Thursday, September 4, 2008

Military history of China

The recorded military history of China extends from about 1500 BC to the present day. China has the longest period of continuous development of military of any civilization in world history and had some of the world's most advanced military until the 16th century. Like the history of China, it is conventionally divided into three periods: ancient China , imperial China , and modern China . Throughout most of the first two periods, the Chinese military was shaped by the military threats from the societies of Mongolia, Manchuria and central Asia, and was also influenced by and later, the persistence of Confucian values. The third period relates to the efforts of the Chinese military to respond and structurally to the military aggressions of the colonial powers, and the establishment of the modern Chinese force.

Warfare in ancient China and early Imperial China

In legends, history of warfare in China begins with the Huang Di defeated Chiyou,and settled Huaxia in the Yellow River Valley.

Ancient China during the Shang Dynasty was a Bronze Age society based on chariot armies. Archaeological studies of Shang sites at Anyang have revealed extensive examples of chariots and bronze weapons. The overthrow of the Shang by the Zhou Dynasty saw the creation of a feudal social order, resting militarily on a class of aristocratic chariot warriors .

Most armies of the time were organized into three divisions, but varied at points. Most infantry was armed with dagger-axes and spears. Around the 4th century BC the crossbow was introduced, which led to the decline of the chariot.

In the Spring and Autumn Period, warfare increased exponentially. The book The ''Zuo Zhuan'' described the wars and battles among the feudal lords during the period. Warfare continued to be stylised and ceremonial even as it grew more violent and decisive. The concept of military hegemon and his "way of force" eventually came to dominate Chinese society.

Warfare became more intense, ruthless and more decisive during the Warring States Period, in which great social and political change was accompanied by the end of the system of chariot warfare and the adoption of mass infantry armies. Cavalry was also introduced from the northern frontier. Siege warfare became increasingly sophisticated, and crossbows came into heavy usage during the later stages of the period. Military strategy shifted toward an emphasis on deception, intelligence, and strategies as codified in Sun Tzu's military treatise, ''The Art of War''.


Iron Weapon
The Chinese started using Iron weapons along with Bronze weapons as early as Western Zhou Dynasty ; Confirmed by archaeological evidence, cast iron, made from melting pig iron, was developed in China by the early 5th century BC . Iron weapons became common during the late Warring State Period and further refined in Qin and Han dynasties. Comparable use of Iron weapons did not occur in the West until several centuries later.

Crossbows, Siege Crossbows and Battering Rams

Crossbows were invented in China before 400 BC and was perfected within 3 centuries. The much larger Siege Crossbow was also developed and could be fitted to a wheeled carriage. One of the models can shoot several large bolts at once, causing immense damage to enemy groups in tight formations. In an account of 120BC, "The soldiers ... equipped with Battering Rams for attack, and shields against the bows; they shoot with multi-bolt Crossbows which are lashed to carriages for the battle."
Many historians believe the massive use of crossbows made the tight infantry formations obselete in China.

Catapults appeared in the late Eastern Han Dynasty and thrived in the Three Kingdoms Period , made of iron and utilizing stone balls. When enemies came, the defenders would place the catapults atop the city gate. It recurred to the leverage and threw the huge stone over the wall in a parabolic curve to crash the aggressors. This is still reflected in the Chinese chess - the chess piece representing the catapult still follows the regulation of attacking another chess piece only when there is the third one in between.

The Shield
With the rise of cavalry during the Western Han Dynasty an oblong shield appeared that soldiers could hold one handed. It was bound to the left forearm of a cavalry and changed shape to circular. Till the Northern and Southern Dynasty, a long hexagon one prevailed with the shield face introverting vertically like a leaf. When in the battle, it could either be hand held or be placed on the ground with the support of a stick.

Iron Armor
In the Western Han Dynasty, iron armor replaced leather armor and evolved into fine scale armor and plate armor. Scale armor shows a high level of technical know-how, with a set being comprised of over 2,200 components. During the Three Kingdoms Period chain armor, for protection from arrows became popular, and during the Ming Dynasty it became the trend of change from heavy to light armor, but still being able to withstand the thrust of a spear.

Steel Armor
With the development of steel armor, not only soldiers but horses wore the armor. Thus the halberd which functioned mainly to thrust and hook lost its place on the battle field. Spears evolved into lances, and were used exclusively by cavalry, offering a high power of penetration.

