Military culture influences military thinking and military strategy. Today, the armed forces of the major powers have the goal of defending their national interests and contributing to world peace.
For geographical and historical reasons, Chinese military culture developed its own unique orientation. Just as culture is what makes groups Chinese military culture makes China’s armed forces different to those of other countries. These cultural differences express themselves in the characteristics of various countries’ armed forces.
Studying Chinese military culture is thus a path toward a better understanding of the characteristics of the Chinese armed forces.
The Characteristics of “non-war” and “shenzhan”
The concept of “non-war” means not taking war as a means to solve problems, while “shenzhan” is an ancient Chinese word, meaning “to be cautious of war.” These two concepts are reflected in history, as the Chinese people always took war to be the last resort and did not resort to force unless it was inevitable.
The pacifist view of war that Chinese military culture has inherited is different from the conception of some Western military strategists and thinkers. The famous German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz argued that there are many ways to the aim, that is, to the attainment of the political object; but that the only means is combat, and that consequently everything is subject to a supreme law, which is the decision by arms.
The Defensive Character of Chinese Military Culture
China’s military culture always reflects a defensive military philosophy, which is expressed through an emphasis on defense at a military strategic level. Since Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, unified China in 221 BC in the face of the invasion of northern nomads, China implemented a long-term defensive military strategy in the form of the
Great Wall, which was constructed during the Qin Dynasty.
It is the largest military engineering work in Chinese history; it is a complete fortification,
and is the best embodiment of China’s defensive military strategy. While the mighty Han and Tang Dynasties sent troops to drive out the northern nomads, they withdrew immediately after the victory in order to consolidate their defense. In the Ming Dynasty, China had the most advanced sailing technology in the world.