Rulers and soldiers: perception and management of the military in Northern Sung China (600-ca. 1060)
Labadie, John Richard, 1945-
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It has been a common assumption among Chinese historians that the Sung dynasty was militarily weak and that the military was closely controlled by the civil government. Yet, little effort has been made to define the dimensions of that weakness (if indeed it existed) or to explore the mechanisms and effects of that control. This study examines the Northern Sung rulers' perceptions of the military's character and role and the means by which they managed the military forces.Modern studies of civil-military relations (by Huntington, Abrahamsson, Permutter, et al.) are used as analytical tools to examine the Sung methods of military management and to place the Sung experience in the context of the history of civil-military relations. Routinization and regularization of military service, attempts by Sung rulers to set up ethical norms for the military, and changes in the relationship between the civil and military branches of the government all become much clearer when examined in light of the modern concept of "military professionalization." Yet, the Sung differs significantly from the modern paradigm in the importance of strong personal relationships that the first Sung rulers fostered with their generals as a method for managing the military establishment.Chapter I examines how the Sung founder faced the fundamental problem of managing the military so as to achieve a balance between military strength and control. The army had to be strong enough to protect the country against internal and external enemies but not so strong and independent as to precipitate the type of military intervention that had destroyed the T'ang. It is this problem and its solution that mark the significance of the Sung experience.Beginning with the roots of the Sung military problem in the events of the late T'ang and Wu-tai periods, the second chapter traces the development of Sung military management through three phases which delineate the military's transition from a heterogeneous collection of units to a regular "professionalized" force, with standardized systems of tactics, training, and promotion, that was subordinate to and controlled by the civil government.Civilian and military perceptions of the military's role and character are discussed in Chapter III. Civilian complaints about the costs of warfare gave way to concerns about the cost of maintaining large numbers of troops and the difficulty of controlling them. The military remained quite consistent in their views, continuing to assert their exclusive, expert competence in battle and their special responsibility of service.Chapter IV examines the institutional mechanisms of military management and the importance of personal relationships used as a management tool. Routinization of the military system, coupled with the personalities of later emperors, led to the monopolization of the defense policy process by civilians and to civilian intrusion into positions of military command. These developments not only cut short the process of professionalization within the Sung military but also had a deleterious effect on Sung military performance.The final chapter compares the military experience of the Han, T'ang, and Northern Sung dynasties. The issue of Sung weakness is exposed as a "red herring" that obscures real differences in historical circumstances and reflects the Han nationalism of later historians living under non-Chinese rule. Finally, this study shows that modern tools can help us understand the Sung military experience, and it demonstrates that the concepts and categories defined in modern studies of civil-military relations are neither exclusively modern nor exclusively Western.
- History