Professor David Graff presented an astute and informative talk devoted to “Vertical Alliances and Horizontal Coalitions: Geography, Strategy, and the Lessons of China’s Warring States” on Sunday, March 14, 1:30-3:00 p.m. Eastern US Daylight Saving Time.
Abstract: Lasting from about 475 BCE until the Qin imperial unification in 221 BCE, China’s Warring States period was a time of tremendous economic and demographic growth, increasing state power, deadlier weapons and more effective armies; it also gave rise to foundational belief systems such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism, as well as inspiring East Asia’s earliest writings dealing with the arts of war and diplomacy.
Above all, the era was defined by the intense geopolitical rivalry of seven major powers: Chu, Qi, Yan, Zhao, Wei, Han, and Qin. Geographical positioning had a huge influence on their relative fortunes. Wei, an early frontrunner, eventually suffered from its central position with strong opponents on all sides, while peripheral states such as Chu and Zhao were able to expand at the expense of less well-organized polities on the fringes of the Chinese world. Most favored of all was the far western state of Qin, whose southward expansion into the Sichuan basin not only yielded vast new resources of manpower and materiel, but also gave Qin an advantageous position upstream of Chu on the Yangzi River.
After the middle of the fourth century BCE, the other six states attempted to form a “vertical,” north-to-south alliance to balance the burgeoning power of Qin, which countered with efforts to persuade other states to bandwagon in a Qin-dominated “horizontal” coalition.
There is reason to believe that PRC strategists see parallels between the multi-state competition of Warring States China and today’s world, with valuable lessons to be drawn from the ancient past. What those lessons are, however, is open to debate.
David Graff’s powerpoint for his presentation may be found here.
Biography: David A. Graff is the Pickett Professor of Military History at Kansas State University, where he is also director of the graduate program in Security Studies. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1995 and joined the Kansas State faculty in 1998 after teaching at Southern Methodist University and Bowdoin College.
His main research focus is the military history of China’s Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907 CE), and he is currently at work on a book examining the turbulent politics of the late Tang military garrisons as a challenge to the usual top-down pattern of Chinese imperial governance.
He is the author of Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300-900 (Routledge, 2002) and The Eurasian Way of War: Military Practice in Seventh-Century China and Byzantium (Routledge, 2016), and co-editor of A Military History of China (originally published by Westview Press in 2002, with an updated edition issued by University Press of Kentucky in 2012) and The Cambridge History of War, vol. 3: War in the Medieval World (2020). He was one of the founders of the Chinese Military History Society in 1998 and has served as the society’s secretary for more than twenty years. He is also co-editor of the Journal of Chinese Military History, a semi-annual that has been published by Brill since 2012.
1) Mark Edward Lewis, “Warring States Political History,” chapter 9 of The Cambridge History of Ancient China, edited by Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pages 587-588, 593-603, 616-619, and 632-641.
2) “The Romance of Chang Yi,” from Legends of the Warring States, translated and edited by J.I. Crump (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, 1998), pages 37-61.