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“Saving Lives”—Lü Kun’s Manual on City Defense

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Abstract The subject of this article is the Book on Saving Lives (Jiuming shu) written by the late Ming scholar-official Lü Kun. The book enjoyed great popularity during the Ming and Qing dynasties and offers practical advice for those who were in charge of city defense. Lü wrote this text in anticipation of imminent social crises. His prime motivation was to save the lives of his fellow countrymen when “bandits” attacked the county seat. The book, which is a survival manual rather than a handbook for magistrates, was written for military non-professionals who would lead the civilian population to defend the county. On the other hand, the text is of a military nature and refers to the military function of Chinese towns. The majority of the book deals with military preparedness. Although the book also discusses various aspects of city defense such as weapons, tactics, fortification, training, and military law, Lü himself lacked combat experience. In this respect, the book illustrates a dilemma: The defense of small cities lay beyond the scope of the central government. This placed the responsible officials in a difficult and contradictory situation. The magistrate, for example, was not prepared for the job. He lacked military experience but had to lead the local population into war. Despite his power, he depended on the cooperation of the people, including the assistance of rich families and the support of armed villagers skilled in martial arts. In this way, Lü Kun’s treatise illustrates the consequences of earlier political decisions to concentrate the military on the northern border and around the capital.

Affiliations: 1: University of Leipzig


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