Warfare in Chinese History

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

CULTURE, HISTORY, AND IMPERIAL CHINESE
STRATEGY: LEGACIES OF THE QING CONQUESTS
PETER C. PERDUE

In this chapter I discuss several perspectives on the grand strategy of the Chinese empire, drawing from my ongoing work on the expansion of the Qing empire into Central Eurasia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. My central question is the relationship between cultural definitions of threats and decisions about the use of military force. Two very different theoretical traditions address this question, one derived from security studies and the other from cultural anthropology. Both traditions are now represented by outstanding works of scholarship applying their insights to late imperial China (the Ming and Qing dynasties, ca. AD 1400–1911). After a brief summary and critique of these studies, I compare the strategic thinking of the Ming and Qing rulers.


THEORIES OF IMPERIAL CHINESE STRATEGY

Security studies is a branch of political science primarily concerned with contemporary international relations, but a number of scholars have turned to historical work, concentrating particularly on the origins of World War I.1 Alastair lain Johnston is one of the few political scientists working in this tradition to analyze East Asian history. His recent book, Cultural realism: Strategic culture and grand strategy in Chinese history examines the influence on the Chinese use of military force of a coherent, temporally persistent strategic culture, or 'ranked grand strategic preferences derived from central paradigmatic assumptions about the nature of conflict and the enemy, and collectively shared by decision makers'.2

____________________
1
Barry R. Posen, The sources of military doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany between the world wars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984); Stephen Van Evera, Causes of war: power and the roots of conflict (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).
2
Alastair Iain Johnston, Cultural realism: strategic culture and grand strategy in Chinese history (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), ix. Another recent example of analysis of modern Chinese foreign relations informed by security studies is Thomas Christensen, Useful adversaries: grand strategy, domestic mobilization, and Sirto-American conflict, 1947–58 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

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