The Han Dynasty is the key period of the development of Chinese warships, no matter what the scale. Oars in the Western Han, rudder in the Eastern Han, both were the brilliant achievements. Scull changed the way of thrashing from front-behind to left-right and improved the efficiency, which was the precursor of modern helix thrusters. Helm made up the flexibility of steering sailing course of oar and paved the way for European exploration. In the Jin Dynasty, warships of large scale stood out. In the records there h ad been a ship combining many hulls with the length and breadth of 180 meters and could hold more than 2,000 people on board. Atop was fixed wooden city and horses could gallop through the four city gates. In the Sui Dynasty, an extremely large ship over 30 meters high was built that could hold 800 people. Until the Southern Song Dynasty nearly all the armies used warships. Examples of 110 meters with tower, skirt-board and wheel-oars are recorded

Legalism and Confucianism

Legalist thinkers from Shang Yang to Li Si, both Prime Ministers of , held that the society should be socially regimented and administered. It left the structure of an autocratic, centralised empire that remained the master institution of Chinese military history. Officials of successive dynasties thus had the means to raise tax revenues and to mobilize the population for war to a degree that was unusual for a pre-industrial society.

From the Han Dynasty onwards, gained dominance in Chinese society. Formal histories, including military history, are composed overwhelmingly from a viewpoint that can properly be called Confucian. The ideal was the monarch who had received the Mandate of Heaven because of his virtue and who ruled through ritual and moral example. who were warlike were usually opposed by their officials and condemned by history , while Emperors who decisively moved from war to peace, and from military to civil values were correspondingly praised.

Military Technology

From the Zhou Dynasty onward, China faced the perennial threat of nomadic tribes/empires to it's north.
The barbarians to the north, called ''hu'' in Chinese, included the nomadic Xiongnu, , , Mongols. Others included the Xianbei and Jurchen, who combined nomadism with agriculture. All of these peoples were formidable because their male populations of military age were all warriors bred to the saddle and trained in the mounted archer mode of fighting.

The vicious struggles against Barbarian threats and the many internal wars contributed to the advancement of Chinese military strategy and techonology. The warring states and Han dynasty are notable periods.
As a result, China had been the most advanced country in terms of military technology and strategy, until around the 17th century.

In the Qin and Han conscript armies, infantry were armed with spears, bows, and in particular crossbows , a weapon in whose technology the Chinese remained superior. Even though infantry bearing shields, swords and spears existed, there is no trace of either a "" or a "" style of massed infantry fighting. However, the Qin army, which has a division fighting like a phalanx. Chinese armies preferred warfare with powerful missile weapons such as the composite bow and crossbow in fire-aim-load rows of missile infantry. The Han dynasty under Wu Di also developed strong cavalry force and various advanced cavalry tactics which helped it decisively defeated Xiongnu, one of the strongest nomadic empire stretching from Northern China to the frontiers of Rome and Persia.

The Chinese also developed catapults and siege crossbows very early. The earliest documented occurrence of ancient siege artillery pieces in China was the levered principled traction catapult and an high siege crossbow from the ''Mozi'' , a Mohist text written during the 3rd - 4th century B.C by followers of Mozi who founded the Mohist school of thought during the late Spring and Autumn Period and the early Warring States period. Much of what we now know of the siege technology of the time came to us from Books 14 and 15 on siege warfare from the Mo Jing. Recorded and preserved on bamboo strips, much of the text is unfortunately extremely corrupted now. However, despite the heavy fragmentation, Mohist diligence and attention to details which set Mo Jing apart from other works, ensured that highly descriptive details of the workings of mechanical devices like Cloud Ladders, Rotating Arcuballistas and Levered Catapults, records of siege techniques and usage of siege weaponry can still be found.

Most Chinese armour was of the , coat of plates , and lamellar variety, in which overlapping leather or metal plates of varying size are sewn onto a cloth background. Such armour is relatively light and flexible at the expense of protective strength. Coat of plates are depicited in Qin Shi Huang's terracotta army. There are few examples of the larger plate armour seen in the west.

The stirrup became widespread in China around the fifth century. It is associated with the development of armoured cavalrymen, mounted on an armoured horse and armed with a lance. In China, heavy armor appeared before the use of the stirrup. Though knight-like cavalry were part of the ruling class of north China during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period, China did not evolve into feudalism as occurred in the West. The later stages of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period marked the return of more mobile light cavalry.

One of the most important Chinese contributions to military history is the formula for gunpowder, which was known in times. Firearms added to the defensive strength of the Great Wall and gunners were used extensively during the Ming Dynasty. However, historians cannot discern a "gunpowder revolution" in Chinese military history. In China, firearms remained just another missile weapon and no effort was made to standardize manufacture, reduce the number of calibers, or create new tactics and organization to exploit the potential of a new weapons system. Competition between European powers was far more involved in shock tactics in which speed was discarded for increased protection. China's lighter, more mobile enemies gives different challenges; its enemies were far faster and lighter, thus slow, inaccurate gunpowder weapons would have been unsuitable to counter these threats. In contrast the superior penetrative power of gunpowder weapons were able to punch through any protective covering of contemporary armies, yet this advantage over China's military enemies was already achieved with Chinese crossbows. The Chinese government thus systematically suppressed the development of early modern weapons systems.

