chinese military history

An historic lot belonging to Captain Philo Norton McGiffin, Annapolis legend and founder of the Imperial Chinese Naval Academy

Philo Norton McGiffin, 1860-97, graduated from Annapolis in 1882. His career as a cadet is still remembered there for his practical jokes and ebullient sense of humor. After graduation he served one tour at sea but as the navy was quite small at the time there were only a limited number of commissions available and he did not receive one. Traveling to the Orient, he offered his services to the Imperial Chinese Navy and was given a commission as a lieutenant. He helped set up the Navy Academy in Tianjin and served as a professor there for nine years. At the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War he was assigned to the Northern Fleet of Admiral Tang Ju Chang and commanded the battleship Chen Yuen. At the Battle of the Yalu River in 1894, a disastrous defeat for the Chinese, Captain McGiffin was wounded some 40 times as his ship received over 400 rounds of enemy fire but he was still able to bring her back to port. His severe wounds forced his retirement and return to the U.S. After three years of poor health and facing mental instability and losing his eyesight, he committed suicide in the hospital in New York City.

This is somewhat beyond the usual scope of my blog, but I decided to post it for a few reasons–the lot is just plain cool, the Imperial Chinese Navy Officer’s Sword is based on the British Pattern 1827/46 Naval Officer’s Sword (the pommel is a dragon’s head rather than a lion’s head!), and the sword was made by Wilkinson.

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anonymous asked:

Dear stirringwind, can you please talk a little more in depth about Chinese imperialism or recommend a reading list? I'm a Chinese American living in China, and as far as my family and teachers are concerned, China is perfect peaceful country who never colonized anyone. It frustrates me how little they want to talk about it.

1. Oh man, this is the same experience I had growing up too. This historical amnesia about China’s very long and old history of imperialism is something I’d attribute to roughly three factors, which I think will be helpful to bear in mind when analysing how Chinese imperialism exists and presents itself: 

  • A splendid example of History Is Written By the Victors™ + the fact that Chinese imperialism was actively enacted by a policy of Sinicization. Aka we tend to accept the “92% Han Chinese” stat without realising it’s…very unusual for any country covering such a large area to be so overwhelmingly made up of only one ethnic group. We don’t question why China dwarfs almost all its neighbours in size. But it is exactly evidence of Chinese expansionism.
  • The bias towards more recent history where China was the victim of foreign conquest and interference. By the Manchus (Qing dynasty), Western powers (Opium Wars) and the Japanese (First Sino-Japanese War + WW2). I think the narrative of the “Century of Humiliation”; the upheaval of the Taiping Rebellion, Xinhai Revolution, Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution further feeds into this sense that our ancestors have been through a lot of shit. Not really a POV that is helpful to seeing oneself as part of an extremely old and enduring imperial entity. 
  • The present-day Chinese government narrative: emphasising its “peaceful rise”, tendency to counterposition itself as supporting “non-interference” (’unlike those meddling Western countries!’), state-controlled media generally downplaying or ignoring shitty things like the treatment of Tibetans and Uighur Muslims (which is basically forced Sinicization). It’s…a bit like how the US doesn’t want to acknowledge that it is in many ways an empire. 

2. Anyway, I think a good thing to remember is that Chinese imperialism is historical and current. In my opinion: the emperors may be long gone, but this old history of imperialism, sense of cultural superiority and being a regional titan are very much instincts still evident in Chinese foreign policy today. Here’s some areas you could read about to learn about Chinese military history, which should really debunk the whole “peaceful country” myth.

  • Admiral Zheng He- the famed mariner- was a Hui Muslim eunuch: it was the norm for Ming dynasty soldiers to castrate the male children of war prisoners and gift them to nobles (which we’d consider de facto slavery today). Zheng He rose to power because he was able to win the confidence of the Chinese prince he was given to serve, and the prince eventually ascended the throne. There’s the Miao Rebellions, where various non-Han ethnic groups rebelled and the Ming dynasty crushed it with overwhelming force. Many Miao boys were castrated and thousands of people were slaughtered. 
  • In the present- I think the treatment of Tibet and East Turkestan/Xinjiang province amounts to forced assimilation. Things like banning the Uighur Muslims from celebrating Ramadan, how the government encourages large scale Han Chinese migration to Tibet and Xinjiang mirrors the old ways the emperors consolidated their hold on Southern China. During the Cold War, the PRC, like the US and Soviet Union, backed various factions in order to extend its influence- in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia. Another issue is the South China Sea dispute China has with various other East and SEAsian countries. And one should also be critical of the Chinese MNCs present in the African continent- like Western MNCs they have been exploitative too. 

