The CMHS 2020 conference, originally scheduled to meet in Arlington, Virginia, on April 30 in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society for Military History, was cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19. The Society instead held a virtual conference through Facebook on April 30, with nine papers presented:
Danny Orbach (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), "The Policy-Capability Gap: International Adventurers in the Taiping Rebellion, 1860-1864."
Using Western and Chinese archival sources, the following paper explores the military intervention of freelance foreign adventurers, particularly a militia eventually known as the Ever-Victorious Army, in the waning years of the Taiping rebellion (1860-1864). My goal here is not merely to retell the story of this force, or to reassess its contribution to the subjugation of the Taipings, a question already studied by several historians. Instead, I will analyze the complicated and ever-changing relationship between these adventurers and the powers around them: Qing local authorities, the Imperial Court in Beijing, and the various foreign countries, especially Great Britain. Finally, I will suggest a theoretical model conceptualizing the complicated interactions between military adventurers and national states. This model, called the "policy-capability gap", can illuminate the spectrum of relationships of governments to military adventurers also beyond the time period in question.
Kwong Chi Man (Hong Kong Baptist University), "All About National Survival: Chinese Intellectuals' Understanding of War during the Interwar Period, 1919-1937."
War was of central importance in modern Chinese history, and even more so during the period between 1912 and 1949, when the country experienced a long series of civil wars and external wars. The military history of China during this period has been studied exhaustively, but little has been known about the Chinese understanding of war and factors that shaped it. Citing publications about war written by Chinese civilian and military intellectuals, this paper seeks to elucidate the Chinese understanding of war and the state during the period between the First World War and the beginning of the Second Sino- Japanese War. It suggests that while the Chinese were receptive to the perceived lessons of the First World War, many chose to see an unlimited expansion of state power as the solution for China’s internal and external problems. Filled with racial nationalism that prevailed in China even before the First World War, many Chinese intellectuals believed that the “Chinese race” faced a survival threat and that international order was simply one of survival of the fittest. They also saw war as largely a technological and economic struggle, and that China could only cope with such a struggle through a total mobilization of the society. The primacy of national survival persuaded the civilian and military intellectuals alike to ignore some important trends in international order during the interwar period, such as restraint on the conduct of war and criminalization of certain actions at war.
Esther T. Hu (Boston University), "The Republic of China's Contributions to Allied Victory and Democratic Freedoms."
In Western historiography of World War Two, the focus is usually on the havoc wrought by Nazi Germany in the European theater and therefore the Alliance among the United States,Great Britain, and the Soviet Union to annihilate Hitler’s army. Yet in the Pacific, Chiang Kaishek’s War of Resistance (1937-1945) against Imperial Japan’s ambitions to expand its territorial domain, precipitated by the Marco Polo Bridge incident on July 7, 1937, is an equally important, though sometimes neglected and even forgotten other half of the story that chronicles Allied resistance against the Axis Powers.This presentation is an investigation of the main contributions of the Republic of China towards Allied Victory in a war she had already fought for four and a half years on her own.Questions include: How would one characterize the Republic of China’s relationship with the other Allied powers? What difference did the Republic of China’s involvement make towards World War Two’s eventual outcome? How did the Republic of China influence the creation of a new global order? And why is this history relevant and important to our contemporary understanding of global geopolitical concerns, particularly in connection with securing, privileging and sustaining basic freedoms enjoyed by democracies?
Dewei Shen (Yale University), "Excavating the Decisions of the Year 278 BCE: Qin's First Military Campaign in the Middle Yangzi River."
This paper highlights the moment when the Qin army conquered the Chu capital in Jiangling (modern southern Hubei) in the year 278 BCE. While this military operation substantially changed the power balance of the late Warring States period and had far-reaching consequences concerning the emergence of the Qin empire, only a few lines about the event can be found in historical records. To circumvent the scarcity of historical documentation, this research utilizes settlement and architectural evidence that has been recently retrieved from two Jiangling walled sites, i.e., Jinancheng, the Chu capital city, and Yingcheng, the nearby commandery center that the Qin set up to control post-conquest Jiangling. My aim is to reconstruct the decisions made by the Qin army in 278 BCE that initiated a colonial order in this new territory and answer two questions in particular: 1) As the Qin army’s first massive campaign in South China, what destruction techniques did they apply to incapacitate the Chu capital settlement? 2) What engineering measures did the Qin take to secure their newly-founded headquarters and manage the local populations in Jiangling?
Keith Seeley (Indiana University), "War, Gender, and the Rise of Kitan Noblewomen."
The Liao Dynasty (916-1125 CE) witnessed the rise of powerful women who directly exerted influence over the battlefield. Empress Shulü Ping frequently provided important strategic advice to her husband on military campaigns, and she also personally commanded troops in defense of the Liao dynasty. Empress Dowager Chengtian played a crucial part in orchestrating the Liao campaign against the Northern Song which culminated in the Chanyuan Treaty of 1005 CE. Other instances of Kitan women aiding in military efforts or possessing skill in martial arts stand out in primary sources of the period. But what factors allowed these noblewomen to possess such political and martial influence?Both Chinese and English language scholarship provide responses to this question. On the one hand, scholars such as Wu Yuhuai emphasize the effect of pastoral nomadism as an economic force which empowers women. Morris Rossabbi also advances this argument as an explanation for the historical presence of powerful Mongol women. On the other hand, other scholars, like Miao Runbo and David Wright, stress the importance of the Liao Dynasty’s political structure, which possessed a unique two-clan system whereby all emperors came from the Yelü clan, while all empresses came from the Xiao clan. These scholars assert that this political institution largely explains the existence of powerful Kitan women. This paper synthesizes the arguments for Kitan women’s martial power and proposes that a nomadic upbringing along with connections to a network of powerful individuals allowed Kitan noblewomen to both learn the skills of war and access positions of power.
