of crime and punishment. He ignored his father's model of foreign policy, however, and embarked on a series of successful military campaigns which extended and secured his empire and also served to spread his legal code and Chinese culture.
Taizong was succeeded by his son Gaozong (r. 649-683 CE) whose wife, Wu Zetian, would become China's first - and only - female monarch. Empress Wu Zetian (r. 690-704 CE) initiated a number of policies which improved the living conditions in China and strengthened the position of the emperor. She also made ample use of a secret police force and highly efficient channels of communication to stay always one step ahead of her enemies, both foreign and domestic.
Trade flourished within the empire and, along the Silk Road, with the West. Rome having now fallen, the Byzantine Empire became a prime buyer of Chinese silk. By the time of the rule of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756 CE) China was the largest, most populous, and most prosperous country in the world. Owing to the large population, armies of many thousands of men could be conscripted into service and military campaigns against Turkish nomads or domestic rebels were swift and successful. Art, technology, and science all flourished under the Tang Dynasty (although the high point in the sciences is considered to be the later Sung Dynasty of 960-1234 CE) and some of the most impressive pieces of Chinese sculpture and silverwork come from this period.
The Fall of Tang & Rise of the Song Dynasty
Still, the central government was not universally admired and regional uprisings were a regular concern. The most important of these was the An Shi Rebellion (also known as the An Lushan Rebellion) of 755 CE. General An Lushan, a favorite of the imperial court, recoiled against what he saw as excessive extravagance in government. With a force of over 100,000 troops, he rebelled and declared himself the new emperor by the precepts of the Mandate of Heaven.
Although his revolt was put down by 763 CE, the underlying causes of the insurrection and further military actions continued to plague the government through 779 CE. The most apparent consequence of An Lushan's rebellion was a dramatic reduction in the population of China. It has been estimated that close to 36 million people died as a direct result of the rebellion, either in battle, in reprisals, or through disease and lack of resources.
Trade suffered, taxes went uncollected, and the government, which had fled Chang'an when the revolt began, was ineffective in maintaining any kind of significant presence. The Tang Dynasty continued to suffer from domestic revolts and, after the Huang Chao Rebellion (874-884 CE) never recovered. The country broke apart into the period known as The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960 CE), with each regime claiming for itself legitimacy, until the rise of the Song Dynasty (aka Sung).
With the Song, China became stable once again and institutions, laws, and customs were further codified and integrated into the culture. Neo-Confucianism became the most popular philosophy of the country, influencing these laws and customs, and shaping the culture of China recognizable in the modern day. Still, in spite of advances in every area of civilization and culture, the age-old strife between wealthy landowners and the peasants who worked that land continued throughout the following centuries.
Periodic peasant revolts were crushed as quickly as possible, but no remedies for the people's grievances were ever offered, and each military action continued to deal with the symptom of the problem instead of the problem itself. In 1949 CE, Mao Tse Tung led the people's revolution in China, toppling the government and instituting the People's Republic of China on the premise that, finally, everyone would be equally affluent.
Military History: Could Russia and China Form a Naval Alliance?
This is the kind of Sino-Russian cooperation that Washington does not want to see.
Key point: Russia and China keep increasing their cooperation. Is there any way it will ever end?
Many have speculated on the possibility of a Russia-China alliance. At a forum in China not long ago, I distinctly remember a senior Chinese specialist commenting: “The U.S. has many allies. China can also have allies.” Yet the prevailing conventional wisdom among specialists is that this is unlikely to occur. While keeping my mind open to various possibilities, I myself have been quite skeptical. After all, how could they really help one another? Russia is not going to count on the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy in the midst of a contest for the Baltic any more than the Chinese are going to count on the Russian Navy turning the tide in the South China Sea.
Conceivably, an upgraded security partnership joining the Asian giants could lead to military-industrial efficiencies. They are already jointly developing a heavy-lift helicopter, but what if they genuinely cooperated in the fabrication of bombers and destroyers too? Or even submarines and aircraft carriers? Few have seriously entertained this possibility and it still seems far-fetched. However, a recent article in the newspaper Independent Military Review [Независимое военное обозрение] by Russian military specialist Alexander Shirokorad [Александр Широкорад] seems to blow through the generally pervasive skepticism. Not only does this author embrace the notion of joint Russia-China air and missile defense for the Arctic, but he also unexpectedly floats the entirely new concept of allowing Chinese submarines, nuclear-armed “boomers” or SSBNs at that, to gain critical support from Russian Arctic ports.
