This article was extracted from Page 22 of "The Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang", published by China Travel and Tourism Press, 1996. It gives an overview of the force structure of the Qin army ( 221-206 BC) and may well reflect also the characteristics of a typical late Warring States Period Chinese Army.
I believe that the First Emperor and his generals were thoroughly familiar or were at least aware of Sun Tzu's Art of War, given the fact that Han Fei Tzu, a contemporary thinker of the Legalist School, had written an article which the First Emperor had read, in which he asserts that "everyone has a copy of Sun Tzu and Wu Tzu....", implying the widespread dissemination of Sun Tzu' s Art of War during the late Warring States Period. Given the First Emperor's initial supreme interest to unite through military force all of China under his rule, it was unlikely that Sun Tzu's work would have escaped his notice...
BATTLE FORMATIONS: ARRAYS OF CHARIOTS, CAVALRY AND INFANTRY
It was already known to ancient Chinese strategists that an army could fight with combat effectiveness only when they were in a certain formation or battle array. According to "Liu Tao" or "Six Treatises on Strategy", if the troops were to fight individually, "a lone mounted soldier would be no match for one footman"; well-arrayed in battle, however, "one mounted soldier would be a match for eight footmen." The same idea has been fully shared by Friedrich Engels when he stressed the grew importance of combat formation for cavalry.
An armed force is not a martial arts troupe, it must rank battle formation above individual skills in importance. Ancient troops, therefore, were maintained in certain patterns of formation whether they were engaged in field operations, in the siege of a city or in pursuit of an enemy. "Individually," says Sun Zi in his Art of War, "the courageous should not advance, nor the timid retreat." Anyone who dared to break ranks would be punished by military law.
King Wu (c. 11th century B.C.), founder of the Zhou Dynasty, on his famous expedition against the tyrannical last king of Yin, issued an order that each soldier in combat, after charging the enemy and advancing a few steps, must look around to adjust his position so that the battle formation be kept throughout the engagement.
Examples abound in history, in which strict battle arrays or the lack of them, decided the outcome of an engagement. At the Battle of Yanling (575 B.C.), the army of Chu was defeated because it "was not in orderly array." At a battle fought on the River Bi, when the Jin army was doomed to a debacle, one of its legions maintained its formation and was able to retreat in good order, while the others suffered total destruction because they broke ranks.
Great soldiers in ancient times, therefore, are known to have attached great importance to the disposition of the troops in definite arrays. Yet, owing to the paucity of concrete descriptions in extant ancient literature, the composition of these battle arrays had remained a total riddle until the discovery of the Qin figures.
Qin Shi Huang's terracotta army has presented the ancient battle formations in a way not only true-to-life; they are also almost "as large as life." The riddle of how ancient armies were arrayed in battle has been solved.
1) BATTLE ARRAY IN VAULT 1
There are about 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses is Vault 1. At the time of writing, however, only some thousand warriors, eight war chariots and thirty-two horses have been excavated. The following is the way they are arrayed.
The chariots are arranged in mixed compositions with the foot soldiers, composing a rectangular formation facing east. It consists of four parts: the van, the rearguard, the main body and the flanks.
The vanguard is formed by three ranks of warriors, all facing east; with 68 men in each rank. It has a total strength of 204.
Immediately behind the van is the main body of the formation, a massive array extending about 184 metres with war chariots interposed with infantrymen in close order.
On either side of the main body is a single rank of men extending also for 184 metres. They stand facing out (to the north and south) and are the side guard of the formation.
At the end of the main column to the west are another three ranks of soldiers, of whom two rows stand facing east while the third row faces west to guard against attacks from the rear.
The above goes to show how compactly the array of the pottery army is organized.
An important principle followed in ancient times in lining up a battle array was that each formation must have a crack force as the van and a powerful force to bring up the rear. Without a dauntless vanguard, the army would be like a sword with no edge; without a forceful rearguard, it would be like a sword with no hilt. Only "with a sharp van and a protective rear," says Sun Bin (4th to 3rd century B.C.) in his Art of War, can an armed force "hold its own and repulse the enemy." The battle formation of the terracotta Qin army conforms with this principle.
The pottery warriors in the van of Vault 1 are light-dressed without armour or helmet. They have their hair tied up in buns and legs protected in leggings, and use bows or crossbows as their weapons. They can only be the fleet-footed warriors who could "scale great heights and march long distances."
Behind the van is a column of 38 files composed of chariots and foot soldiers. All the warriors, being the heavy-dressed ones, wear armour and shin guards and hold a variety of longshaft and shooting weapons. They are outfitted for protracted hand-to-hand encounters with the enemy.
