The Chinese Military History Society held its 2018 annual conference at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 5, 2018, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society for Military History. The following papers were presented:


Kenneth M. Swope (University of Southern Mississippi), “The Rhetoric of Catastrophe in the Ming-Qing Transition”

The tumultuous Ming-Qing transition encompassed just about everything that took place in seventeenth-century China. It is also the best documented of all the imperial dynastic transitions in China’s long history. The surviving primary source records are replete with accounts of suffering, famine, disease, cannibalism, and the descent of civilization into savagery. Moreover, accounts of the Ming-Qing transition and varying interpretations of the key actors and events have been deployed for various ends over the past several centuries. At the same time, the imagery found in seventeenth century documents echoes that found in many earlier and later accounts. Taken together such accounts constitute what might be dubbed a “rhetoric of catastrophe” in Chinese history. In other words, discourses were deployed over the centuries to provide a common frame of reference for rulers and policy makers and to detail the evils of warfare and the lapse of governing institution. Using a variety of official and unofficial sources, including private memoirs and diaries, this paper will discuss the rhetoric of catastrophe in seventeenth-century China. In addition to discussing stories specific to the Ming-Qing transition, it will discuss their implications for studying eras of chaos and devastation throughout Chinese history. Finally, the later historical uses of seventeenth century accounts will be considered 


Kristin Mulready-Stone (U.S. Naval War College), “Vocabularies of Devastation and Chaos in World War II Shanghai”

In World War II Island Shanghai, contenders for power took advantage of whatever tools and opportunities were available to them to try to gain ground or, if they dared to hope, an upper hand. Because of Shanghai’s division into the International Settlement, French Concession and Chinese City (under Japanese collaborationist control) from 1938-1942, various resistance and collaborationist organizations used print media to get their propaganda messages across. Very often vocabularies of devastation, trauma and chaos were the best way to paint opposing forces in the worst light and one’s own side in the best light. This paper examines the use of such vocabularies to advance an agenda intended to gain support and, ideally, to convince Chinese residents of Shanghai to switch sides – from resistance to collaboration or vice-versa. Although they had to abide by the rules of censored words, they pushed to limits to achieve their goals by appealing to the emotion and nationalism of the population.


Lei Duan (University of Michigan), “The Prism of Violence: The Social and Cultural Life of the Gun in Modern China”

Private gun ownership became surprisingly common during the Republican period (1912-1949). During this period, foreign guns manufactured by companies such as Colt, Remington, and Mauser, along with their Chinese imitations, flood local society. In response to the violence, many Chinese people turned to this new class of weaponry. Owing to constant warfare and accelerated local militarization, the gun’s symbolism changed in the transformative modern period, wherein its social meaning was not confined to violence and killing. This paper explores the social and cultural life of the gun. It suggests that the discourses of social insecurity generated by consistent military conflicts and social violence were manifested in the symbolism of gun in a variety of ways. In many cases, the image of delicate foreign guns was perceived as a label of social status, and symbol of modernity. When the weak government was unable to provide protection to its civilians, the acquisition of a gun for self-defense was perceived as a means of self-empowerment. In some rural areas, ambitious individuals used violence to assert local dominance, in which the use of guns was essential in the struggle for local control. During wartime, popular culture forms illustrated the gun’s symbolism for defending the nation. This paper argues that the gun played a larger role than traditionally supposed in the theatre of modern China. Many symbols of the gun co-existed and converged and were integral to the social life of modern China.


Vered Shurany (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Landscape and Logistics between the Steppe and the Sown”

In the second half of the thirteenth century, Qubilai (r. 1260-1294), the fifth Mongol Qa’an and the founder of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), faced two different frontiers. The first was in the northwestern steppe where Mongol princes led by Qaidu (1236-1301) did not accept Qubilai as the great Qa’an. The second was against the Southern Song dynasty ( 1127-1279). These two frontiers were very different in their terrain, their ecological and topographic conditions.