To be sure, the idea seems quite preposterous at first glance. Both countries are extremely touchy regarding sovereignty issues. Russians, so it would seem, would not be eager for China to gain a military foothold in this ultra-sensitive area along Russia’s northern flank. Meanwhile, China has only one military base overseas in Djibouti and has almost no experience with the hazardous maritime (let alone undersea) environment on the roof of the world. And yet, there could actually be a basis for investigating this admittedly eccentric proposition. Chinese strategists have previously discussed the Arctic as a Russia-China cooperative zone of strategic “resistance space [对抗的空间” to U.S. pressure, and I have previously noted China’s evident interest in studying submarine maneuvers through the ice.
Let us explore the Russian military analyst Shirokorad’s logic. He begins with a mystery, noting the slightly bizarre comments of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland during early May. According to the Russian analyst, Pompeo “broke out into an angry tirade aimed at the Celestial Kingdom [разразился гневной тирадой в адрес Поднебесной],” explaining that he accused Beijing of trying to turn the Arctic into the South China Sea. Noting the peculiarity of the chief American diplomat’s apparent fixation with the Northern Sea Route (NSR), Shirokorad observes caustically: “Taking into account the geography of American trade routes, ship owners from the United States are no more concerned about the Northern Sea Route than flying to Mars.”
Shirokorad, who has significant knowledge of both submarine operations and also the Arctic region, then throws Pompeo a “life-line,” suggesting that the secretary of state was merely reflecting the notion articulated in the most recent Department of Defense report on Chinese military power: “[Beijing’s military plans for the Arctic] could include deploying submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attacks.” Notably, the very next sentence of that U.S. government report hints at possible Russia-China frictions along the NSR, for example, with respect to the deployment of non-Russian ice-breakers along that route.
Somewhat surprisingly, this Russian military analyst asserts that American concerns are actually logical from the standpoint of nuclear and naval strategy. Offering a short course on Cold War ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) strategy, he explains that Soviet admirals were duly embarrassed in 1962 when “all the Russian rocket submarines turned out to be useless due to the American ASW system [все советские ракетные подводные лодки оказались бессильными перед американской системой ПЛО].” While Soviet submarines could effectively threaten European cities, Kremlin strategists were perturbed by U.S. deployments of American SSBNs to bases at Holy Loch (UK), Rota (Spain) and also Pearl Harbor. From these advanced bases, they could easily access their patrol areas and range all Soviet homeland targets.
By contrast, “in order to fire their weapons and hit U.S. territory, Soviet submarines had to travel 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers to reach patrol areas and then make the return journey [для применения оружия по территории США советским подводным ракетоносцам приходилось совершать 7–8-тысячекилометровые переходы до районов боевого патрулирования и обратно].” Of course, increasing missile ranges allowed the Soviets to favorably alter those patrol areas, so that eventually they could even hit U.S. targets from “essentially pier side [фактически от пирсов.].” This trend enabled the Soviet Navy to utilize natural geography and climate. By the 1980s, the Soviet Navy regularly sent SSBN patrols under the ice of the Arctic. Searching out Russian ‘boomers’ in the “ice jungle” of the Arctic proved more than a little challenging, even for the U.S. Navy that pioneered such operations with the famous Nautilus. Shirokorod explains that Russian SSBNs were capable of breaking through ice up to two meters thick in order to unleash their salvo nuclear-armed missiles.
Turning back to China’s undersea deterrent and potential parallels to earlier Soviet naval dilemmas, this Russian military expert observes that, geographically, the Chinese coast is a “huge distance [огромное расстояние]” from targets in the American heartland. Moreover, he assesses Chinese SSBNs as highly vulnerable to adversary forces in the open ocean areas of the Asia-Pacific.
Here is where he drops the bombshell, or perhaps more accurately, the depth bomb. He asserts, “In venturing to the Arctic, the Chinese ‘immediately kill two birds with one stone’: significantly decreasing vulnerability and simultaneously reducing the distance to potential targets [Выйдя в Арктику, китайцы ‘убивают сразу двух зайцев’: резко уменьшается уязвимость их лодок и в разы сокращается дистанция до потенциальных целей].” He estimates that Arctic deployments of the Chinese SSBN force would reduce missile flight distances by 3.5 times.
If it’s not disturbing enough to see such an idea discussed openly in a major Russian newspaper, then Shirokorod actually goes a couple of steps further down the path of the New Cold War. “In the future, the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China may also begin to create a joint anti-aircraft system and anti-missile defense system in the Arctic . . . [В перспективе РФ и КНР могут приступить и к созданию в Арктике совместной системы противовоздушной (ПВО) и противоракетной (ПРО) обороны],” he writes. After all, he reasons, the United States has been “planning to undertake strikes” via the Arctic against both China and Russia since the 1950s.