David E. Karle (Norwich University), "The PLA's Mahan? The Historical Works of Major General Pi Mingyong."
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China is undergoing a transform- ation that includes a radical reform of modern Chinese military culture, theory, and strategy. China’s parallel geopolitical pivot has confounded the western world, be it the development of a blue-water navy with domestically built aircraft carriers, the construction of the Great Wall of Sand, or the deployment of PLA troops to Africa. This paper will introduce Major General Pi Mingyong, one of the key intellectual forces behind this transformation. Pi is the author of almost forty articles and numerous books on Chinese military history that recast historical events in ways that western scholars will find interesting. He offers new historical interpretations of cultural pacifism, the Seven Classics, naval and land warfare, and comparisons of Chinese military culture to western theory in the period from 1839 to 1949. His scholarly historical writings illustrate why Chinese military reforms failed and draw lessons for current consumption by PLA reformers. Pi also sits at the nexus of PLA reform, as the Vice President of the PLA’s graduate school, the Academy of Military Sciences. In addition to introducing Pi, this paper will give an overview of his major writings and focus in detail on his most important book. This paper will also explore his primary and secondary sources. While it is too soon to anoint Pi as the PLA’s Mahan, he does share a symmetry to both Mahan elder and younger, so an understanding of his work will add to the Chinese military historiographical debate.
Harold M. Tanner (University of North Texas), "How to Start a Civil War: The Shangdang Campaign (September 10-October 12, 1945)."
In his analysis of the Red Army’s counter-offensives against Chiang Kai- shek’s encirclement and suppression campaigns of the 1930s, Mao Zedong concluded: “First, the first battle must be won.” Clearly, it is not the case that every enterprise that begins with a successful operation will end well. Nonetheless, most would prefer to begin a war with a victorious encounter rather than with a debacle. The Communist forces’ first campaign of the post-WWII civil war, the Shangdang campaign, stands as a useful example of beginning a war with a successful operation. Conducted by Liu Bocheng, with Deng Xiaoping as political commissar, the Shangdang campaign demonstrated many of the characteristics which stood out as strong points of the People’s Liberation Army throughout the civil war: creative planning for both short and long-term strategic goals, mutually supporting interaction between combat operations and negotiations, flexibility and adaptability in the face of change, leverage of divisions within enemy forces, building of strength through capture of enemy soldiers and equipment, the role of professionally-trained officers, and the effective use of guerrilla, militia, and conventional forces by an army making the transition from guerrilla to conventional warfare.
Zhongtian Han (The George Washington University), "The PRC's Naval-Air Campaign in the East China Sea, 1954-1955."
This paper studies China’s adaptation to naval-air warfare in the 1950s, focusing on the east Zhejiang campaign from 1954-55. The paper argues that at strategic level China successfully integrated naval-air planning in the decision-making process. However, at operational level, Chinese naval forces suffered from the lack of training and professionalism, ineffective command and communication, and poor logistics. The torpedo boats unit was an exception and proved to be effective in combat. The air forces were effective in achieving theatre air superiority, but it had only limited offensive capability against ships. Last, naval-air coordination was bad in either defense or attack.
Xiaobing Li and Stanley Adamiak (University of Central Oklahoma), "Active Defense and Limited Intervention: China's Security Concerns in the Vietnam War."
Conventional texts have adopted a U.S.-Soviet centric approach, characterizing the Vietnam War as a by-product or a sideshow of the Cold War, a confrontation between two super-powers, as well as two contending camps: the free world and the communists/socialists. Therefore, China’s involvement in the Vietnam War has been described as an ideological conflict or part of international or Asian revolution.
This co-authored article provides a different interpretation of the origins and development of China’s involvement in the Vietnam War. It explores some new trends in the geo-political history of modern Southeast Asia by revisiting Beijing’s decision to send, or reduce, or stop aid to Hanoi in 1964-1975. With an emphasis on Chinese perspectives, it elucidates and identifies four non-Cold War factors, which were as important as international Cold War factors. These China-centered factors were, and still are in the DNA of Chinese security and geopolitical concerns. Their re-interpretations include the safety of Chinese southeast, border security for political legitimacy, strategic calculation to stop any foreign invasion in neighboring countries, and China’s status in Southeast Asia.
Beijing attempted to employ Chinese aid and troops to direct Hanoi’s approach to the war, but losing its effectiveness in the late 1960s. Meanwhile, Chinese manipulation made post-Ho Vietnamese leaders suspicious about Beijing’s real intentions in Indochina. We conclude that China turned Vietnam into its own enemy in only three years after the end of the Vietnam War.