While Confucius' writings reflect
as a peace-loving country, the country has nevertheless been involved in many wars throughout its long history. The Chinese perception of peace is expressed in the term 平, meaning both "peace", and "flat" - with no ups and downs; in other words - stability. China
Periods of peace seldom lasted for long in Chinese history. The country was prone to attacks from the north and the west, as well as to internal strife. Its defenses were stretched thin along its borders, and when nomadic tribes organized focused strikes on any point along the vast border, they could usually successfully invade before any Chinese reinforcements were able to arrive.
In order to prevent or at least curb such attacks, the feudal lords of the Zhou 周dynasty (1046-221 BCE) started to build defense walls. During the Warring States period (475-221 BCE), rival forces built walls along their borders to prevent attacks.
The first Emperor of the Qin 秦 dynasty221) -207 BCE), Qin Shi Huang Di 秦始皇帝 (259-210 BCE), interconnected and extended the old fortification walls along China's northern border, forming the Great Wall of China, to stop the invading Barbarians from the north. The fortification was constructed of two parallel stone-faced walls with the space between them filled with rubble, and topped with a path paved with bricks. The outer of these two walls was jagged in defense against potential attackers. At strategic points along the wall towers were built, and the gates had additional defense walls. Very little has survived of this original wall, which was to the north of the Great Wall known to us today. Thousands of laborers died during its construction in the bitterly cold mountains of the north.
The Chinese repeatedly renovated the Great Wall, which enormously reduced the ability to attack it from the north. Its remains, known to us today, are mostly from the Ming 明 dynasty (1368-1644 CE). During periods of active defense, the battalions that manned the walls communicated by means of torches and flags.
We can learn much about the Chinese army in ancient times from the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, discovered in 1974, east of the modern city of
西安. In this mausoleum were found about 7,000 life-like and life-size terracotta warriors, with individual facial expressions. Among them are archers, riders and knights arranged in battle position, defending their emperor. Xian
During the Zhou dynasty and the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) that preceded it, there was constant inter-tribal warfare. The warriors then were knights in armor, who rode in wooden or bronze chariots on their way to battle. They wore bronze helmets, and carried a sword and an axe. Each chariot held a driver, a warrior and an archer. Such knights comprised the core force in the army of Imperial China until the end of the nineteenth century. Behind them marched the infantry, usually peasants dressed in tunic and trousers, who had been forced to leave their fields.
, for two thousand years, the ordinary soldiers had belonged to the lowest class, lower than that of the merchants, and equal to actors and criminals. The Chinese proverb "Nails are not made from good iron and good men don't become soldiers" demonstrates the lowliness of the army's status in the hierarchical social ranking. China
During the Shang dynasty, the Chinese army used powerful bows made of bentwood, whose arrows were able to reach over 700 meters and were far more powerful than those used by Western archers. During the Han 汉 dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), the Chinese developed more technologically advanced bows, which became their "secret weapon" against the invading nomads. It was customary to boast that one Chinese archer was comparable to ten nomads. This kind of weapon remained in standard use by the Chinese army until modern times.
The enormous Chinese army confronted Huns, Turks and other invaders. Likewise, it had to intervene in internal struggles, following the changes in dynasties. Such confrontations demanded strategic thought. One expression of such thinking is found in The Art of War 兵法, the oldest book in the world to discuss the art of war. It was written in the 6th century BCE by Sun Zi 孫子, a legendary general whose actual existence remains doubtful. The Art of War has been widely used by soldiers in
throughout its military history. Today it is well known in military academies around the world. China
Sun Zi's book analyzes total war, in the modern sense of the term. Among other things, it deals with the preparations for war and with psychological warfare. A central idea in the book is that deception is a key to winning a war, and that truly great generals can overcome the enemy without recourse to war. Confucius, a contemporary of Sun Zi, opposed militarism in any form, including the ideas proposed in the book. The Confucians brought change to the Chinese conception of an ideal society, in replacing the knight with the sage and moral man.
