14 September, 2014

Notes From all Over (14/09/14): China's Economy, Samurai, and Adam Tooze's Take on Europe

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit.


 "What Does a "Good" Adjustment Look Like?"
 Michael Pettis, China's Financial Markets (1 September 2014).

This essay is long but excellent. It is also the best thing I have read about the Chinese economy in months. Two quotes to give readers the flavor of the piece:
But with nominal GDP is growing at 20%, this extremely incapable investor still makes a substantial profit by borrowing at 7% and earning 10%, even though his investment creates no value for the economy. His “profit”, in this case, is simply transferred from the pockets of saving households.
Under these conditions it should be no surprise that borrowers with access to bank credit overuse capital, and use it very inefficiently. They would be irrational if they didn’t, especially if their objective was not profit but rather to maximize employment, revenues, market share, or opportunities for rent capture (as economists politely call it).

The second point to remember is that in a severely financially repressed system the benefits of growth are distributed in ways that are not only unfair but must create imbalances. Because low-risk investments return roughly 20% on average in a country with 20% nominal GDP growth, financial repression means that the benefits of growth are unfairly distributed between savers (who get just the deposit rate, say 3%), banks, who get the spread between the lending and the deposit rate (say 3.5%) and the borrower, who gets everything else (13.5% in this case, assuming he takes little risk – even more if he takes risk).

This “unfair” distribution of returns is the main reason why the household share of income has collapsed from the 1990s until recently. I calculate that for most of this century as much as 5-8% of GDP was transferred from households to borrowers. The IMF calculated a transfer amount equal to 4% of GDP, but said it might be double that number, so we are in the same ballpark. This is a very large number, and explains most of why the growth in household income so sharply lagged the growth in GDP.

Clearly there are many risks to Xi’s political campaign, and unfortunately I have no special insight into how these are likely to play out, but if Xi is able to consolidate power enough to impose the reforms proposed during the Third Plenum, Chinese growth rates will continue to decline sharply but in an orderly way. Average growth during the decade of his administration will drop to below 3-4%, but an orderly adjustment means that not only will the hidden transfers from the household sector be eliminated, they will also be reversed.
If China can reform land ownership, reform the hukou system, enforce a fairer and more predictable legal system on businesses, reduce rent-capturing by oligopolistic elites, reform the financial system (both liberalizing interest rates and improving the allocation of capital), and even privatize assets, 3-4% GDP growth can be accompanied by growth in household income of 5-7%. Remember that by definition rebalancing means that household income must grow faster than GDP (as happened in Japan during the 1990-2010 period).

This has important implications. First, the idea that slower GDP growth will cause social disturbance or even chaos because of angry, unemployed mobs is not true. If Chinese households can continue to see their income growth maintained at 5% or higher, they will be pretty indifferent to the seeming collapse in GDP growth (as indeed Japanese households were during the 1990-2010 period). Second, because consumption creates a more labor-intensive demand than investment, much lower GDP growth does not necessarily equate to much higher unemployment.

Read the whole thing. While Pettis does not explicitly make this case, essays such as this have convinced me that the decisions made in Beijing are first and foremost an attempt to shape China's political economy. Those paying attention to developments in Chinese foreign policy or domestic affairs will not have trouble connecting the economic realities Pettis discusses with Beijing's behavior in both arenas.

The Samurai Archive Podcast

This is an outstanding group-discussion style podcast on Japanese history. I have been so impressed that I have added the Samurai Archives to the Stage's blog roll. This episode on Oda Nobunaga was the one that got me hooked.


"Being a Young Adult in this Generation Sort of Feel Like Stumbling Upon the Desolate Remains"
Comment by BecomesAngry, reddit/r/Showerthoughts (10 September 2014)

This may be the most depressing thing you will read this week. Everything I have written about how the rising generation has no future and the threat this poses to America's  stability and prosperity is in here.

"The Creepy State Attracts Creeps"
Mark Safranski, Zenpundit (4 September 2014).

 This deserves to be national, "Call your Congressmen!" news. It isn't.

"How the GOP Got this Way"
Michael Barone, Washington Times (8 September 2014).

A convincing comparison of the relationship between the Tea Party and the GOP today with the Peace Movement and the Democratic Party in the 1960s-70s.

"Places With Guns Don't Have Higher Crime Rates,"
Robert VerBruggen  Real Clear Policy Blog (5 September 2014)

"What the NeoReaction Doesn't Understand About Democracy"
Eli Dourado, The Umlaut (20 August 2014). 
In a 2004 paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, economists Casey Mulligan, Ricard Gil, and Xavier Sala-i-Martin empirically examine whether the world’s democracies and nondemocracies have different policies, with intriguing results. They find, controlling for economic and demographic variables, that democracies have similar government consumption, education spending, social spending, corporate tax rates, and payroll tax policies as nondemocracies. The only economic or social policy that the authors tested that significantly differed under democracy was income tax progressivity—democracies, it turns out, have flatter tax codes than do nondemocracies.....


"Transformation or Bust, Part II"
Worth Wray, Forbes (11 August 2014)

"Zombies once Destroyed Japan's Economy--Now They Are Infecting China's"
Gwynn Guilford, Quartz (29 August 2014).

See my comments above about how China's political economy drives Zhongnanhai's decision making process for why the data included in these two essays is important.

"Hong Kong's Share of China's GDP"
Tweet by @ianbremmer (2 September 2014).

This one chart will tell you more about Beijing's  recent moves in Hong Kong than an essay of two thousand words could.

"Review: Hard Road Home: Selected Essays by Ye Fu"
John Butler, Asian Review of Books (2014)

I reviewed this book with great praise back in March. It is nice to see another thoughtful review. 

"ISIS Tentacles Reach Towards China"
Peter Lee, China Matters (14 August 2014)

I am incredibly impressed with this essay; most China hands now the Beijing scene well, and the best of them keep track of top players in Tokyo, Hanoi, Seoul, Manila, and other parts of maritime East Asia. Very few do all of that and know enough about Pakistani internal politics and Jihadist networks to write an essay like this.

