China's historical grand strategy: defensive or offensive?


Max Demian

Junior Member
Registered Member
I recently started reading the book "Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics".

The author concludes that despite the fact that Confucianism favored harmony and condemned war, the Confucian culture failed to constrain China's use of aggressive force against its neighbors. According to him, ancient China was a practitioner of realpolitk: China tended to adopt an offensive grand strategy when its power was strong and a defensive one when its power was relatively weak.

The author frames the discussion in terms of two contradicting hypotheses: Confucian pacifism vs structural realism.

Confucian pacifism hypothesis:
1. Grand strategy: China will not adopt an offensive grand strategy even if the balance of power shifts in its favor
2. Use of force: China will prefer to use nonviolent means to settle security problems. If there is an opportunity to use force, China will not take advantage of it.
3. War aims: Chinese war aims will be limited and will exclude conquest of territories and annihilation of adversary.

Structural realism hypothesis:
1. Grand strategy: China will adopt an offensive grand strategy when it grows more powerful than others
2. Use of force: China will prefer to use force to settle security problems. If there is an opportunity to use force, China will take advantage of it
3. War aims: Chinese war aims will not be limited and will include conquest of territories and annihilation of adversary.

It is interesting that the author finds arguments for structural realism even in Song dynasty era.

My idea for this thread is to come up with examples that would support either of the two hypothesis above and discuss arguments in favor or against.
 

jimmyjames30x30

Junior Member
Registered Member
I recently started reading the book "Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics".

The author concludes that despite the fact that Confucianism favored harmony and condemned war, the Confucian culture failed to constrain China's use of aggressive force against its neighbors. According to him, ancient China was a practitioner of realpolitk: China tended to adopt an offensive grand strategy when its power was strong and a defensive one when its power was relatively weak.

The author frames the discussion in terms of two contradicting hypotheses: Confucian pacifism vs structural realism.

Confucian pacifism hypothesis:
1. Grand strategy: China will not adopt an offensive grand strategy even if the balance of power shifts in its favor
2. Use of force: China will prefer to use nonviolent means to settle security problems. If there is an opportunity to use force, China will not take advantage of it.
3. War aims: Chinese war aims will be limited and will exclude conquest of territories and annihilation of adversary.

Structural realism hypothesis:
1. Grand strategy: China will adopt an offensive grand strategy when it grows more powerful than others
2. Use of force: China will prefer to use force to settle security problems. If there is an opportunity to use force, China will take advantage of it
3. War aims: Chinese war aims will not be limited and will include conquest of territories and annihilation of adversary.

It is interesting that the author finds arguments for structural realism even in Song dynasty era.

My idea for this thread is to come up with examples that would support either of the two hypothesis above and discuss arguments in favor or against.
What make you think Confucius is pacifist?
 

Max Demian

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Paraphrasing of one of the study topics from the book: the invasion of the Liao protectorate, the Northern Han by the ascendant Song in 979. Wiki:
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By 978, most of the rival Chinese states had been conquered and annexed to the Song state. Historian Wang Gungwu wrote: "The year 979 represented the climax of [Song] power."

Despite advice from Confucian counselors to refrain from an invasion, the emperor Taizong concluded that the balance of power shifted in China's favor, and personally led the army against the Northern Han. After a successful campaign and the annexation of the Northern Han, Song now at war with Liao, decided to expand their war goals and annex the
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, the wealthiest region in the Liao Empire. Capturing this region would deny the Liao their springboard for launching invasions deep into northern China. Despite initial success, and having reached the walls of the Liao southern capital, the Song army was crushed by the Liao relief cavalry army.

But the Song did not want to give up. Shortly after, another opportunity presented itself. The Liao emperor Shengzong inherited the throne at age 11. Emperor Taizong assembled an army 200,000 men strong and invaded the Liao again in 986. The Chinese army made good progress initially, and captured major cities in its push north. The Liao were forced to recall their expeditionary army from Korea and with their full might assembled they crushed the Song main force at Qigou Pass.

After this catastrophic defeat, the Song permanently shifted to a defensive strategy. Eventually, they had to bribe the Liao into accepting peace with the treaty of Shanyuan. This was a rare example of a reverse tribute in Chinese history.
 

Max Demian

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In the presented scenario of the Song invasion of the Northern Han, all three elements of the structural realism hypothesis were met in contradiction to the Confucian pacifist hypothesis:
1. China adopted an offensive strategy once the perception of power vis-a-vis the Liao empire shifted in its favor. China adopted a defensive strategy once the balance of power was no longer in its favor.
2. China decided to use force, instead of diplomacy, cultural attraction and other nonviolent measures to settle the issue in its favor
3. China expanded its war goals and its ambition was to annex and cut in size its chief opponents.
 

solarz

Brigadier
Paraphrasing of one of the study topics from the book: the invasion of the Liao protectorate, the Northern Han by the ascendant Song in 979. Wiki:
Please, Log in or Register to view URLs content!


By 978, most of the rival Chinese states had been conquered and annexed to the Song state. Historian Wang Gungwu wrote: "The year 979 represented the climax of [Song] power."

Despite advice from Confucian counselors to refrain from an invasion, the emperor Taizong concluded that the balance of power shifted in China's favor, and personally led the army against the Northern Han. After a successful campaign and the annexation of the Northern Han, Song now at war with Liao, decided to expand their war goals and annex the
Please, Log in or Register to view URLs content!
, the wealthiest region in the Liao Empire. Capturing this region would deny the Liao their springboard for launching invasions deep into northern China. Despite initial success, and having reached the walls of the Liao southern capital, the Song army was crushed by the Liao relief cavalry army.

