Ralph D. Sawyer
Basic Books, N. Y., 2011, 554 pgs, index,
bibliography, notes, illustrations
The main subject of this book is
warfare during the Shang Dynasty. The author first presents some background in
Chinese military history that preceded the Shang, especially the immediately
preceding dynasty, The Hsia, which the Shang conquered. He promises another
book on the immediately following dynasty, the Chou, _Western Chou
The table of contents indicates the subject matter of the book. It is mostly
about what can be learned from physical evidence, archeology and artifacts.
There is no contemporaneous written record apart from oracle bones. Written
accounts about the Hsia, Shang and Chou that survive are all from much later
periods such as the Warring States period.
For someone who lacks even rudimentary knowledge of Chinese military history
the book contains a wealth of new information and ideas. Having visited the
excellent Chinese Military Museum in Beijing I did note that the large
galleries devoted to military history begin their story with displays depicting
the Neolithic Era - Chinese pride themselves on the claim that their
civilization began in prehistoric times and has continued uninterruptedly ever
since. This book supports that concept. The author notes that many aspects of
early Chinese history including military history are controversial. His
citations of archeological evidence show that in relatively recent times a huge
amount of work has been and is being done in the field and it is uncovering a
mass of evidence.
He claims to have written this book for the interested non-specialist. But to
me it requires a very significant prior knowledge to benefit from the mass of
information provided. This is especially true for the first chapters that are
based mostly on a narrative of the events and their results. The author excuses
himself and his publisher for not providing any maps by claiming that excellent
maps are available on the Internet. No doubt true, but who is going to be
looking at Internet maps while trying to make sense of the book's extensive
discussion of what the less than expert reader must consider obscure place
names. The names of many Chinese rulers and other significant figures are
mentioned without much identification.
The book would have been greatly improved by inclusion of a time line with the
dates of the reigns of these likely unknown rulers.
Of course there are many links to ancient warfare and weapons found with a
Google search. Ralph Sawyer's lecture at Univ. of North Carolina is excellent
and found at
Since Dr. Sawyer is expecting readers to have knowledge already or learn about
the Shang on their own I consulted the Internet as usual via Google. Naturally
there is a Wikipedia article and several others worth reading. Some of the
basic information necessary to understand what Dr. Sawyer is writing about
includes he following:
"Now that belief in objective history has been discarded, it need hardly
be mentioned that all works of this type are necessarily highly individualized
creations that are guided by particular views and interpretations, however
eclectic: Thus, for example. although increased coverage of Northern zone
knives might well be merited, their study has been forgone for examinations of
more focal or directly relevant topics such as the role of the yueh
(large battle-axe)_ in solidifying and apportioning martial authority."
This comment is interesting in several ways.
"I have never assumed that the latest scholarship, no matter how
enthusiastically embraced by the scholarly community, necessarily represents an
advance or correctness."
Another very interesting and revealing remark.
The final chapter 'is intended to raise basic questions and indicate
significant topics, a few of which will reappear in a future study. The Shang's
extinction, being more a tale of conquest than simple collapse, is similarly
deferred to the next volume on the rise and dominance of the Chou."
"The discussion essentially proceeds in two streams, the textual narrative
and a collateral expansion of many aspects and subtopics in the end notes where
matters of purely Sinological import and more general points of miliary history
Chapter I - Preliminary Orientations and Legendary Conflicts
For 2500 years China has viewed the late prehistoric era as an ideal age marked
by commonality of interest within clans and external harmony among peoples.
This version of a golden era, nurtured by the sagacious legendary rulers known
as the Yellow Emperor, Yao, Shun, and Yu, was fervently embraced by the
intellectual persuasions that came to be known as Taoist and Confucian,
although from radically different perspectives and with rather contradictory
This was 'a severely distorted image that conveniently ignored the Yellow
Emperor's storied military activity and the great feats wrought by Kings T'ang
of the Shang and Wu of the Chou, unquestioned paragons of righteousness who
still had to strive mightily to suppress the wicked."
"The classic military writings compiled in the Warring States period
perceive the 'golden age of antiquity' rather differently. The recently
recovered Sun Pin Ping-fu characterized the legendary era as a time when
warfare, not virtue, wrought peace."
"Immersed in an age of unremitting warfare that saw untold combatants
slain and numerous states extinguished, Sun Pin concluded that virtue had not
only proven insufficient in the past, but also remained fundamentally
"Hsun-tzu, a late Warring States period philosopher simplistically
remembered for his asseertion that human nature in inherently evil, identified
human desire as the root cause of conflict."
