The history of China is a history of warfare. Rarely in its 3,000-year existence has the country not been beset by war, rebellion, or raids. Warfare was a primary source of innovation, social evolution, and material progress in the Legendary Era, Hsia dynasty, and Shang dynasty--indeed, war was the force that formed the first cohesive Chinese empire, setting China on a trajectory of state building and aggressive activity that continues to this day.

In Ancient Chinese Warfare, a...

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Ancient Chinese Warfare

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The history of China is a history of warfare. Rarely in its 3,000-year existence has the country not been beset by war, rebellion, or raids. Warfare was a primary source of innovation, social evolution, and material progress in the Legendary Era, Hsia dynasty, and Shang dynasty--indeed, war was the force that formed the first cohesive Chinese empire, setting China on a trajectory of state building and aggressive activity that continues to this day.

In Ancient Chinese Warfare, a preeminent expert on Chinese military history uses recently recovered documents and archaeological findings to construct a comprehensive guide to the developing technologies, strategies, and logistics of ancient Chinese militarism. The result is a definitive look at the tools and methods that won wars and shaped culture in ancient China.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sawyer, a leading scholar of Chinese warfare and fellow at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, is best known for his comprehensively edited translations of classical military writings. His latest analytical work is no less significant. It begins in the prehistoric period and continues through the fifth century B.C.E., an era traditionally described as one of stability, almost idyllic compared to the two-century warring states period that followed. Sawyer instead demonstrates through archeological evidence, traditional accounts, and convincing interpretations of inscriptions that conflict in China became increasingly complex, lethal, and decisive during the Hsia and Shang dynasties. Armies became structured forces with bureaucratized logistics. Warrior values were integrated into mainstream cultures. Sawyer's analysis ranges from the evolution of fortification, through the metallurgical innovations behind improved weapons, to the technologies and animal husbandry that enabled the chariots that became ancient China's signature. Warfare, says Sawyer, stimulated innovation, social change, and material progress. It also destroyed the peace and security of communities, then peoples, absorbed into ever-larger political systems sustained by force. Ancient China, shaped by its wars, was firmly set on "a trajectory of state building and aggressive activity." Illus. (Mar.)
Library Journal
This in-depth book by an independent scholar of Chinese history is assembled from archaeological and historical materials covering the early years in China's history up to the Spring and Autumn periods (i.e., fifth century B.C.E.). Sawyer presents his subject chronologically at first, then thematically (e.g., "The Horse in China"). While the book is densely descriptive, readers will notice the lack of maps, time lines, sufficient images, fully detailed endnotes, and a full bibliography. In his introduction, Sawyer refers explicitly to these circumstances, attributing them partly to cost savings and partly to his opinion that the Internet would provide sufficient maps, etc. VERDICT The absence of sufficient editorial and graphic apparatus is all the more frustrating in this complex, fascinating book. Still, readers with a serious interest in early Chinese history and/or warfare will appreciate Sawyer's work. Recommended for scholars of Chinese and Chinese history.—Melissa Aho, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis
From the Publisher

P. H. Liotta, author of The Real Population Bomb: Megacities and Global Security
“After decades of intense and dedicated scholarship, Ralph Sawyer has produced an astonishing volume. His linguistic and strategic skills—his fierce genius—are everywhere in evidence. Sawyer is a master, and Ancient Chinese Warfare is his masterpiece.”

Ralph Peters, retired Military Intelligence officer and author of The War After Armageddon

Ancient Chinese Warfare is, paradoxically, a crucial book for the 21st century. As the ‘new’ China aspires to global power, understanding the foundations of this civilization’s way of war helps us grasp Beijing’s present psychology and behavior. The Chinese take a very long view of history, and we need to learn to do so. To that end, the brilliant work of Ralph D. Sawyer has long proven unrivalled...and this book is his masterpiece. No work better illustrates the deep (and gnarled) roots of China’s contemporary ambitions.”
Nicola Di Cosmo, Henry Luce Foundation Professor of East Asian History at the Institute for Advanced Study
Ancient Chinese Warfare is an important, informative, and exciting book. Written with panache, brimming with new ideas, and based on a level of knowledge that would challenge any expert, Sawyer’s work has transformed single-handedly our understanding of ancient Chinese military history. Readers will find in this book a solidly informed and vivid account of China’s ways of warfare from the Shang dynasty to the mid-first millennium BC. Only few of them will appreciate the massive effort of synthesis and analysis that this book represents, and it is to Sawyer’s credit that he has succeeded in bringing an extremely difficult topic to a level that everyone can understand, learn from, and enjoy.”
Edward N. Luttwak, author of The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire
“Not unexpectedly, this book enhances Ralph D. Sawyer’s reputation as the premier interpreter of Chinese strategy and warfare. The surprise is that with the aid of a flowing style he has written a highly readable, indeed very enjoyable book on a seemingly abstruse subject. In a manner fascinating in itself, Sawyer brilliantly reconstructs the fragmentary archaeological evidence.”

Library Journal
“[A] complex, fascinating book…. [R]eaders with a serious interest in Chinese history and/or warfare will appreciate Sawyer’s work.”

MichiganWar Studies Review  “[Ancient Chinese Warfare] marks a major advance in the state of our knowledge, a rich repository to be mined not only by historians of China but also world historians, scholars of comparative military history, and students of the origins of war and the state. Its impact will be substantial, far-reaching, and unsuperseded for many years to come.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465023349
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 576
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Ralph D. Sawyer has worked extensively with major intelligence and defense agencies, as well as lecturing and consulting internationally on China. A Fellow of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, he is the translator of numerous books from the Chinese military corpus, including The Art of War. He lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

A Note on Pronunciation xiii

1 Preliminary Orientations and Legendary Conflicts 1

2 Ancient Fortifications, I 19

3 Ancient Fortifications, II 43

4 The Hsia 60

5 Warfare in the Hsia 82

6 The Shang Dynasty 98

7 Shang Capitals, Citadels, and Fortifications 117

8 Chaos, Contraction, and Resurgence 140

9 King Wu Ting, I 155

10 King Wu Ting, II 175

11 The Last Reigns 190

12 The Shang Martial Edifice 203

13 Troops, Intelligence, and Tactics 225

14 Metallurgical Evolution in China 239

15 Early Weapons and the Axe 252

16 Knives, Daggers, and Swords 268

17 The Ko or Dagger-axe 278

18 Spears and Armor 293

19 Ancient Archery 305

20 The Chariot in China 330

21 The Horse in China 345

22 The Chariot in Battle 359

23 Chariot Limitations and Difficulties 375

24 Ancient Logistics 390

25 Musings and Imponderables 402

Notes 415

Integrated Bibliography 509

Index 537

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