A Taeko Brooks
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
The Technique of Defense (MZ 51-71)
Panel: War and Peace in Early China
AAS Convention, Boston, Saturday 24 March 2007

I am here concerned not to analyze the Mician military writings, but to ask when the art of defensive warfare was first taken up by the Mician movement, and what effect its adoption may have had on the separate body of Mician ethical writings, and on the philosophy of the period.


I first consider the development of defensive warfare in general. The new mass infantry army is the great event of the period. It is mentioned in MZ 18, the second of the antiwar ethical triplet chapters (c0350), which notes that warlike states are criticizing their less aggressive neighbors for not using their populace effectively. Infantry warfare was thus undoubtedly in being at this date. The first long-range use of the new style army seems to have been the battle of Ma-ling (between Chi and Ngwei, 0343).

The mass army could bring to the assault of cities the new factor of a large labor force, to build ramps or undermine walls or divert rivers. These devices required new and also massive countermeasures within the walls. The first reference to the defense of cities in the Mician ethical writings is in MZ 25 (c0335), which says that some small states are not attacked because they are well provided with supplies, their inner and outer walls are in repair, and within them "superiors and inferiors are harmonious." This statement is compatible with new and more organized defensive measures. At the same time, it notes that not all cities had put such measures into practice. The contemporary military document Sundz 8 (also from c0335; see Brooks Prospects 72) warns that "there are some cities which are not to be attacked," implying that easier targets do exist. These two documents seem to be speaking to the same situation.

In the later chapters MZ 9 (from c0320), MZ 12 (from c0318), and MZ 37 (from c0308?), there occurs a stock phrase "within, strong in defense; abroad, strong [and victorious] in punitive expeditions." The existence of the cliché itself suggests a more general situation. To this situation we may compare Sundz 3 (from c0310), which makes it explicit that attacks on cities are generally unprofitable, implying that the art of defense has become more widely known and implied. There is also, in the MZ 9 phrase, an implied balancing of defensive and offensive capacity, rather than a focus on just the army. Such a recommendation is said to come from Mwodz himself, who in MZ 47:14 (also from c0310) advises the ruler of the small state of Wei that it is better to spend money on a thousand soldiers than on hundreds of women and hundreds of horses, which do not increase the security of the state. Wei, that is, needs to rebalance its budget with a stronger attention to defensive warfare.

Chin Gu-li and the Micians

The new expertise of defense is associated in LSCC 2D2 and 2D3, and also in the Lyedz, with just one name, that of Chin Gu-li. The Mician military writings on defensive warfare (MZ 51-71) also mention his name, though as a subordinate to, and even as a student of, Mwodz himself. This is not to be taken seriously; Mwodz was long dead before the earliest firm evidence of the new art of defensive warfare. What has most probably happened is that an originally independent expertise was somehow absorbed by the Micians. Our first question is, When did this happen? The answer seems to be supplied by the Mician anecdotal chapters (MZ 46-50), which can be closely dated due to their intimate reciprocal arrangement with the Analects (Brooks Analects Appendix 3).

Chin Gu-li first appears in the Mician writings In MZ 46:13 (from c0324). He is there presented as a disciple, whose only function is to listen to Mwodz's praise of another disciple, Gau Shrdz. By MZ 49:12 (from c0262), much later in this series of documents, one of Mwodz's own disciples is said to have died in battle. This implies that the military art was now established as part of the Mician curriculum. And in MZ 50 (from c0250), Mwodz is depicted as a master of the defensive art, single-handedly saving Sung by deterring an attack from Chu. In that story, Mwodz refers to 300 of his disciples who stand ready, under the command of Chin Gu-li, to defend Sung to the death.

The independent Chin Gu-li enterprise may well have been of the form portrayed in MZ 50: a band of 300 highly trained officers who were ready to take over the defense of a city - one city at a time. The Mician takeover of Chin Gu-li seems, on this evidence, to have occurred in approximately 0325, a date which precedes the evidence earlier cited for a more widespread knowledge of city defense. Then the chief difference that the Mician takeover seems to have made is to make defensive techniques more widely available, presumably by multiplying task forces on the Chin Gu-li model, and also by advising states, in advance of a pending attack, to make preparations by rearranging their priorities for the expenditure of their sometimes limited resources.