"The US and China: sliding from engagement to coercive diplomacy"
David Lampton, PacNet, no. 53 (4 Aug 2014).
Some in the China studies field have argued against the proposition that China’s regional policy has become more assertive. I am not among them.  There has been a qualitative change in Chinese regional policy and broader strategic alignment....
All this gives rise to several questions: 
1)      Why (or to what extent) has Beijing changed a successful policy that for more than three decades facilitated a dramatic increase in Chinese comprehensive national power without engendering a proportionate rise in the anxieties of others? 
2)      To what extent is China responding to the behavior of others and to what extent is it seizing on small provocations to make advances?
3)      Why is Beijing jeopardizing the primacy of its internal, economic reform goals by alienating substantial chunks of its periphery and running the risk of an ever-stronger international coalition pushing back? 
4)      Why is Beijing allowing itself to be driven into a corner of alignment with Russia, an economic underperformer that violates the PRC’s own 60 year-old-principle of respecting national sovereignty?
5)      What are the lessons that we learned from the Cold War about strategy, deterrence, and coercive diplomacy that have applicability in current circumstances in a far different globalized world?
6)      Has US policy in any way given added push to negative developments?
7)      What are the appropriate (and effective) policy responses available to Washington?  What are clearly disastrous paths that Washington and others should eschew?....

"China's Education Gap"
Helen Gao, The New York Times (4 September 2014)


"The First Smile"
Mike Graziano, Aeon Magazine (13 August 2014)
Long before written symbols, even before spoken language, our ancestors communicated by gesture. Even now, a lot of what we communicate to each other is non-verbal, partly hidden beneath the surface of awareness. We smile, laugh, cry, cringe, stand tall, shrug. These behaviours are natural, but they are also symbolic. Some of them, indeed, are pretty bizarre when you think about them. Why do we expose our teeth to express friendliness? Why do we leak lubricant from our eyes to communicate a need for help? Why do we laugh?

"Genes Influence Young Children’s Human Figure Drawings and Their Association With Intelligence a Decade Later"
Rosalind Arden1, Maciej Trzaskowski1, Victoria Garfield2 and Robert Plomin1, Psychological Science, (Publ. online before print, 20 August 2014).

"Der Todd des Der Euro" and "The 'Anthropology' of the Financial Crises"
"Pseudeoerasmus," Pseudoerasmus (1 August 2014).

Psuedo's dissection of the Eurozone is both novel and deeply informed . The posts' argument ranges from demographics, to anthropology, economics, and sociology--all in all strongly recommended!


 "Anthropometry, Physical Anthropology, and the Reconstruction of Ancient Health, Nutrition, and Living Standards"
Geoffrey Kron, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, vol 58, iss 1 (2005), pp. 68-83.

This survey of skeleton heights from classical Greece and Rome is useful. It turns out that Roman and classical Greek men were taller than Italians or Greeks born before and during the Industrial Revolution! In contrast, the mean height for U.S. Army recruits barely budged between 1776 and 1943.

See also:  "Ancient Skulls Show Civilization Rose as Testosterone Fell," Matt Picht, KTVU (2 September 2014).

"Plant Breeding, Not Working Slaves Harder, Drove Cotton Efficiency gains in the South" and "Baptism by Blood Cotton"
"Pseudeoerasmus," Pseudoerasmus (5 & 9 September 2014)

"Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State"
Gregor Aisch, Robert Gebeloff, and Kevin Quealy, New York Times (19 August 2014)


"AfPak in a Nutshell"
 Adam Elkus, Rethinking Security, (31 July 2014).

If you missed this piece when it was originally published two months ago you should go and read it now. I'll be passing this post along for another four or five months to everyone I can.

Adam Elkus has a new blog by the way. See his "Rationality is Overrated" and "The Ballad of BoxeR" to get a sense for the topics he writes about there.

"The Future of Warfare: Small, Many, and Smart vs. Few and Exquisite"
TX Hammes, War on the Rocks (16 July 2014).

Power and Order in Asia: A Survey of Regional Expectations 
Michael Green and Nicolas Szechenyi, CSIS Asia Program (Landham, MD: Rowand and Littlefield, July 2014).

"Kim Jung-Un: Starving for Power"

Patrick Cronin, War on the Rocks (25 August 2014).


"Does pre-industrial warming double the anthropogenic total?"
William Ruddiman,Steve Vavrus,John Kutzbach,Feng He, The Anthropocene Review, vol. 1 no.2 (August 2014), 147-153.

"The Future of College?"
Braeme Wood, The Atlantic (13 August 2014).

See also: Burt Likko, "Abolish Advanced Placement" Ordinary Times (14 August 2014).

"Speaking of Southeast Asia"
 Nicolas Farelly, New Mandela (5 September 2014)
So the challenge for New Mandala contributors is to suggest a Southeast Asian word that you think should be (but currently isn’t) used in other languages. It can be a word that is already on its way towards such usage, an obvious choice might be farang (from the Thai), or perhaps a concept from completely outside the usual frame, such as my old favourite, Sutdu (a Jinghpaw term for “tycoon”)....


See also parts two and three of Adam Tooze's outstanding set of lectures.

06 September, 2014

What Edward Luttwak Doesn't Know About Ancient China (Or a Short History of Han-Xiongnu Relations), pt. 2

This is Part II of a two part series. We strongly recommend reading Part I before reading another sentence of this post.
A modern depiction of Huo Qubing's cavalry charging a surprised Xiongnu  force.

Image Source.

Edward Luttwak is wrong. The Han did not corrupt, bribe, or culturally weaken the Xiongnu Empire into submission. If the “peace marriage” (heqin) system Luttwak describes did not do the Xiongnu in, what did?

To answer that question it is best to step back for a moment and reflect on why the Xiongnu were such an intractable strategic dilemma for the Han in the first place. By the Han's own estimate the population of the Xiongnu Empire was only one twentieth of China's. They were undisciplined, technologically backward, and poor. They had no professional military, little in way of bureaucracy, and nothing save foggy oral history to inspire or guide them.

Their success rested on one key advantage: mobility.

When we moderns think of the advantages mobile horse archers have over infantry armies our minds jump to the tactical—Parthian archers wheeling about at Carrhae, Mongol faux-retreats, and their like. However, for most of Inner Asian history nomadic mobility had its greatest impact at the strategic level of warfare. The nomads had no population centers to defend. They had no walls to guard and did not have to worry about holding key strategic points. When an enemy force threatened their homes they could simply pack these homes up and move them somewhere else until the danger was over. If an enemy army could not be beat in a pitched battle then the nomads would not fight a pitched battle. They would retreat, disappearing into the desert or grasslands until the enemy was forced to return home. These retreats and migrations took a toll on the nomads' herds, but it did not bring them to economic ruin.