That cooperation in air and missile defense could also support the submarine component of Russia-China strategic cooperation in the Arctic is reasonably clear, but the analyst then makes the most extraordinary statement in this regard: “on our Arctic islands, the Chinese can deploy supply and communications systems for their strategic missile submarines. [на наших арктических островах китайцы могут развернуть систему снабжения и связи своих подводных ракетоносцев].” In the final paragraph of the essay, Shirokorod asks if such steps could endanger Russia and answers his own question emphatically: “Definitely not [Однозначно нет].”
In closing, it must be emphasized that this article’s importance should not be exaggerated. The musings of a single Russian strategist do not equal a new approach to Russia-China strategic cooperation, let alone a concrete bilateral military cooperation agreement on the deployment of the most prized, nuclear assets. Neither Moscow nor Beijing have given anything close to an official imprimatur to such eccentric ideas. And yet there is a small possibility that this one vision of the future could reach fruition in coming decades if current trends toward cold war are not reversed. Moscow would have its fully built out Arctic infrastructure (both military and commercial) with ample Chinese capital and engineering assistance. In return, Beijing would gain a reliable way to strike America and thus enhance its nuclear deterrent.
History of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
In 1919, the May 4th Movement against imperialism and feudalism broke out in China. It awoke the Chinese people in an unprecedented way. A large number of revolutionary intellectuals who believed in Marxism including Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and Mao Zedong set up communist groups across the country to spread Marxism and organize workers' movements. Marxism was thus integrated with the Chinese workers' movements, laying a foundation for the establishment of the CPC. The Communist Party of China was founded on July 1, 1921 in Shanghai, China. Between July 23 and 31, 1921, Mao Zedong, He Shuheng, Dong Biwu, Chen Tanqiu, Wang Jinmei, Deng Enming, Li Da, Li Hanjun, Zhang Guotao, Liu Renjing, Chen Gongbo and Zhou Fohai, representing 50-odd members of various communist groups, held the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
After 28 years of struggle, the CPC finally won victory of "new-democratic revolution" and founded the People's Republic of China in 1949. The revolution was divided into four periods: the Northern Expedition (1924-1927) of Kuomintang-Communist cooperation, the Agrarian Revolutionary War (1927-1937), the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945) and the Chinese People's War of Liberation (1946-1949). With long-term armed struggles and the close coordination of various aspects and various forms of struggles, the CPC finally achieved a victory in 1949 and established the People's Republic of China , which, under the leadership of the working class and based on the workers-peasants alliance, upholds the people's democratic dictatorship.
Mao Zedong, who had become a Marxist at the time of the emergence of the May Fourth Movement in 1919 (he was working as a librarian at Beijing University), had boundless faith in the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. He advocated that revolution in China focus on them rather than on the urban proletariat, as prescribed by orthodox Marxist-Leninist theoreticians.
Sun Yat-sen's early efforts to obtain aid from the Western democracies were ignored, and in 1921 he turned to the Soviet Union, which had recently achieved its own revolution. The Soviets sought to befriend the Chinese revolutionists by offering scathing attacks on "Western imperialism." But for political expediency, the Soviet leadership initiated a dual policy of support for both Sun and the newly established Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Soviets hoped for consolidation but were prepared for either side to emerge victorious. In this way the struggle for power in China began between the Nationalists and the Communists.
In 1922 the Guomindang-warlord alliance in Guangzhou was ruptured, and Sun fled to Shanghai. By then Sun saw the need to seek Soviet support for his cause. In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's national unification. Soviet advisers--the most prominent of whom was an agent of the Comintern (see Glossary), Mikhail Borodin--began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the Guomindang along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CCP was under Comintern instructions to cooperate with the Guomindang, and its members were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities. The CCP was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The Guomindang in 1922 already had 150,000 members.
In early 1927 the Guomindang-CCP rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. A new policy was instituted calling on the CCP to foment armed insurrections in both urban and rural areas in preparation for an expected rising tide of revolution. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Communists to take cities such as Nanchang, Changsha, Shantou, and Guangzhou, and an armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, was staged by peasants in Hunan Province. The insurrection was led by Mao Zedong (1893-1976), who would later become chairman of the CCP and head of state of the People's Republic of China. Mao was of peasant origins and was one of the founders of the CCP. But in mid-1927 the CCP was at a low ebb. The Communists had been expelled from Wuhan by their left-wing Guomindang allies, who in turn were toppled by a military regime.
