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.
discuss the role of Legalism in Imperial China. Legalism (fa ja) is often said to be the realist tradition of ancient Chinese statecraft, and the main competitor to Confucianism.99 In general, Legalism disparaged the Confucian emphasis on rule by morality and instead sought to strengthen state power though rule of law combined with harsh punishments. During the Warring States period, Legalists helped the state of Qin conquer other states and unify all of China.100 But as Chinese scholar Hsiao
average number of officials recruited through the Confucian civil service examination grew to 361 per year—at least three times higher than any other Chinese dynasty.10 The civil service examinations, established toward the end of the sixth century, took on an essential role in staffing the Song bureaucracy. The exam system recruited only about 10 percent of the Tang dynasty officials—a figure that soared in the Song dynasty.11 Confucian scholar-officials became indispensable to the
Song’s military power and economic strength; it was the Liao’s fear of a pending Song invasion that prompted it to launch a preemptive strike.72 Liao security concerns were further exacerbated by the impending cessation of hostilities between the Song and the Xi Xia: the removal of military pressures on China’s western frontier would better position the Song to fight in the north. The Song actually transferred fifteen thousand troops from the Xi Xia warfront to the Liao border area in 1004.73
power shift created by internal leadership crises in the two states. As its power grew, the Song shifted to an offensive grand strategy, as it did in 979 and 1081. Furthermore, Chinese war aims were not limited to border defense but included conquest of territories and annihilation of adversaries. The Song court was intent not only on capturing the Sixteen Prefectures but also on finding ways to destroy the Liao. There is, however, only one case of war-aims expansion: the decision to attack the
23 19 17 12 15 15 35 33 31 15 24 11 15 6 4 2 3 1 1 2 4 8 6 10 24 34 JUREN LOWER DEGREES PREFECTURAL 29 28 32 33 28 29 35 28 27 27 19 30 24 16 JINSHI 51 56 54 54 55 54 51 49 39 33 31 28 18 16 20 16 14 13 17 17 14 25 35 40 50 43 57 67 JUREN LOWER DEGREES SUBPREFECTURAL AND COUNTY Source: James B. Parsons, “The Ming Dynasty Bureaucracy: Aspects of Background Forces,” in