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    Apologies For War

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    Chapter 5
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    Apologies for War

    Accustomed as we are to think of China as the greatest
    peace-loving nation on earth, we are in some danger of forgetting
    that her experience of war in all its phases has also been such
    as no modern State can parallel. Her long military annals
    stretch back to a point at which they are lost in the mists of
    time. She had built the Great Wall and was maintaining a huge
    standing army along her frontier centuries before the first Roman
    legionary was seen on the Danube. What with the perpetual
    collisions of the ancient feudal States, the grim conflicts with
    Huns, Turks and other invaders after the centralization of
    government, the terrific upheavals which accompanied the
    overthrow of so many dynasties, besides the countless rebellions
    and minor disturbances that have flamed up and flickered out
    again one by one, it is hardly too much to say that the clash of
    arms has never ceased to resound in one portion or another of the
    No less remarkable is the succession of illustrious captains
    to whom China can point with pride. As in all countries, the
    greatest are fond of emerging at the most fateful crises of her
    history. Thus, Po Ch'i stands out conspicuous in the period when
    Ch'in was entering upon her final struggle with the remaining
    independent states. The stormy years which followed the break-up
    of the Ch'in dynasty are illuminated by the transcendent genius
    of Han Hsin. When the House of Han in turn is tottering to its
    fall, the great and baleful figure of Ts'ao Ts'ao dominates the
    scene. And in the establishment of the T'ang dynasty,one of the
    mightiest tasks achieved by man, the superhuman energy of Li
    Shih-min (afterwards the Emperor T'ai Tsung) was seconded by the
    brilliant strategy of Li Ching. None of these generals need fear
    comparison with the greatest names in the military history of
    In spite of all this, the great body of Chinese sentiment,
    from Lao Tzu downwards, and especially as reflected in the
    standard literature of Confucianism, has been consistently
    pacific and intensely opposed to militarism in any form. It is
    such an uncommon thing to find any of the literati defending
    warfare on principle, that I have thought it worth while to
    collect and translate a few passages in which the unorthodox view
    is upheld. The following, by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, shows that for all
    his ardent admiration of Confucius, he was yet no advocate of
    peace at any price: --

    Military weapons are the means used by the Sage to
    punish violence and cruelty, to give peace to troublous
    times, to remove difficulties and dangers, and to succor
    those who are in peril. Every animal with blood in its veins
    and horns on its head will fight when it is attacked. How
    much more so will man, who carries in his breast the
    faculties of love and hatred, joy and anger! When he is
    pleased, a feeling of affection springs up within him; when
    angry, his poisoned sting is brought into play. That is the
    natural law which governs his being.... What then shall be
    said of those scholars of our time, blind to all great
    issues, and without any appreciation of relative values, who
    can only bark out their stale formulas about "virtue" and
    "civilization," condemning the use of military weapons? They
    will surely bring our country to impotence and dishonor and
    the loss of her rightful heritage; or, at the very least,
    they will bring about invasion and rebellion, sacrifice of
    territory and general enfeeblement. Yet they obstinately
    refuse to modify the position they have taken up. The truth
    is that, just as in the family the teacher must not spare the
    rod, and punishments cannot be dispensed with in the State,
    so military chastisement can never be allowed to fall into
    abeyance in the Empire. All one can say is that this power
    will be exercised wisely by some, foolishly by others, and
    that among those who bear arms some will be loyal and others
    rebellious. [58]

    The next piece is taken from Tu Mu's preface to his
    commentary on Sun Tzu: --

