Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter VI - The Army
As the struggle for pre-eminency which we are about to describe involved bloodthirsty combats extending almost uninterruptedly over five centuries, it may be of interest to inquire of what consisted the paraphernalia of warfare in those days. It appears that among the Chinese federal princes, who, as we have seen, only occupied in the main the flat country on the right bank of the Yellow River, war-chariots were invariably used, which is the more remarkable in that after the Conquest in 220 B.C. of China by the First August Emperor of Ts’in, and down to this day, war-chariots have scarcely ever once been even named, at least as having been marshalled in serious battle array. The Emperor alone was supposed in true feudal times to possess a force of 10,000 chariots, and even now a “10,000-chariot” state is the diplomatic expression for “a great power,” “a power of the first rank,” or “an empire." No vassal was entitled to more than 1000 war-chariots. In the year 632 B.C., when Tsin inflicted a great defeat upon its chief rival Ts’u, the former power had 700 chariots in the field. In 589 B.C. the same country, with 800 chariots included in its forces, marched across the Yellow River and defeated the state of Ts’i, its rival to the east. Again in 632 Tsin offered to the Emperor 100 chariots just captured from Ts’u, and in 613 sent 800 chariots to the assistance of a dethroned Emperor. The best were made of leather, and we may assume from this that the wooden ones found it very difficult to get safely over rough ground, for in a celebrated treaty of peace of 589 B.C. between the two rival states Tsin and Ts’i, the victor, lying to the west, imposed a condition that “your ploughed furrows shall in future run east and west instead of north and south,” meaning that “no systematic obstacles shall in future be placed in the way of our invading chariots.”
One of the features in many of the vassal states was the growth of great families, whose private power was very apt to constrain the wishes of the reigning duke, count, or baron. Thus in the year 537, when the King of Ts’u was meditating a treacherous attack upon Tsin, he was warned that “there were many magnates at the behest of the ruler of Tsin, each of whom was equal to placing 100 war-chariots in the field.” So much a matter of course was it to use chariots in war, that in the year 572, when the rival great powers of Ts’u and Tsin were contesting for suzerainty over one of the purely Chinese principalities in the modern Ho Nan province, it was considered quite a remarkable fact that this principality in taking the side of Ts’u brought no chariots with the forces led against Tsin. In 541 a refugee prince of Ts’u, seeking asylum in Tsin, only brought five chariots with him, on which the ruler, ashamed as host of such a poor display, at once assigned him revenue sufficient for the maintenance of 100 individuals. It so happened that at the same time there arrived in Tsin a refugee prince from Ts’in, bringing with him 1000 carts, all heavily laden. On another occasion the prince (not a ruler) of a neighbouring state, on visiting the ruler of another, brings with him as presents an eight-horsed chariot for the reigning prince, a six-horsed conveyance for the premier, a four-horsed carriage for a very distinguished minister in the suite, and a two-horsed cart for a minor member of the mission.
Besides the heavy war-chariots, there were also rather more comfortable and lighter conveyances: in one case two generals are spoken of ironically because they went to the front playing the banjo in a light cart, whilst their colleague from another state– the very state they were assisting–was roughing it in a war- chariot. These latter seem to have connoted, for military organization purposes, a strength of 75 men each, and four horses; to wit, three heavily armed men or cuirassiers in the chariot itself, and 72 foot-soldiers. At least in the case of Tsin, a force of 37,500 men, which in the year 613 boldly marched off three hundred or more English miles upon an eastern expedition, is so described. On the other hand, thirty years later, a small Ts’u force is said to have had 125 men attached to each chariot, while the Emperor’s chariots are stated to have had 100 men assigned to each. In the year 627 a celebrated battle was fought between the rival powers of Ts’in and Tsin, in which the former was utterly routed; “not a man nor a wheel of the whole army ever got back." War-chariots are mentioned as having been in use at least as far back as 1797 B.C. by the Tartar-affected ancestors of the Chou dynasty, nearly 700 years before they themselves came to the imperial power. The territory north of the River Wei, inhabited by them, is all yellow loess, deeply furrowed by the stream in question, and by its tributaries: there is no apparent reason to suppose that the gigantic cart-houses used by the Tartars, even to this day, had any historical connection with the swift war- chariots of the Chinese.
Little, if anything, is said of conveying troops by boat in any of the above-mentioned countries north of the Yang-tsz River. None of the rivers in Shen Si are navigable, even now, for any considerable stretches, and the Yellow River itself has its strict limitations. Later on, when the King of Ts’u’s possessions along the sea coast, embracing the delta of the Yang-tsz, revolted from his suzerainty and began (as we shall relate in due course) to take an active part in orthodox Chinese affairs, boats and gigantic canal works were introduced by the hitherto totally unknown or totally forgotten coast powers; and it is probably owing to this innovation that war-chariots suddenly disappeared from use, and that even in the north of China boat expeditions became the rule, as indeed was certainly the case after the third century B.C.
Some idea of the limited population of very ancient China may be gained from a consideration of the oldest army computations. The Emperor was supposed to have six brigades, the larger vassals three, the lesser two, and the small ones one; but owing to the loose way in which a Shi, or regiment of 2,500 men, and a Kun, or brigade of 12,500 men, are alternately spoken of, the Chinese commentators themselves are rather at a loss to estimate how matters really stood after the collapse of the Emperor in 771: but though at much later dates enormous armies, counting up to half a million men on each side, stubbornly contended for mastery, at the period of which we speak there is no reason to believe that any state, least of all the imperial reserve, ever put more than 1000 chariots, or say, 75,000 men, into the field on any one expedition.
Flags seem to have been in use very much as in the West. The founder of the Chou dynasty marched to the conquest of China carrying, or having carried for him, a yellow axe in the left, and a white flag in the right hand. In 660 one of the minor federal princes was crushed because he did not lower his standard in time; nearly a century later, this precedent was quoted to another federal prince when hard-pressed, in consequence of which a sub- officer “rolled up his master’s standard and put it in its sheath.” In 645 “the cavaliers under the ruler’s flag “–defined to mean his body-guard–were surrounded by the enemy.
During the fifth century B.C., when the coast provinces, having separated from the Ts’u suzerainty, were asserting their equality with the orthodox Chinese princes, and two rival “barbarian" armies were contending for the Shanghai region, one royal scion was indignant when he saw the enemy advance “with the flag captured in the last battle from his own father the general." Flags were used, not only to signal movements of troops during the course of battle, but also in the great hunts or battues which were arranged in peace times, not merely for sport, but also in order to prepare soldiers for a military life.
For victories over the Tartars in 623, the Emperor presented the ruler of Ts’in with a metal drum; and it seems that sacrificing to the regimental drum before a fight was a very ancient custom, which has been carried down to the present day. In 1900, during the “Boxer” troubles, General (now Viceroy) Yiian Shi-k’ai is reported to have sacrificed several condemned criminals to his drum before setting out upon his march.
[Illustration: Hilly County Dividing Wei Valley from Han Valley.
1. Si-ngan Fu is at the junction of the King River and Wei River. The encircled crosses mark the oldest and the newest Ts’in capitals; all other Ts’in capitals lay somewhere between the King and the Wei.
2. From 643 B.C. to 385 B.C. Ts’in was in occupation of the territory between the Yellow River and the River Loh, taken from Tsin and again lost to Tsin at those dates.]