Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics (Contemporary Asia in the World)
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Confucianism has shaped a certain perception of Chinese security strategy, symbolized by the defensive, nonaggressive Great Wall. Many believe China is antimilitary and reluctant to use force against its enemies. It practices pacifism and refrains from expanding its boundaries, even when nationally strong.
In a path-breaking study traversing six centuries of Chinese history, Yuan-kang Wang resoundingly discredits this notion, recasting China as a practitioner of realpolitik and a ruthless purveyor of expansive grand strategies. Leaders of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) prized military force and shrewdly assessed the capabilities of China's adversaries. They adopted defensive strategies when their country was weak and pursued expansive goals, such as territorial acquisition, enemy destruction, and total military victory, when their country was strong. Despite the dominance of an antimilitarist Confucian culture, warfare was not uncommon in the bulk of Chinese history. Grounding his research in primary Chinese sources, Wang outlines a politics of power that are crucial to understanding China's strategies today, especially its policy of "peaceful development," which, he argues, the nation has adopted mainly because of its military, economic, and technological weakness in relation to the United States.
Heaven.”84 Needless to say, the Song offensive to recover the “three capitals” hardened his determination to eradicate that state. In 1235, the Mongols launched a three-pronged invasion of South China. The campaign dragged on for several years and failed to conquer China because the Mongol forces were too spread out and did not have a good inland naval force.85 Ögödei died in 1241, ushering in a power struggle within the Mongol ruling elites. The Song was thus spared further military intrusions
(zhixian). 60 Hongwu (1368–1398) JINSHI JUREN PROVINCIAL Held by Local Officials* REIGNS OF EMPERORS TABLE 5.2 Degrees THE MING DYNASTY (1368–1644) 105 10/14/10 9:42 AM 106 THE MING DYNASTY (1368–1644) With an overwhelming number of Ming central decision makers possessing an advanced Confucian degree, how did the idealized discourse of benevolence and antimilitarism influence Ming strategic choice and decision to use force? OFFENSIVE GRAND STRATEGY (1368–1449) Ming power
capital at Karakorum across the Gobi. This decisive victory enabled China to restore its border up to the Great Wall line (no wall was built yet) for the first time in four hundred years, since the tenth century. The Song dynasty was never able to accomplish this goal. After the initial victory, the Ming court on two occasions in 1370 sent diplomatic letters to urge the Mongol emperor to submit to Ming authority and acknowledge the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven or face invasion. The Mongols
of insufficient capability. Even during this period of defense, the Ming still looked for opportunities to strike at the Mongols, carving out the borders inch by inch and establishing garrisons to strengthen defenses. Domestically, the Ming government focused attention on consolidating its rule over China and building a strong economy. The Mongols, however, did not sit idle during this time. One group under Naghachu grew strong in the northeast, with forces large enough to wang15140_bk.indd 107
garrisons in Shaanxi and Xuanfu suffered a severe shortage of soldiers: fewer than twelve thousand troops were defending a border five hundred miles long. Offensive actions, therefore, should not be taken lightly. Rather, he suggested a defensive posture, the “strengthening of walls and clearing of fields” (jianbi qingye).90 By the fifteenth century, more than eight hundred years had passed without a “Great Wall” in China. The last Chinese dynasty that embarked on a massive wall-building project