Warfare in Chinese History

By Hans J. Van Der Ven | Go to book overview

DOU JIANDE'S DILEMMA: LOGISTICS, STRATEGY, AND
STATE FORMATION IN SEVENTH-CENTURY CHINA
DAVID A. GRAFF

The great majority of China's imperial dynasties owed their existence to the successful application of armed force. Some, such as the Tuoba Wei, Jurchen Jin, Mongol Yuan, and Manchu Qing were 'conquest dynasties' which saw alien peoples from the northern grasslands and forests establish their control over all or part of China by force of arms. Others, such as Qin, Sui and Song, originated as regional regimes in a divided China and then succeeded in extending their authority over the rest of the country. Still other dynasties emerged from anarchic conditions of banditry and civil war following the collapse of the previous imperial regime to overcome numerous rivals and fashion a new order; examples of this pattern would include Han (both Western and Eastern), Tang, and Ming. Though circumstances might differ, the use of military means to establish, extend, and consolidate the dynastic enterprise was common to all. In this respect, they were of course no different from many other empires in world history.1 What set China apart was the ability of the imperial state to rebuild itself again and again—in much the same form and ruling over much the same territory—in the wake of catastrophic collapses of the sort that marked the final, irremediable end of other empires.

On one level China's resilience can be attributed to the tenacious influence of Confucian philosophies of government, and to the indispensability of the class of scholar-administrators (shi) who were committed to them. On another level, however, the reconstruction of the empire was still inevitably a military process; it was military campaigns and victory in battle that caused a congeries of regional regimes, each with its own complement of scholar-administrators, to give way to a single unified empire. The creation of the Tang

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1
S.N. Eisenstadt, The political systems of empires (New York: The Free Press, 1963), 13–15, 130; Michael W. Doyle, Empires (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 21, 24, 45, 56–57, 84–85, and 178.

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