The same was never true for the Chinese. The economic costs of any expedition against a nomadic foe were enormous. To call a soldier on a campaign was to take him away a farm; the state not only had to pay him for his service but had to do so with a smaller tax base. The state also had to feed him while on the campaign. The bigger the force the more supplies needed to feed it. The steppe is hostile to invading armies; there are few farms to plunder or cities to loot. Everything the army will eat on the campaign must be brought with it. This means long supply trains. The further the Chinese chased the nomads into the steppe the longer and less protected these supply trains would become. Eventually the invading force would reach a point where their supply lines could be stretched no farther. If at this point they decide to turn around and return home then they have wasted their entire treasury and gained nothing from it. On the other hand, if they try to hold their position the nomads will circle round, cut the supply lines, and leave the invading force to starve in the desert. The Chinese are offered a grim choice between retreat and death.

Worst of all, once the invaders have returned home and disbanded (or if they chose death and were all slaughtered in the desert) there is nothing to stop the nomads from returning to the border and continuing on with the standard raids, surprise attacks, and pillaging nomadic warriors are famous for [1].

For two millennia this was the default pattern for Sino-nomadic warfare. Not all of these conflicts followed the pattern; occasionally innovators like Chingis Khan would arise, finding ways to transform retreating nomads into an aggressive, civilization-toppling, military machine. From the Chinese side there would also be the occasional innovator who understood what it took to wage war on the steppe. For the Han, this man's name was Wei Qing.


The first years of the Han-Xiongnu War were a disaster for the Chinese. It was not until a second generation of leaders—familiar with the steppe and its peoples—came to prominence that the Han stumbled upon a more successful strategy. Wei Qing and his nephew Huo Qubing are the most famous of these men; their famed victories were built upon a type new military operation that was often called a flying cavalry column. The grand historian describes these campaigns in uncharacteristically vivid terms:

The Han strategists plotted together, saying, “Zhao Xin, the marquis of Xi, who is acting as adviser to the Shanyu is convinced that, since the Xiongnu are living North of the desert, the Han forces can never reach them.” They therefore agreed to fatten the horses on grain and send out a force of 100,000 cavalry, along with 140,000 horses to carry baggage and other equipment (this in addition to the horses provided for transporting provisions). They ordered the force to split up into two groups commanded by the general in chief Wei Qing and the general of swift cavalry Huo Qubing. The former was to ride out of Dingxiang and the latter out of Dai; it was agreed that the entire force would cross the desert and attack the Xiongnu. 

….Wei Qing’s army, having traveled 1,000 li [aprox 310 miles; 644 km] beyond the border, emerged from the desert just at the point where the Shanyu was waiting. Spying the Shanyu’s forces, Wei Qing likewise pitched camp and waited. He ordered the armored wagons to be ranged in a circle about the camp and at the same time sent out 5,000 cavalry to attack the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu dispatched some 10,000 of their own cavalry to meet the attack. Just as the sun was setting, a great wind arose, whirling dust into the faces of them until the two armies could no longer see each other. The Chinese then dispatched more men to swoop out to the left and the right and surround the Shanyu. When the Shanyu perceived how numerous the Han soldiers were and perceived that the men and horses were still in strong fighting condition, he realized that he could win no advantage in battle…. And accompanied by several hundred of his finest horsemen, broke through the Han encirclement and fled to the northwest…. All in all Wei Qing killed or captured 10,00 of the enemy, He then proceeded to Zhao Xin’s fort at Mt. Tianyan, where he seized the Xiongnu’s supplies of grain and feasted his men. He and his army remained there only a day, however, and then setting fire to the remaining grain, began the journey home.
Meanwhile Huo Qubing with his 50,000 cavalry rode more than 1,000 li north from Dai and Youbeiping and attacked the forces of the Wise King of the Left. He was accompanied by a force of carriages and baggage similar to what traveled with Wei Qing’s army, but had no subordinate generals beneath him….When Huo Qubing’s army returned to the capital the emperor issued an edict which read: “The general of swift cavalry Huo Qubing has led forth the trips and personally commanded a force of barbarians captured in previous campaigns, carrying with him only light provisions and crossing the great dessert. Fording the Huozhangqu, he executed the enemy leader Bijuqi and then turned to strike at the enemy general of the left, cutting down his pennants and seizing his war drums. He crossed over Mt. Lihou, forded the Gonglu, captured the Tuntou king, the Han king, and one other, as well as eighty generals, ministers, household administrators, and chief commandments of the enemy… He seized a great multitude of the enemy, taking 70,443 captives while only three tenths of his own men were lost in the campaign.[2]
This passage has within it everything you need to know to understand the strategy the Han used to defeat the Xiongnu. If you skimmed through it go read it again. You will have trouble finding any of Luttwak's "addiction" or "indoctrination" here.

There are a few things worth noting about the kind of military operation recorded in this account.

The logistics machine the Han created to defeat the Xiongnu is one of the marvels of the ancient world [3]. Each of the Han’s campaigns was a feat worthy of Alexander the Great. But Alexander only pushed to India once. The Han launched these campaigns year after year for decades [4]. The sheer expanse of the conflict is staggering; Han armies ranged from Fergana to Manchuria, theaters 3,000 miles apart. Each campaign required the mobilization of tens of thousands of men and double the number of animals. Chang Chun-shu has tallied the numbers:
"In the many campaigns in the Western regions (Hexi, Qiang, and Xiyu) and the Xiongnu land, the Han sent a total force of over 1.2 million cavalrymen, 800,000 foot soldiers, and 10.5 million men in support and logistic roles. The total area of lad seized in Hexi alone was 426,700 square kilometers. In developing this region the Han spent 100 billion in cash per year, compared to the regular annual government revenue of 12 billion. In the process the Han government moved from the interior over 1 million people to populate and develop the Hexi river. Thus the Han conquest of the land west of the Yellow River was the greatest expansion in Chinese history." [5] 

 The demands of the war forced the Han to restructure not only the Chinese state, but all of Chinese society. [6] The Han’s willingness to radically restructure their society to meet the immense financial and logistic demands of an eighty year conflict is one of the central reasons they emerged victorious from it.

Huo Qubing, Wei Qing and the other generals on the frontier were able to negate the nomad's central advantage by changing the nature of the Han armies they commanded. Frontier armies were no longer free holding peasant draftees from the interior, but professional soldiers permanently stationed on the frontier. This is important, because it gave them the time to master the equestrian techniques a column of flying cavalry required. By the end of the war the Han cavalry were just as good at lancing and shooting from horseback as the nomads themselves (the recruits often were nomads). Tactically they were the Xiongnu’s superiors.