The philosopher Mo-Ti (or Mo Zi 墨子) (479-381 BCE) also opposed war. He called the military commanders "murderers", as they aspired to glory on the backs of innocent people. He considered war heroes as criminals who had become heroes simply because they were good at killing. Similarly, he thought that funeral ceremonies should replace victory celebrations; glory can only bring harm to those who possess it. Among others, he wrote that he treated well both those who treated him well and those who treated him badly; this was his way to achieve goodness.
Between the period of the Han dynasty and that of the Tang 唐 dynasty (618-907 CE), the status of the army diminished, losing importance in society, as the status of government officials rose. Honorable people did not serve in the army and scholars were anti-militarist. The powerful ruling families dedicated their time to hunting and to training as archers. Emphasis was put on the moral code more than on military activity. Despite this widespread anti-militarism in
, however, the army had grown increasingly larger since the Song 宋 dynasty (960-1279 CE) and its equipment continued to improve as time went by. The common soldiers in the army still came from the lowest class (most of them were prisoners of war), while the commanders came from the nobility. In peace times, the army served as a policing and supervising force. China
Foreign rulers thus soon gained an advantage over the Chinese in regard to military standards, by diverting their resources away from the educated elite and developing instead their military elites.
Prior to this, since the 9th century CE, the Chinese had held a military advantage derived from their invention of gunpowder 火药, one of the greatest achievements of
in the Middle Ages. When they invented gunpowder, they did not originally consider it as a technological achievement, but merely a byproduct of chemical experiments performed by Daoists in their search for an immortality drug. They then used it in the production of firecrackers to frighten away evil spirits. China
Formulas for the production of explosive compounds had been written as early as 300-650 CE. Documentation referring to the invention of gunpowder appeared for the first time in the 9th century in a Daoist book of instructions on how to produce it: mixing coal, potassium nitrate and sulfur. In the context of this description, it was recommended, however, not to mix these ingredients, especially not with the addition of arsenic, because those who had done so in the past had not only singed their beards but also burned down the building they had worked in!
Implementation of the use of gunpowder started during the Tang dynasty. As early as the year 1000 CE, the Chinese began to use it to produce simple bombs and grenades.
By the time of the Song 宋 (960-1279 CE) and Yuan 元 (1280-1368 CE) dynasties, the use of gunpowder had become widespread and weapons like cannons, missiles and fire balls appeared for the first time.
During the early Ming dynasty, military units were equipped with primitive firearms. The Ming government borrowed cannons and gunners from  in order to defend themselves against the Manchurians. Later, the Chinese began to use Western firearms or their imitations, but their weapons technology was way behind that of the West. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced powerful cannons to the Chinese, who used them immediately in southern
against the non-Han people. Macao China
Another military area in which
was prominent was that of marine warfare, already well-developed in ancient times. The Chinese had used waterways inside the country as important transportation routes in the southern part of the country. They were already utilizing the rivers and lakes during the internal wars that took place before the foundation of the Han dynasty. Marine warfare continued when the Ming dynasty was established after usurping the Song dynasty. At the beginning of the 15th century, even before had sailed around China Africa, Ming emperors had sent fleets into the Indian Ocean to rule the southern seas.
As far as military organization and recruiting soldiers were concerned, the Chinese found a unique solution, reflecting the central place of the family in Chinese society. As part of the reforms of Wang An Shi 王安石 (1021-1086 CE), scholar, administrator and poet in the time of Emperor Shen Zong 神宗 (ruled between 1067-1085 CE), the bao jia 保甲 system was implemented. In this system, every ten households constituted a bao 保, and every ten baos constituted a jia 甲 , meaning 100 households. Every household had to send one of its sons to this new military force, which soon proved to be much more efficient than the regular army. Rich families were also required to breed animals for riding, to supply the army. The militias founded by Wang An Shi were based on soldiers and peasants. Some militias included peasants who were part-time soldiers, and some included soldiers who were part-time peasants.
