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Ancient Chinese Military and Warfare

This website will focus on a brief history of Chinese military, weapons, and warfare strategies.

The history within Chinese fighting begins with the dawn of the first dynasty. Dating back to 1600 BC, China emerges as an expanding nation along the Yellow River. In this era, people were very dependent on their horses and other livestock they might be raising. Because of their dependence on horse travel and their sheer power, new developments in technology such as the chariot gave individual dynastyies an edge in battle which allowed for faster and safer maneuvering of troops with swords and arrows. After the first war between dynasties, the struggle for power began and continued to last through hundreds of years.

The chart below is a timeline of Chinese dynasties.


ca. 2000-1500 B.C. Xia
1700-1027 B.C. Shang
1027-771 B.C. Western Zhou
770-221 B.C. Eastern Zhou
770-476 B.C. -- Spring and Autumn period
475-221 B.C. -- Warring States period
221-207 B.C. Qin
206 B.C.-A.D. 9 Western Han
A.D. 9-24 Xin (Wang Mang interregnum)
A.D. 25-220 Eastern Han
A.D. 220-280 Three Kingdoms
220-265 -- Wei
221-263 -- Shu
229-280 -- Wu
A.D. 265-316 Western Jin
A.D. 317-420 Eastern Jin
A.D. 420-588 Southern and Northern Dynasties
420-588 Southern Dynasties
420-478 -- Song
479-501 -- Qi
502-556 -- Liang
557-588 -- Chen
386-588 Northern Dynasties
386-533 -- Northern Wei
534-549 -- Eastern Wei
535-557 -- Western Wei
550-577 -- Northern Qi
557-588 -- Northern Zhou
A.D. 581-617 Sui
A.D. 618-907 Tang
A.D. 907-960 Five Dynasties
907-923 -- Later Liang
923-936 -- Later Tang
936-946 -- Later Jin
947-950 -- Later Han
951-960 -- Later Zhou
A.D. 907-979 Ten Kingdoms
A.D. 960-1279 Song
960-1127 -- Northern Song
1127-1279 -- Southern Song
A.D. 916-1125 Liao
A.D. 1038-1227 Western Xia
A.D. 1115-1234 Jin
A.D. 1279-1368 Yuan
A.D. 1368-1644 Ming
A.D. 1644-1911 Qing
A.D. 1911-1949 Republic of China (in mainland China)
A.D. 1949- Republic of China (in Taiwan)
A.D. 1949- People's Republic of China
this information is borrowed from:


To better understand what caused each dynasty's collapse, this timeline better outlines the chain of events:

1600BC – 220 AD (Emergence of China to the downfall of the Han Dynasty)

1600 BC – Emergence of historical China along the Yellow River Valley.

1532  - Battle of Ming Chiao – The Shao dynasty is defeated by the Shang Dynasty and its 70 chariots.

1523-1027 – Dominance of the Shang Dynasty – Operating from their capital at Anyang, this dynasty rapidly expanded through a series of conquests.

1057 – Battle of Mu Yu – Wu Wang, the “Martial King” of the Chou, a semi barbaric people from the south, defeat the Shang through the effective use of over 300 chariots.

1027 – Rise of the Chou dynasty

1025 - Wu Wang dies and Chou Kung is proclaimed regent for 7 years until Wu’s son is old enough to assume leadership of the kingdom.  Chou Kung succeeds in solidifying the Chou territories by suppressing a series of Shang revolts.

1000 – c 900 Chou expansion – Driving eastward towards the Sea of China, and north towards Manchurian border the Chou become the dominant power in the region for the next two centuries.

823 – King Hsuan of Wester Ch’u defeats the Chou with over 3000 chariots.

800 – 600 – Chou dynasty slowly disintegrates and falls prey to strong nobles.  During this time some 140 warlords were beginning to fracture the Chou.  However, out of this number, only seven were dominant:  Ch’I, Chin, Ch’in, Wu, Yueh, Sung , and Ch’u. 

600 –500 – Fall of the Chou Dynasty – As conflicts and friction between the nobles became more intense, the Chou were divided amongst three major powers   The Ch’in in the NW, the Ch’u between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, and the Wu, located along the coast.

