Ancient Chinese Warfare (Anglais) Relié – 24 mars 2011
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I have eagerly waited for this book since I first seen it advertised in Amazon upcoming titles in 2007! I was expecting something along the line of Doctor Sawyer's treatment of the MALING campaign in his "SUN PIN MILITARY METHODS". In which he expertly used well thought out, well drawn maps to depict the campaign and how it illustrated the strategical and operational methods of Sun Pin. Instead, "ANCIENT CHINESE WARFARE" is disjointed as far as the strategies, operations and tactics of Ancient China are concerned. There isn't even a well defined historical period that is covered. There isn't any continuous and detailed discussion of the thread of strategies, operations, tactics AND LEADERSHIP involved in Ancient Chinese Warfare. And worst, (as far as I'm concerned) there isn't any single military, topographical, or any map at all for crying out loud!!! (Doctor Sawyer, no justification you can come up with could ever be justified enough for a book about Warfare without ANY map or any discussion of battles or campaigns). But of course this book is a whole lot more about weapons than warfare.
If you want to learn about Ancient Chinese Weapons, this is the book for you. If you expect to learn about the all important battles and campaigns; strategies/operations/tactics AND LEADERSHIP in Ancient China and how they link to the modern Chinese Military, my Gosh, you have got my pity! How sorely Doctor Sawyer will disappoint you this time. All in all, Doctor Sawyer is still my favorite author on Ancient Chinese Military History and I fully expect he will atone for this book in the next one.
Four stars for a well researched and instructive lecture on Ancient Chinese Weaponry. Two stars or less for the total lack of discussion about the Strategical, Operational, Tactical and Leadership aspects of Ancient Chinese Warfare; AND TOTAL LACK OF ANY OPERATIONAL, TACTICAL MAP.
Dr. Sawyer does an effective job of describing the general socio-political and economic context in which the Xia and Shang operated. This was largely a tribal one in which more or less related and self-governing clans of varying size and power exploited the agricultural and mineral resources around them in competition with their neighbours. First the Xia clans, and after them the Shang clans, exercised a hierarchical, effective and often brutal hegemony under charismatic hereditary kings that could extend from the northern steppe lands to the middle Yangtze valley, extracting tribute and military service from smaller subject proto-states. The Xia and Shang holdings, along with those of the larger and more sophisticated of these lesser polities, centered around fortified administrative capitals that could at times be abandoned or moved in response to political or religious imperatives, population shifts, or environmental factors. The archeological remains of many of these towns testify to the local ebb and flow of Xia, Shang and aboriginal cultural dominance.
The Xia period is largely pre-historic, as it predates writing. Shang written sources consist exclusively of very focused and quite numerous, but relatively short inscriptions of often uncertain dating. Dr. Sawyer usefully navigates through the scholarly controversies regarding chronology and interpretation of these sources, offering when necessary his own reasoned take on the significance of the available evidence. The retrospective histories written centuries later in the Chou (Zhou) and Han periods offer more rounded but also historically dubious and moralistic dramatic narratives focusing largely on the dynastic transitions from the Xia to Shang to Zhou hegemonies.
The specific geographic locations of the shifting kaleidoscope of hostile and allied clans, tribes and proto-states are often undetermined. Nevertheless, lists of Shang military campaigns against specified targets, sometimes including simplified orders of battle, can be inferred from inscribed oracle bones and turtle plastrons; but Shang sources offer no detailed treatment of tactics, troop engagements or compositions. Sawyer is thus forced to conjecture based on the types, styles, and metallic composition of weapons found in elite graves, on the surprising brevity yet apparent brutality of most campaigns (often resulting in the ritual sacrifice of captured chiefs/kings), and on the strength of the limited number of large-scale fortifications built at the time as revealed by the archeological record.
The overall picture that emerges from ACW remains thus obscure and fragmentary, but this reflects more the thinness of the evidentiary base than any lack of scholarship or diligence on Sawyer's part. In fact, the lay non-Chinese reader can only marvel at Sawyer's ability to draw together these disparate strands into a convincing and intelligible narrative.
For readers with no more than a passing knowledge of major Chinese rivers and modern provincial boundaries,
the lack of maps is probably the main drawback of the book. The frequency with which counties and minor towns (often with similar sounding names) are referred to in the text leads to a considerable amount of confusion. The reader is torn between breaking with the narrative to sketch his own reference map with the help of online references, or simply going along with the flow in the usually vain hope that some later known geographic reference point will provide some context. Sawyer's orthographic preference for Wade-Giles over the now more frequently used Pinyin is also unhelpful.
In addition, some critical issues remained disappointingly unaddressed in the book. These include why carbon 14 dating has not resolved chronological obscurities stemming from the oracle bones and plastrons to general satisfaction; what relative populations for the various clans and proto-states can be inferred from the troop call-ups described in the Shang sources; and what forms of land tenure, use, and legal forms underpinned the varied proto-states and polities with which the Xia, Shang and Zhou interacted. Hopefully such issues and the lack of maps might be addressed in the forthcoming "Western Chou Warfare."
Despite these limitations, for Westerners interested in the early beginnings of Chinese history, but without the linguistic skills to access most of the secondary literature, ACW provides an excellent, scholarly and yet readable synthesis.
Securing the right terrain configuration, a general control of economics, a functioning intelligence network and the necessary logistical base allowed them to achieve:
* Fortifications which controlled the physical terrain and access to natural resources
* A technological edge with respect to materiel, armor and weapons, manpower and motive power
* control of key logistics points
These achievements then became the essential foundations for winning future battles.
This grand evolution of these strategic steps was also critical in winning the game of cooperation and competition. Those steps also propelled the strategic leaders to focus exclusively on the strategic direction of state building and the use of extreme warfare (i.e., "total war").
Extreme warfare causes the stimulation of innovation, social change, and material gain. That was true then and as modern historians such as Paul Kennedy and Charles Tilley know, it remains true now.
One more thing, this book is great especially if you are a reader of ancient Chinese military history. The specifics behind each chapter are immense and quite detailed.
In summary, the author provides the strategic foundation for those in the position of the underdog to prevail against favored and better capitalized competitors. This strategy has many useful applications in the present chaotic information economy. As I am writing this review, I wonder if China's current efforts at ascension to world power isn't based on the same conceptual model as that of the Hsia dynasty and the Shang dynasty.
I am looking forward to his next book.