"The ancient sages did not just rectify the disorder about them, but also
created the very means for waging war."
"The legendary cultural heroes had thus been compelled to decisively
thwart chaos and quell disorder to preserve the populace."
The Semilegendary Period
"Archeological discoveries over the past several decades have suddenly
infused life into previously shadowy remnants if ancient Chinese civilization,
validating many early assertions about the Shang and nominally substantiating,
with appropriate allowance for interpretative frameworks and the effects of
millenia, vague images of the Hsia and the legendary period."
Dr. Sawyer continues with discussion of the influence of beliefs about the
legendary period. All this information is based on writing from the Warring
States period and early Han Dynasty. The story of prehistoric China centers on
the conflicts between the Yellow Emperor, The Red Emperor and a rebel named
Among his conclusions: "Considering all the possible factors,
interpretations, archeological evidence, and perspectives of the scholars who
have extensively studied these ancient materials, a reasonable conclusion might
be that at some indeterminate time in the middle of the third millennium BCE a
few significant battles resulted from two tribal alliances, each seeking to
control increasingly greater territory."
"Bows and arrows would have initially been employed, followed by spears,
clubs, hand axes, and other shock weapons, even agricultural tools, upon
closing for combat. However, neither swords nor the ubiquitous dagger-axes of
later times had yet come into existence, and chariots were equally absent,
traditional accounts to the contrary."
"Overall, the archaeological records in fact indicate a transitional
period of rising conflict, increasing class distinction, and the evolution of
political and concomitant military power or , depending upon theoretical
emphasis, military strength and concomitant political power."
Chapter 2 - Ancient Fortifications I
Long virtually defined by the mythical aspects of its Great Wall, China's
tradition of wall building far exceeds the most exaggerated claims spawned by
its famous icon."
Indeed, this chapter provides amazing evidence of the massive use of
fortification in the earliest periods of Chinese history.
Starting with evidence from as early as 7000 BC. "In response to
escalating threats, the concepts and technology of defensive fortifications
fitfully but continually evolved over the next 5 millennia until what has been
claimed to be distinctive double form of the double-walled Chinese city
protected by an external moat was finally realized. "
Dr. Sawyer provides extensive detail of the stages and processes in
But, he notes, "Unfortunately, despite their critical role in
civilization's evolution and impact on warfare, the history and technology of
Chinese fortified settlements have yet to be systematically studied."
Character and Function of Early Walls
"Even in the Lungshan period (3000 to 2000 BC) immediately prior to the
Hsia dynasty, Chi9nese walls had already reached astonishing dimensions and
sometimes exceeded 25 meters (81 feet) in width."
"The oldest presently known Chinese settlements, mostly scattered
individual hamlets, date back prior to the Neolithic Age that commenced in
parts of China approximately 10,000 BCE."
Dr. Sawyer continues with description of the earliest uses of ditch and wall.
Evolution of the Fortified Town
The idealized Chinese town evolved during the 4th and 3rd millennia from
precursors that had previously been encircled by just ditches or moats."
"The walls were constructed from layers of pounded soil that had ash and
fibrous plants intermixed in it for strength."
Exactly the same method used in construction of the Han wall described by Aurel
Chapter 3 - Ancient Fortifications II
There is evidence of fortification in the Northern areas of China stemming from
warfare there between the sedentary Chinese society and the nomad population of
the steppe dating from the earliest prehistoric eras. "Ditches constituted
the primary defensive measures in the Hsing-lung-wa (6200/6000 to 5600/5500
BCE) Hung-shan (3500-3000) and Hsia-chia-tien (2000-1500) cultures. "
Impressive but comparatively late walled towns have also been found in the
semitropical hinterlands of Sichuan, far to the southwest of the Hua-Hsia
Fortification Technology and Methods
The author discusses the economic and demographic requirements for constructing
expensive fortifications. He describes the engineering skill needed for such
massive building projects.
Chapter 4 - The Hsia
The author notes that the very existence of a Hsia society prior to the Shang
has long been denied. But he sides with more recent historians who are now
relying on new archeological evidence to support study and analysis of this
period despite the lack of written evidence.
"The resulting portrait depicts a transition from scattered Neolithic
settlements to a few dominant fortified towns accompanied by social
stratification, economic differentiation, and gradual immersion in warfare of
The Hsia dynasty was apparently founded by one, Yu, and this dynasty ruled
until its last ruler, one Chieh, was overthrown by the Shang.
