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Ancient Chinese Warfare Hardcover – March 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046502145X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021451
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,246,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sawyer, a leading scholar of Chinese warfare and fellow at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, is best known for his comprehensively edited translations of classical military writings. His latest analytical work is no less significant. It begins in the prehistoric period and continues through the fifth century B.C.E., an era traditionally described as one of stability, almost idyllic compared to the two-century warring states period that followed. Sawyer instead demonstrates through archeological evidence, traditional accounts, and convincing interpretations of inscriptions that conflict in China became increasingly complex, lethal, and decisive during the Hsia and Shang dynasties. Armies became structured forces with bureaucratized logistics. Warrior values were integrated into mainstream cultures. Sawyer's analysis ranges from the evolution of fortification, through the metallurgical innovations behind improved weapons, to the technologies and animal husbandry that enabled the chariots that became ancient China's signature. Warfare, says Sawyer, stimulated innovation, social change, and material progress. It also destroyed the peace and security of communities, then peoples, absorbed into ever-larger political systems sustained by force. Ancient China, shaped by its wars, was firmly set on "a trajectory of state building and aggressive activity." Illus. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


P. H. Liotta, author of The Real Population Bomb: Megacities and Global Security
“After decades of intense and dedicated scholarship, Ralph Sawyer has produced an astonishing volume. His linguistic and strategic skills—his fierce genius—are everywhere in evidence. Sawyer is a master, and Ancient Chinese Warfare is his masterpiece.”

Ralph Peters, retired Military Intelligence officer and author of The War After Armageddon
Ancient Chinese Warfare is, paradoxically, a crucial book for the 21st century. As the ‘new’ China aspires to global power, understanding the foundations of this civilization’s way of war helps us grasp Beijing’s present psychology and behavior. The Chinese take a very long view of history, and we need to learn to do so. To that end, the brilliant work of Ralph D. Sawyer has long proven unrivalled...and this book is his masterpiece. No work better illustrates the deep (and gnarled) roots of China’s contemporary ambitions.”
Nicola Di Cosmo, Henry Luce Foundation Professor of East Asian History at the Institute for Advanced Study
Ancient Chinese Warfare is an important, informative, and exciting book. Written with panache, brimming with new ideas, and based on a level of knowledge that would challenge any expert, Sawyer’s work has transformed single-handedly our understanding of ancient Chinese military history. Readers will find in this book a solidly informed and vivid account of China’s ways of warfare from the Shang dynasty to the mid-first millennium BC. Only few of them will appreciate the massive effort of synthesis and analysis that this book represents, and it is to Sawyer’s credit that he has succeeded in bringing an extremely difficult topic to a level that everyone can understand, learn from, and enjoy.”
Edward N. Luttwak, author of The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire
“Not unexpectedly, this book enhances Ralph D. Sawyer’s reputation as the premier interpreter of Chinese strategy and warfare. The surprise is that with the aid of a flowing style he has written a highly readable, indeed very enjoyable book on a seemingly abstruse subject. In a manner fascinating in itself, Sawyer brilliantly reconstructs the fragmentary archaeological evidence.”
Library Journal
“[A] complex, fascinating book…. [R]eaders with a serious interest in Chinese history and/or warfare will appreciate Sawyer’s work.”

Michigan War Studies Review 
“[Ancient Chinese Warfare] marks a major advance in the state of our knowledge, a rich repository to be mined not only by historians of China but also world historians, scholars of comparative military history, and students of the origins of war and the state. Its impact will be substantial, far-reaching, and unsuperseded for many years to come.”

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John H. Nguyen on March 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, let me say that I'm a loyal fan of Doctor Sawyer. I still have tremendous respect and admiration for what he has been doing for Chinese Military thoughts and histories. Having said that, I also have to say that for me this is the most disappointing work from Doctor Sawyer. The title of the book should be ANCIENT CHINESE WEAPONRY. Doctor Sawyer concentrates the overwhelming portion of the book discussing about Chinese Weapons and fortifications. Very little materials (probably less than 10%) in the book are devoted to the strategical, operational, and tactical aspects of Ancient Chinese Warfare as the tittle implies.