Despite the failure of the Autumn Harvest Uprising of 1927, Mao continued to work among the peasants of Hunan Province. Without waiting for the sanction of the CCP center, then in Shanghai, he began establishing peasantbased soviets (Communist-run local governments) along the border between Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. In collaboration with military commander Zhu De (1886-1976), Mao turned the local peasants into a politicized guerrilla force. By the winter of 1927-28, the combined "peasants' and workers'" army had some 10,000 troops.
Mao's prestige rose steadily after the failure of the Comintern-directed urban insurrections. In late 1931 he was able to proclaim the establishment of the Chinese Soviet Republic under his chairmanship in Ruijin, Jiangxi Province. The Soviet-oriented CCP Political Bureau came to Ruijin at Mao's invitation with the intent of dismantling his apparatus. But, although he had yet to gain membership in the Political Bureau, Mao dominated the proceedings.
In the early 1930s, amid continued Political Bureau opposition to his military and agrarian policies and the deadly annihilation campaigns being waged against the Red Army by Chiang Kai-shek's forces, Mao's control of the Chinese Communist movement increased. The epic Long March of his Red Army and its supporters, which began in October 1934, would ensure his place in history. Forced to evacuate their camps and homes, Communist soldiers and government and party leaders and functionaries numbering about 100,000 (including only 35 women, the spouses of high leaders) set out on a circuitous retreat of some 12,500 kilometers across some of China's most desolate terrain, through 11 provinces, 18 mountain ranges, and 24 rivers in southwest and northwest China.
During the Long March, Mao finally gained unchallenged command of the CCP, ousting his rivals and reasserting guerrilla strategy. As a final destination, he selected southern Shaanxi Province, where some 8,000 survivors of the original group from Jiangxi Province (joined by some 22,000 from other areas) arrived in October 1935. The Communists set up their headquarters at Yan'an, where the movement would grow rapidly for the next ten years. Contributing to this growth would be a combination of internal and external circumstances, of which aggression by the Japanese was perhaps the most significant. Conflict with Japan, which would continue from the 1930s to the end of World War II, was the other force (besides the Communists themselves) that would undermine the Nationalist government.
After 1940, conflicts between the Nationalists and Communists became more frequent in the areas not under Japanese control. The Communists expanded their influence wherever opportunities presented themselves through mass organizations, administrative reforms, and the land- and tax-reform measures favoring the peasants--while the Nationalists attempted to neutralize the spread of Communist influence.
At Yan'an and elsewhere in the "liberated areas," Mao was able to adapt Marxism-Leninism to Chinese conditions. He taught party cadres to lead the masses by living and working with them, eating their food, and thinking their thoughts. The Red Army fostered an image of conducting guerrilla warfare in defense of the people. Communist troops adapted to changing wartime conditions and became a seasoned fighting force. Mao also began preparing for the establishment of a new China. In 1940 he outlined the program of the Chinese Communists for an eventual seizure of power. His teachings became the central tenets of the CCP doctrine that came to be formalized as Mao Zedong Thought. With skillful organizational and propaganda work, the Communists increased party membership from 100,000 in 1937 to 1.2 million by 1945.
On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally established, with its national capital at Beijing. "The Chinese people have stood up!" declared Mao as he announced the creation of a "people's democratic dictatorship." The people were defined as a coalition of four social classes: the workers, the peasants, the petite bourgeoisie, and the national-capitalists. The four classes were to be led by the CCP, as the vanguard of the working class. At that time the CCP claimed a membership of 4.5 million, of which members of peasant origin accounted for nearly 90 percent. The party was under Mao's chairmanship, and the government was headed by Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) as premier of the State Administrative Council (the predecessor of the State Council).
A Military History of China
Gaining an understanding of China's long and sometimes bloody history can help to shed light on China's ascent to global power. Many of China's imperial dynasties were established as the result of battle, from the chariot warfare of ancient times to the battles of the Guomindang (KMT) and Communist regimes of the twentieth century. China's ability to sustain complex warfare on a very large scale was not emulated in other parts of the world until the Industrial Age, despite the fact that the country is only now rising to economic dominance.
In A Military History of China, Updated Edition, David A. Graff and Robin Higham bring together leading scholars to offer a basic introduction to the military history of China from the first millennium B.C.E. to the present. Focusing on recurring patterns of conflict rather than traditional campaign narratives, this volume reaches farther back into China's military history than similar studies. It also offers insightful comparisons between Chinese and Western approaches to war. This edition brings the volume up to date, including discussions of the Chinese military's latest developments and the country's most recent foreign conflicts.
David A. Graff , associate professor of history and director of the East Asian Studies program at Kansas State University, is the author of Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300--900 .
