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A Military History of China

edited by David A. Graff and Robin Higham

Publication Year: 2012

Gaining an understanding of China's long and sometimes bloody history can help to shed light on China's ascent to global power. Many of China's imperial dynasties were established as the result of battle, from the chariot warfare of ancient times to the battles of the Guomindang (KMT) and Communist regimes of the twentieth century. China's ability to sustain complex warfare on a very large scale was not emulated in other parts of the world until the Industrial Age, despite the fact that the country is only now rising to economic dominance.

In A Military History of China, Updated Edition, David A. Graff and Robin Higham bring together leading scholars to offer a basic introduction to the military history of China from the first millennium B.C.E. to the present. Focusing on recurring patterns of conflict rather than traditional campaign narratives, this volume reaches farther back into China's military history than similar studies. It also offers insightful comparisons between Chinese and Western approaches to war. This edition brings the volume up to date, including discussions of the Chinese military's latest developments and the country's most recent foreign conflicts.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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List of Maps

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pp. vii

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Preface to the Updated Edition

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pp. ix

It has been nearly ten years since the publication of the first edition of A Military History of China. During that time, enough has changed to warrant the updating of Larry Wortzel’s chapter “China’s Foreign Conflicts since 1949” and the replacement of June Teufel Dreyer’s chapter “Recent Developments...


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pp. xi

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Editor's Note

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pp. xiii

This book is intended to provide an accessible, one-volume introduction to Chinese military history covering both traditional and modern China. No other book currently available in English embraces as broad a range of topics and chronological periods in its examination of China’s martial heritage. Since this volume...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-18

Armed conflict has always played an important role in Chinese history. Most of China's imperial dynasties were established as a result of success in battle, and the same may be said of the Nationalist (Guomindang KMT) and Communist regimes in the twentieth century. Periods of dynastic decline...

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2. Continuity and Change

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pp. 19-38

From the perspective of military history, Chinese history divides naturally into three periods. The first of these is Ancient China, from earliest times to the end of the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 B.C.E.). Separating fact from later idealizations has long been the major challenge confronting...

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3. State Making and State Breaking

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pp. 39-56

In its broadest outline, Chinese history is often understood in terms of a succession of great dynasties—Han, Tang, Song, Ming, Qing—and Chinese military history can be presented as the successive conflicts between those dynasties and the "barbarian" inhabitants of the Inner Asian steppe, such as the...

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4. The Northern Frontier

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pp. 57-79

For two thousand years, the primary military and diplomatic preoccupation of the Chinese empire was the northern frontier. From the Xiongnu tribes that menaced the Qin (221–206 B.C.E.) and Han (202 B.C.E.–220 C.E.) empires to the Manchus who conquered China as the last imperial dynasty, the...

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5. Water Forces and Naval Operations

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pp. 81-96

Naval warfare and operations were crucial to the creation and unification of the Chinese empire for over two thousand years, yet this fact has usually been overlooked in the military history of China. China has generally been seen as a continental power that failed to develop an effective navy. This orientation...

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6. Military Writings

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pp. 97-114

Military thought, understood as the conscious study of battlefield events and the forces that shape them, may have had rudimentary precursors in the Neolithic (5500–3000 B.C.E.) when battles were fought with stone and wood, but certainly began to evolve in the Longshan period (3000–2000 B.C.E.) with...

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7. The Qing Empire

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pp. 115-133

In the year 1600 the land known to us as Manchuria was nominally a part of the Ming realm. However, Ming control was tenuous, and in fact most of the land was divided into numerous small, semiautonomous territories ruled or administered by traditional clan and tribal chieftains. Nurhachi, a chieftain...

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8. The Taiping Rebellion: A Military Assessment of Revolution and Counterrevolution

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pp. 135-151

Rarely in the course of human history do we see a mighty empire decline so precipitously and helplessly as the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) of China. This dramatic decline manifested itself most poignantly in the mid-nineteenth century through a number of devastating popular uprisings...

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9. Beyond the Marble Boat: The Transformation of the Chinese Military, 1850–1911

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pp. 153-174

In the northwestern suburbs of Beijing locals and tourists throng the Imperial Summer Palace, now a public park. At the center of the park is a picturesque artificial lake, and by the northern shore stands a pavilion carved out of stone (said to be marble) in the shape of a boat. The gaudy palace and...

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10. Warlordism in Early Republican China

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pp. 175-192

The emergence of warlordism, a condition under which military commanders exercise autonomous political power by virtue of their personal control of military force, made the early Republican period (1912-1927) a dark chapter in Chinese history. Warlordism arose as the consequence of a militarization...

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11. The National Army from Whampoa to 1949

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pp. 193-209

Following the founding of the Republic in 1911, the Guomindang adopted two approaches in its efforts to gain power. On the one hand, the KMT attempted to work within the parliamentary system to gain control of the National Assembly through electoral victories. On the other hand, the party recognized...

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12. The Sino-Japanese Conflict, 1931–1945

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pp. 211-227

The origins of China's National War of Resistance (or the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945) go back at least as far as the late nineteenth century, when tensions over control of the Korean peninsula exploded into the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. Japan decisively defeated China on land and sea, took...

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13. "Political Power Grows Out of the Barrel of a Gun": Mao and the Red Army

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pp. 229-248

That Mao Zedong was a military genius is a myth, although a powerful one. It is one that has been embraced by many people, from those seeking to explain how the Chinese Communists came to power in 1949 to those seeking to emulate them. Intimately associated with this Maoist myth is the...

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14. Always Faithful: The PLA from 1949 to 1989

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pp. 249-266

At the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the People's Liberation Army was 5.5 million strong. Its twenty years of experience in guerrilla fighting against both the Nationalists and Japanese had culminated in large-scale conventional operations during the Civil War. China's senior...

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15. China's Foreign Conflicts since 1949

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pp. 267-284

China’s leaders have tended to use force as an instrument of foreign policy when they believed it was important to take a strong stand on matters affecting sovereignty, including reinforcing territorial claims; to maintain safe buffer zones, free from what Beijing perceived as foreign intervention; and to...

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16. Recent Developments in the Chinese Military

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pp. 285-303

The elderly party leaders who gathered together the morning aft er the military quelled demonstrations at Tiananmen Square and a hundred other cities in China in June 1989 must have been profoundly disconcerted by the events they had witnessed. Immediately dubbed the Eight Immortals, after the...

Chinese Place Names

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pp. 305

About the Contributors

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pp. 307-309


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pp. 311-324

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136387
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813135847

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: updated edition