The battle formation in Vault 1 clearly places the light and vigorous force in front, followed by the heavy and powerful, to integrate assaulting impact with enduring strength. This created a mighty fighting force with which to shatter enemy positions and wipe out a strong foe.
The war chariots at the eastern end of Vault 1 are positioned in pairs, each pair a fighting unit. One of the pair is the leader, the other the supporting chariot. In defence the two would cover each other in attacks from all sides; in assault they would mount a pincer movement. The two were inseparable; separated, both would be doomed to failure.
As for coordination between chariots and men, each chariot is manned by three armoured soldiers, namely one chariot driver and two warriors, and is covered by infantrymen on all sides. Twelve men precede it in three rows of four, forming a squad to fight the enemy in front. Flanking it, soldiers varying in number between 52 and 60, also in ranks of four, form two small phalanxes to march alongside the chariot, each responsible for dealing with the enemy from one side. Then a fourth group of between seventy-two and over a hundred men bring up the rear of each chariot.
This system of grouping four bodies of foot soldiers round a chariot, called the "five-element formation" in its time, was meant to ensure close coordination between the two arms and to provide greater infantry cover to the chariots. It also allowed ample room for the employment of flexible tactics. When the chariots were handicapped in movements in defensive operations or on rugged terrain, greater reliance was placed on the infantry. On flat terrain the chariots were placed ahead of the foot soldiers and employed as the main combat force assisted by the infantrymen. This tactic is summarised succinctly by an ancient writer in these words: "Chariots precede the foot, with the latter filling up the gaps, ... Dispatch chariots to meet the enemy; follow up with the soldiers to meet the changing situation." (Research in a Mountain Cottage: Chariot Warfare.) It appears clear, therefore, that the relative positioning of the chariots and foot soldiers changed with varying topography and combat situation.
2) BATTLE ARRAY IN VAULT 2
The general layout of the soldiers in Vault 2, as explained before, is like a thick letter L, and consists of four small phalanxes.
Click here for a pic of the layout:
Phalanx 1 -- 174 non-armoured archers and 160 armoured archers/crossbowmen, totalling 334 men
Phalanx 2 -- 64 chariots (manned by 3 men each or 192 men)
Phalanx 3 -- 19 chariots (manned by 3 men each or 57 men) and 264 infantry, plus 8 cavalry -- 14 chariots with 8
infantry each, 3 chariots with 32 infantry each, 2 chariots with 28 infantry each plus 4 cavalry each
Phalanx 4 -- 6 chariots (manned by 2 men each) and 108 cavalry -- 6 chariots escorted by 4 cavalry each,
with main body of 84 cavalry following behind
Phalanx 1, situated at the top of the L, forms the front corner of the whole formation. It is composed of two parts: the borders and the core. Standing all along the four sides are 174 figures of bowmen, lightly clad without armour. They surround the core of the formation, which is a group of 160 archers arrayed in eight files of 20 men each. All covered by armour, they are the heavy-dressed type and hold bows and crossbows as their weapons.
Why is it that the figures on the four sides are standing while those in the middle are squatting? Two rules were to be observed in ancient times by troops using shooting weapons. First, no fellow soldiers must stand in front of those shooting so that nobody of the same side got hurt; second, archers of the same unit must take turns at shooting to keep arrows flying at the enemy and give him no reprieve. The two groups of archer figures in this phalanx are supposed to alternate between the postures of standing and squatting, depending on whether or not it is their turn to shoot. That is to say, the archers on the sides shoot first at the enemy and then squat down; they are followed by those in the middle, who stand up to start shooting. The two groups take turns at shooting so that continuous flights of arrows keep the enemy at bay.
Phalanx 2, to the right of the base of the L-formation is a chariot array composed of eight lines of eight chariots each, sixty-four in all. Each chariot, drawn by a team of four horses, carries three armoured figures - a driver and two warriors. There are no foot soldiers attached to it on any side, a type of troop deployment different from the practice prevalent in the Yin and Zhou dynasties (c. 16th to 11th century B.C.) or the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) when chariots were without exception supported by infantry. This new discovery has revealed something we did not know before. The change must have followed the development of foot soldiers during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.) into an independent infantry arm. Battles were now fought by coordinated action between units of horse, foot and chariot, and it was presumably no longer necessary for each individual chariot to have foot soldiers assigned to it.