The Chinese army was not only comprised of male soldiers. Sun zi, in his book Art of War, contended that women too could take part in military activity. Once, when talking with He Lu 阖庐, King of Wu 吴, the king told him that he had read his book and asked if it was possible to implement his theory on women. When Sun zi answered in the positive, the king sent him 180 women from his harem and asked him to treat them like his soldiers. Sun Zi divided the women into two groups, and at the head of one of them he placed the king's favorite concubine. When the sound of the drums signaled the start of drill exercises, all the women burst into laughter. Responding to this, Sun Zi immediately ordered the beheading of the two concubines who stood at the head of each group. Order was instantly restored.
The Chinese writings mention several women warriors who reached key positions. The most famous of these was the legendary Hua Mu Lan 花木兰 whose story is told in a song by an anonymous poet in the 5th or 6th century CE. According to the song, Hua Mu Lan was a warrior recruited into the army, who built herself a brilliant career. Her father had been called to serve but was too old, and so was to send his son instead. Since he had no son, his daughter disguised herself as a man, mounted a horse, and presented herself in his place. She served in the army as a man for 12 years as an outstanding soldier, and reached a high rank without anybody noticing that she was in fact a woman. The emperor himself even offered her a ruling position, but she turned it down in order to return home. Later, when her fellow soldiers came to visit her, they were shocked at seeing her sitting and spinning. Even today, she symbolizes filial piety.
Following the foundation of the People's Republic of
in 1949, peasant soldiers replaced scholars as role models in Chinese society. A poster from the time of the Cultural Revolution, proclaiming "Continue the Revolution to the End", expresses this change. This poster shows a female peasant soldier holding Mao's Book of Thoughts, wearing a Mao pin, and holding a rifle. China
[Once] a guard closes a gate, [even] ten thousand [enemy] soldiers cannot open it
This proverb is used to describe a strategically important place that is difficult to access. One such a place is Badaling 八达岭，a pass in a section of the Great Wall that defends
to the northwest. Throughout the history of China this pass has enabled observation of the enemy's activities from both a height and a distance. Beijing
Literally: While living in peace, think of danger.
While living in peace provide against danger.
A parallel English proverb:
The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed during war.
Before sending troops [to battle], first plan a path of retreat
[When] one man is ready to risk his life, ten thousand men cannot defeat him
Literally: Gate God fights against Kitchen God.
This idiom is used to describe someone who fights against his relatives.
With swords drawn and with bows stretched
This idiom is used to describe an explosive situation or mutual hostility.
Killing a snake, first hit its head; capturing a thief, first capture their leader
Capturing the leader is most important in fighting the enemy.
It is easy to find a thousand soldiers, [but] it is hard to find one good general
[As in rowing a boat], the wind is not always beneficent, [so] too does an army not always win
Military victory in chess - a war discussed [only] on paper
Every war is based on deceit
, Art of War I, 18. Sun Zi
A parallel proverb in the Bible:
"כי בתחבולות תעשה לך מלחמה" (משלי כד, 6).
(Proverbs, 24, 6). . For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war
"Wise counsel", meaning "tricks" in the Bible.
Literally: Under the command of a strong general, there are no weak soldiers.
A qualified leader employs talented people, or creates a suitable atmosphere.
If you wish to defeat the enemy, first get him help [in order to pacify him]; if you want to defeat the enemy, you should give him initial [advantage]
Know yourself and know the enemy, [and] in a hundred wars, you will not be defeated.
Art of War III, 18., Sun Zi
In music, there are no more than five tones. However, out of various combinations of them it is possible to create more melodies than can be heard.
The number of basic colors does not exceed five. However, out of various combinations of them it is possible to create a greater range of colors than can be seen.
The number of basic tastes does not exceed five. However, out of various combinations of them it is possible to create more flavors than can be tasted.