Origins and Pre history
Various dates have been proposed - 2200 to 1750 BC or 2200 - 1600 B.C. have
been most common dates previously, but now 2100 to 1521 BC is more accepted.
A date for the Shang conquest is now set at 1600 BC.
Early Sites and Capitals
There are a number of archeological sites considered to be possible Hsia
capitals. Sawyer describes many of these places in detail.
Resource Control Points
Now the concept that early Chinese developments included efforts to control
economic resources has gained more adherence
Chapter 5 - Warfare in the Hsia
Despite the discovery of numerous Lungshan and Erh-li-t'ou sites, the rise of
the Hsia - variously labeled China's earliest 'monarchy' and its first slave
society - remains an enigma.
Apparently the Hsia were engaged in a century long warfare with a rival group -
the San Miao - until this group was exterminated.
Political Organization and Military Structure
The author describes the concepts advanced by early authors.
Chapter 6 - The Shang Dynasty
"When attempting to reconstruct the history of the Shang one question
looms large: how to evaluate and employ the traditional accounts and seemingly
precise geographical statements scattered throughout various Spring and Autumn
and Warring States texts, which, if actually based on now lost records, may
preserve vital information about the Shang."
Some historians reject anything other than archeological evidence, but the
written texts from the ancient authors continue to have a wide following among
the public and other writers.
"Although the exact nature of the Shang, even their very name, remains a
matter for debate, characterizations range from a large chiefdom of
heterogenous composition, through an increasingly bureaucratic territorial
state, to a despotic monarchy."
"Within China it has traditionally been regarded as a dynasty because the
rulers succeeded each other and the clan maintained its authority, but it
apparently began as a strong tribal chiefdom or self-contained clan state in a
Traditional Account of the Shang's Rise
The question of how a new clan could overthrow a presumably well entrenched
governing dynasty is still controversial. Various theories are advanced here.
Conquest of the Hsia
According to legend and later authors King T'ang overthrew the Hsia when they
became oppressive and debauched. The Shang organized a rebellion and gained
allies before confronting the Hsia with a decisive battle.
Chapter 7 - Shang Capitals, Citadels and Fortifications
"Definitive evidence for the Shang's military and economic power may be
seen in several important archeological sites, including Yen-shih, Cheng-chou,
Anyang, and P'an-hung-ch'eng."
Sawyer considers that Yen-shih was a military bastion and Cheng-chou was a vast
developed royal capital. He describes these places in great detail.
Strategic Assessment and Historical Implications
A brief discussion
Shang Extent and Fluctuations
There has long been dispute over how extensive was the power and territory of
the Hsia, Shang and Chou with traditional beliefs claiming it was indeed very
wide. But others view the territory as confined to the middle and lower Yellow
River. Now sites have been found approaching the lower Yangtze River as well.
Sawyer writes. "Over the centuries the degree to which clan members,
allies, subjugated peoples, and external groups were actually subservient would
fluctuate with the vibrancy of Shang central power."
Chapter 8 - Chaos, Contraction and Resurgence
Although disagreements abound over the causes and extent, without doubt the
middle Shang - which may be defined as post Cheng-chou and pre Anyang and
therefore the reigns of Chung Ting to Hsiao Yi or perhaps P'ian Keng - was a
period of contraction.
Late Shang The Anyang Period
Anyang was the first Shang capital to be systematically examined. "It has
yielded many of the artifacts and most of the oracle materials that underlie
current depictions of Shang history and culture."
Martial activities in the Anyang Era
Chapter 9 - King Wu Ting, I
"Approximately half the inscriptions recovered from Anyang date to King
Wu-Ting's era, traditionally ascribed to 1324 to 1265 BC or some 59 years, but
now basically consigned to 1251- to 1192 BC or more likely 1239-1181 BC.
Wu Ting was a powerful ruler who restored the Shang after a series of weak
rulers had let control over other groups decline. Former Hsia clans were
defying royal authority and marauders were plundering other groups that did
acknowledge Shang authority.
Extensive study of the oracle bones has revealed much detail including names of
ministers, and enemies, and sequences of events. Shang military power may also
be deduced from finds in braves and other archeological sites, including
weapons, and the details of fortifications.
