Book Review: Ancient Chinese Warfare


by Ralph D. Sawyer

New York: Basic/Perseus Books, 2011. Pp. xiv, 554. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.99. ISBN: 046502145X

For a number of years now Ralph D. Sawyer has been translating and editing such notable ancient Chinese military texts as The Seven Military Classics Of Ancient China , One Hundred Unorthodox Strategies: Battle And Tactics Of Chinese Warfare , and Sun Pin: Military Methods .  In Ancient Chinese Warfare, he takes a look at the nature of warfare at the dawn of Chinese history, from the mythic age of the “Three Sovereigns” (c. 3500-2000 BC), through the legendary Hsia/Xia Dynasty (c. 2000-1600 BC), to the semi-historical Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC). 

Drawing not only upon ancient annals and histories, but also poetry, religious texts, archaeology, art, myth, and other sources, Sawyer has pieced together a study of the organization, technology, equipment, and the conduct of war during the poorly documented era at the beginning of Chinese civilization.  In the process, he touches upon such subjects as the introduction of the horse and later the chariot, strategy and diplomacy, fortification, command, and more. 

A very readable look at a hitherto very obscure period in the history of China and of military institutions.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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