UNIVERSAL MILITARY SERVICE
MARK EDWARD LEWIS
It is virtually impossible to train all the subjects of a commonwealth in the arts of war, and at the same time keep them obedient to the laws and magistrates. Jean Bodin, Les six livres de la république.
Founded in a protracted civil war, the Han dynasty (202 BC—AD 220) carried forward many of the institutions of its predecessor, the ill-starred Qin (221–206 BC) state that had created China's first unitary empire. One of the most important of these institutions, indeed the very organizing principle of the state, was the system of universal military service and the ranking of the male population with titles awarded, in part, for success in combat. Service in the army was the foundation of state authority in the countryside, weightiest and most time-consuming of all the forms of labour from its subjects, and an avenue to social advancement.1
Yet universal military service was abolished under the Eastern Han dynasty and disappeared from the Chinese world, unlike many other Han institutions which became formal models for subsequent dynasties. This abolition had a major impact on the Han state, and in some accounts of the period it is assigned the primary responsibility for the ultimate collapse of the dynasty.2 In his classic essay____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Warfare in Chinese History. Contributors: Hans J. Van Der Ven - Editor. Publisher: Brill. Place of publication: Boston. Publication year: 2000. Page number: 33.
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