The chapter narrates Wu Ting's early period during which he conducted frequent
but limited expeditions to squash enemies. Warfare was bloody, prisoners were
either enslaved or sacrificed.
Wu Ting's middle period required him to vanquish more dangerous enemies
including rebellious groups. Campaigns and wars lasted longer. The author
describes the Chi-fang Campaign of 1211 - 1210 BC, which can be reconstructed
from chronological information embedded in oracular inscriptions. Another major
campaign was against the Hsi-wei in the midst of a multi-front war against the
Meng, Ch'ing, Lung, Pa, Yi and T'u-fang. .
Chapter 10 - King Wu Ting, II
The chapter is a narration of Wu Ting's Late Period in which he was then
expanding Shang power and eliminating enemies especially the Kung-fang. These
were powerful groups. (I won't call them 'states'). The final campaign against
the Kung-fang required 2 years. Another major campaign was against the
Kuei-fang located in Inner Mongolia and northern Shaanxi.
Then the author comes to the Chou. At first relations were friendly with
several royal intermarriages.
The author next discusses Wu Ting's commanders. The Shang kings personally
participated in battles, but also needed to appoint commanders when campaigns
were being conducted on multiple fronts. Wu -Ting personally commanded about a
third of his expeditions, especially those against the main enemies. The author
notes with interest the extensive role of royal women in these battles. The
royal consorts , of which there were three (not of course counting the vast
number of concubines., all had the name of Fu - xxxx. One, Fu Hao was
particularly famous as can be seen from the artifacts found in her tomb. She
participated in virtually all of Wu Ting's campaigns during the middle and late
Chapter 11 - The Last Reigns
Wu Ting's reign is considered a progressive re-assertion of authority and
expansion of the domain plus power projection beyond the central states.
Comparatively fewer inscriptions have been found for the following century and
half remaining to the dynasty during which there were 9 kings.
They show contraction of Shang power. Sawyer provides names and dates:
Tsu Keing, Tsu Chia, Ping Hsin, K'and Ting for 44 years 1191- 1148
Wu Yi for 35 years 1147 - 1113
Wen Ting, 11 years 1112- 1102
Emperor Yi 26 years 1101 -1076
Emperor Hsin 30 years 1075 - 1046
Sawyer writes that the standard understanding of this era is wrong.
The Shang were not as weak as commonly believed. The relatively lesser number
of inscriptions related to military campaigns during this period is not
indicative of lesser power but rather that war was now so routine that it did
not call for special note in the oracles. Sawyer narrates the main campaigns.
Chapter 12 - The Shang Martial Edifice
"Military power derives from numerous factors, including administrative
organization, the ruler's talent and charisma, the polity's material
prosperity, the culture's martial spirit, and any propensity to control others
and resolve disquieting situation with violence."
Whether the monarch can act despotically initiating aggressive activities, must
gain the support of key clan members, persuade an extended circle of
influential citizens, or even cajole the general populace into participating
strongly influences a state's military character and its bellicose
Shang rulers insured that obedience was forthcoming by monopolizing theocratic
power and wielding authority over life and death. The right to communicate with
the ancestors or spirits on high, entities who were believed capable of
affecting every aspect of life ranging from personal illness through weather,
plague, drought, and military incursions was reserved to the king."
More warriors than administrators, contrary to traditional depictions the Shang
well understood the importance of battlefield achievement, valued physical
prowess, and enthusiastically embraced military talent."
The Shang was a warrior elite culture that required participants to embrace a
vigorous life-style and the martial values of a large, evolving, but still
"Furthermore, contrary to later depictions of a purely moral effort marked
by an overriding civilian orientation, of virtue and civility having been
interrupted by the unruly and baleful face of war, the Shang dynasty was
founded through decades of combat and a brief period of sudden conquest. The
Shang didn't just displace the'one man', their ostensible target, through a
simple punitive attack, but systematically extirpated the Hsia throughout the
Sawyer describes more of Shang military aspects including chariots and archery.
And he discusses Shang military contingents, military units and their
organization. He credits Wu Ting with much expansion of the formal structure of
Chapter 13 - Troops, Intelligence, and Tactics
The chapter describes the subject titles.
"In response to an unremitting escalation in military needs, the army's
composition would gradually shift from relying on clan warriors to relying on
''soldiers' drawn from the ordinary inhabitants of the growing towns, farmers
in the surrounding area, and even slaves."