The switch to a cavalry dominated force opened up new options to the Han army. Now it was possible to move just as fast as the nomads—if a Han force set out in surprise then they could usually arrive in the midst of the Xiongnu before the nomads knew what was coming. At best the Xiongnu were given a small space of time to prepare a response, and at worst the Han would arrive in the middle of the night and slaughter the Xiongnu in their sleep.

Slaughter is the proper word to use here. The only way to dismantle a nomadic empire is to play the steppe warfare game as well as they do. That meant changing both the strategic aims and tactical principles Chinese armies usually relied on in extended campaigns. Sunzi’s judgment that “one who excels in employing the military subjugates other people’s armies without engaging in battle, captures people’s fortified cities without attacking them, and destroys other people’s states without prolonged fighting. He must fight under Heaven with the paramount aim of ‘preservation’[7] was sensible in the context it was written—a world of agrarian warfare in an interstate system of two dozen petty kingdoms that lacked the means to sustain extended operations—but it was suicidal on the steppe. “Preservation” cannot be the paramount aim of an army operating on the steppe. A nomad that gets away is a nomad that will fight you on a later day. Conversely, nomadic peoples had very little in terms of lands, cities, or possessions worth plundering or ‘preserving’. A nomadic empire’s greatest wealth was its people. Warfare between nomadic confederations were ultimately wars over people, where one side would do everything in its power to slaughter as much of the enemy as they could and capture, forcibly resettle, and incorporate into their own military anybody left over.

The Han followed the same basic strategy. The aim of generals like Wei Qing and Huo Qubing was to kill every single man, woman and child they came across and by doing so instill such terror in their enemies that tribes would surrender en masse upon their arrival. By trapping the Xiongnu into one bloody slug match after another the Han forced them into a grinding war of attrition that favored the side with the larger population reserves. The Xiongnu were unprepared for such carnage in their own lands; within the first decade of the conflict the Han’s sudden attacks forced the Xiongnu to retreat from their homeland in the Ordos  to the steppes of northern Mongolia. Then came a sustained—and successful—effort to apply the same sort of pressure on the Xiongnu’s allies and vassals in Turkestan and Fergana. By sacking oasis towns and massacring tribes to the east, the Han were able to terrorize the peoples of Turkestan into switching their allegiance to China or declare their independence from the Xiongnu.

The Xiongnu were left isolated north of the Orkhorn. Under constant military pressure and cut off from the goods they had always extorted from agrarian peoples in China and Turkestan, the Xiongnu political elite began to fracture. A series of succession crises and weak leaders ensued; by 58 BC the Xiongnu’s domain had fallen into open civil war. It was one of the aspiring claimants to the title of Chanyu that this conflict produced who traveled to Chang’an, accepted the Han’s suzerainty, and ended eighty years of war between the Han and the Xiongnu [8].

How did the Chinese transform an enemy whose realm stretched thousands of miles across Inner Asia into a mere tributary vassal? They did it through flame and blood and terror. Any narrative of Han-Xiongnu relations that passes over these eighty years of grueling warfare is a distorted depiction of the times.


This brings us back to Mr. Luttwak’s essay. He claims that a pattern can be found in Han-Xiongnu relations that is repeating itself today:

The method forms a logical sequence:

Stage One: start by conceding all that must be conceded to the superior power including tribute, in order to avoid damage and obtain whatever forbearance is offered. But this in itself entangles the ruling class of the still-superior power in webs of material dependence that reduce its independent vitality and strength.

Stage Two: offer equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes all lesser powers, or “G-2” in current parlance. That neutralizes the still powerful Other party, and isolates the manipulated soon-to-be former equal from all its potential allies, preventing from balancing China with a coalition.

Stage Three: finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination. [9]

It should now be clear to readers how silly all of this sounds. We know that Stage One did not work; the independence and vitality of the Xiongnu elite was not weakened by dependence on Chinese goods. The Xiongnu elite was destroyed through merciless Han military campaigns and vicious civil war, not addiction or corruption. Stage Two never happened; it was the Xiongnu, not the Chinese, who insisted on ‘privileged bipolarity’ and a sharp demarcation between the land of the Han and the “people of the bow.” An essential element of the Han victory was their decision to establish independent contact with the Xiongnu vassal states and tribes and tear them from the Xiongnu sphere of influence. Stage Three is just as strange a construction; the Han ‘withdrew all tokens of equality’ at the outset of hostilities, but it took eight decades of grinding war before subordination could be ‘imposed.’ 

Despite all of this, Luttwak's contention that the Han-Xiongnu war left an imprint on the Chinese psyche that endures to the modern day is not lunacy. The legacy of this war looms large in the historical memory of the Chinese people; its influence can be discerned today if you are looking closely for it. "Emperor Wu['s military expansion] framed the concept of empire in such a way that [for the first time] it became an ideal of political culture in the Chinese mind and gradually fermented as a part of the Chinese conscious. Both the extraordinary kingship of Wu and the astonishing magnitude of the empire he built became the standard measure for dynastic greatness and the ideal model of empire building in China." [10] Anyone who has had the opportunity to ask Chinese friends or acquaintances about the PRC's troubled relationship with the Uighur minority in the far reaches of Xinjiang can attest that the connection between national glory and dominance of the "Western regions" implicit in Wudi's policies is still very much a part of the Chinese view of the world. 

The war also created an important precedent for future Sino-nomad confrontations and the pattern set by Han-Xiongu relations can be seen in later times. The early Tang campaigns against the Turks and the Qing Dynasty’s successful conquest of Mongolia and Xinjiang were very similar to the operations of Wei Qing, Huo Qubing, and the other generals who fought in the first few decades of the Han-Xiongnu wars [10]. The truth is, however, that there was no single “barbarian handling” strategy applied consistently throughout Chinese history. Some dynasties preferred to trade with and appease steppe leaders; others attempted to “fight barbarians with barbarians” and play different tribal groups off of each other to ensure that none became strong enough to threaten the empire. Yet others tried to block the nomads out of China entirely (the Ming Dynasty’s Great Wall being the most famous example). [11]. The Chinese strategic tradition is not a uniform set of concepts and doctrines, and Chinese strategic theory is marked more by its intellectual diversity than intellectual continuity. Chinese statesmen turning to their country’s heritage for wisdom have many different strands to pull from.

