The siege of Fort Zeelandia, 351 years ago, may be one of the more significant campaigns in history. In 1662, a Chinese army defeated a Dutch garrison on Taiwan and brought the island under Chinese rule for the first time in history.
What does this tell us? These come to mind:
- China was expansionist too, in its own way. Just as with European expansion, the presence of a rival acted as an incitement to extend the empire.
- Europeans had the advantage at sea but not on land in early modern Asia.
- China was not, as sometimes thought, intrinsically pacific and un-militaristic.
- China, not just Europe, had an early modern “military revolution.”
Tonio Andrade has a piece in The Diplomat (h/t Scholar’s Stage) describing what lay behind China’s victory over the Dutch:
- effective guns;
- well-trained troops
China was undergoing a military revolution [in the 1500s and 1600s] … Chinese commanders experimented with training regimens that sound strikingly modern – the simulation of combat stress, the assumption of prone positions for firefights (Westerners were trained to stand up, exposing their bodies to more bullets), advanced strength and endurance training regimens.
- a long tradition of military thought
Chinese military commanders were able to draw on two millennia of careful thinking on warfare. … This store of knowledge helped the Chinese to outwit the Dutch at nearly every turn, luring them into traps, making careful use of terrain, combining naval and land power in unexpected and effective ways.
I agree with T. Greer (here) that Westerners should appreciate, and try to understand, Chinese military thought. (From Sun Tzu to Mao and beyond, one might say.)
A couple of questions come to mind:
- Why did China have such a sophisticated tradition of military theory (Sun Tzu being just one of many thinkers)? They seem to have been particularly prone to apply rationality to war, to make war more intelligence-intensive, more knowledge-intensive.
- How do Western and Chinese military thought compare? One major divergence comes to mind. In the twentieth-century West, military thought took an increasingly liberal, war-averse, direction with an emphasis on limited war, containment, deterrence, and the like. To me, this looks unique.
- Are these the two principal traditions of military theory in world history? If so, why?