Sawyer disputed the Marxist conception of Shang as a slave-society. Not only
slaves, but everyone was liable to being sacrificed or slain
The development of an extensive intelligence system capable of efficiently
transmitting crucial economic, and military information from every quarter was
another vital achievement that marked the emergence of the centralized Shang
Evidence shows that the king 'pondered various alternatives prior to commencing
a campaign.' "When confronting multiple enemies that posed a threat
queries were closely initiated about each of them in an attempt to determine
the most likely possibility for success."
Close combat was no doubt preceded by archers firing at enemies 50 to 100 yards
away, but their arrows would have been even more deadly at close range, right
up to the point of engaging with long handled dagger-axes and spears. Piercing
and shock weapons must have predominated once the forces moved forward and
engaged individually. Spears and dagger-axes were the main piercing weapons,
battle axes were the main crushing implements, and short daggers served as an
extreme last resort. (Swords had not yet come into existence and thus were
never employed, contrary to numerous claims."
The two main tactical variants appear to have been having two or more forces -
whether different types or simply components of the same type such as the left
and right lu - meet at a designated, somewhat distant location before combining
for an unified attack, and having two or more more armies proceed separately
before attacking from different directions, either simultaneously or
Attack methods ranged from ordinary strikes through harassing pursuits and
strong punitive measures, though the simplest and most commonly seen was an
assault or attack.
Sawyer disputes the common idea that possession of private weapons was
prohibited. He writes that this was sometimes the rule during much later
dynasties. He writes that the level of literacy that even the privileged
warrior class had from education is unknown.
"Conflict having been virtually a normal part of warrior life in the
Shang, particularly under Wu Ting, a certain amount of 'training' no doubt
occurred in the family, from early age, to equip men with the necessary skills
to fully participate in the society. On the battlefield itself, more skilled
and experienced fighters invariably played the leading role, allowing novices
to learn under life-threatening conditions and become effective warriors or
soldiers, presuming they survived."
Because archery was highly esteemed and extensive practice is required to
develop the skills necessary for firing quickly and accurately in the heat of
battle, sons of the nobility certainly underwent formal training."
Chapter 14 - Metallurgical Evolution in China
"For reasons both obvious and subtle discovery of metals has always been
viewed as a turning point in the history of warfare." The chapter
discusses the development of mining and smelting and then casting of bronze and
other metals. The arts expanded rapidly. "The scope of bronze production
facilities at the last capital at Anyang is equally astonishing." "By
the late Shan great progress had been made in recognizing terrain
characteristics and plant varieties indicative of likely ore
Chapter 15 - Early Weapons and the Axe
The author notes that early tools including agricultural implements could have
military uses. Also he notes that wood disintegrates so won't be found in
graves. He notes further that the history of Chinese weaponry is too complex
and varied for detailed discussion. Most interesting is his comments on the
physical requirements for the employment of various weapons. The elaborate and
lengthy duels one sees in movies are impossible.
The axe and the bow were the first major weapons - long before the spear. He
describes many types of axes from late Neolithic era on..
Chapter 16 - Knives, Daggers and Swords
Stone knives have been found dating from Neolithic era. There were many types
of Shang knives. There is debate about whether the Shang warriors used knives
in combat since most were very short. Then came daggers and later the sword,
which he defines as having at 2 feet in length. Swords were a liability for
chariot warfare. But became valuable once cavalry was developed.
"Unlike in Greece and Rome, ancient Chinese warriors did not fight with
swords and shields, slashing and hacking away at each other in open combat, but
employed intermediate-range weapons - the dagger-axe and the short spear - and
only resorted to their daggers when they failed to prevent the enemy from
closing or they lost their primary weapon.".
Chapter 17 - The Ko or Dagger-axe
This was a weapon unique to ancient China. It was designed to pierce the neck
or upper body. They were first developed using stone but came into more use
with bronze in the Shang armies when they were cast in great numbers.
The chi was a dagger -a axe with an added spear head at the top of the shaft. -
another type added a knife rather than a spear point. These looked somewhat
Chapter 18 - Spears and Armor
"As attested by specimens dating back 400,000 years whether thrown or
employed in thrusting attacks, the spear has generally been one of the first
weapons fabricated throughout the world." Sawyer discusses the problems
with developing effective spears and one handed versus two handed uses."
