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5-08-2015, 22:41

Weapons and Defenses

Confucius wanted to eliminate war altogether;

however, even the rise of Confucianism did not eliminate conflict in ancient China. Chinese history is filled with battles and wars, often giving rise to new dynasties. During the Shang dynasty, wars were fought using guerrilla warfare—surprise attacks on the enemy. Historians believe many Shang conflicts involved land, particularly disputes over where animals would graze.


The Art of War

Military leader Sunzi is credited with writing The Art of War in the late 400s BCE. Sunzi was the most widely recognized military strategist of his time. His book is the earliest known manual on warfare. In it, Sunzi argues that winning in war is “a road to either safety or ruin.”1 He claims an army should go into battle only if it knows it’s going to win and explains different tactics for using force. He also recommends using psychological means to fight the enemy and to strike hard and fast. He emphasizes the importance of planning before battle.

Territorial rights and power struggles often led to wars between different groups. After thousands of years of skirmishes between dynasties and their armies, Qin Shihuangdi managed to successfully wage a war to make his army supreme. Qin Shihuangdi’s tactics helped him conquer all of the states during his War of Unification.

Historians get a glimpse of what it might have been like to be in Qin Shihuangdi’s army through letters written by his warriors. The letters detail how the more heads warriors cut off, the more promotions they received. If a soldier succeeded in winning a battle, he might be rewarded by being allowed to drink wine. If soldiers refused to obey an order, they were severely punished by a commanding officer.



When archaeologists excavated Qin Shihuangdi’s tomb, they discovered thousands of arrowheads. The archaeologists also found that all of the arrowheads were very similar to one another, suggesting they had been mass-produced. Historians think this was done in a type of manufacturing assembly line.

The ancient Chinese put their scientific knowledge to good use when crafting new weapons and military technology. In addition to developing gunpowder, Chinese inventors created several other useful weapons. The Chinese invented the crossbow during the 300s BCE. It was used as a weapon and to hunt animals. Archaeologists have learned about how many weapons were used, including the crossbow, by studying the statues and artifacts in Qin Shihuangdi’s tombs. His tomb featured lines of terra-cotta soldiers holding crossbows. Some were kneeling and others were standing, suggesting the techniques real soldiers may have used. The standing soldiers could fire while protecting the soldiers who were kneeling and reloading their crossbows. Qin Shihuangdi’s tomb also contained crossbow triggers rigged to let the arrows loose, an advanced technology for the time.

As bronze technology became available, the Chinese sword makers could create swords with sharp edges. An early version of the reel was also used in warfare. In 320 BCE, Chinese warriors threw javelins attached to cords. Because they wanted to reuse them, they reeled them back in for later use.

In the 300s BCE, Chinese inventors developed a poisonous gas made by burning dried mustard and vegetable matter. Some cities contained underground tunnels used for hiding weapons and surprise attacks. Chinese armies pumped poisonous gases into tunnels in their enemies’ cities. Soldiers coated arrows with poisons. Poison gases were also used for more practical purposes, such as getting rid of bookworms and other pests through home fumigation.


One of ancient China’s greatest efforts in military defense is also one of the most well-known symbols of China. The Great Wall’s construction spanned

Booby Traps

The ancient Chinese used booby traps at least as early they believe it is rigged with crossbows that will

as Qin Shihuangdi’s reign. In fact, archaeologists have not explored the inner tomb, where the emperor’s body lies, because they know it is booby trapped.

The craftsmen who helped with the construction were buried in the tomb with Qin Shihuangdi to guarantee they would not reveal the tomb’s secrets. Even though archaeologists haven’t opened Qin Shihuangdi’s inner tomb because of safety concerns, automatically shoot when the tomb is entered. The ceiling is supposedly decorated with jewels, and there are reportedly rivers and lakes made of mercury. Exposure to mercury could also potentially harm excavators. This ancient emperor, along with his workers, knew enough about warfare and surprise attack to continue puzzling modern investigators.

However, the ancient Chinese had built walls for more than 1,000 years before the famous one was even started. Many dynasties built walls to protect themselves from groups of nomads. Historians now claim most of the walls built in defense were militarily ineffective. The walls were not linked together, so enemies simply climbed the walls or went around them.

Built in stages, the Great Wall began during the Qin dynasty. During that time, workers built the wall from soil pounded into shape using a frame. This simple technique of construction can still be seen in China’s rural areas today. The Great Wall seen today was completed by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE). Today the Great Wall of China twists and turns for approximately 5,500 miles (8,800 km).2