Military institutions in Imperial China

Era of division

The military systems of the Three Kingdoms, the , and the later south China regimes collectively called the Six Dynasties evolved from the Han state of affairs in which rival warlords controlled armies of dependent soldiers . Many scholars believe that under these dynasties peasants were reduced to the status of serfs, and that armies also were composed of soldiers who were unfree dependents. The conquest of Nanjing ended this line of evolution.

The non-Chinese regime of the Northern Wei created the earliest forms of the land system and the Fubing system military system, both of which became major institutions under Sui and Tang. Under the ''fubing'' system each headquarters commanded about one thousand farmer-soldiers who could be mobilized for war. In peacetime they were self-sustaining on their land allotments, and were obliged to do tours of active duty in the capital.

Sui and Tang dynasties

During the Sui Dynasty, the military was used to reinvade northern Vietnam and the southern kingdom of Champa, as well as against the northern Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, in the Goguryeo-Sui Wars. The subsequent Chinese Tang Dynasty aided the Korean Silla tribe in expelling Japanese forces, conquering Baekje and Goguryeo, and thus bringing about Unified Silla.

During the Sui and Tang, most of the '''' unit were located in the northwest. The system was best suited for the annual campaigning cycle of an expanding empire. Under the ''fubing'' system declined, and under a standing army stationed on the northern frontier evolved in its place. During the An Lushan rebellion, the Tang court had no central army to resist and could only appeal to other frontier commanders.

Recognising the need for a central army as a counterweight to the troops of the regional warlords, the post-An Lushan Tang emperor created the Divine Strategy Armies, whose eunuch commanders grew increasingly powerful as the Tang declined. The Privy Council , which dealt with military affairs, was originally a eunuch agency but was taken over by generals during the Five Dynasties period.

Song Dynasty

The Song founder Emperor Taizu of Song China continued the military system of the late Tang. He retired his principal generals and turned the Privy Council into a department controlled by civil officials. The chain of command over the central army troops concentrated in the capital area was changed regularly to prevent any general from developing a dangerous personal ascendancy over a particular body of troops. The long term trend in the Northern Song was for the central army to become larger and more expensive, while its soldiers became less capable militarily.

The relative ease with which the Jurchens conquered the capital Kaifeng illustrates the decay of the Song military system. The Hangzhou-based Southern Song depended militarily on an exiguous combination of warlord-led improvised armies and naval power. Often it was necessary to remove prominent military leaders in order to restore political stability.

In the 11th century, the Song court set up a national military school Wu Xue . By the early 12th century, in order to combat the Jin, the Song Dynasty established China's first permanent standing navy. They also pioneered the use of gunpowder weapons in order to fight against the Tanguts, Jurchens, and then the Mongols.

The Song had the best-equipped heavy infantry in Chinese history, their armor is about 29.8 kg, consisted of 1825 iron pieces. Archers, for the needs of defending themselves in close combat, were equipped with the heaviest armor, which is about 28-33kg. Thick armor gave the Song army the ability to resist Jin cavalry. For the same reason, the Song always used Intensive Lineup in battles.

Yuan Dynasty

The Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty created military systems based on previous conquest dynasties such as the Khitan and the Jurchen . Both of these dynasties organized their tribal populations into military units that were also social organizations . Both dynasties also assigned troop to princely appanages .

Genghis Khan ordered that every warrior, with his family and possessions, be assigned to a particular unit and forbidden to leave it on pain of death. The units were decimal: ''tumen'' , ''mingghan'' , ''jaghun'' , and ''arban'' .

Ming Dynasty

The Ming dynasty derived their own soldier-farmer system from the Mongol model. Hereditary military personnel were assigned military colony lands to cultivate, and armies were mobilized from this pool of personnel. In a process somewhat resembling the Tang ''fubing'', the Ming ''weisuo'' system evolved into a recruiting agency for a standing army based on the northern frontier, whose military efficacy was based on the spread of firearms technology, and later on the building of the Great Wall.
In that moment the Chinese army developed a new system to manufacture different types of bombs and mines, that were able to do different effects, for example, fire bombs, poison bombs and other effects.
There are other rockets as weapons.

During the Japanese invasion of Korea, the Ming dynasty sent military forces to assist the Joseon military against the Japanese.