But few spearheads have been recovered even from Yin-hsu's (a location) early
years, the spear's history falls into the latter half of the Shang rule from
Armor and shields
Fairly detailed knowledge of the lamellar armor developed the Waring States
period had been acquired as the result of excavations. But even impressions of
Shang armor and shields have generally proven elusive because of the rapid
degradation of nonmetallic materials." "However this lack of
artifacts has not prevented highly speculative discussions and several
imaginative attempts at reconstructing armor's inception."
Chapter 19 - Ancient Archery
"In China the bow and arrow apparently enjoyed at least limited use by
27,000 BC more than twenty millennia before the advent of the Neolithic
civilizations with which our study begins."
"Not surprisingly, when first encountered in Shang oracle inscriptions and
archaeological finds, bows and arrows are the weapons of the ruling clan and
warrior nobility. In contrast with medieval Europe, where the sword became a
highly romanticized, close combat weapon while the bow was condemned for its
dastardly ability to kill anonymously and archers were reviled for fighting at
a distance, archers and archery have always been highly esteemed in China, as
well as in Korea and Japan."
"Contemporary bronze inscriptions attest to major archery competitions
having been conducted under regal auspices from the Western Chou's inception,
implying that they were probably a common practice in the Shang insofar as the
Chou adopted many Shang customs."
Design, power, and accuracy of the bow
"Lacking reliable evidence for reconstructing the bows employed in the
Shang and Western Chou, somewhat an historical recourse must be had to
depictions preserved in such works as the Tso Chuan to infer the bow'sl
likely power, the archer's capabilities, and archery's general impact in combat
"The classic military writings not only emphasize the effectiveness of
bows and arrows for open field combat, but also stress their importance in
Early Chinese bows
Despite relative lack of written discussion of the topic, Sawyer adduces
sufficient evidence to believe that Chinese bows were recurved and therefore
composite. He discusses these issues in detail.
"Although the bow and arrow are inextricably linked, they seem to have
advanced in spurts, often jointly but sometimes marked by significant changes
in just one of the other."
"Wooden arrows all have a 'down' and an 'up' side that results from slight
differences in density across the diameter, which may occur because one edge
was closer to the heartwood, the other the sapwood, but in bamboo simply
derives from differences in relative exposure to sunlight."
Despite significant local variations the arrow head's evolution is the most
easily charted of the four components because the innumerable recovered
artifacts show relatively clear patterns of development.... The arrowhead's
history though still preliminary, has nevertheless identified such a
multiplicity of basic types and distinctive substyles as to merit a vast volume
rather than a highly abbreviated treatment." Sawyer provides that
Chapter 20 - The Chariot in China
Excavations have found that chariots dated to the late Shang. Even the earliest
Shang chariots found in tombs and burial pits at Anyang are already complex,
well crafted units whose construction combined lightness and strength.
"The chariot soon became a symbol of power, and being the army's most
visible component, a means for assessing the strength of states."
Design and specifications
"Despite being basically standardized, chariot wheel and compartment
dimensions in China differed considerably, not just across time or within an
era, but also in the same tomb or chariot pit."
'Fabricating a chariot required several highly particularized
skills, a variety of natural resources, the observation of seasonal
constraints, and ultimately the manufacture of hundreds of discrete components
that had to be made closely compatible in order to be assembled."
Sawyer discusses all these issues.
Sawyer goes into the arguments about the origin of chariots, wheeled vehicles
in general, and the domestication of horses. He accepts the general view that
all these originated in the Pontic Caspian steppe betwen the Caucuses and Ural
mountains begining about 4800 BC for the horses and by 2700-2500 for their
being ridden. But cavalry as an effective military component did not appear
until about 1500 BC. But the first wheeled vehicles appeared between 4000 and
3500 BC. These evolved into chariots around 2100 to 1800 BC. He believes the
chariot was introduced into China in advanced form and not invented there.
Chapter 21 - The Horse in China
"Despite having had a wide distribution across the contiguous steppe
region and Inner Mongolia for many centuries, horses seem not to have been
raised in China until the late Neolithic."
Chapter 22 - The Chariot in Battle
"Despite a number of vehicles having been recovered from graves and
sacrificial pits, all aspects of the chariot's employment in the ancient period
pose vexing questions, particularly whether they were deployed by themselves as
discrtet operational units or were accompanied by either loosely or closely
"Some traditionally oriented scholars continue to assert that chariots
played a significant role in Shang warfare; others deny that they were ever
employed as a combat element".
Sawyer takes a middle position. He cites oracular inscriptions and Chou bronze
inscriptions that indicate the use of chariots. But he discusses in some detail
the difficulties and problems that such use involves.
