As I spend an exorbitant amount of time studying the Chinese strategic tradition and firmly believe the most effective ways to gauge your knowledge of a subject is to teach what you know to others, I figured I would take a whack at designing my own class on the matter.
The fruits of my labors can be found here.
Many of my readings closely follow those of the previously mentioned classes. The worst offender on this count is the “Mao Zedong Practice” session, which I lifted without revision from the MIT class. This period is a weak point of mine. Being unfamiliar with the literature associated with it, I can neither add nor take away from the readings already given to it.
More interesting, I think, are the places where my syllabus differs substantially from that of the others. A few of these divergences are worth highlighting:
Many of my sessions center around Dennis and Ching Ping Bloodsworth’s Chinese Machiavelli: 3,000 Years of Chinese Statecraft. This is probably the single best book of Chinese history no one has ever heard about. Its title is a bit deceiving – the Bloodsworths do not meant to claim that “Machiavellian” is a fitting description of the Chinese tradition. Rather, it describes their method of analysis. One will remember that Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince and Discourses on Livy only after many long years of studying statecraft as practiced by both ancients and moderns; the Bloodsworths try to take the same approach with the Chinese tradition, asking what Machiavelli would have written if he was born in China instead of Italy. They do this masterfully; Chinese Machiavelli is the single best introduction to the Chinese strategic tradition to be found in the English language.
Given its fictional nature, my decision not to use the abridged edition of Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms in favor of the unabridged, two-volume version of the work is difficult to justify. I do so on two counts: the first is that it is impossible to maintain the integrity of any narrative while paring it down to less than half of its original size. Beyond robbing the novel of its historical complexity (a great sin in my eyes), the abridgment was designed to be used in literature classes, and several sections of interest to the student of strategy* cannot be found inside it. The second is that the book’s fictional passages do not obscure the study of the Chinese strategic thought. To the contrary, they provide a rare opportunity to see how historical events, stratagems, and characters have been transmitted and understood in the Chinese tradition.
The most surprising omission from the MIT and Harvard courses is any type of study of Chinese relations with the steppe hoards of Central Asia. While not as prominent in the Chinese strategic tradition as the wars of the Three Kingdoms or Warring States eras, the steppe was China’s greatest security concern for almost all of its imperial history. To ignore it is to ignore 2,000 years of the Chinese military experience. My session skips about that stretch of time quite a bit, the emphasis being on the different type of strategies Chinese statesmen have employed to secure the kingdom from hoards of the steppe. The center piece for this discussion is Arthur Waldron’s The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth. As the book’s title may suggest, it is not only a superb history of the construction and use of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty, but also of the changing perceptions of the wall and the strategic approach it embodies.
*Such as Pang Tong and Liu Bei’s discussion of the proper place of means, ends, and moral principles when developing strategy. (pp. 460-61 in Moss Robert’s unabridged edition).