Robin Higham , professor of history emeritus at Kansas State University, is the author and editor of many books, including Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat .
"An important addition to the literature on Chinese military history. As such, it is also an important addition to the literature on world military history." -- Journal of Military History
"Brings together some of the leading experts on Chinese military history. This book covers the entire sweep of Chinese history from the Spring and Autumn right up to the present day. A Military History of China is suitable for use in military history or 'War and Society' seminars, and should provide some necessary balance in what are traditionally very Eurocentric courses." -- Pacific Affairs
5. Chinese anti-surface warfare
|Closer to Mainland China Taiwan Scenario||Farther from Mainland China Spratly Islands Scenario|
|5. Chinese anti-surface warfare||Major U.S. advantage||U.S. advantage||Approximate Parity||Chinese advantage||Major U.S. advantage||Major U.S. advantage||U.S. advantage||Approximate Parity|
|Year||Closer to Mainland China Taiwan Scenario||Farther from Mainland China Spratly Islands Scenario|
|1996||Major U.S. advantage||Major U.S. advantage|
|2003||U.S. advantage||Major U.S. advantage|
|2010||Approximate Parity||U.S. advantage|
|2017||Chinese advantage||Approximate Parity|
The PLA has placed as much emphasis on putting U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups (CSGs) at risk as it has into efforts to neutralize U.S. ground-based airpower. China has developed a credible and increasingly robust over-the-horizon (OTH) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. It launched its first operational military imaging satellites in 2000 and deployed its first OTH skywave radar system in 2007. The skywave system can detect targets and provide a general, though not precise, location out to 2,000 km beyond China's coastline. The development of China's space and electronics sectors has enabled it to increase the pace of satellite launches and deploy a wider range of sophisticated ISR satellites.
China's development of anti-ship ballistic missiles—the first of their kind anywhere in the world—presents a new threat dimension for U.S. naval commanders. That said, the kill chain for these missiles will pose great difficulties for the PLA, and the United States will make every effort to develop countermeasures. Anti-ship ballistic missiles therefore may not pose the kind of one-shot, one-kill threat sometimes supposed in the popular media. At the same time, however, the ongoing modernization of Chinese air and, especially, submarine capabilities represents a more certain and challenging threat to CSGs. Between 1996 and 2015, the number of modern diesel submarines in China's inventory rose from two to 41, and all but four of theses boats are armed with cruise missiles (as well as torpedoes). RAND modeling suggests that the effectiveness of the Chinese submarine fleet (as measured by the number of attack opportunities it might achieve against carriers) rose by roughly an order of magnitude between 1996 and 2010, and that it will continue to improve its relative capabilities through 2017. Chinese submarines would present a credible threat to U.S. surface ships in a conflict over Taiwan or the South China Sea.
Top 10 Powerful Army in China History
Organized military armies have existed in China since Chinese civilization was created. The documented army history of China stretches from about 2200 BC to the current day. In Chinese long history there are many strong troops that changed China’s or even the world’s history.
Below are the 10 strongest armies of China and their activities.
1. Qin Dynasty Army
Qin Shihuang, the first emperor who united China had one of the strongest armies in Chinese history. His kingdom became strong after Shang Yang`s political and economic reforms which enhanced the state power. With the help of the prime minister Li Si, Qin Shihuang carried out the nationwide policy of enriching the country and increasing its military force, developing the state of Qin to the most powerful among all the states. In 221 B. C., after defeating the other six states, Qin Shihuang founded the Qin Empire, China’s first feudal centralized empire.
2. The Mongolian Army
The Mongolian army led by Genghis Khan could be called the most powerful army in the world ever. The Mongol Empire’s territory covered almost all of Asia and some parts of eastern Europe. The Mongolian troops eliminated any person who got in their way and no one could stopped them from occupying other lands. The didn’t overcome Western Europe was not because they could not but because their king was sick. Or else, who knows how the history of the world would have changed.
3. Manchu Eight Banners
The Manchu banner system was founded by Nurhaci in the early 17th century. The Eight Banners has three major ethnic parts: the Manchu, the Han, and the Mongols, and several small ethnic groups. Nurhaci and his later generations with their armies finally conquered the Ming dynasty and became emperors of China in 1644. They founded Qing dynasty and ruled the country where the majority of the population was “Han Chinese”.
4. Yue Family Army
Yue Family Army led by Song dynasty general Yue Fei was a powerful troop in ancient China. Yue Fei carefully picked soldiers and trained them with special ways, his army was so strong that could wipe out any troops several times of his army size. His armed forces once conquered an enemy of 500,000 with only 800 soldiers on the suburbs of today’s Kaifeng city. So a leader of Jin State sighed：”It is easier to shake Taishan Mountain than to shake Yue Fei’s troops.”