Warrior Complement and Actions
Again, the number of men in a chariot team (2 or 3) is controversial. Sawyer
discusses the training involved and difficulties facing the crew.
Integration with Accompanying Forces
"Despite extensive speculation, how the chariot and any accompanying
forces may have been coordinated remains murky and confused."
Inscriptions provide some evidence for chariot to infantry ratios varying from
1:10 to 33:1. Information for the Chou era is more extensive and can support a
figure of 1:10. Writing from later periods give more and varied descriptions of
actual use of chariots in battle.
Chapter 23 - Chariot Limitations and Difficulties
"The chariot embodied power and mobility, but the limited numbers employed
in the Shang probably served as command and archery platforms rather than
assault vehicles or blocks deployed with overwhelming impact. Nevertheless
certain problems described in the historical and theoretical military writings
must have negatively impacted every form of employment, limiting their possible
utilization and modes of combat."
In this chapter Sawyer discusses the mechanical difficulties involved down to
the question of lubrication on the wheel-axle contact without ball bearings.
Terrain such as marsh and rocky surfaces also pose difficulties.
"Fighting from a moving chariot would have been difficult at best, given
the bumping and jarring, not to mention the fleeting moment when a shock weapon
could be brought to bear against nearby fighters on the ground or used to
strike warriors in an oncoming vehicle." Sawyer discusses the mechanics
involved with use of the dagger-axe by a warrior in a chariot. Among other
things he must take care not to hit his own driver.
Chapter 24 - Ancient Logistics
"No study of military affairs can ignore the crucial issue of logistics,
herewith understood in the constricted sense of the art of supplying and
sustaining armies both in movement and at rest."
Sawyer rightly points to the crucial issue of finding and supplying water,
which he writes is 'the army's first priority in the field'.
"Because the primary nourishment was provided by millet, then wheat, and
finally rice, and all three require cooking, firewood had to be gathered and
primitive stoves or other cooking arrangements set up."
"By improving trails and demarcating regal highways, the Shang initiated
an unbroken heritage of increasingly ambitions road projects intended to
facilitate administration, communications, and the rapid dispatch of troops to
quell unrest or counter peripheral threats."
Chapter 25 -Musings and Impoderables
"Despite the analyses proffered by a growing number of books on primitive
or early warfare, the point at which societies shift from being peaceful and
rustic to being dominated by martial values in order to survive remains
opaque." Sawyer surveys the literature, He remarks that it does not take a
heightened sense of greed for bands of marauders to realize that it is more
profitable to pillage than to farm or even hunt.
"Specialized weapons with no useful purpose other than attacking and
slaying upright human enemies rapidly multiplied at the end of the Yangshao and
early Lungshan. Apart from empowering and emboldening their wielders, their
growth, coincident with the emergence of fortified population centers, shows
how low-intensive warfare can stimulate inventiveness, organization, and
authority. The massive defensive populated walls that appeared in the Lungshan
and are considered one of the distinguishing features of the culture have long
been recognized as a disproportionately important development in the inexorable
evolution of Chinese civilization, a step in the unremitting march toward
fulfilling the subsequently articulated idea that 'ch'eng (walls) were erected
in order to protect the ruler and kuo ( external walls) were constructed in
order to preserve the people."
Conquest and Displacement
"A fundamental question that might be posed about the nature of ancient
Chinese warfare is how one group or culture succeeded in dominating,
displacing, or extinguishing another."
"The evolution of multiple cultural centers in ancient China, some in
close proximity, others dispersed across the greater landscape, ensured a
potential for conflict was inherently present."
"Broadly envisioned, ancient China might be divided into five regions
populated by ethnically distinct peoples or disparate cultures, the four
quarters plus the core, the latter an inescapable concept since Chinese culture
and power are currently identified as Yi-Luo River basin manifestations."
"Post conquest treatment of the defeated seems to have been largely
determined by initial objectives. Late Neolithic warfare was not an idyllic
exercise or some form of ritual activity, but very much a battle to the finish,
as attested by often dramatic and eompelling evidence that one group had
subjugated another, such as by inscribing the victor's name on sacred vessels
of the vanquished or the sacrifice of prisoners."
"Warfare in ancient China thus stimulated innovation, social evolution,
material progress, and creativity in general, but also shattered the
tranquility and security of myriad settlements whose inhabitants had formerly
been absorbed in the task of wresting a living from their often harsh