Book Review: Debating War in Chinese History


by Peter Lorge, editor

Leiden & Boston: E.J. Brill, 2013. Pp. x, 272. Maps, notes, index. $156.00. ISBN: 900422372X

Chinese Thought on War and Decision Making

Prof. Lorge (Vanderbilt) has gathered eight essays by various scholars of Chinese history to Chinese ideas about reasons for war or the pattern of decision making in particular periods, from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) through the 1930s. 

The book opens with “Righteous, Furious, or Arrogant,” which looks at early Chinese classification of reasons for war, the title itself suggesting a neat categorization.  The essays that follow look at specifics historical decisions about making war or about how to conduct war.  These are:

  • “Debates and Decision Making: The Battle of the Altai Mountains in AD 91”
  • “The Debate Between Wang Hui and Han Anguo: A Case Study of Early Han Military Addresses”
  • “Fighting Against Empire: Resistance to the Later Zhou and Song Conquest of China”
  • “Debates in the Field During Bayan’s Campaigns Against Southern Song China, 1274-1276”
  • “As Close as Lips and Teeth: Debating the Ming Intervention in Korea”
  • “To War or Not to War: Decisions for War in Late Imperial China, 1870s–1900”
  • “Debating War in China: The Decision to Go to War, July-August 1937”)

A volume in the excellent Brill series “History of Warfare,” Debating War in Chinese History, is primarily for the China/East Asian specialist.  Two essays, however, may have a wider appeal.  The opening essay will prove rewarding reading for those interested in the idea of war in ancient times or the question of “just” and “unjust” war, while the final essay on the debate over war in 1937, which argues that this debate was in fact the only time in Chinese history that there was genuine public involvement in the decision for war, will be of value to students of the Second World War in East Asia and the Pacific.

Note: Debating War in Chinese History is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978- 9-004-24479-5


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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