In modern terms, military doctrine "is a level of military planning between national strategy and unit-level tactics, techniques, and procedures. It provides a shared way of thinking about military problems, but does not direct how military problems will be solved."
Military strategy is a collective name for planning the conduct of warfare. The father of modern strategic study, Carl von Clausewitz, defined military strategy as "the employment of battles to gain the end of war." Military strategy was one of a triumvirate of "arts" or "sciences" that govern the conduct of warfare; the others being tactics, the execution of plans and manśuvering of forces in battle, and logistics, the maintenance of an army.
In another thread, I had already introduced the different military institutions of Imperial China.
In this thread, I wish to discuss the strategic thinkings of ancient China which were behind the actual formations of the military institutions.
Military doctrines and military strategic thinkings is usually a product of the prevailing geopolitical and military situation faced by a particular military power.
A doctrine is formulated as a preparation to deal with the known potential threats, or as with the military as a tool to fulfill political goals.
Ancient China - Xia, Shang, Zhou
Warfare has been part of Chinese history since ancient times.
Chinese legends recounted battles between the mythical tribes with leaders such as Huang emperor (黄帝) the Yan emperor (炎帝), Chi-You (蚩尤).
Armies was supposed to have been established since the earliest dynasty Xia (夏), but it was only known during the Shang Dynasty (商) of the existence of the largest army units known as the shī (师, or division in modern terminology).
During these eras, it was generally thought that the main purpose of the armies was to conduct raids against neighbouring tribes for resources (including slaves), and to guard against uprisings from the slaves.
Calls of wars were preceded by extensive divination. Armies were then composed of nobles and freemen, formed only upon the call of war. The roles of the slaves were to provide manpower for transportation and corvee labour.
During this time, the ruler must personally lead the army. Warfare was in its more primitive form despite the introduction of war-chariots. Armies would meet in a designated rendezvous, get into formation and engage.
By Western Zhou (西周), organizations of the armies developed further into units of different sizes (军、师、旅、卒、两、伍). But the armies were now composed of privately raised units by the nobles responding to the call of their lieges. Warfare was akin to sports or games for the feudal lords, with nobles being captured and ransomed rather than killed. Most of the time, the aims were short-term gains rather than strategic long-term benefits.
Despite the primitive form of fighting, complex tools such as diplomacy and espionage were already in use.
The destruction of the Xia Dynasty was preceded by extensive espionage by trusted agents such as Yi Yin on behalf of Shang.
The destruction of the Shang was preceded by the Zhou gradually removing Shang's vassal states and engaging in propaganda in winning over other states as allies, before finally attacking the isolated Shang.
Commentaries of warfare appeared in some of the earliest writings such as Book of Changes 《易经》, Book of Shang 《尚书》 and Book of Odes 《诗经》.
Writings dedicated to the military such as 《军志》 and 《军政》 existed before the Spring Autumn (春秋) Era. Unfortunately, these two volumes were lost to history, and their existences only known through references to them from other writings.
Issues facing the Western Zhou
The victory of the Zhou over the Shang was not easily won. King Wu of Zhou (周武王) had to rely on alliances from numerous other states/tribes. Despite the supposedly unpopularity of the Shang rulers, it was not thought that the Shang people would readily switch allegiance to the Zhou as their new ruler.
The victorious Zhou was faced with the problem of what to do with the Shang people who not only outnumbered the Zhou several times, but were much more developed culturally and technologically.
Another problem was the native homeland of the Zhou was to the west, while the Shang people were firmly entrenched in the east.
To address the issue, the Zhou kings had numerous Shang craftsmen and scholars distributed among the Zhou nobles. The Shang territories were carved up, with only one section ruled by Wu Geng (武庚), a descendant of the last Shang king, the rest assigned to the male relatives of the Zhou king, most notably the Three Sentinels (三监) of Wči (衛/卫), Yōng (鄘/庸) and Bči (邶).
After King Wu died, his young son and successor King Cheng (周成王) was assisted by his brother Duke Zhou (周公) as regent. Dissatisfaction led to the lords of Three Sentinels to rebel, an uprising took three years to crush.
In the postmorterm, Duke Zhou decided that the Zhou's base in the west was too far from the prevailing geopolitical epicentre. A secondary capital was planned at Luo Yi (洛邑) to extend Zhou's controls over the east. King Cheng remained in the original capital Hao (鎬京/镐京) while Duke Zhou posted himself to Luo Yi.
It was said that there were six divisions stationed at Hao (西六师) and eight divisions (东八师) stationed at Luo Yi.
To maintain their authority, the Zhou kings require all feudal lords to travel personally make an annual tribute offerings at the capital. Since the first Zhou king, it was also a tradition for some feudal nobles to remain in the Zhou courts to serve in various ministerial capacities.
Feudal nobles were also required to take turns sending troops to the capital to serve the Zhou kings. This was an important source of power for the Zhou kings to reinforce their authorities over other nobles. However, in later years, the ability of many feudal nobles to provide troops declined as the nobles began "selling" off parcels of their lands into private ownership.