But the Song did not want to give up. Shortly after, another opportunity presented itself. The Liao emperor Shengzong inherited the throne at age 11. Emperor Taizong assembled an army 200,000 men strong and invaded the Liao again in 986. The Chinese army made good progress initially, and captured major cities in its push north. The Liao were forced to recall their expeditionary army from Korea and with their full might assembled they crushed the Song main force at Qigou Pass.

After this catastrophic defeat, the Song permanently shifted to a defensive strategy. Eventually, they had to bribe the Liao into accepting peace with the treaty of Shanyuan. This was a rare example of a reverse tribute in Chinese history.
That's an incredibly distorted view of history.

The Sixteen Prefectures were a vital part of the defenses of the Great Wall. Song trying to capture it wasn't aggressiveness, it was strategic necessity. History showed that without the Sixteen Prefectures, Song dynasty was constantly forced to pay tribute to its aggressive neighbors and spend huge amounts of wealth on maintaining a large infantry. Ultimately, the lack of those Sixteen Prefectures led to the fall of Northern Song dynasty and its conquest by the Jurchen Jin.

The Song dynasty was surrounded by hostile neighbors from its very inception. War was inevitable, the only question was who would take the initiative.
 

solarz

Brigadier
In the presented scenario of the Song invasion of the Northern Han, all three elements of the structural realism hypothesis were met in contradiction to the Confucian pacifist hypothesis:
1. China adopted an offensive strategy once the perception of power vis-a-vis the Liao empire shifted in its favor. China adopted a defensive strategy once the balance of power was no longer in its favor.
2. China decided to use force, instead of diplomacy, cultural attraction and other nonviolent measures to settle the issue in its favor
3. China expanded its war goals and its ambition was to annex and cut in size its chief opponents.
Again, an extremely distorted view of history.

China wasn't trying to annex its opponents, because both Song, Northern Han, and even Liao were ALL Chinese! This was during a period of fragmentation in Chinese history, and every faction was trying to reunite the country.

You have a pattern of making extremely distorted claims about Chinese history. If you continue to do this, you will be reported for trolling.
 

Crang

New Member
Registered Member
2. China decided to use force, instead of diplomacy, cultural attraction and other nonviolent measures to settle the issue in its favor
NO! I don't trust this guy to engage his interlocutors in good faith, so I will quote others instead of wasting time writing something original. China sometimes chooses force and sometimes non-violent means, or both, depending on the situation.


The idea of "Song military weakness" should only be seen in the context of the Song military vis-a-vis the military of their nomadic neighbors, and even then the early Song was a power to be reckoned with. As
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noted, the Song managed to reunite almost all of what we would today consider "China proper." Although the Song failed to retake the Sixteen Prefectures, they constructed a complex series of fortifications along the border with the Liao that consisted of ditches, trenches, obstacles, watchtowers, forts, and the Song even created artificial swamps. The Taiwanese scholar Liu Liyan has an article titled "Why did the Liao invade in 1004" in which he convincingly argues that the Liao invaded in 1004 because it was nervous about Song military posturing in the north. Prior to 1004, the Liao was raiding Song territory annual and not all of their raids were successful owing to strong Song defenses. The Liao decided to invade in 1004 because it was convinced that if they didn't do so, then the Song would invade them. And, contrary to popular belief, the Song army performed well and managed to check the Khitan advance.

So why then did the Song sue for peace? The Song court believed (and in hindsight this was true) that securing peace with the Liao was much more beneficial in the long run because the annual tributes paid to the Liao court was considerably less than the amount that would be needed to fund military campaigns. In addition, cross-border trade between the Liao and the Song meant a lot of that wealth would end up flowing back to the Song anyways. Furthermore, Zhenzong was not a military leader like his uncle and father (Taizu and Taizong), and there was no guarantee that he could lead the Song armies into victories (Zhenzong was personally leading the campaign at the time). For the Liao, the entire campaign was to weaken the Song and prevent a Song invasion, and in the end they secured a pledge from the Song to scale down Song fortifications. So to put it simply, neither side really wanted a prolonged conflict. The Liao was content on ruling just the Sixteen Prefectures in addition to their other territories, and the Song wanted to maintain peace, even if it had to accept a humiliating treaty.
 

Hendrik_2000

Brigadier
Exactly that is what I read in history This guy is following the western historian who distorted the Chinese History and diss out on Song as she paid tribute I watch CCTV history and as you said Song pay what amount to 1% of her economy to buy peace on the northern border But due to peace economic activity increase considerably resulting in much higher tax that more than paid for the 1% in tribute to Liao . Contrary to western historian Song is one of the golden time of Chinese history At no time was China is so rich and peaceful where culture bloom and what we know of Chinese food today started in Song dynasty and so all other mark of Chinese civilization.

And contrary to western Historian Song didn't lost he battle in fact she killed the Liao commander forcing liao to sue for peace resulting in Chanyuan treaty
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. Song has a good prime minister named Kou Zhun who tell the treaty negotiator to hold the line on Liao or else he is going to kill the negotiator. And he stiffen the resolve of the king to march to Chanyuan and battle the Liao

To make it safer, Kou Zhun, the lead planner of the expedition, implemented defensive measures such as digging trenches.
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's defenses was weakened after heavy fighting, resulting in many thousands of casualties, including many generals. However, the arrival of the emperor raised the Song troops' morale, making the battle ever-lastingly famous.

A Song giant crossbow killed the Liao Khitan leader Xiao Dalin in battle in January 1005.
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This led to major depression and despair among the Khitan and crippled the impetus of the Khitan offensive.
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