Shackled by Doctrines: Why Western Strategists Need to Start Taking Ancient Chinese Texts Seriously

The Geopoliticus

Marathon, Thermopylae, Guagamela, Cannae. These iconic battles permeate the collective consciousness of most contemporary Western military strategists, even if the historical details remain hazy. Writing after the conclusion of World War II, Dwight Eisenhower argued that “every ground commander seeks the battle of annihilation; so far as conditions permit, he tries to duplicate in modern war the classic example of Cannae.”[9] Most will not need a history refresher to grasp his point.

Similarly, by denying the importance of China’s own military history, Western strategists needlessly handicap their own ability to gain deeper insight into Beijing’s unique strategic and military thought processes. The People’s Liberation Army’s authoritative text on strategic thinking, The Science of Military Strategy, holds up the battles of Changshao (fought in 685 BCE) and Bi (597 BCE) as “outstanding examples demonstrating the successful implementation of strategic guidance (戰略指導).”[10] While accounts of these iconic battles are readily found in…

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