Thus the premise of Luttwak’s essay is a tad nonsensical. If there is any reason to excuse him for this nonsense, it is that there are very few books or resources he--or anyone else--can call on to obtain the background knowledge these kind of projects require. In English there is no history of the Han dynasty’s foreign policy. There is no military history of Han-Xiongnu war; nor is there a narrative political history of the period as a whole [12].

One of the lessons I take away from all of this is that it is time for scholars with expertise on ancient China to return to political and military history. The scattered work of a few academics withstanding, for the last two generations the historiography of Warring States and Han times has been dominated by the study of philosophy, social and cultural history, archaeology, and literary and linguistic analysis. These studies are important. The great majority have been useful contributions to human knowledge; I have benefited immensely from reading many of them. But essays like Luttwak's make it clear that Western historians need to devote more time and effort to China's political and military history. China's rise in the 21st century has created popular interest in the wars and conflicts of its past. Unfortunately, those who want to study the Chinese strategic tradition or its military heritage have very few options to turn to. [13] The books demanded simply do not exist. If actual experts do not write them then folks like Mr. Luttwak will. Unfortunately, the faux knowledge America’s foreign policy wonks will take away from flawed sources like this might have a real impact on the way these experts shape U.S.-China relations today. They deserve better history than what Luttwak offers here.


[1] This is not a novel analysis. The essential problems with the fighting nomadic warriors were articulated clearly by many of officials of the Han themselves. Here is one:
“Han Anguo, however, replied: there is no profit that comes to an army that has to fight 1.000 miles from home The Xiongnu move on the feet of swift war horses, and as a flock of birds, so that it is extremely difficult to corner them and bring them under control. Though we were to win possession of their land, it would be no great addition to the empire, and though we ruled their hosts of warriors they would do little to strengthen our power. From the most ancient times the Xiongnu have never been regarded as a part of humanity. If we march thousands of miles away and try t fight with them, our men and horses will be worn out, and then the wretches will muster all their strength and fall upon us. An arrow from the most powerful cross bows, when it has reached the end of its flight, will not pierce the sheerest Lu gauze; the strongest win, when its force is spent, will not lift a goose feather—not because both are not strong at the outset, but because their force in time is dispersed.” 
SJ 108 (Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty, vol II, trans Burton Watson, p. 112).

[2] SJ 110, 111 (Records, vol II, p. 153, 175-176).

[3] A point well articulated by Li Feng in Early China: a Social and Cultural History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), who calls the campaigns "unprecedented in world history" (p. 275). 

[4] Between the start of the war in 133 BC and Han Wudi's death in 90 BC, there were 20 large scale expeditions into Mongolia alone. Chang Chun-shu, The Rise of the Chinese Empire, vol I: Nation, State, and Imperialism in Early China, ca 1600 BC-A.D. 8 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), p. 164.

[5] ibid., pp. 2-3.

[6] For a comprehensive summary, see ibid., 239-236; for a polemical critique by a contemporary, see SJ 30, (Records, vol II, pp.  61-88).

[7] Sunzi Bingfa (The Art of War),ch. III, trans. Ralph Sawyer, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993), p. 161.

[8] I should note that I put the end of the war at Huhuanye's formal surrender in 53 BC, not the battle of Ikh Bayan (89 BC), as some folks (like Wikipedia!) claim.

The best account of the war's end is Sophia-Karin Psarras, "Han and Xiongnu: A Reexamination of Cultural and Political Relations (II)," Monumeta Serica, vol 52 (2004), pp. 37-49. See also  Thomas Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC-1757 AD (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1989), pp. 60-67; Yü Ying-shih "The Hsiung-nu," The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 135-141.

[9] Edward Luttwak,"The Cycles--or Stages--of Chinese History," Strategika, Issue 11 (14 February 2014), p. 9.

[10] David Graff. "Strategy and contingency in the Tang defeat of the Eastern Turks, 629- 630," in Warfare in Inner Asian history (500-1800), ed. Nicola Di Cosmo (Leiden: Brill, 2001); 
Peter Purdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006), 174-301. 

[11] For surveys that capture the diversity of this experience, see Barfield, The Perilous Frontier; Arthur Waldron, The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Sechen Jachid and  V. J. Symons,, War and Peace along the Great Wall (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989);Morris Rassabi, ed.,China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries (Berkley: University of California Press, 1983).

[12] Let me explain this sentence lest readers question how I can make such a claim in an essay with 29 different foot notes. The Cambridge History of China, Ch'in and Han is the standard reference for the period and includes essays on each on each of these topics, but is devoted to none of them  (it also costs $130+).  Similar points can be made for The Cambridge History of Inner Asia, Warfare in Inner Asian History, Military Culture in Imperial China, and other collected-essay volumes of this type. Thomas Barfield's Perilous Frontiers and Nicolas di Cosmo's Ancient China and its Enemies are both excellent works, but their focus is on the Xiongnu, not the Han. Michael Lowe's Crisis and Conflict in Han China is a rare political history for the period, but it begins after the reign of Han Wudi, skipping the first century of the former Han dynasty. Mark Edward Lewis' Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han is a survey of the entire period I would recommend to anyone, but it is organized topically and does not provide a narrative account of the dynasty's political or military developments. Similar limitations face books like Li Feng's Early China or Valerie Hansen's Open Empire whose large scope forces the authors to restrict themselves to topical analysis of the period. Yu Ying-Shih's Trade and Expansion in Han China  has many interesting things to say about Han foreign relations and the Han-Xiongnu war, but only if these things impacted Han-nomadic economic exchange, which is the subject of the study. The best candidate of all is Chang Chun-shu's two volume The Rise of Chinese Empire, which has many pages of analysis on both the course of the war and the decision making process of the Han court. However, Chang's book is not a work of diplomatic, military, or political history, but a history of Han institutions. His focus is on how the Han adapted their government structures  to meet the needs of Han Wudi's campaigns. 

Without digging into academic journals,  this is about it. There are no biographies of Han Gaozu, Han Wudi, or other notable emperors of the Han, no narrative accounts of the dynasty's first century, and no military history of Han Wudi's campaigns or the Han-Xiongnu war published in English.

[13] This is true despite the fact that we are living in what historian Kenneth Swope calls "the golden age of Chinese military history in the West."  Kenneth Swope, "Review: Military Culture in Imperial China," De re Militari (April 2009). As note 12 should make clear, this 'golden age' has left many subjects untouched. 

04 September, 2014

What Edward Luttwak Doesn't Know About Ancient China (Or a Short History of Han-Xiongnu Relations), pt. 1

A Mongolian stamp depicting Maodun, founder of the Xiongnu Empire.
Image source.