I have eagerly waited for this book since I first seen it advertised in Amazon upcoming titles in 2007! I was expecting something along the line of Doctor Sawyer's treatment of the MALING campaign in his "SUN PIN MILITARY METHODS". In which he expertly used well thought out, well drawn maps to depict the campaign and how it illustrated the strategical and operational methods of Sun Pin. Instead, "ANCIENT CHINESE WARFARE" is disjointed as far as the strategies, operations and tactics of Ancient China are concerned. There isn't even a well defined historical period that is covered. There isn't any continuous and detailed discussion of the thread of strategies, operations, tactics AND LEADERSHIP involved in Ancient Chinese Warfare. And worst, (as far as I'm concerned) there isn't any single military, topographical, or any map at all for crying out loud!!! (Doctor Sawyer, no justification you can come up with could ever be justified enough for a book about Warfare without ANY map or any discussion of battles or campaigns). But of course this book is a whole lot more about weapons than warfare.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michaël de Verteuil on October 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Unlike the previous reviewer, J. Nguyen, I have to express my admiration for what Dr. Sawyer has achieved with "Ancient Chinese Warfare," and look forward to the successor volume "Western Chou Warfare." In ACW, Sawyer attempts to review, test and synthesize the information available on the Hsia (Xia) and Shang periods of Chinese history from four basic sources: archeology, inscribed oracle bones, plastrons and bronze cauldrons, the Bamboo annals (which date from some 650 years after the end of the Shang), and the early part of the great historian Sima Qian's "Shiji." This is the equivalent of trying to write a history of Mycenian warfare from what can be inferred from archeology, linear B tablets, Homer and Herodotus; or of pre-Davidic Israeli warfare from the Bible and biblical archeology. These periods are only on the cusp between history and pre-history, with the more detailed narratives consisting largely of folklore first written down centuries after the "facts."

Dr. Sawyer does an effective job of describing the general socio-political and economic context in which the Xia and Shang operated. This was largely a tribal one in which more or less related and self-governing clans of varying size and power exploited the agricultural and mineral resources around them in competition with their neighbours. First the Xia clans, and after them the Shang clans, exercised a hierarchical, effective and often brutal hegemony under charismatic hereditary kings that could extend from the northern steppe lands to the middle Yangtze valley, extracting tribute and military service from smaller subject proto-states.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By DesktopReader on December 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What one learns from the book, is that the strategic leaders of that era (and their advisors) used a grand theory of political, economic and social disorder to channel competition and cooperation in directions favorable to their interests. Not only were they able to establish various grades of alliances, their integrated strategic culture of competition and cooperation expanded.

Securing the right terrain configuration, a general control of economics, a functioning intelligence network and the necessary logistical base allowed them to achieve:

* Fortifications which controlled the physical terrain and access to natural resources

* A technological edge with respect to materiel, armor and weapons, manpower and motive power

* control of key logistics points

These achievements then became the essential foundations for winning future battles.

This grand evolution of these strategic steps was also critical in winning the game of cooperation and competition. Those steps also propelled the strategic leaders to focus exclusively on the strategic direction of state building and the use of extreme warfare (i.e., "total war").

Extreme warfare causes the stimulation of innovation, social change, and material gain. That was true then and as modern historians such as Paul Kennedy and Charles Tilley know, it remains true now.

One more thing, this book is great especially if you are a reader of ancient Chinese military history. The specifics behind each chapter are immense and quite detailed.

In summary, the author provides the strategic foundation for those in the position of the underdog to prevail against favored and better capitalized competitors.
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More About the Author

Ralph D. Sawyer, one of America's leading scholars in Chinese warfare, has worked extensively with major intelligence and defense agencies. After studying at MIT and Harvard and a brief stint of university teaching, Sawyer has spent the past thirty years lecturing and doing international consulting work focused on China.