The Warring States era (464 to 221 BCE) was a crucial turning point in Chinese history. During this time, the many effectively independent states into which China had become divided were at war with each other constantly. But unlike the constant warfare of the period 770 to 453 BCE, which had been aristocratic, based on extracting tribute and admissions of suzerainty, and which had involved small armies of charioteers, Warring States warfare evolved rapidly into a deadly contest of political survival. Some rulers began raising larger, infantry-based armies with which they conducted campaigns of conquest against their neighbors. To raise and support such armies, they refashioned their administrative systems and enhanced the power of kingship against their aristocracies. The fundamental outlines of the later Chinese imperial state were created during this age of military competition.
As rulers looked for every military advantage they could get, there arose a class of military experts who wrote advice on how best to use the new, larger armies in this life-or-death environment. The most famous of these many writers, Sun Tzu, is a shadowy figure about whom we know very little. He lived during the latter half of the Warring States period. Sun Tzu was a scholar of war, and he takes his place with Confucius, Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism), and Han Fei Tzu (founder of Legalism) as one of the Chinese masters. Indeed, the influence of Confucian, Taoist, and Legalist ideas can be seen in Sun Tzu’s principles of war. The scholarly nature of Sun Tzu’s work and the other Warring States military manuals is important in two ways. First, it shows that the study of warfare and its place in statecraft was taken seriously by Chinese intellectuals. But, second, the intellectualization of war fit into the anti-aristocratic, centralizing trends of Chinese states in this age. Sun Tzu and others constructed leadership—and indeed soldierly qualities—in warfare as a matter not of heroism and practical knowledge (as it had been for aristocratic-led armies earlier) but as the implementation of rational principles by a single trained expert; they saw good soldiers as obedient followers of this enlightened leadership. The implications of this model of military leadership for the structure of the state are clear.
From Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1963).
British Broadcasting Corporation
In May 1989, a protest movement gathered strength in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, as students convened and constructed a large statue called the Goddess of Democracy. By the beginning of June, the movement had turned into a generalized protest by workers and ordinary citizens in addition to the students. When they refused to disperse, the government sent in the army on June 4 to crush what, to many in the Communist Party, had become an incipient rebellion. The image of a lone man attempting to face down an approaching tank became the instant icon of the movement, but there are many other arresting narratives of the events that occurred during this protest. On the 15th anniversary of the suppression of these protests, the British Broadcasting Corporation interviewed survivors and eyewitnesses, gathering their testimonies into the report excerpted below.
The reign of Qianlong (r. 1736–1795) marked both the high point and the beginning of the decline of the Qing dynasty. Several European nations, driven by their desire to corner the market on the lucrative Chinese trade, sent representatives to Qianlong’s court. In 1793, Great Britain dispatched Lord Macartney, its first envoy to China, to obtain safe and favorable trade relations for his country. In response, Qianlong composed a letter to King George III (r. 1760–1820) detailing his objections and conditions, which Macartney conveyed back to Britain. The terms of this letter underscore Qianlong’s subtle understanding of global economic conditions and the maintenance of a balance between the interests of various nations.
E. Backhouse and J. O. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–331.
For most people, the greatest conflict of the second half of the twentieth century was one that emerged within and then divided peoples of the Western tradition: that is, the rival philosophies of democratic capitalism and communism. Yet one of the most successful practitioners and developers of communist thinking was not western but Asian, the extraordinary Chinese leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976).
Mao’s attempts to establish a pure, yet technologically advanced communist society in China were both transforming and devastating for the Chinese people. Policies such as the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s resulted in the deaths of millions. As a communist, Mao identified the inequities and exploitations of capitalism as the greatest cause of violence in the world; that did not make him any more friendly with the Soviet Union, however, as the two nations jostled for leadership of the communist movement. Mao’s death in 1976 contributed to the country’s abandonment of strict communist economic policies and the beginning of its integration into the international community.
The passage that follows was written shortly after the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. In his essay, Mao showed his discernment in recognizing that World War II had already begun, though Europeans would not realize it until 1939. Aside from the Japanese conquests, Italy had invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia), and Italian and German forces had intervened in the Spanish Civil War (as, indeed, did forces of the Soviet Union). Mao predicted correctly that a war among the Western powers would begin shortly, and that it would be followed by “revolutionary” wars of liberation against the Western colonial powers. When these were successful, he argued, and socialist governments established around the world, an era of “perpetual peace” would be inaugurated for mankind.
Mao Tse-tung [Zedong], “On Protracted War,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. II (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967), 148–50.
This one-act puppet play is one of the first fictionalized (though only thinly disguised) treatments of a famous event that occurred in Tokugawa Japan in 1701–1703. The historical incident began with a knife attack by the daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori on an imperial official named Kira Yoshinaka. Whatever the justice of the provocation, Asano had committed a serious breach in conduct and was forced to pay the most severe penalty. Even though Kira had suffered only a minor wound to his face, Asano was commanded to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. When he did so, his 47 samurai vassals were left leaderless (rōnin), but they swore to avenge Asano’s memory by killing Kira.