    War may be defined as punishment, which is one of the
    functions of government. It was the profession of Chung Yu
    and Jan Ch'iu, both disciples of Confucius. Nowadays, the
    holding of trials and hearing of litigation, the imprisonment
    of offenders and their execution by flogging in the market-
    place, are all done by officials. But the wielding of huge
    armies, the throwing down of fortified cities, the hauling of
    women and children into captivity, and the beheading of
    traitors -- this is also work which is done by officials.
    The objects of the rack and of military weapons are
    essentially the same. There is no intrinsic difference
    between the punishment of flogging and cutting off heads in
    war. For the lesser infractions of law, which are easily
    dealt with, only a small amount of force need be employed:
    hence the use of military weapons and wholesale decapitation.
    In both cases, however, the end in view is to get rid of
    wicked people, and to give comfort and relief to the good....
    Chi-sun asked Jan Yu, saying: "Have you, Sir, acquired
    your military aptitude by study, or is it innate?" Jan Yu
    replied: "It has been acquired by study." [59] "How can
    that be so," said Chi-sun, "seeing that you are a disciple of
    Confucius?" "It is a fact," replied Jan Yu; "I was taught by
    Confucius. It is fitting that the great Sage should exercise
    both civil and military functions, though to be sure my
    instruction in the art of fighting has not yet gone very
    Now, who the author was of this rigid distinction
    between the "civil" and the "military," and the limitation of
    each to a separate sphere of action, or in what year of which
    dynasty it was first introduced, is more than I can say.
    But, at any rate, it has come about that the members of the
    governing class are quite afraid of enlarging on military
    topics, or do so only in a shamefaced manner. If any are
    bold enough to discuss the subject, they are at once set down
    as eccentric individuals of coarse and brutal propensities.
    This is an extraordinary instance in which, through sheer
    lack of reasoning, men unhappily lose sight of fundamental
    When the Duke of Chou was minister under Ch'eng Wang, he
    regulated ceremonies and made music, and venerated the arts
    of scholarship and learning; yet when the barbarians of the
    River Huai revolted, [60] he sallied forth and chastised
    them. When Confucius held office under the Duke of Lu, and a
    meeting was convened at Chia-ku, [61] he said: "If pacific
    negotiations are in progress, warlike preparations should
    have been made beforehand." He rebuked and shamed the
    Marquis of Ch'i, who cowered under him and dared not proceed
    to violence. How can it be said that these two great Sages
    had no knowledge of military matters?

    We have seen that the great Chu Hsi held Sun Tzu in high
    esteem. He also appeals to the authority of the Classics: --

    Our Master Confucius, answering Duke Ling of Wei, said:
    "I have never studied matters connected with armies and
    battalions." [62] Replying to K'ung Wen-tzu, he said: I
    have not been instructed about buff-coats and weapons." But
    if we turn to the meeting at Chia-ku, we find that he used
    armed force against the men of Lai, so that the marquis of
    Ch'i was overawed. Again, when the inhabitants of Pi
    revolted, the ordered his officers to attack them, whereupon
    they were defeated and fled in confusion. He once uttered
    the words: "If I fight, I conquer." [63] And Jan Yu also
    said: "The Sage exercises both civil and military
    functions." [64] Can it be a fact that Confucius never
    studied or received instruction in the art of war? We can
    only say that he did not specially choose matters connected
    with armies and fighting to be the subject of his teaching.

    Sun Hsing-yen, the editor of Sun Tzu, writes in similar
    strain: --

    Confucius said: "I am unversed in military matters."
    [65] He also said: "If I fight, I conquer." Confucius
    ordered ceremonies and regulated music. Now war constitutes
    one of the five classes of State ceremonial, [66] and must
    not be treated as an independent branch of study. Hence, the
    words "I am unversed in" must be taken to mean that there are
    things which even an inspired Teacher does not know. Those
    who have to lead an army and devise stratagems, must learn
    the art of war. But if one can command the services of a
    good general like Sun Tzu, who was employed by Wu Tzu-hsu,
    there is no need to learn it oneself. Hence the remark added
    by Confucius: "If I fight, I conquer."
    The men of the present day, however, willfully interpret
    these words of Confucius in their narrowest sense, as though
    he meant that books on the art of war were not worth reading.
    With blind persistency, they adduce the example of Chao Kua,
    who pored over his father's books to no purpose, [67] as a
    proof that all military theory is useless. Again, seeing
    that books on war have to do with such things as opportunism
    in designing plans, and the conversion of spies, they hold
    that the art is immoral and unworthy of a sage. These people
    ignore the fact that the studies of our scholars and the
    civil administration of our officials also require steady
    application and practice before efficiency is reached. The
    ancients were particularly chary of allowing mere novices to
    botch their work. [68] Weapons are baneful [69] and fighting
    perilous; and useless unless a general is in constant
    practice, he ought not to hazard other men's lives in battle.
    [70] Hence it is essential that Sun Tzu's 13 chapters should
    be studied.
    Hsiang Liang used to instruct his nephew Chi [71] in the
    art of war. Chi got a rough idea of the art in its general
    bearings, but would not pursue his studies to their proper
    outcome, the consequence being that he was finally defeated
    and overthrown. He did not realize that the tricks and
    artifices of war are beyond verbal computation. Duke Hsiang
    of Sung and King Yen of Hsu were brought to destruction by
    their misplaced humanity. The treacherous and underhand
    nature of war necessitates the use of guile and stratagem
    suited to the occasion. There is a case on record of
    Confucius himself having violated an extorted oath, [72] and
    also of his having left the Sung State in disguise. [73] Can
    we then recklessly arraign Sun Tzu for disregarding truth and
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