Phalanx 3, the middle of the L-formation, consists of three files of chariots reinforced with horse and foot. There are six chariots each in two of the files, and seven in the middle file, totaling nineteen. Each carries three occupants, namely one driver and two fighters as usual. At the very end of the left file a chariot with the figure of a general is the command chariot, which is followed by a group of infantry. Of the other chariots, those in front are followed by eight infantrymen each and those toward the back are supported from behind by a group of 28 or 32 foot soldiers. The rear of the phalanx includes two groups of cavalrymen, with four horses to each group, plus 32 infantrymen arranged in eight ranks of four men each. It forms an oblong echelon behind the last war chariot.
The presence of mounted soldiers in the composition of ancient battle arrays is also a new element that has just come to light. The cavalry was quick and mobile and could be used as a reserve strike force giving greater flexibility to the chariot formation.
Phalanx 4, an array mainly of mounted soldiers, occupies the corner of the letter L. A long rectangle of three columns consisting of six chariots and 108 horses and men, it may be divided into two parts: the van and the body. Forming the van or the phalanx head are the six chariots, two in each column, one behind the other but separated by a row of mounted soldiers between each two chariots. Each has two riders: a driver and a warrior. Cavalrymen sandwiched between the chariots are in rows of four, making a total of twelve mounted men. The body of the phalanx is composed of 108 cavalrymen, who stand with their steeds in rows of four in the three columns. Altogether in this phalanx are 108 horses, each with the figure of its rider standing by holding the reins.
The four phalanxes described above form an organic major formation. This form of troop deployment has been described in ancient books on the art of war as: a major formation comprises minor ones, a large battle-array consists of smaller ones, with each part linked to another, every section covering all the others. Unless a large array comprises several small ones, it would be handicapped in flexibility, and "would not be able to break into smaller fighting units" to adapt to complicated terrain or the ever-changing enemy situation: the troops would find themselves unable to spread out or take different positions, or even be thrown into confusion, crowding and jostling against each other.
The positioning of the four phalanxes reflects well-conceived military thinking. The archers' phalanx, protruding in front, faces the enemy on three sides- the front and the two flanks - and is a position to give full play to the power of their bows and arrows. The chariot formation, on the right, can engage the enemy in front and from the right and, availing itself of the "arrow cover" from the archers, is ever ready for both offensive and defensive actions. The cavalry, on the left and facing the enemy only from one flank, is covered on three sides in defence while retaining complete freedom to disengage itself from the main body in an assault. The mixed phalanx of foot, horse and chariot, placed in the middle of the formation, serves as the central coordinating force to link up the other three phalanxes described above and the rearguard placed behind. All four units, offering support to one another, may break up into separate combat units or combine to fight as an integral whole of multiple arms. Highly maneuverable, the battle-array under the command of a seasoned commander could perform miraculously on the battlefield.
The mixed composition of foot, horse and chariot in the same formation represented an important change taking place during the Warring States Period (475-2 2 1 B.C.). Before that a battle-array meant an array of chariots. The change came about with the infantry and cavalry becoming independent arms of the forces.
The three arms were meant to serve different purposes. The chariots were to "storm strong fortifications, put the formidable enemy to rout, and block the fleeing foe." The cavalry, being mobile fighters, were to "chase the foe in flight, disrupt his routes of food supply, and attack lightly armed marauders." Foot soldiers, on their part, would be employed mainly in operations in closed or marshy terrains, where the maneuvers of chariots and horses became difficult, or on garrison duty at forts and passes.
Sun Bin, an eminent military writer quoted above, wrote in his Art of War: Eight Arrays: "Chariot, horse and foot are to be organized in three arrays and positioned one on the right, one on the left and one in the middle. When the terrain is favourable, chariots should be largely employed. When it is difficult, cavalry should be largely employed. In distress, arrows should be resorted to." In other words, according to Sun Bin, topography and combat situation must be taken as the determinant factors in deciding which of the arms should be used as the main force and which as the auxiliary force. Only a good coordination of the three arms could ensure victory.
A brilliant example of this was the Battle of Changping fought in 260 B.C. between the states of Qin and Zhao. The Qin feigned defeat and began to fall back, inducing the unsuspecting Zhao to pursue them. They then unleashed a force which they had laid in ambush to cut off the retreat route of the Zhao. Meanwhile a Qin cavalry unit 5,000 strong struck between various camps of the Zhao, encircling them in separate pockets. Thanks to the well-coordinated use of the three arms, Qin wiped out four hundred and fifty thousand of the enemy, entering a famous battle into the pages of history of ancient Chinese warfare......
Edited by Thomas Chen, 16 October 2005 - 08:30 AM.