Warfare in Chinese History

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

CONCLUSION
GLOBAL MILITARY HISTORY:
THE CHINESE DIMENSIONast
JEREMY BLACK

The principal subject of military history has been that of the 'West', the leading meta-narrative the 'rise of the West'. This is an overarching account that is variously explained and dated but that tends to centre on the role of military technology as both cause and consequence of Western success. In this account, the rest of the world features essentially as a failure. This failure again is variously explained and dated, but it overshadows the military history of the 'rest'. Furthermore, analysis of the 'rest' is commonly both subordinated to that of the West and explained in its terms. This is not a matter of elderly accounts, but, instead, of much recent writing. To take the example of a first-rate piece of work, The Cambridge illustrated history of warfare edited by Geoffrey Parker (Cambridge, 1995), it is only when one turns from cover to title page that the sub-title 'The Triumph of the West' appears. The Preface acknowledges 'the charge of Eurocentricism', but offers:

… three defences. First, it would be impossible to provide adequate coverage in a single volume of the military history of all major cultures… Second, merely to pay lip-service to the military and naval traditions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, while devoting the lion's share of attention to the West, would be unpardonable distortion. Finally… for good or ill over the past two centuries the western way of war has become dominant all over the world.1

All three reasons are understandable, but the net effect is limiting as a coverage of war in the world. It also contributes to a primitivization of non-Western traditions, because clearly they did not lead to a situation of dominance. The reader's companion to military history (1996),

____________________
1
G. Parker, ed., The Cambridge illustrated history of warfare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995), vii.
ast
I would like to thank Bill Roberts and Hans van den Ven for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.

-428-

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