The early Zhou monarchs were quick to respond to any indications of trouble in his realms or among his nobles. He would rally the nobles to raise a strong military force to deal with any "barbarian tribe" which dared to conduct raids in the territories of Zhou or followers of the Zhou.
Ultimately, the authority of the Zhou rulers depended on the prestige of the royal house.
For forty years, King Cheng and his successor King Kang (周康王) took active interests in the state affairs and kept up the influence of the Zhou monarchy. Various vassal states were kept in line and the other tribes which had not pledged allegiance to the Zhou also restrained themselves.
The military doctrine at this time depended on the Zhou king being able to raise a strong military force from the vassals to support his own limited army to deal with major threats.
This was not a institutionalised system and depended on the conduct of the Zhou king. The successor to King Kang, King Zhao (周昭王), was raised without learning to take his duties as monarch seriously. It was inevitable a major crisis came up during his reign.
The State of Chu - first vassal to break away from Zhou's dominance
The State of Chu (楚国) was established in the south during the founding of the Zhou dynasty, far from the Zhou capital. The rulers of Chu often used the pretext of the remote distance to avoid presenting themselves personally in the court of Zhou.
While other states in the central plains generally focussed on development within their enfeoffed territories, they were not able to expand much into "barbarians'" turf or no-man's lands before coming into contact with the territories of another vassal of King Zhou.
The State of Chu in the far south though had no such constraints. It began to exploit the natural resources of the forests, developing extensive farmlands and expand continuously. The Chu ruler had the lowest title of nobility (of a baron), but Chu was soon occupying territories far disproportionate to its feudal rank and able to raise military forces far stronger than many other lords.
As early as the reign of King Cheng, Chu began dragging its feet over the annual tributes, oft delivering less than its quota, and required annual reminders before it would cough up.
During the reign of King Zhao, Chu tried to challenge the authority of the Zhou king, and the Zhou king prevailed in a war after rallying the forces of his vassals in the central plains. The State of Chu changed tactics and lured King Zhao south with story of having captured an exotic pheasant. Rather than risk mishap during the transportation, the Chu envoy suggested the Zhou King to collect the pheasant in person.
Ignoring the pleas of his advisors, King Zhao travelled south. En route, having made themselves a heavy burden on the people forced to host them along the way, the entourage had to travel through untamed lands and the Han River (汉水). The ill-prepared entourage forcibly seized the boats from the local fishermen to cross the river.
It was after crossing the river that King Zhao discovered he was tricked. Enraged, he started a war against Chu. However, the Chu people were prepared and King Zhao was unable to capture the Chu capital of DanYang (丹阳). In the end, King Zhao ordered a plundering from the people in the region before ordering the entourage to return.
When they got to the Han River again, there was no boat to be found, despite exhaustive search conducted.
King Zhao ordered locals to be captured and forced to build boats. Some 30 boats were built and the entourage could not wait to board and cross the river.
The landlubbers did not realise the boats were made from wooden planks put together by non-lasting glue. Halfway across, the vessels began falling apart. Most of the Zhou troops drowned. One strong bodyguard by the name of Xing YouFei (辛游靡) managed to swim ashore with the king, only to find the monarch had died from drowning.
The Zhou court covered up the humiliation in the official records.
Zhou's campaigns against the barbarian tribes
After King Zhao's debacle, the tribes of Dong Yi (东夷), Huai Yi (淮夷) and Xi (Western) Rong (犬戎) began testing the resolve of the Zhou.
These "barbarian tribes" were not part of the alliance to topple the Shang, and thus had never formally pledged allegiance. King Zhao's successor, King Mu (周穆王), conduct campaigns against the barbarians. While official records indicated he was victorious, some historians disagreed whether the campaigns of him and his successor King Xuan (周宣王) had any long-term impact. In fact, the extended campaigns placed a heavy burden on the people and on the production system.
Despite being defeated by King Mu and forced to move to ShanXi, clearing the obstructions to the northwestern states, the Xi Rong continued to menace Zhou territories. This was partly due to the original native homeland of the Zhou being surrounded by other people who were "less developed".
Though the Zhou kings enfeoffed hundreds of vassals around the central plains, many "barbarian tribes" which did not pledge any allegiance to the Son of Heaven remained. The territories occupied by Zhou and Zhou's vassals formed a patchwork of domains in China. Most of the states were small and there were plenty of room in their midst for these "barbarian tribes".
The function of the military at the time was primarily to guard against incursions from these "barbarian tribes".
Even the Zhou capital Hao was vulnerable to attacks by the QianRong (犬戎) tribe. The capital relied on a series of beacons at Mount Li (驪山) to summon neighbouring vassals to come to its aid in case of emergency.
A feudal lord usually had a small contigent of guards on duty and did not maintain a strong standing army, but had one assembled from the populace for campaigning or in the event of being attacked. Few feudal states then compromised of more than one major walled settlement.