In battle, there are no more than two types of attack: direct and indirect. However, out of these two, in various combinations, it is possible to maneuver endless options.
Art of War, V, 7-10. ,Sun Zi
A crafty rabbit strikes an eagle – uses attack as a defense
Alternatively, just the second part:
Use attack as a defense
The best defense is attack.
In Hebrew, they say:
הקם להורגך השכם להורגו (ברכות . נח , א).
Literally: He, who arises to kill you, kill him first.
Berachot (Talmudic tractate) 58, 1.
One general achieves his glory, and ten thousand bones turn to dust
Thousands die, so that the ruler may become great.
Literally: Use poison as an antidote to poison.
Use the enemy's tactics to defeat him.
In English: Fight fire with fire.
Literally: Catching a hen in a chicken coop.
Catching someone who has no way to run away.
A boasting army will certainly be defeated
In the Bible it is written:
אל יתהלל חוגר כמפתח (מלכים א, כ 11).
Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.
(1 Kings, 20, 11).
[The value of] a general [lies] in [his] strategy [and] not in [his] courage; [The value of] soldiers [lies] in [their] excellence [and] not in [their] quantity
The same idea is echoed in the proverb:
Better have a good strategy than many soldiers
In the Bible:
טובה חוכמה מכלי קרב (קהלת ט', 18).
Wisdom is better than weapons of war (Ecclesiastes 9, 18).
The Master said: Three armies can be deprived of their commanding general, [but even] an ordinary man cannot be deprived of his will.
Analects IX, 25.
Out of 36 strategies, the best is to escape
The only way out is to leave.
Hunt foxes while hiding and hunt wolves openly
Coping with different rivals requires different strategies.
Horses for courses.
It is easy to hide from a revealed sword, [but] it is hard to guard against a hidden arrow
A parallel proverb in English:
Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.
orders, [as] grass follows the wind
Literally: One hundred shots, one hundred on target.
This idiom is used to express perfect accuracy.
A thousand requests are not as effective as one threat
Repairing the way, while bypassing secretly
This idiom is used to describe an overt action intending to camouflage a covert stratagem and is expressed in the following story:
In 205 BCE, Liu Bang 刘邦 was crowned as Han 汉 king but the army of his rival Xiang Yu 项羽 was more powerful than his own army. Liu Bang was forced to withdraw his 30,000 soldiers to his stronghold in the mountains in Han Zhong 汉中. The main route to the stronghold was a path of wooden planks, facing a cliff. Liu Bang burnt this path immediately after his soldiers had passed it, intending to make Xiang Yu believe that he had no intention of returning. Six months later, Liu Bang sent his people to rebuild the path. Xiang Yu thought that Liu Bang was planning to attack him from this path, and assumed that the attack could not be carried out before construction of the path would be complete. In the meantime, however, Liu Bang secretly lead his forces along a dangerous path in Chen Cang 陈仓, and took Xiang Yu by surprise. This was the beginning of Liu Bang's struggle against Xiang Yu for control of central
A rat rides a buffalo – the bigger one does not have the capabilities of the smaller one
Said of a small weak individual that frightens the big and the strong.
A parallel idiom in Hebrew:
אימת יתוש על הפיל (שבת עז).
Literally: A mosquito threatening an elephant. (Sabbath, 77 (Talmudic))
Literally: Hundred battles, hundred victories.
Literally: Hundred battles, hundred victories.
Victory in every battle.
A confused soldier [harms only] himself, [while] a confused general [harms] multitudes
Literally: A battle between a dragon and a tiger.
Literally: A battle between a dragon and a tiger.
A battle between giants.
Before an army [starts] moving, it has to have provisions
Before doing something, make some preparations to ensure its success.
Hits the grass and scares a snake
Acts too hastily and alerts the enemy.
Literally: [When] two tigers fight, one will surely get hurt.
When two powerful people fight, one will surely get hurt.
Therefore, better try to avoid wars.