A few weeks ago a friend passed along one of the least correct essays I have ever had the misfortune to read. It was written by  Edward Luttwak, secret agent  author of classic titles in the field of strategic studies like Coup D’état: A Practical HandbookGrand Strategy of the Roman Empire, and Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace. I was disappointed to find out that this particular piece, published in the Hoover Institute's online magazine Strategika, closely mirrors a passage in Mr. Luttwak's most recent best-seller, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy. In it Luttwak suggests contemporary Chinese foreign policy follows a pattern first seen in the foreign relations of the Han Dynasty two millennia ago [1]. To quote:
What is peculiar to China’s political culture, and of very great contemporary relevance is the centrality within it of a very specific doctrine on how to bring powerful foreigners—indeed foreigners initially more powerful than the empire—into a tributary relationship. Specialists concur that this doctrine emerged from the very protracted (3rd century BCE to 1st century CE) but ultimately successful struggle with the Xiongnú (匈奴) horse-nomad state,  just possibly remote ancestors of Attila’s Huns, but definitely the inventors of the Steppe State political system that would be replicated by all their successors, and more adapted than replaced even by the Mongols.

Formidable mounted archers and capable of sustained campaigning (a primary objective of the Steppe State), the Xiongnú ravaged and savaged and extorted tribute from the perpetually less martial, and certainly cavalry-poor Han until the latter finally felt able to resist again. Even then, 147 years of intermittent warfare ensued until Huhanye (呼韓邪), the paramount Chanyu (Qagan, Khan) of the Xiongnú, personally and formally submitted to the emperor Han Xuandi in 51 BCE, undertaking to pay homage, to leave a son at court as a hostage, and to deliver tribute, as befitted a vassal. That was a very great downfall from the familial status of earlier Chanyus of the epoch of Xiongnú predominance, who were themselves recognized as emperors, whose sons and heirs could have imperial daughters in marriage, and who from 200 BCE had received tribute from the Han, instead of the other way around. It is this successful transformation of a once superior power first into an equal (signified by imperial marriages) and then into a subservient client-state that seems to have left an indelible residue in China’s tradition of statecraft. [2]

I am a fan of the analytic approach Mr. Luttwak uses here. History is important. Ancient history is important. It might seem silly or frivolous to examine ancient polities in order to understand modern politics, but the insights this lens of analysis makes possible are hard to get through other means. Many of these insights come from seeing the world through the long view. The political and social structures civilizations are built on emerge on a timescale far longer than the lifespan of any individual human being. Many of the constraints societies face—be they physical or cultural—can only be seen clearly by examining centuries of conflict, competition, and collapse.

Just as important as these recurring patterns of history are the perceptions today's decision makers have of the past. China's 3,000 recorded years of war and high politics offer many different lessons to the Chinese statesmen of the modern era. The lessons they choose to draw from this history shape the decisions they will make tomorrow.

Thus if Edward Luttwak wants to talk about how the echoes of the Han-Xiongnu war can be heard in modern China's foreign policy, I am all ears.  Long term readers of The Stage know that there are few conversation starters I would find more thrilling to hear. Too many contemporary controversies cannot be understood until we step back and look at world affairs from the long view of history.

But there is a catch in all this: the history has to be correct. It must accord to the facts. If one uses the past to interpret the present then your reading must be based on events that actually happened.

This cannot be said for Mr. Luttwak's essay. The story he tells simply did not happen. 

 To understand why Luttwak's narrative of the Han-Xiongnu war is so flawed we must look at a longer excerpt of his essay:
It is this successful transformation of a once superior power first into an equal (signified by imperial marriages) and then into a subservient client-state that seems to have left an indelible residue in China’s tradition of statecraft. It was achieved with a specific “barbarian-handling” tool box first described by its early practitioner, the scholar and imperial advisor Lou Jing (婁敬) 199 BCE. His method was first applied when the Xiongnú were still very strong and the Han were not only tactically inferior (their chariots were totally obsolete for fighting mounted archers) but also beset by political divisions, so much so that a 198 BCE4 treaty required the payment of an annual tribute in kind (silk, grain, etc.), and the formal attestation of equality for the Chanyu embodied in a marriage alliance, formalized by imperial letters that make the equality fully explicit.

The first barbarian-handling tool is normally translated as “corruption” in English translations, but perhaps “addiction,” or more fully “induced economic dependence” are more accurate: the originally self-sufficient Xiongnú were to be made economically dependent on Han-produced goods, starting with silk and woolen cloths instead of their own rude furs and felt. At first supplied free as unrequited tribute, these goods could still be supplied later on when the Han were stronger, but only in exchange for services rendered.

The second tool of barbarian handling, is normally translated as “indoctrination”: the Xiongnú were to be persuaded to accept the authoritarian Confucian value system and the collectivistic behavioral norms of the Han, as opposed to the steppe value system, based on voluntary allegiance to a heroic (and successful in looting) fighting and migration leader. One immediate benefit was that once the Chanyu’s son and heir married an imperial daughter, he would be ethically subordinated to the emperor as his father-in-law—remaining so when he became Chanyu in turn.

The much larger, longer-term benefit of the second tool was to undermine the entire political culture of the Xiongnú, and make them psychologically well as economically dependent on the imperial radiance, which was willingly extended in brotherly fashion when the Han were weak, and then contemptuously withdrawn when the Xiongnú were reduced to vassalage. [3]

What Luttwak is describing is the heqin, or the “peace marriage” system. The system was put in place during the reign of Han Gaozu, first emperor of the Han dynasty, shortly after his disastrous defeat at Pingcheng (200 BC) The empire was at that time still quite new and the Han did not have the resources to wage large-scale war against the Xiongnu. Gaozu was left with the difficult task of finding a permanent resolution to threat the Xiongnu posed to his realm. The heqin system was the best his court could come up with.

