A History of Warfare by John Keegan

A History of Warfare by John Keegan

Author:John Keegan [Keegan, John]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi, azw3
ISBN: 978-0-307-82857-6
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2012-09-04T16:00:00+00:00

It is, however, towards China, not India, that the Mongols first set their course, since they were borderers of that empire. From the time of the earliest unification under the Ch’in in the first millennium BC, Chinese dynasties had always been menaced, and often usurped, by peoples from north of the Yellow River. In time the dynasties devised a dual system of coping with these irruptions: using the Great Wall, first consolidated by the Ch’in, and frequently rebuilt, realigned and extended, as a primary line of demarcation between civilisation and nomadism, the Chinese rulers encouraged the border peoples — inevitably partly sinicised by contact with Chinese traders, officials and soldiers, and directly rewarded for their services by grants of protection, subsidies and territory (sometimes within the Great Wall) — to act as primary defenders of the settled lands; then, if that primary line of defence was penetrated, they counted on the superior attractions of their own civilised Chinese life to disarm the invaders in the course of time. The policy was based ‘on a set of assumptions, all of which reinforced the notion of the supremacy of Chinese institutions and culture and of their acceptability to the barbarians; the idea that the latter might not have had any need for Chinese culture was never entertained.’72

For more than a thousand years the policy worked. Though often invaded, at times divided and in some periods seriously disrupted, China was never wholly subjected to non-Chinese rule; foreigners who succeeded in carving out an area of authority were indeed, through acculturation and intermarriage, always absorbed into the civilisation. Periods of disruption often resulted in a positive and creative reaction when central power was re-established. Thus the Sui dynasty (581–617) and the succeeding T’ang (618–907), dominated though they were by aristocracies whose roots lay in the barbarian and largely Turkic invasions from the steppe that had caused the divisions of the third to fifth centuries, not only extended and strengthened the Great Wall but constructed huge public works, including the Grand Canal which linked the Yellow and Yangtse rivers above their navigable points. All this was achieved, moreover, without a militarisation of the regime, which stands in remarkable contrast to the experience of the Romans, who suffered first the barbarisation of their army and then the supplanting of their polity by warrior kingdoms that lived by the sword.

Though the Chinese ruling dynasties and aristocracies esteemed skill-at-arms and horsemanship, they did not confuse military leadership with administrative skills. And under the Sui and T’ang dynasties the gradualist military strategy first propounded by the fourth-century writer Sun Tzu took root. Sun Tzu drew on an existing corpus of ideas and practices in formalising his theory; it would not otherwise have recommended itself to the Chinese mind. In its emphasis on avoiding battle except with the assurance of victory, of disfavouring risk, of seeking to overawe an enemy by psychological means, and of using time rather than force to wear an invader down (all concepts recognised to be


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