The Mongols who were experts in steppe cavalry warfare, had to find ways to break the limitations of their traditional warfare in order to subdue Southern Song with its natural defenses, fortified cities and to unify China while fighting to pacify the rebel princes in the northern frontier. To face these challenges Qubilai Qa’an’s troops fought simultaneously on both fronts, dividing forces, using different logistics and diverse warfare techniques. By cross checking sources from the late Song dynasty, the Yuan as well as other parts of Mongol Eurasia, and focusing on the role of the local princes who fought on both fronts, this paper hopes to give a unique perspective on the ‘Mongols -Yuan - Song’ campaigns. It will examine the different warfare methods used by Southern Song and the steppe princes and how the Yuan army adapted their war techniques and logistics to fight and succeed in two completely different landscapes.

Solomon George FitzHerbert (CNRS, Paris), “Tantric Rituals as War Propaganda in 17th-18th Century Tibet, China and Mongolia”

The Water-Horse year of 1642 is a watershed year in Tibetan history, when the Tibetan plateau was united for the first time since the period of the old Tibetan empire (7th-9th centuries CE) under the charismatic authority of the 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso and his military backer, the Qoshot Mongol chief Gushri Khan. Though this unification was achieved through force of arms, the new status quo was maintained by the charismatic authority of the new rulership as symbolised by the Potala Palace built a few years later. In this presentation, based partly on ritual texts authored by the 5th Dalai Lama himself and contained in the Rinchen terdzo (Rin chen gter mdzod) collection, I will show that a key part of this charisma was the Dalai lama’s perceived expertise in ‘war magic’ – tantric rituals to repel and annihilate enemies (Tib: dmag zlog). The paper will show the lengths to which the 5th Dalai Lama went to nurture this reputation, and harness the charisma of such war magic to his new Ganden Phodrang Tibetan government. The paper will also show how the politics of war magic remained central to the dynamics of Tibetan-Mongol-Qing relations for the rest of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Hyeok Hweon “H.H.” Kang (Harvard University), “Accurizing the Gun: Tactics and Technologies in East Asia”

In recent scholarship on the Military Revolution, a debate about the role of firearms in Western ascendancy, historians have recognized a military parity between Western Europe and East Asia during the early modern period—namely, that musketeers in both regions could volley fire, or rotate the ranks to fire in turns. On the contrary, scholars in Japan and Korea argued the opposite, proposing a military divergence: while East Asians could volley fire, they prioritized individual marksmanship, and thus, were not as quick-firing, methodical, and collectively trained as their Western European counterparts. This paper tests the supposed notion of a divergence in musketry with comparative data and global perspectives. Drawing on gunnery manuals, battle records, and musketry trials from Korea, Japan, and China, and matching them against European data, it adduces new evidence that musketry in East Asia was indeed highly accurized—not only in design but in training and tactics—unlike in the West. Yet, while appreciating the differences, the evidence also suggests that this ‘divergence’ in musketry stemmed not from a fundamental disparity in military aptitude, but from variances in the manner of employing effective firepower in an age of technological and tactical parity. From the perspective of the history of technology, this paper also complicates the common wisdom that smoothbore muskets were severely limited in accuracy; instead, it reveals that even with their seemingly “backward” and cumbersome matchlocks, East Asians took musketry to its maximum potential accuracy.

Edward A. McCord (George Washington University), “Context and Contingency in 19th Century Chinese Militia Organization: Reevaluating the ‘Ladder of Militarization’”

Philip Kuhn’s pathbreaking study Rebellion and Its Enemies in Late Imperial China: Militarization and Social Structure, 1796-1864 sought to reveal interconnected scales in the organization of local militarization, which he argued were rooted in underlying social structures. To this end, he offers a concept of a parallel “ladder of militarization” that framed both orthodox and heterodox forms of local militarization in late Qing China. On the orthodox side of local militarization he posits a scaled hierarchy starting with tuanlian (mass militia) at the lowest level (scaled in turn into simplex, multiplex, and extended multiplex forms), leading to yong (full-time paid or mercenary forces), culminating in large-scale regional armies (such as Zeng Guofan’s Hunan Army).

This paper argues that the diversity of militia organization in 19th Century China reveals missing rungs and inconsistent connections that challenge the explanatory utility of this overly structural formulation. The paper offers a different conceptualization of militia as flexible state-society collaborations, located within the public realm, the shape and scale of which was more determined by the context and contingencies of threat levels, environmental factors (geography, population density, local resources), the quality of leadership, as well as the adaptive potentialities of underlying social and administrative frameworks.

