A Military History of China

Article excerpt

A MILITARY HISTORY OF CHINA, David A. Graff and Robin Higham, eds., Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 2002, 316 pages, $31.00.

A Military History of China is the first book in a Western language that describes the role of force and military institutions in modern Chinese military history in anything approaching a satisfactory form. Written for non-specialists, the book is organized into an introduction and 15 discrete essays. Five of the essays are thematic and deal with subjects like state-making and state-breaking; the Chinese Northern Frontier problem; naval operations; military writings; and continuities and dis-continuities. There is a brief survey of the Qing Empire, but the editors devoted most of the book to essays on narrowly drawn Chinese military histoiy topics written since 1850.

Many of the topics are well known to modern Chinese history specialists, but they are undeservedly obscure to the general reader. For example, Maochun Yu's succinct essay on the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) outlines the causes of the titanic civil war (approximately 25 million people died) and gives a pithy campaign history in which he explains the reasons for Qing success and Taiping failure. In addition, he summarizes the best of the literature in English and gives some indication of the lacunae that remain in Taiping studies. Edward McCord's essay on warlordism follows a similar outline, succinct explanation, and a brief operational history and reasons for rise and decline. McCord presents the ablest summary of the phenomenon and when placed in context tells one much about the course of contemporary Chinese politics and the reasons for Chinese fears of "disorder. …