In January 1703, the 47 rōnin entered Kira’s home, chasing him and killing several of his retainers and wounding others, including Kira’s grandson. When they finally trapped and overcame Kira, the rōnin cut off his head and brought it to their master’s grave. However, they then decided to turn themselves in to the authorities and commit seppuku themselves, true to their code until the bitter end. In order to elude the censors, Chikamatsu altered the names, condensed some of the main details, and offered a judge that was more sympathetic to the rōnin cause. The essential story would reemerge repeatedly in popular culture (both Japanese and non-Japanese) down to the present day.
Jacqueline Miller, “A Chronicle of Great Peace Played Out on a Chessboard: Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Goban Taiheiki,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 46 (1986): 221–267, 263–267.
Iron Sword with Jade Handle, Earliest Cast-Iron Object (Western Zhoe), from Henan Museum, Guo State, Sanmenxia City
When this sword was discovered in 1990, it challenged conventional wisdom about when and under what circumstances Chinese people made the first cast-iron object. The dating of the object to the Western Zhou period pushed back the earliest date of this kind of manufacture by over 200 years. The sword consists of an iron blade, a bronze handle core, and a jade handle. Embedded turquoises were also found at the joint of the blade and the handle.
Tim Hulsen - OurTravelPics.com
Marco Polo (1254–1324) was a member of a clan of Venetian merchants, who had been active in trade in the Middle East for some decades. Polo claims to have accompanied his father and uncle on an extensive trade and diplomatic excursion to China in 1271, and in this account he describes the voyage as well as the people and places he has seen. He further claims to have lived 17 years in China and to have met with, and even served as an official for, Kublai Khan (1215–1294), Genghis Khan’s grandson. While some historians have suggested that the account may not be reliable, it demonstrates, at the very least, Western curiosity about Asia and the catalyst of trade in driving some Europeans into hitherto unknown parts of the world.
Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. Ronald Latham (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1958), 115–118.
The Qianlong Emperor
In 1793 the Earl of Macartney arrived in Beijing with a retinue of assistants and a baggage train of gifts carefully selected to impress the Qianlong emperor (1735–1795) with the ingenuity, utility, and scientific sophistication of British manufactures. Macartney was on a mission from King George III of Great Britain. His goals were to establish diplomatic relations between the two great sovereign powers for the first time and to negotiate agreements that would allow British traders access to coastal ports other than the established center at Canton, as well as relief from various fees, bribes, and fines that the Celestial Emperor’s officials imposed. The following document shows the emperor’s response. The British delegation was unsuccessful, and diplomatic relations were rebuffed. Half a century would pass before the irritating trade restrictions were repealed at gunpoint in the aftermath of the First Opium War (1839–1842).
E. Backhouse and J. O. P. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–24, 326, 330–31.
In March 1839, the Daoguang emperor sent Lin Zexu (1785–1850), a widely respected official with a reputation for courage and honesty, to Canton as an imperial commissioner, charged with the task of cutting off the opium trade—a trade which had proved extremely lucrative to British traders in the region. Lin confiscated vast opium stocks, ordered them burned, and made merchants sign an agreement that they would no longer sell the drug, on pain of death. British merchants appealed to their government for compensation—and for military action against Lin’s agents. This effort culminated in the First Opium War (1839–1842). In the midst of his anti-opium efforts, however, Lin also attempted to shame Queen Victoria (whom he believed was at the center of governmental policy in Great Britain) into cutting off the opium trade that was causing so much damage to the Chinese people, even though it generated profits for the British.
Chinese Repository, Vol. 8 (February 1840), pp. 497–503; reprinted in William H. McNeil and Mitsuko Iriye, eds., Modern Asia and Africa, Readings in World History Vol. 9, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 111–118
Between 1405 and 1433, a series of naval expeditions were sent out by Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, under the command of the remarkable Zheng He (1371–1435). The largest of Zheng’s ships were over 400 feet long and were thus more than four times the length of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria. His voyages took Zheng to the coasts of southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, Arabia, and East Africa. In 2010, marine archaeologists attempted to find remains of one of Zheng’s ships off the coast of Kenya, near Malindi, a site Zheng visited in 1418. This photograph shows a model of one of Zheng’s ships, compared with a model of the Santa Maria. The model is displayed in a shopping mall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall
When hostilities broke out between China and Britain in 1839, the British fleet was the most powerful in the world and in a high state of readiness. The Chinese had no real naval forces to contest the British, but a small Chinese squadron sailed out to confront the British men-o’-war. The underfunded and frantically assembled Chinese navy could not stand up to armored steam gunboats like the Nemesis, whose heavy pivot gun dominated riverside batteries and allowed British expeditionary forces to land wherever they pleased. The British methodically attacked and occupied forces along the Chinese coast from Guangzhou to Shanghai, and the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) marked an end to hostilities. However, the “heroes” of the Nemesis continued to receive attention for their victory over the Chinese, and a book detailing the ship’s voyages and military successes was rushed into print in 1845.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall, Narrative of the Voyages and Services of the Nemesis from 1840 to 1843, and of the Combined Naval and Military Operations in China: Comprising a Complete Account of the Colony of Hong-Kong and Remarks on the Character and Habits of the Chinese, 2nd ed. (London: Henry Colburn, 1845), 149–152, available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/43669/43669-h/43669-h.htm.