Qing Dynasty

In the early 17th century Nurhaci and his son Hong Taiji organized the Manchu people into the Eight Banner system, a system which could be traced to the Mongols and their predecessors. Before the Manchus conquered all of China, they organized some conquered Chinese and Mongols into the Chinese and Mongol Eight Banners. The banner forces combined Central Asian cavalry skills with Chinese abilities in engineering and firearms. However, Manchu officials were slow to adopt modernity and suspicious of social and technological advances which they viewed as a threat to their absolute control over China. While it is commonly believed that the Qing had forbidden the use of gunpowder weapons, this is simply not true. For example after a military campaign near the Sichuan border in the Qianlong era the regional government stockpiled several million cannonball in the region in case of another war.

Defected Ming armies formed the Green Standard Army, who played an important part in the Qing conquest of south China. They also provided the personnel for naval operations. By the end of the reign, with Qianlong's Ten Great Campaigns, the Manchus had seemingly answered conclusively all of the military challenges posed by the history of Imperial China.

In the 19th century the enormous Taiping Rebellion resulted in 14 years of continuous war in which between 20 million and 50 million died. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom created a highly disciplined army of well over a million men. To oppose this the traditional Manchu army was augmented by massive local militia forces and a number of foreign mercenaries bringing total imperial forces to more than two million. Eventually the Imperial generalissimo, Zeng Guofan, seized the Taiping capital of Tianjing following the death of the Heavenly King, Hong Xiuquan and ended the war.

Modern China

From the first Opium War in 1839 onwards, changes to military technology, institutions and outlook in China became driven by the West. For the first time in her history, China was confronted with a major threat from the sea. In the late 19th century the regional leader Li Hongzhang built up the Beiyang Fleet, only to see it destroyed in the First Sino-Japanese War. Lacking the advanced industrial economy needed to build up sea power, China remained vulnerable to attack by sea for the first half of the 20th century. This allowed Japan to maintain a sphere of influence in the region. For China's military history during World War II and the Second Sino-Japanese War, see the second link for more details.

The modern armies' New Army created after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 were instrumental in overthrowing the traditional Confucian government. But they proved to be more effective in fighting each other than defeating foreign enemies. Many of these were eventually overwhelmed in the by the National Revolutionary Army .

The People's Liberation Army developed a peasant-based style of revolutionary war that ultimately prevailed in the and the subsequent conquests of Hainan and Tibet. The National Revolutionary Army after its defeat fled to Taiwan and was renamed as Republic of China Army. Afterwards the PLA fought in the Korean War. Their performance is open to a great deal of interpretation but is seen as a victory in China as the Chinese army was able to hold the combined forces of the western powers to a stalemate. While they were able to the UN forces under the command of General MacArthur from the Yalu River and force them back into South Korea, Mao Zedong's son, Mao Anying, was one of the many killed in the PLA counterattack. Factors such as the PLA's unfamiliarity with front warfare and poor ammunition supply led to these problems.

As , the military ability of the PLA followed apace, as shown in the victorious 1962 Sino-Indian War. However, some analysts were not impressed with the PLA's performance in the brief conflict with Vietnam in 1979. In recent years the PLA has made strenuous efforts to upgrade much of its obsolete inventory through domestic research and development, plus arms and technology transfers from Russia; but progress was hindered by continued regional loyalties and the PLA's unwillingness to divest from economic enterprises. The PLA's subsequent divestment from non-military enterprises and reorganization has helped expedite the modernization process.

On August 2007, China and Russia started joint military exercises in a large operation which involved troops, tanks and aircraft. It was the first time China participated on such a large combined mission abroad. Both countries, along with 4 others, are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation whose charter aims to strengthen security and stability in Central Asia region. The SCO has been labeled as 'Warsaw Pact 2' in reference to NATO.

Naval history

The naval history of China dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period , with archives extending back very early about the ancient navy of China. Although there were many naval battles before the year 1132, this marked the date of the establishment of China's first standing navy, during the Song Dynasty . But considering China was a country which was longtime menaced by land-based nomadic tribes to the north such as the Xiongnu, Xianbei, G&, Khitans, Jurchens, Mongols and so on, the navy was always seen as an adjunct rather than an important military force. The Chinese navy was seen as a valuable military force mostly when southern China was under attack, such as Emperor Wen of Sui's enormous naval invasion force pitted against the Chen Dynasty or the Battle of Tangdao and Battle of Caishi on the Yangtze River in 1161 AD. With the Opium Wars, which shook up the generals of the Qing Dynasty, the navy was once again attached greater importance.

Further reading

*Hsiao Ch'i-ch'ing, ''Military Establishment of the Yuan Dynasty'' .

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