This implies a policy of the Micians, who here seem to have been acting very like a state. That policy was to arrest the conquest process and prevent unification by stabilizing the defense, and thus securing the survival, of the various states as they then existed. That unification was at this time the goal of the stronger states is seen in Mencius 1A6 (from the year 0319), where in answer to a question on how the current world situation can be stabilized, Mencius answers, By unification. The threat to the multi-state order was thus real. What the Micians seem to have done, in bringing the most advanced form of defensive warfare under their sponsorship, is to raise that defense to the level of the threat.

Philosophical Impact

The classic Mician position on war is contained in the three essays entitled Fei Gung (MZ 17-19). Like all the other Mician ethical triplets, these were written over a period of time, and the later ones are meant to update and in some degree to replace the earlier ones. The oldest of the Fei Gung set, MZ 17, is probably a speech given by Mwodz himself, in c0390. It opposes war as an obsession of the elite, but as damaging to the general economic welfare. Later essays in the series are MZ 18 (from c0350), which continues to condemn the motives for war, and also points to its cost, and MZ 19 (from c0328), which notoriously departs from the previous doctrine; it admits "just war" as a legitimate tool of the state. (This acceptance of defensive war is also found in the speeches of Mencius to the King of Lyang, MC 1A5 from c0320). These chapters make no use of defensive war as part of their argument against war, nor would we expect them to, since even the latest of them precedes the adoption of defensive warfare by the Mician school, in c0325. Both Mencius and the ethical Micians were directly addressing the power structure of their time, and to do so, they had to accept in at least this degree the inevitability of war as a tool of the state.

The counterpart doctrine of Universal Love, which may be thought of as the Mician formulation of an alternative culture of peace, was first articulated in MZ 14 (from c0388). It was repeated with elaborations in MZ 15 (from c0345) and again in MZ 16 (from c0305). That is, this doctrine continued to be stressed by the Micians even after the school's position against offensive war had slightly weakened. At the same time, a campaign for disarmament was evidently pushed by several individuals, some of whom are associated with the Mician movement. Also from the same general period is Dau/Dv Jing 30-31, from c0310, which portray the devastation which even a passing army can cause. This antiwar and counterculture propaganda was undoubtedly effective, as may be seen by the response to it in Gwandz 4:8, also from c0310. This piece is entitled "Nine Ways to Defeat," and the first two ways are these:

As the war situation worsened, and as technological escalation between offense and defense continued to raise the level of destructiveness, the Mician ethical writers did finally take note of the philosophical importance of defensive warfare. The clearest example is MZ 5 (from c0255?), entitled "Seven Causes of Anxiety." This tells us that "Justice (or righteousness; yì) cannot be maintained against the unjust unless there are weapons in the armory." Here is one response of the Mician ethical experts to the knowledge which by then had long been available to the Mician military experts.

The 03rd century military classics demonstrate the increasing brutality of war from the offensive side. Thus the Szma Fa, from about the same period as MZ 5, has the colossal nerve to base its theory of war on the Mencian principles of rvn and yì. To achieve rvn and yì, the text openly recommends the slaughter of resisting populations. More generally, it argues for war as a valid route to peace:

"If one must kill men to give peace to the people, then killing is permissible. If one must attack a state our of love for the people, then attacking is permissible. If one must stop war with war, even though it is war, it is permissible."

We here see the military theorists taking up the weapons of philosophy, to war with philosophy.


If we follow the two series of military writings, the Mician defensive set and the various classics of offensive war, we cannot help being struck by the increasing technical sophistication of the devices which are produced as conflict escalates, and by the appalling social cost which is exacted when they are applied. Where once passing armies had devastated a peaceful country, now the peaceful country devastates itself in order to deny resources to its attackers. The peaceful citizens inside the walls come to be organized just as rigidly, and their disobedience is penalized just as brutally, as with the soldiers outside the walls. Attacker and defender become scarcely distinguishable, and the just merge with the unjust.

Somewhere in all this there is an argument against war which seems not to have been picked up by the Mician persuaders. It may, however, still be read by any interested modern student in the pages of the military record itself.


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