Boxers United in Righteousness
The nineteenth century saw an accumulation of disasters for China. In two Opium Wars in the 1840s and 1850s, British invasion forced the trade concessions demanded earlier. These conflicts helped to prompt the immensely destructive Tai-ping Rebellion (1850–1864). Various official reform movements encountered too many internal obstacles to effect much change. China lost a war to Japan in 1894 and was forced to accept a series of “unequal treaties” and agreements that granted “spheres of influence” to European powers. In 1899 internal disorder escalated. This time a portion of the imperial court headed by the Empress Dowager backed the opponents of western domination. The Boxers, drawing recruits from throughout the north China plain, killed western and Chinese Christians and besieged the embassies of foreign powers in Beijing itself. In July 1900 an unprecedented multinational army of British, German, American, Russian, French, Japanese, Austrian, and Italian troops entered Beijing to restore order and rescue the hostages. The International Expeditionary Force smashed the native army, looted Beijing, and, under the watchful eye of the international press, engaged in “punitive picnics” to exterminate opposition in the countryside.
China had a long tradition of secret societies and popular support for “social banditry” to help the poor. The Boxers United in Righteousness, who arose in Shandong province during the famines described earlier, followed ancient forms of aid and famine relief for their recruits. But the Boxers combined their appeals for social justice with calls to “Support the Qing, destroy the Foreign.” Like resistance movements in other parts of the world, they saw their country’s disasters as caused by its toleration of foreigners, especially the Christian missionaries whose numbers were increasing as western control of China became more pronounced. Recruits to the Boxers undoubtedly believed the terrible rumors of bizarre western religious practices requiring mutilation of women and children. They used magical charms and physical exercise rituals to invite the gods to inhabit their bodies, making them invulnerable to the guns and explosives of western armies. As with other resisters, this faith proved illusory. The Boxers were easily dispatched by the soldiers of the West, as were countless Chinese peasants who were innocent of any role in this conflict between cultures.
Joseph Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. University of California Press (1987): 299–300.
Sima Qian (c. 145 to after 91 BCE) is to Chinese history writing what Herodotus and Thucydides combined are to Western historical writing. A scholar and official under the Han, he began collecting historical records and sources early in his career. He was eventually appointed Grand Historian of the Han Court in 107 BCE, in which office he composed the Records of the Grand Historian. Based on extensive research in the Imperial Library and on the sources he collected, this monumental work traces Chinese history from the legendary Five Sage Emperors down to Sima Qian’s own times.
Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, trans. Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press (1993): 74–83.
The Tale of the Heike is the most famous of a whole set of medieval Japanese war tales. It tells the story of the Gempei War (1180–1185), the culmination of a civil war that split Japan between 1156 and 1185. It takes its name from the Chinese name of the losing side, a coalition of families led by the Heike (or Taira, in Japanese)—the Japanese war tales often focus on heroic losers rather than winners. Though initially successful, the Taira eventually met defeat at the hand of a set of clans led by the Genji (Minamoto in Japanese), whose leader, Minamoto Yoritomo, became Japan’s first shogun in 1185. Even on the winning side, however, the emphasis is on tragic heroes, for the central figure of the tale is the Genji general Yoshitsune, Yoritomo’s cousin, a brilliant general but naïve politician. After leading the Genji forces to victory, he is eliminated by Yoritomo as a potential rival.
From The Tale of the Heike, trans. Helen Craig McCullough. Stanford: Stanford University Press (1988): 317, 333–35. Copyright © 1988 Stanford University Press.
In the seventeenth century, the Manchus crossed the Great Wall, captured Beijing, and founded a new regime, the Qing, or “pure,” dynasty. Some Ming loyalists fled to the island of Formosa (Taiwan), off the Chinese coast, where they expelled the Dutch. The Europeans had established a trading base on the island, and the document below demonstrates the negotiated surrender of this fort to Koxinga.
William Campbell, Formosa under the Dutch (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1903), 455–456.
United Nations General Assembly
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was one of the most significant and lasting results of the Second World War. The League of Nations, created after the First World War, had failed to prevent the beginning of another, even more catastrophic and costly conflict. The United Nations was planned throughout the war as a substitute mechanism for global peace and security, but world leaders also believed that a document was necessary to affirm the rights of individuals throughout the entire world. A formal drafting committee, consisting of members from eight countries, was charged with the task. The committee chair was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt and a strong advocate for human rights in her own right. By its resolution 217 A (III), the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from the vote, but none dissented.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)
The Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu), a chronicle covering the years 722–483 BCE and composed at the court of Lu (the home state of Confucius), was acknowledged even at the time to be very difficult reading. Accordingly, scholars began composing commentaries to elucidate its finer points and clarify its meaning. The third orthodox commentary, attributed to “Mr. Zuo,” continues to influence historical thought about ancient China. This section concerns a conflict between the states of Qin and Jin in the seventh century BCE.
Victor H. Mair, eds., Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, and Paul R. Goldin, Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), 72–76.