The heqin system had four components:
  • The Han Emperor and Xiongnu Chanyu would address each other as equals and brothers. The Xiongnu would acknowledge Han suzerainty of all people of the plow; the Han, for their part, would acknowledge Xiongnu lordship over the 'people of the bow.' 
  • The Han Emperor would provide an imperial princess to be a wife of every Chanyu (Note: In reality the 'princess' was always a concubine taken from the imperial palace. A multitude of legends and love stories about these concubines have made this a strong and enduring memory in Chinese popular culture for the last two millennia).
  • The Chanyu—or one of his subordinates—would take regular trips to Chang’an (the Han capital) to pay his respect to the emperor. During these visits the emperor would bestow lavish gifts upon the Xiongnu retinue as a sign of their friendship. 
  • Trade between the Xiongnu and the Han commoners would be allowed at select border stations across the frontier. [4]

The benefits of this system for the Xiongnu were obvious. One of the prime motivations behind Xiongnu raids were the economic benefits each raid offered--Xiongnu incursions were almost always marked by mass kidnappings and the theft of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Chinese livestock. Opening trade on the frontier allowed regular Xiongnu to increase their household wealth through trade instead of theft. On the other hand, the luxury gifts from the capital were distributed among the Xiongnu's closest allies, retainers, and vassals as a way to maintain prestige and improve loyalty ties among the Xiongnu elite. Without a system of trade in place the Chanyu faced immense pressure from his impoverished subjects; without a stream of luxury items that could be distributed to the Chanyu’s favorites the anarchic dynamics of steppe politics threatened to tear the Xiongnu empire apart. Thus "raids in China were a profit making enterprise that served to wield the Xiongnu into a single unit." [5]; open plunder was the simplest way to reduce tensions when trade was not on the table. It usually was not on the table:

"The right to trade at the frontier had to be wrung from an unwilling Han court because China opposed it for political reasons. Although the Xiongnu were a natural market for the grain surpluses and craft production of the northern areas, such trade would orientate the population away from the Han court and Chinese interests. The Han court attempted to tie the frontier regions to the center even if it meant hardship for the local population. Its policy was to create as much cleavage between the steppe and China as possible; the Great Wall was to be a barrier against all contact with the steppe. The Shanyu was forced to overcome this reluctance by extorting trade rights the same way he extorted subsidies--by raiding, or threatening to raid, China."[6]

The Han decision to accommodate the Chanyu and adopt the heqin system was made in a time of crisis. It was proposed in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous Battle of Pingcheng and the mass desertion of Han generals and kings to the Xiongnu. [7] Ending the war before the situation spiraled out of the court’s control was its paramount priority and immediate peace was the greatest boon the heqin system could provide. This was not, however, the only objective of the original heqin treaty. The grand historian narrates a conversation between Gaodi and the Lou Jing that reveals the policy’s hidden purpose:

“I can only suggest a plan whereby in time Maodun’s descendants can be made subjects of the Han. But I fear Your Majesty will not be able to carry it out…”

“If it will actually work, why should I not be able to carry it out?” asked the emperor. “Only tell me what I must do!”

“If you could see your way clear to send your eldest daughter by the empress to be the consort of Maodun, accompanied by a generous dowry and presents, then Maodun, knowing that a daughter of the emperor and empress of the Han must be generously provided for would, with barbarian cunning, receive her well and make her his legitimate consort and, if she had a son, he would make him heir apparent. Why would he do this? Because of his greed for Han valuables and gifts. Your majesty might at various times during the year inquire of his health and send presents of whatever Han has a surplus of and the Xiongnu lack. At the same time you could dispatch rhetoricians to expound to the barbarians in a tactful way the principles of etiquette and moral behavior. As long as Maodun is alive he will always be your son-in-law and when he dies your grandson by your daughter will succeed him as Shanyu. And who has ever heard of a grandson trying to treat his grandfather as an equal? Thus your soldiers need fight no battles, and yet the Xiongnu will gradually become your subjects.” [8]

Luttwak's descriptions of the heqin policy's aim is basically correct. It was designed to corrupt the Xiongnu and slowly 'Sinicize' them. It was designed, through the power of Confucian family norms, to subordinate the Xiongnu ruler to Han Emperor.

What Luttwak neglects to mention is that the policy was a complete and utter failure.


The first heqin treaty was signed in 200 BC. Let us jump forward 44 years into the future and see how successful it was:

“In the fourteenth year of Emperor Wen’s reign the Shanyu led a force of 140,000 horsemen though the Chaona and Xiao passes, killing Sun Ang, the chief commandment of Beidi province, and carrying off large numbers of peoples and animals. Eventually he rode as far as Penyang, sent a surprise force to break into and burn the Huizhong Palace, and dispatched scouts as far as the Palace of Sweets Springs in Yong [bringing them within eyesight of the capital].

…The Shanyu remained within the borders of the empire for a little over a month and then withdrew. The Han forces pursued him beyond the frontier but returned without having been able to kill any of the enemy.

The Xiongnu grew more arrogant day by day crossing the border every year, killing many of the inhabitants, and stealing their animals. Yunzhong and Liaodong suffered most severely, while in Dai Province alone over 10,000 persons were killed. The Han court, greatly distressed, sent an envoy with a letter to the Xiongnu, and the Shanyu in turn dispatched one of his household administrators to apologize and request a renewal of the peace alliance.” [9]

This was one of only of a dozen major incursions between 200 BC, when the first treaty was signed, and 133 BC, when Han Wudi decided to launch the empire into open war with the Xiongnu. It also points to the heqin treaties’ greatest failure: they did not provide a meaningful sense of security for the Han. Under the heqin system the initiative belonged to the Xiongnu. The peace was theirs to keep—or break. The Han lacked an effective deterrent to ward off Xiongnu attacks and possessed little power to retaliate once attacks came.

Not all of these raids were organized or even condoned by the Chanyu. One of the inherit weaknesses of the ‘co-equal’ treaties between the Shanyu and Emperor was that the two sovereigns did not exercise equal amounts of control over their respective empires. [10] The Xiongnu confederation was an amalgamation of different tribal groups forged together by the Xiongnu ruling line. The Chanyu's power was proportionate to the threats his people faced or the rewards he could promise them. If he tried to control the tribal autocracy with too tight a hand the inevitable consequence would be flight (to China or to other steppe confederations on the steppe) or open rebellion [11]. If one of his subordinate leaders decided to campaign against the Han on his own accord there was little the Chanyu could do stop him.

