In the West, Chinese military history has been emerging as a new and important Sinological field in its own right since around 1990. We estimate that over the past two decades there have appeared upwards of fifty books in English the focus of which is largely or mostly Chinese military history—a rough total that undercounts works on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Chinese military history and excludes translations and the many studies of the contemporary People’s Liberation Army. We know of many more being researched and prepared. As a research field, Chinese military history will only increase in importance along with China’s growing economic, political, diplomatic, and military power. We think it high time that military history stop being seen and treated as a stepchild of Sinology. It deserves to be established in its own right as important for understanding the Chinese past. It is with an eye to establishing it as such that we launch this journal, something we acknowledge frankly as long overdue.
Some Sinologists may deem military history an old-fashioned topic unworthy of serious study, believing that historically the Chinese have been largely pacifistic and even anti-military, and suspecting that current historians of this topic are hawkish advocates of a strident military posture towards China. (A few are, but the large majority are not.) They are certainly entitled to their opinions, but we frankly and unapologetically hold otherwise. A small avalanche of recent books has established the centrality and decisiveness of the military in Chinese history and largely shattered the old Confucian caricatures and hoary sentimental stereotypes of Chinese exceptionalism, including the unsupported notion that the Chinese past was uniquely pacific and, in the memorable if questionable words of John K. Fairbank, “disesteemed violence.” China was no less or more martial than any other major world power, past or present. This may seem a remarkably pedestrian or jejune observation to non-Sinologists unfamiliar with the past hegemony of Confucian historiography that denigrated the military and downplayed its centrality and indispensability in Chinese policy formulation. A serious look through reports of debates among Chinese statesmen will indicate that for all periods, armed force was a central and essential component of national and regime security.
Our vision for the Journal is fairly simple: It will publish articles on Chinese military history that may be deemed too Sinological for military history journals and too military for Sinological journals. The Journal’s language will be English, and its articles will be written by serious and qualified Sinologists who work in Chinese-language sources. There will also be book reviews and possibly other sections such as research notes. Our journal welcomes submissions from all over the world, and we will consider manuscripts on all topics and periods in Chinese military history. We also welcome comparative and theoretical work, as well as studies of the military interactions between China and other states and peoples, especially East Asian neighbors such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Chronologically we intend for each issue to have articles on both premodern (defined roughly as pre-1800) and modern Chinese military history. Our definition of military history is fairly broad: we will consider and publish articles on many aspects of military history, including war and society; terminating war; grand strategy, strategy, and tactics; war and diplomacy; civil-military relations; weapons and weapon systems; debating war; field operations; and so on. While our journal has no political or ideological agenda or editorial line, both of us as editors prefer to eschew “China threat” diatribes, most of which are largely ahistorical and written by enthusiasts who have not learned to read Chinese.
The Chinese themselves have, of course, written much about their military history. The standard dynastic histories and other monumental works such as Sima Guang’s Zizhi tongjian ( Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, written in the late eleventh century) are filled with accounts of battles, campaigns, and strategic plans, and in more recent times it has not been hard to find works of military history on the shelves of China’s bookstores. The question thus arises: Does a journal published in English have much to add to this already lively scene—beyond simply communicating what Chinese readers have long known to a broader global audience?
We submit that this journal does have an original contribution to make. In imperial China, most historical writing was the work of scholar-officials who rarely had any military experience or technical knowledge of the conduct of warfare. Hence, traditional accounts of military operations emphasized cunning stratagems and core values while neglecting such mundane matters as weaponry, logistics, and basic tactics. Modern surveys and narrative overviews of premodern military history have tended to rely heavily on their traditional precursors, sometimes offering little more than paraphrases of the Zizhi tongjian, perhaps covered with a thin veneer of present-day military theory. Another significant continuity in the study of military history within China is the strong interest in military institutions, which as an important area of imperial administration was a more fitting subject for the attention of scholar-officials than the cut and thrust of battle. Despite some outstanding exceptions, such as Yang Hong’s detailed studies of ancient Chinese arms and armour, the best of the serious, in-depth scholarship in China over the last hundred years has continued to focus on military institutions.
In addition, much of what has been published on China’s modern military history—from the late nineteenth century to present—takes the form of either official staff-histories generated by the military establishment, with all the weaknesses displayed by the same genre in other countries, or memoir literature. Missing, by and large, has been serious consideration of Chinese military history from a comparative and global perspective, as well as the application of a variety of new approaches that have been most fruitful in the study of Western military history—from John Keegan’s “face of battle” approach to the logistical analyses pioneered by Donald Engels and Martin van Creveld and the social histories of the military subsumed under the capacious rubric of “war and society.” It is here that we hope this journal will make a contribution that will be original in any language.
We thank the following individuals and organizations for generously providing start-up funds for this journal: Jim Wang, MD, Tina Cheng, MD, FRCP(C), and the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and the Department of History, both of the University of Calgary. We thank as well the authors who submitted manuscripts to us and the anonymous peer reviewers who carefully examined those manuscripts. We also thank our fellow doctoral student at Princeton (and now Vice President of the Academia Sinica in Nankang, Taipei, Taiwan), Dr. Wang Fan-sen 王汎森, for his calligraphy that graces the covers of both the printed and electronic versions of this journal.