5. Han Dynasty Army
Han Dynasty had hundreds of thousands of soldiers. The government attached great importance to the development of military forces soldiers were nicely provided with metal swords and armors, and advanced inventions, crossbows and bolts. The soldiers were also well trained by experienced generals. The strong military forces took over their nearby countries through 25 major military campaigns during the dynasty extending into Manchuria, Mongolia, Central Asia and the South Tropics.
6. Beifu Army
Beifu Army ruled by Xie Xuan was another strong army in Chinese history. Xie Xuan enrolled top level soldiers and ultimately, Xie assembled an army which was the most elite of the Jin forces, known as the Beifu Forces. His army made its first great victory in 378, when Former Qin armies simultaneously attacked major Jin cities Xiangyang, Weixing, and Pengcheng. Though with the status of numerical inferiority, his army decisively conquered Former Qin’s army in 383 FeiShui River Battle. The battle is regarded to be one of the most famous battles China’s history and it postponed the unification of China by over 200 years.
7. Ming Dynasty Navy
The Hongwu Emperor，who ruled China from 1368 to 1398, had over one million standing troops and its navy’s shipyards in capital Nanjing were considered as the largest one in the world. The emperor ordered Zheng He to carry out seven enormous exploration voyages to the Indian Ocean as far as Arabia and the coast of Africa. Zheng He and his fleet visited 37 countries for 28 years. His grand fleet owned 300 ships and 28,000 mariners.
8. Tang Dynasty Army
Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) had great military force starting from its establishment until its fall around 907. This military forces was formed during the Zhen Guan Reign of Emperor Taizong who was good at making use of various strategies and launching expeditions to fight against other ethnic groups.The dynasty’s military control even reached to the northern part of the Mongolian Plateau.northeastern to Gaogouli’s northern Korean Peninsula and even Baiji’s southwestern Korean Peninsula. In the 7th century, its territory even reached to Central Asia.
9. Guan Ning Cavalry
Guan Ning Cavalry was a cavalry troops formed in later Ming Dynasty. It was ruled by famous military general Yuan Chonghuan (1584-1630).Though with small number of soldiers, his troops had strong fighting power. His troops once beaten Nurhaci and the Manchu army in the Ningyuan Battle. Nurhaci’s successor, Huang Taiji,was also defeated by him in the Ningjin Battle.
10. People’s Liberation Army
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA in short) is the military forces of the Communist Party of China and the People’s Republic of China.The PLA is the world’s largest military force, with about 3 million members, and has the world’s largest standing army, about 2 million members.
During the 8 years Anti-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945, the army mostly used guerrilla warfare, fought some battles and consolidated their ground behind the Japanese lines. After winning Anti-Japanese war, the armed forces battled for 5 years and finally won the Chinese Civil War against Kuomintang army. In 1950, the PLA joined the Korean War to fight against the so called “United Nations” forces controlled by the US. Chinese army forced MacArthur’s troops out of North Korea in 1950. In 1962, the PLA also fought India and successfully achieved all objectives.
China's Military Power: How Does It Compare To The UK And US?
We have compared China's military power with that of the British and American militaries.
Chinese military might has been a topic of concern for the modern western world.
Months after announcing a sixth consecutive single-digit increase to its defence budget, China has been forced to defend its development as "peaceful".
The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) has examined the power of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) as NATO leaders pursue diplomatic solutions.
China Boosts Defence Budget Amid 'Security Risks'
Here is what we do know of China's military capability during an era of great competition, comparing stats with the UK and its most powerful military partner, the US.
China's transparency has been called into question by the West, the public left to speculate where a 2021 defence budget would allocate increased funds.
While the destination for the money was left undisclosed, some have also contested the figures themselves.
The following information is taken from the IISS, the latest reliable data in 2021:
Defence Budget (2020) [US dollars] – China $193.3bn, US: $738bn, UK: $61.5bn
Active Personnel – China: 2,035,000, US: 1,388,100, UK: 148,500
Reserve Personnel – China: 510,000, US: 844,950, UK: 78,600
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Launchers – China:104, US: 400
Watch: China boosts its defence budget amid 'security risks'
Bomber Aircraft – China: 221, US: 157
Fighter and Ground Attack Aircraft – China: 1,820, US: 3,318, UK: 162
Attack Helicopters – China: 278, US: 867, UK: 40
Heavy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – China: 26, US: 625, UK: 10
Heavy/Medium Transport Helicopters and Tilt-Rotor Aircraft – China: 418, US: 3,033, UK: 108
Heavy/Medium Transport Aircraft – China:113, US: 686, UK:42
Tanker and Multi-Role Tanker/Transport Aircraft – China: 18, US: 567, UK: 10
Airborne Early-Warning and Control Aircraft – China: 43, US: 125, UK: 3
RAF Fylingdales: What Does The Royal Air Force Station Do?
Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicles – China: 6,710, US: 3,419, UK: 388
Main Battle Tanks - China: 5,650, US: 2,509, UK: 227
Artillery – China: 9,406, US: 6,941, UK: 637
Watch: Boris Johnson stated ths mont that NATO is not seeking a 'new Cold War' with China
Attack/Guided Missile Submarines – China: 52, US: 54, UK: 7
Aircraft Carriers – China: 2, US: 11, UK: 2
Cruisers, Destroyers and Frigates – China: 78, US: 113, UK:19
Principal Amphibious Ships – China: 6, US: 32
What's Next For The Navy's Vessels?
China has special operations brigades in its army, marines and Airborne Corps.
Elite units are also present in three of five theatre commands dividing the military structure.
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) oversees global special operations and activities, bringing together a network of elite commands from the US Army, navy, marine corps and air force.
Reconnaissance, hostage rescue and recovery, countering weapons of mass destruction and counterterrorism are all part of the USSOCOM mission.
UK Special Forces includes Army, Navy and RAF units, including the SAS, SBS and Special Reconnaissance groups.
Cyber and Space
The PLA's Strategic Support Force was set up in 2015 and combined space, cyber, electronic and psychological warfare capabilities.
The force exists to gather and manage information but also to war theatre commands with the data.
The US Cyber Command is commanded by the National Security Agency and contains 133 Cyber Mission Teams, maintaining the ability to ability to conduct cyber attacks across all warfighting domains, as part of a 'defend-forward' strategy.
Russia And China: Could New Base Plans 'Militarise The Moon'?
This is similar to the front-foot approach taken by the National Cyber Force in the UK, while the British forces also have dedicated cyber units within the services.
The US Space Force continues to establish itself in the newly-declared warfighting domain, with over 2,000 personnel drawn from around the military.
China and the US both possess Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance equipment, alongside communications and satellite equipment.
The UK has officially formed its Space Command, a Joint Command staffed by personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force and Civil Service
The US possesses counter communications systems in space, although the IISS recognises similar capabilities reportedly owned by China.
History Lesson: Why China Wants to Become a Military Superpower
Understanding the Chinese mindset means understanding their history.
Key Point: China plans on never being humiliated ever again.
Over several years in this publication, I have been exploring the dynamics of the budding U.S.-China security dilemma—a high-tech drama pitting anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) against what we used to refer to as Air-Sea Battle (ASB)—and have offered several different ways to lessen the possibility of such a dynamic from becoming cemented into the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture. However, China’s development and implementation of A2/AD clearly has various origins. One such origin that deserves to be explored is the “historical nightmare” of China’s subjugation at the hands of various colonial and Asian powers.
In many respects, China is trying to solve a centuries-old problem that never went away: how to defeat in battle military forces that are at least in a symmetrical sense superior to its own and will be for some time to come. If we alter our perspective and take a much longer view of Beijing’s own military obsolescence, a strategy that emphasizes anti-access makes tremendous sense. According to Admiral Wu Shengli, former commander of the PLA Navy, “in China’s modern history, imperialist and colonists initiated more than 470 invasions of China, including 84 large ones, from the sea.” If China’s military were to deter or halt the deployment of superior military forces into areas of Chinese territory or areas Beijing perceives as a core interest, another period of what leaders in China might see as a new form of subjugation could theoretically be avoided. A2/AD allows Beijing to compete with the United States asymmetrically—an important point when one thinks through how many years away China is from competing with America ship for ship or plane for plane.
The following serves as an account of what many Chinese consider their own historical nightmare at the hands of foreign forces and why A2/AD would protect China from being subjugated yet again.
A Lost Opportunity
There are several events in Chinese history that mainland scholars, politicians and academics point to that weakened the collective power of the Chinese nation and diminished its global standing for generations. Indeed, Chinese strategic planners are keenly aware they have missed multiple “revolutions” in military affairs looking back several centuries—a driving factor in China’s subjugation by the West and other Asian powers. Critical transitions from cold-weapon warfare (knives or blunt striking instruments) to hot-weapon warfare (such as guns and firepower) and from hot-weapon warfare to mechanized warfare (tanks, armored naval vessels, airplanes and so on) were lost opportunities to transform the military establishment into a modern fighting force.