History is complex, it’s messy. It’s easier to not want to grapple with complicity in imperialism and oppression. But all these things are just as much a part of Chinese history as all the contributions like inventing printing, gunpowder, silk production and paper, the cosmopolitanism of the Tang dynasty or effective centralisation achieved by the First Emperor. I mean, the First Emperor himself is credited with helping to unify China by laying down effective means of centralisation and standardisation in many areas- while at the same time he is criticised for being an oppressive tyrant too, instead of being slavishly praised. Which is how we should be looking at history. 


The image is of the captured p-51 fighter “Evalina”. I believe it was captured over China by the IJA. 

“I had such confidence with this P-51 that I feared no Japanese fighters.” 

-Yasuhiko Kuroe

The Japanese’s impression of the Mustang was that it was an excellent all-round aircraft with no major fault and excellent equipment. The absence of oil leaks was surprising to most, as all Japanese engines leaked to some extent. Several pilots were invited to fly the fighter. Among them was Yohei Hinoki, one of the first to shoot down a Mustang in November 1943. (A few days later, he himself was shot down by a Mustang and lost a leg. Eventually returning to combat with an artificial leg, he ended the war with a dozen victories): 

How To Be A Troll, And Win Wars

Under Sun Pin’s direction the Ch’i armies, which were advancing into Wei, followed the dictum “Be deceptive.”

P’ang Chüan arrogantly believed the men of Ch’i to be cowards who would flee rather than engage mighty Wei in battle. Therefore, Sun Pin daily reduced the number of cooking fires in the encampment to create a facade of every-increasing desertion. He also effected a tactical withdrawal to further entice P’ang Chüan into the favorable terrain at Ma-ling where the Ch’i commander concealed ten thousand crossbowman among the hills.

P’ang Chüan, apparently afraid that he would miss an opportunity to inflict a severe blow on the retreating Ch’i army, abandoned his heavy forces and supply train and rushed forth with only light units. Arriving at night, the combined Wei forces were ambushed as soon as they penetrated the killing zone.

In addition to being decisively defeated by Ch’i’s withering crossbow fire, 100,000 Wei soldiers needlessly perished because of their commander’s character flaws and hasty judgement.

The battle of Ma-ling is apparently the first recorded conflict in which crossbows were employed. The quote is taken from “Evolution of Conflicts and Weapons in China” in The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

In the summer of 1449 Wang Zhen, a corrupt and incompetent eunuch, convinced the young emperor Zhengtong to raise a vast army to end Mongol incursions. After a month fruitlessly roaming the frontier, Wang Zhen ordered his army back to the capital. On August 30, however, the army’s rear guard was annihilated by the Mongols. That same afternoon, another contingent was surrounded and destroyed. The next day the Chinese army camped next to the small fort of Tumu, only to find that a Mongol detachment had ridden ahead and blocked the way to the nearby river. The army set off again, but the Mongols attacked. After weeks of marching, two days without water, and attacks from every direction, the Chinese soldiers fled. Half a million men were defeated by only 20,000 Mongols. Half of the Chinese troops were killed. Among the huge numbers of prisoners was the emperor himself.
—  historian and archaeologist Borja Pelegero Alcaide on why chasing horsemen on foot is a terrible military plan. From “Dragon’s Path: The Rise of the Great Wall” for National Geographic History.
The Meirinkan - Katsura and Takasugi’s Old School

So you know that elite school Katsura and Takasugi went to in Gintama? It’s a fictionalized version of a real school: the Meirinkan, Choshu domain’s school for samurai kids. Katsura was a brilliant student there, Takasugi a much slower one. They learnt literary Chinese, military tactics, history, geography etc. There was even a swimming pool on the premises, so that the young samurai would learn how to swim.

Takasugi became increasingly unhappy with the school, and as a teenager, defied his father to go attend Yoshida Shoin’s private school, the Shoka Sonjuku.

Here’s the still-standing gate to the Meirinkan. I took this picture in May 2015 on my trip to Hagi.

So, the best part? It’s still a school today! Obviously, most of the buildings are newer. but for special occasions the kids get to go in the same hall that saw young Takasugi and his friends practicing, and where Sakamoto Ryoma once fought an exhibition match. (My elementary school was built in 1980. I”m jealous.)

“The Chinese would use human wave tactics to overrun a position, with inexperienced, poorly equipped soldiers in the first waves. Once the defenders began to run out of ammunition the following waves of well equipped veterans would join the battle. In the meantime other units would encircle the defenders and cut off their line of retreat or reinforcement. Note the supporting T-34 tanks.”