Gregory J. Nedved (Center for Cryptologic History), “Cryptology during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895”

Cryptology during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 is a topic hardly explored, especially by Westerners. While we now know that the Japanese enjoyed great success with breaking Chinese codes e.g., the diplomatic MiHong code, in the late 19th century, it is still unclear just how much they actually benefitted from this during their 1894-1895 war with the Chinese. Indeed, the popular belief that codebreaking helped the Japanese outnegotiate the Chinese at Shimonoseki may not stand up against the evidence. The Japanese were victorious in the war, after all, placing them already in a dominant position regarding any negotiations with China. This presentation covers what is known about the cryptology employed during the war, to include information coming from Chinese language sources (most sources on the cryptologic role in the war had heretofore been in Japanese). In particular, Nedved will cite the types of information the Japanese would have desired in advance during their peace negotiations at Shimonoseki and examine whether codebreaking actually provided these. He nonetheless cautions that there is still much to learn about cryptology employed during this war--this topic is very much "a work in progress." In particular, more needs to be known about Chinese codebreaking successes, if they existed, against Japan at the time.

Clemens Büttner (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany), “Reconciling National and Territorial Desires in China: The Borders of the Qing Empire, the Decline of Ethnic and the Rise of Militaristic Nationalism in the 1911 Revolution”

In October 1911, the Wuchang Uprising and the quick spread of the anti-Qing revolt seemed to prove that the ethnically justified – and largely racist – anti-Manchu mobilization strategy of the Chinese revolutionaries had been successful. Furthermore, by construing a “we/Han” vs. “them/Manchus” dichotomy, nationalist needs of imagining a distinct national community were met. Almost immediately, however, this strategy began to pose a serious threat to the actualization of the one goal China’s revolutionaries truly aspired to: a strong and united state within the Qing Empire’s borders. Revolutionary anti-Manchu violence, its primarily political rationale notwithstanding, made other non-Han ethnicities feel just as unsafe as the Manchus, and various independence movements sprang up. As a result, revolutionary authorities strove to preserve the territorial integrity and popular cohesion of the fading Qing polity. This paper argues on basis of Chinese intellectual debates of the time and early Republican political action that this threat to the Qing geo-body was met by a fundamental and abrupt reorientation of Chinese nationalist thinking: The previously dominant revolutionary approach of imagining a national community based on ethnic/cultural/historical markers was replaced by that of a community defined by a specific set of military
behavioral patterns, value concepts, and virtues. Such a militaristic notion of the nation had originally been developed concurrently with its ethnic counterpart, but it had not gained the latter’s ideological pull. Yet, in the weeks following the Wuchang Uprising, a close conceptual proximity of both discourses aided in the mentioned reorientation of Chinese nationalist thinking.

Sherman Xiaogang Lai (Royal Military College of Canada), “Marxism Versus Realism: The Legacy of Zhou Enlai’s Diplomatic Maneuvers in the Indochina Wars”

Zhou Enlai was regarded as one of the most talented diplomats in modern China. He was in charge of the foreign affairs of the People’s Republic from
its beginnings in 1949 until his death in 1976. His contribution to China’s foreign policy can hardly be underestimated. His diplomatic maneuver at the Geneva Conference in 1954 was seen as a betrayal in Vietnam but is praised as a diplomatic masterpiece in China. Nevertheless, he was under Mao Zedong’s constant criticism from the summer of 1973, when the United States Congress prohibited American military operations in Indochina, until Mao’s death in 1976. Three years after his death, however, in February 1979, China undertook a large-scale invasion of Vietnam, beginning a war that lasted until Vietnam’s leadership appealed for peace in 1989. This article is an examination of Zhou Enlai’s diplomatic maneuvers within the paradox of Mao’s Marxist ideological demands and China’s realist geopolitical need in the period prior to Mao’s death. It argues that Zhou had recognized that China would be at a disadvantage if Southeast Asia were under Hanoi’s hegemony and had tried to prevent this scenario. However, the dominance of Marxist ideology and Mao’s dictatorship barred him from legally pursuing his goals. His efforts to avert disaster eventually angered Mao, but they have been appreciated by his successors to this day.