519 – 506 – Pivotal war between the Wu and Ch’u – King He Lu of Wu (513-494) raises the first peasant conscript army and asks General Sun Wu (Sun Tzu or “Honorable Sun”) to lead this force against Ch’u

506 Battle of Bai Ju – After traveling up the Hwai river, Sun Tzu was assaulted by two  Ch’u armies.  Seeing that the opposition had a numerical and terrain advantage, Sun Tzu feigned a retreat, only to turn and attack the Ch’u once their forces were somewhat scattered and on open ground. After this decisive victory, the Wu pursued Ch’u to Ying, the capital of the Ch’u Empire and crushed them.  King Shao of Ch’u fled to Chin and asked for asylum.

475 – 221 - Era of Warring States – During this period armored infantry (spearmen, crossbowmen, swordsmen, and pikemen) controlled the battlefield.  However, towards the end of this period, heavy cavalry was to dominate the art of war.

473 - Wu overthrown by Yueh

453 – Fall of the Chin Dynasty – although the Chin was divided between the Wei, Chao, and Han, it was the Ch’in and Ch’u states that rose as the dominant military powers of China.

354- 353 – War between Wei and Han – Wei army invaded Han.  Han, facing elimination by a superior force, called upon Ch’I for assistance.  Ch’I dispatches army led by General T’ien Chi to attack the Wei capital.  T’ien’s principal advisor was Sun Ping (see above).  The Wei army, commanded by General P’ang Chuan, rushed back to defend capital. 

353 - Battle of Ma Ling – When Sun Ping discovered With the arrival of P’ang Chuan’s forces, Sun Ping intentionally ordered a hasty retreat to give the Wei the impression that the Ch’I fled in panic.  Sun Ping then placed 10k crossbowmen in ambush.  When the Wei army pursued what they felt was a broken enemy, Sun Ping’s forces surrounded them and almost entirely eliminated the forces of P’ang Chuan.

342 – 341 – War between Wei and Ch’ao – After recovering from the debacle of Ma Ling, the Wei invaded the Ch’ao and besieged its capital.  As was the case a decade prior, the Ch’ao called upon the Ch’I for assistance and Sun Ping advanced on Wei’s capital.

341 – Battle of Guai Ling – As the Wei rushed back to its capital, Sun Ping ambushed them in precisely the same manner as at Ma Ling.

320 – Cavalry appears in China – Cavalry became a dominant arm of an army for the first time under King Wu Ling of Ch’ao. 

315-223 – Ch’u versus Ch’in

280 – Ch’in defeats Wei –

260 – Battle of Ch’an P’ing – The last of Chou defearted by King Chao Zhao of Ch’in.

249    - King Chao Zhao of Ch’in slowly assimilates the Chou holdings end of Chou Dynasty.

247-210 – Reign of Cheng, Ruler of Ch’in – One of the greatest generals in Chinese history.  Developed a powerful shock cavalry, developed after years of experiences fighting the Mongolian nomads of Yueh Chih and Hsiung-nu. 

228-221 – Cheng conquers the kingdoms of Ch’ao, Han, Wei, Yen, and Ch’I.

221 – 210 – Ch’in Dynasty – With Cheng’s complete dominance of all principalities, he declares himself Emperor of China with the title of Shih Huang Ti.  The Ch’in Dynasty, although short lived, not only gave its name to the nation, but also developed a system of government which was to last for 2100 years.

221 – Emperor Shih Huang Ti  orderes the construction of the Great Wall of China. Although it had been constructed intermittently over several centuries, it was the Emperor’s command which unified the entire system.  Within 10 years, the walls stretched from Linzhao (in the eastern part of today's Gansu Province) in the west to Liaodong (in today's Jilin Province) in the east. The wall not only served as a defence in the north but also symbolized the power of the emperor.

221-214 – Under the command of the Emperor’s generals Ming T’ien and Chao T’o, the Ch’in dynasty conquers regions south of the Yangtze river and Northern Korea.

210 – Emperor Shih Huang Ti dies; inept son Hu Hai assumes the throne.

207 – Hu Hai is murdered, setting off a series of power struggles between Hsiang Yu of Ch’u and Liu Pang, a popular revolutionary leader. 

202 – Liu Pang defeats Ch’u and takes the name Kao Tsu.  The Han Empire is born. 

201 – Invasion of the Mongols (Hsiung-nu) – Under Mo Du, the barbarian Mongols pierce the Great Wall with an army of over 300,000 men.

200 – Kau Tsu defeated soundly by the Hsiung-nu.

Website created by Joaquim MuStachie

Brief History of Chinese Military and Warfare