The other reason the Chanyu was willing to turn a blind eye to these attacks (and in occasion lead them himself) was that they strengthened the Xiongnu position at the negotiating table. "Almost each time a new pact was signed something was lost by the Han, and gained by the Hsiung-nu." [12] Far from being an instrument the Chinese used to sap the Xiongnu elite’s political cohesion (as Luttwak suggests), the treaty system was a way for the Xiongnu elite to extort the Han Dynasty.  Thomas Barfield describes the logic behind the system from the Xiongnu point of view:
"The Xiongnu alternated periods of war with periods of peace in order to extract ever increasing benefits from China. Plundering invasions were followed by envoys from the Shanyu who always suggested that the current troubles could be resolved by a new treaty. Building upon each broken treaty as a foundation for new demands, the Shanyu extracted larger subsidies and gained trade benefits in return from the promise of peace. The length of the peace was determined in part by the adequacy of the newly formed treaty. The initial agreements providing subsidies but not trade lasted only a few years. After trade [at the border posts] was added the periods of peace became substantial. Nevertheless, behind even the most peaceful relations lay the implicit threat that the Xiongnu could cause the Han Empire serious trouble if their demands were not satisfied, and that no peace treaty could bind them permanently." [13]

There are obvious parallels between Xiongnu-Han relations and China's troubles with European imperialists in the 19th century. When the rhetorical garnish used in imperial proclamations to the outside world are peeled away the nature of both the unequal treaties and the heqin system can be seen for what they truly were: means through which foreign powers laid claim to China's wealth. Both were systems of extortion imposed by the threat of martial force.  And in both cases the decision to cede to the foreigners' demands instead of mobilize the population for general war was a decision to relinquish sovereignty and claims of cultural superiority for the sake of political stability.

Political stability was what the Han needed in the early days of their dynasty, during which time rebellions, uprisings, and attempted coups absorbed most of the court's attention. It was not until the reign of Han Wudi that the dynasts felt secure enough within China to turn their attention outside of it. There was also an important ideological shift that occurred during the reign of Han Wudi. Before Wudi’s time the dominant political philosophy at court was Huang-lao Daoism, which privileged emergent order over conscious creation and stressed that the best rulers governed with a light hand. The ascendance of classicist [14] political ideals was an important element in the Han's path to war. The classicists of Wudi's day had an unyielding commitment to hierarchy, ritual, and decorum. They believed that these principles should govern the conduct of all men. They were unforgiving towards all who disregarded them. To a mind steeped in the classicist ideology of the early Han, there was no breach of decorum more scandalous than a barbarian who called himself the Emperor's brother and extorted gifts from him as if he were the superior. The  heqin system was an affront to Confucian political philosophy. Jia Yi, perhaps the most brilliant classicist thinker of that age, expressed the outrage of it all by comparing "the situation of the empire [to a] person hanging upside down... To command the barbarians is a power vested in the Emperor at the top, and to present tribute to the Son of Heaven is a ritual to be performed by vassals at the bottom. Now the feet are at the top and the head at the bottom" [15].

It is difficult to tell just how aware the Xiongnu were of the cultural crises their strategy created in China. In contrast to Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and other belief systems of more Western origin, Confucian norms and philosophy never caught hold in Inner Asia. This explains why attempts to "corrupt" the Xiongnu and subordinate the Chanyu to the emperor failed so dismally.  The nomads were eager to seize Chinese goods and luxury items, but were never economically dependent on them [16]. Unlike in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and the "barbarian" statelets of South China, the economic structure of the Xiongnu empire was radically different than agrarian China's. There simply was not enough common ground between the two peoples for Chinese lifestyles to be grafted onto the Xiongnu people. This is a recurring theme of Inner Asian history: nomadic elites could adopt the trappings of Chinese culture, but without moving off of the steppe they could never absorb its substance. The social worlds of the two peoples were simply too different. The ritualized and hierarchical relationships of the traditional Chinese family had no analogue in the egalitarian family life of the steppe. The first recorded Chanyu seized power by murdering his own father. The notion that 'filial piety' - or any of the other civilized virtues China hoped to 'tame' the barbarians with - could be instilled in the Xiongnu by giving them wives and clothes and toys was a political fantasy.

It took the Chinese eight decades to come to the same realization. By that time influential voices in the court and men with experience on the frontier argued that the existing system could not meet its original aims. It could achieve relative peace and stability, but the Chinese no longer wanted that. They wanted superiority. That could not be had without switching to a much bloodier strategy.

Part I of a series. Part II, which covers how the Han actually defeated the Xiongnu, is here.


[1] Edward Luttwak,"The Cycles--or Stages--of Chinese History," Strategika, Issue 11 (14 February 2014), pp. 5-11; The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2012), pp.  25-28.

[2] Luttwak, "Cycles," 6-7.

[3] ibid., 7-8.

[4] Thomas Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC-1757 AD (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1989), p. 46; Nicola Di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies: the Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 193; Yu Ying-chih, “Han Foreign Relations,” Cambridge History of China, vol 1: Ch’in and Han, 221 BC-220 AD (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p 386.

[5] Barfield, Perilous Frontier, 46.

[6] ibid., p. 47; see also the discussion in Sechin Jachid and Van Jay Simmons, Peace, War, and Trade Along the Great Wall: Nomadic-Chinese Interaction through Two Millenia (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989), pp. 30-51.

[7] The primary source I rely on for this section of the essay is Sima Qian’s Shiji or Historical Records. Luttwak's citation of this same source is needlessly obtuse; the relevant portions of the Shiji were translated and published in English by Burton Watson was over 30 years ago, and a newer, more scholarly translation of the relevant sections by a William Neihauser has been available for the last five years. The only purpose Luttwak's note that the text “is increasingly available in English translation" serves is to make it more difficult for those not versed in Sinological convention (i.e. all of the readers of Strategika) to investigate the sources Luttwak uses for themselves. 

For an account of the Battle of Pingcheng and its immediate aftermath, please see SJ 93 (Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty, vol I, trans Burton Watson, p. 187); SJ 99 (Records, vol I, trans Burton Watson, p. 238); SJ 110 (Records, vol II, p. 138).

[8] SJ 99 (Records, vol I, p. 239).

[9] SJ 110 (Records, vol 2, p.145).

[10] Di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies, p.224.

[11] Barfield, Perilous Frontier, 24-28. See also Philip Salzman Pastoralists: Equality, Hierarchy, and the State (Boudler, Co: Westview Press, 2009), 50-51.

[12] Yü Ying-shih "The Hsiung-nu," The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 125.

[13] Barfield, Perilous Frontier, 50.

[14] That is, the ru (儒 ), in later ages to acknowledged as "Confucians." The label "Confucian" is probably anachronistic for this time period however, for Confucian ideology had not coalesced into a unified philosophical school.

[15] Quoted in Yu Ying-shih, Trade and Expansion in Han China (Berkley: University of California Press, 1969) p. 11.

[16] Nicloa Di Cosmo, "Ancient Inner Asian Nomads: Their Economic Basis and Its Significance in Chinese History," The Journal of Asian Studies, 53, no. 4 (Nov. 1994), 1092-1126.