The disaster suffered by Lord Yi of Wei (卫懿公) allowed a glimpse of how things were supposed to work.
The State of Wei was conferred upon Kang Shu (康叔), younger brother of the founder of the Zhou Dynasty - King Wu (武王). It was centred at the city of ChaoGe (朝歌), capital of the previous Shang dynasty, to ensure the Shang people did not revolt.
Lord Yi was the 14th generation ruler. His mismanagement of state affairs was due to his indulgence with his fascination of crane. When the Northern Di tribes (北狄) hailing from present day DaTong (大同) came in force to plunder, the people of Wei opted to hide instead of answering the call to arms, because of their dissatisfaction with Lord Yi.
Lord Yi's belated expression of regret failed to muster sufficient force against the raiders, and Lord Yi was killed in battle.
During the early Spring Autumn era, feudal states began private alliances with each other despite continuing to uphold the King of Zhou as the Son of Heaven (their overlord). The alliance of State of Song (宋) and State of Lu (鲁) against the State of Zheng (郑) was an example, as well as one of the earliest instance of the deployment of regular infantry.
Warfare was also common among the followers of the vassals.
Other developments during this time moved warfare from merely two armies clashing together.
To win while minimising one's casualties to inflict the greatest damage to the other side became important - resulting in development of complex maneouvres.
The Battle of YanLing (鄢陵之战) saw the use of flanking movements, the Battle of JiFu (鸡父之战) saw the use of luring the foes deep into one's own territories, the Battle of ChangGou (长勺之战) illustrated the importance of morale.
By late Spring Autumn era though, feudal lords had begun to exert more effective control over their domains. One of the most notable development was in the State of Qi (齊) whereby the premier Guan Zhong (管仲) centralised the management of the military.
By the end of the era, most states adopted universal conscription after implementing some form of prefecture-type administration of their territories.
In addition to conscriptions, states also began maintaining standing armies of better-trained troops for full time service, and employ career officers to leadership positions.
The significance of military doctrines became established with the writing Sun Zi's Art of War 《孙子兵法》, which formally adopted a realist attitude towards warfare and divorcing it from the influences of superstitions.
Instead, the following were considered decisive factors in winning or losing :
(1) Statesmanship (政治)
(2) Economy (经济)
(3) Understanding the times (天时)
(4) Geography (地利)
(5) Human factor (人事)
It was a most comprehensive manual dealing with warfare from as high as the state level/national strategy to the lowest level of treatment of troops and movements in various terrains.
Military doctrine became intertwined with state policies to complement each other for a common vision.
States which failed to understand this principle suffered militarily despite having innovations such as metallurgy which provided them with better weapons than before, or having initially a larger pool of resources to draw upon. The near destruction of the State of Chu by the State of Wu, and later the total destruction of the State of Wu by the State of Yue, illustrated this significance of this principle acutely.
Another important development was that walled cities and forts came to play significant roles in warfare, moving the battlefield beyond the plains where armies usually meet to fight.
States learned that investments in constructions of wall and forts guarding strategic passes would pay off dividends, and properly used, these constructions magnify the prowess of the soldiers greatly.
Another important social change which accompanied this revolution was that the ruling classes became realistic about their own abilities and realised that military leadership was too important to be assigned to a person based on rank of birth. Instead, they openly sought the services of those who claim to have a professional expertise in warfare, and overlook the social background of these professionals.
After Sun Zi, other militarist also produced follow-up works in the forms of 《吴子》、《司马法》、《孙膑兵法》、《尉缭子》、《六韬》, building upon the foundation laid by Sun Zi and further expanding their ideas.
Thus, military thinking from the Xia to Spring Autumn moved from merely assembling ad-hoc fighting masses into one which included strategic planning, diplomatic maneouvring and organising the military as one of the basic function of the states to be complemented with the economic planning.
All these developments caused a greater overall investment on the military by the feudal rulers, setting the stage for the Warring States era.
The development of military strategic thinking went hand in hand with the development of various philosophical schools that became establish in the same era.
The Confucian school (儒家) emphasised Humaneness and Righteousness to be an integral part of the military/war - paying attention to the basics such as adequate supplies, adequate manpower and adequate training.
The Mohist (墨家) advocated refraining from burdening the people so that they would be strong, placing a high value on arms development and military engineering as vitals tools.
The Legalists (法家) apart from acknowleding the importance of basics such as agriculture, also stressed greatly on utility of power, and the system of rewards and punishments.
The Daoists (道家) contribution to military thought was in challenging the thinking beyond traditional understanding of bravery, strength and advancing, introducing the concept of flexibility of methods to achieve the goals such as "Inspiring Valour Through Compassion", "Overcoming Hardness Through Softness", and "Retreat to Advance" (“慈故能勇”、“柔弱胜刚强”、“进道若退”).
[to be continued ... contributions and comments welcome]
Edited by snowybeagle, 13 February 2006 - 05:17 AM.