The consequences were shocking. When well-armed Western powers forced their way into China two centuries ago, the Chinese were defenseless, thanks to obsolete technology. When Western powers developed mechanized weapons during and after World War II, China was in the midst of internal turmoil and suffered from foreign invasion (i.e., the Chinese Civil War and Japanese invasion) it did not have the capacity to keep up with the developments of new military technology.
“Century of Humiliation” Begins: The First Opium War
Numerous current Chinese scholars speak of China’s “century of humiliation” or subjugation by various powers that led, according to their line of argument, to the loss of China's great-power status, loss of territory, and in many respects, national sovereignty. Defeat on the battlefield marked the beginning of this century of loss and humiliation. The first major military loss at the hands of Western powers that had wide-ranging repercussions for China and large parts of the Asia-Pacific was its defeat at the hands of the British during the First Opium War (1839-1842). As scholar Richard Harris explained: “The Chinese have one very broad generalization about their own history: they think in terms of ‘up to the Opium war’ and ‘after the Opium war’ in other words, a century of humiliation and weakness to be expunged.”
The consequences of the conflict—China’s crushing defeat—were felt far and wide. Beijing’s geostrategic position in Asia was weakened dramatically. China’s military was crushed in a series of defeats by a vastly smaller, but technologically superior, British force. Chinese military technology, tactics and strategy were not on par with the West’s. This defeat sparked the first of what has been referred to as the “unequal treaties.” Five ports were opened to foreign traders, and the British colony at Hong Kong was founded (which would not be returned until 1997).
The Sino-Japanese War
A second military defeat, this time at the hands of Japan, during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, also had wide-reaching consequences for Beijing. For several decades, Japan and China had spared in various domains—largely political and diplomatic—over control and influence on the Korean Peninsula. For China, Korea had been a vassal state, having been heavily influenced by Chinese culture. Japan, having undertaken a massive effort to Westernize under the Meiji Restoration, was undertaking efforts to bring Korea under its sphere of influence. Both nations were actively pursuing efforts to modernize their armed forces.
While a larger study of the conflict has been done across many formats and is beyond the scope of this article, the war and its aftermath are of extreme importance. Japan would defeat China convincingly, most importantly at the Battle of the Yalu, an important naval victory. While China had by this time been clearly passed by Western powers and had lost considerable stature and territory, to now be defeated by a neighboring Asian nation-state was even more humiliating. Korea would be declared free of Chinese influence and placed effectively under Japanese control. China would be forced to pay large reparations to Japan. Tokyo would also receive the Liaodong Peninsula, which it was forced to give up, due to Western pressure.
A Chaotic 1930s, Civil War and World War II
A series of events from the early 1930s until the eventual victory of Mao’s communists in 1949, establishing the People’s Republic of China, would also have a lasting effect on today’s China. While each event is worthy of its own larger study, a narrow focus will be utilized for the purposes of this article.
In 1931, Japan occupied the Chinese territory of Manchuria, creating a puppet state named Manchukuo. In 1937, tensions flared once more when an incident at the Marco Polo Bridge would become the catalyst for full-scale war between China and Japan. Both nations waged a bloody conflict until the end of World War II in 1945. Large sections of Chinese territory were held by Japan, and vast areas of Chinese commerce, industry and farmland were destroyed. China was also in the midst of a civil war from 1927 until 1937, which was halted to combat the Japanese invasion. The civil war resumed in 1946, when China once again suffered severe losses. The Kuomintang or KMT under Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949. The status of Taiwan to this day has yet to be resolved and is a major factor in Chinese strategic thinking on A2/AD.
China suffered dearly during this period of its history. Countless lives were lost during Japan's invasion and during the civil war. In 1937, China suffered the “Rape of Nanking” among other countless humiliations at the hands of imperial Japanese forces. Even though almost seven decades have passed since the end of World War II, Chinese and Japanese emotions on the subject are considerably heated, serving as a source of tension, which drags on positive bilateral relations.
Such a tumultuous period of Chinese history would have far and wide repercussions on the Chinese people, its collective sense of history and its national psyche. Chinese scholars have debated for several decades the role of such a period when thinking about its place in today’s international order. During this century, China would have to redefine itself, its place in the global order, its place in Asia and its own sense of history. As one scholar notes:
China had to redraw its world map: where it had for millennia sat comfortably at the center of a ring of tributary relationships with neighboring countries, it now found itself a weak competitor in a world of dozens or even hundreds of nation-states. Where Chinese rulers and intellectuals had before had little concept of an international arena, they now had to grapple with the notion that there existed a global system of power relationships whose dynamics – though almost entirely out of China’s control – would determine her fate.