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Reviewed by:
  • Military Thought in Early China by Christopher Rand
  • Mark Metcalf (bio)
Christopher Rand. Military Thought in Early China. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017. vii, 240 pp. Hardcover $85.00, isbn 978-1-4384-6517-3.

Explaining the development of first millennium b.c.e. Chinese military thought on the basis of roles of the civil (文 wen) and the martial (武 wu) in governance is not a new approach. Many early China specialists, including Mark Edward Lewis, Lisa Raphals, Robin Yates, have clearly identified the importance of such a wen/wu tension in their writings.1 Where Military Thought in Early China differs from its predecessors, however, is in the way that it frames such a development in a manner that allows the reader to closely follow the development of military thought from the establishment of the Western Zhou through the divergence of ideas during the late Spring & Autumn and Warring States periods to the eventual consolidation of views during the Western Han. Initially written as a Ph.D. dissertation in 1977, after a 40-year career in government Christopher Rand revised his original work to incorporate new insights from research and discoveries during the intervening years. The result is impressive. The book is particularly noteworthy for its extensive use of primary sources to trace this development and the meticulous manner in which such references are documented and commented on in the endnotes. Each chapter also includes a very useful conclusion section that summarizes the key points discussed in the chapter and their significance in the development of early Chinese military thought.

Rand's basic premise is that early Chinese views regarding social stability and political order have, at their core, the goal of answering "the Wen/Wu problem"; determining the appropriate roles for the civil and the martial. Presenting examples from the early Chinese literary corpus, he demonstrates the ubiquity of military thought in early Chinese texts and argues

"Repeatedly one finds in pre-Qin writings the notion that war is a natural, evolving attribute of the human community, and that martial activity allowed, paradoxically, for the advancement of civilized life . . . the sages of Chinese [End Page 94] antiquity, according to tradition, did not exclude violence but rather stipulated it as an outlet for hostile feelings, much as those manifested by armed beasts. War was perceived as an impetus for positive change rather than a negative feature of social life."

(pp. 5-6)

Chapter 1, "The Emergence of the Wen/Wu Problem," begins with a discussion of the idealized role of wen and wu in government as evidenced by the actions of the eponymous Kings Wen and Wu in the establishment of the Western Zhou. The world was to be governed by the civil (wen) and the awe inspiring influence of a virtuous ruler was deemed sufficient, in most cases, to maintain order in the world. On the rare occasions when a state threated such order with inappropriate behavior, however, it was appropriate for and incumbent upon the ruler to use military force (wu) to return the world to its proper state. Rand meticulously analyzes several excerpts from early Chinese texts, particularly the Odes, to support this assertion. This peaceable state gradually, yet inexorably, unraveled over the next four centuries and with it the traditional roles of wen and wu.

The first chapter concludes with the introduction of three "solutions" that were developed during the Warring States period in response to the "wen/wu problem." The first, militarism, "placed high value on martiality, as opposed to civility" (p. 22). Next, compartmentalization, which argued for "a clear separation between martial and civil" with "martial activity . . . subordinate to civility and . . . applied only in extremis" (p. 25). Finally, syncretism, which "attempted to refocus the wen/wu debate on the need for balance and reciprocality between martiality and civility" (pp. 26-27). Rand also identifies three perspectives, metaphysical, pragmatic, and ethical, which were used to implement the three solutions. These six terms are italicized throughout the text to highlight their significance as de facto technical terms; a very effective way of helping the reader to follow the individual threads of solutions or perspectives as they are woven throughout the narrative...


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pp. 94-97
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