Warfare in Ancient China

Warfare in Ancient China

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Chinese warfare involved perhaps the largest and most technologically advanced armies in the ancient world. Chariots, cavalry, swords, bows and crossbows were all staple features of the battles which raged as rulers forever struggled to dominate this huge country and defend its borders against threatening neighbours. This collection examines in detail the weapons, armour, fortifications and strategies employed in such martial-obsessed periods as the Warring States period and the War of the Eight Princes. We will also look at perhaps the greatest manual on warfare ever produced, The Art of War by Sun-Tzu (5th century BCE) and certainly the most impressive tomb ever dedicated to warfare, that of Shi Huangdi (r. 221-210 BCE) and his massive terracotta army.

…in battle one engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox…One who employs strategic power [shih] commands men in battle as if he were rolling logs and stones…Thus the strategic power of one who excels at employing men in warfare is comparable to rolling round boulders down a thousand-fathom mountain.

(The Art of War)

Aztec death whistles sound like the &ldquoscream of 1,000 corpses.&rdquo Twenty years ago, archaeologists unearthed two of these skull-shaped instruments in Mexico. They were clutched in the hands of a sacrificed man at the temple of the wind god.

Initially believed to be toys, the whistles were used in rituals and war. Designed to sound like a human howling in pain, death whistles were reserved for rare occasions.

Some insist that death whistles were used in sacrifices and to guide the recently deceased to the land of the dead. Others believe that their main use was psychological warfare.

At the beginning of a battle, the whistles&rsquo unnerving sound would break the resolve of the enemy. Some experts believe that these death whistles allowed listeners to enter a trance state. Aztec physicians frequently employed sound in healing.

Ancient Military History

We know that ancient weapons suchs as simple spears and clubs came into common use shortly after the dawn of man some three million years ago. Complex spears were in use 400,000 years ago and that bows first appeared on the scene around 60,000 years ago. However, cave paintings from this time period only show hunting scenes. True organized warfare took the adaptation of food production, hunter gather were simply to few to mount anything more than raids. Only with food production could the population support launching mass amounts of armed men into battle.

Not that earlier man didn't engage in some organized violence, 20,000 -12,000 year old cave paintings depict battles scenes in Spain. Groups of archers fighting in rows with clearly garbed leaders in front. The first prehistoric battle in the archaeological record is on the Nile near the Egypt-Sudan border, although this claim is contentious. The site known as Cemetery 117 it is dates from approximately 13,140 to 14,340 years old. It contains 59 skeletons along with many partial skeletons, many with arrowheads or spear points embedded in them, indicating that they may have been the battle casualties. On a 7,500 year old site called the Talheim Death Pit, archaeologists believe a rival tribe was massacred. Approximately 34 people were bound and predominantly killed by a blow to the left temple. The site in Germany is one of the earliest indications of warfare in Neolithic Europe.

By the 4th millennium BC the agricultural revolution had developed to the point where small cities developed in Mesopotamia. Now the ball could get rolling. Military conquests expanded city states into empires begin in the 3rd millennium BC. Sargon I creating the first empire (Akkadian Empire) and pioneered combined arms tactics using archers, donkey chariots and spear armed infantry units. The Pharaoh Senusret I in the 20th century BC conquered Nubia and placed it under Egyptian control. Babylonia and later the brutally efficient Assyrians built empires in Mesopotamia. While the Hittite Empire ruled much of Anatolia and the Pharaohs ruled the Nile delta. Chariots first appeared on the Eurasian steppes in the 20th century BC, and become central to warfare in the ancient Near East after massive invasions of Chariot using tribes slammed into the settled river valley civilizations. The Aryan, Kassite and Hyksos conquered and ruled the once proud civilizations. The Hyksos took control of the Nile Delta, ruling for several hundred years until the ancient Egyptian military, lead by a Prince who still ruled the middle section of the Nile Valley defeated them using their own Chariot tactics against them.

The arms race was well on its way.
and so was ancient military history.

What's New?

Ancient Manufacturing
How society advanced, from stone
tooling to carbid dies.

The Era of Xia and Shang Dynasty

The Xia and the Shang dynasty were the initial dynasties. During the rule of the Shang rulers, the military was basically made up of chariot armies. The archaeological site at Anyang, that belongs to the Bronze age Shang dynasty, indicates the dominant use of the chariots and bronze weapons. The Shang dynasty was abolished by the Zhou dynasty, which led to the starting of a new era of warfare in the military of ancient China. During this time, when the Shang dynasty was declining, the feudal system was slowly coming into vogue.

From the dawn of human conflict, until the development of firearms, the vast majority of battlefield injuries were inflicted by blades, barbs or bludgeons. The ancients, however, never neglected any means at their disposal to annihilate the enemy. Time and again kings and commanders turned to the dark arts of alchemy to give them the military edge. So it is that through the centuries, while the majority of casualties were cut, stabbed or crushed, an unlucky minority of War&rsquos victims were gassed, scorched, poisoned or infected by weapons which we today might call &lsquoweapons of mass destruction&rsquo. Just like the chemical and biological weapons of today their effectiveness lay as much in the terror they caused as the injuries they inflicted.

The most famous chemical weapon of the ancient world was the &lsquoGreek Fire&rsquo. Invented at Byzantium in A.D. 674 it was a miracle weapon that saved the city from the advancing armies of Islam, and protected her from all other invaders for another five hundred years. Essentially a flamethrower, it was a device without equal in the 7th century. We today do not regard the flamethrower as a chemical weapon as such, however &lsquoGreek Fire&rsquo was a weapon of unparalleled destructiveness, and its effectiveness was compounded by the terror it created, so it has a good case to be called the WMD of its day.

Fire was not new to ancient warfare when the &lsquoGreek Fire&rsquo first appeared. It was commonly used in siege warfare. For instance, in 424 B.C. the Spartans deployed an improvised flamethrower at the siege of the fortress of Delium. It consisted of a large bellows that blew down a long pipe and across a huge cauldron of flaming coals, thereby blowing a furnace-flame directly at the wall of the wooden fortress. But the real genius of the Byzantians was to take fire from siege warfare and, in a feat that seemed to defy nature, bring it into naval warfare. The secret of its success lay in its recipe, which has never been fully explained. It was undoubtedly petrol based, the petrol being distilled from the crude oil that naturally bubbled up on the north coast of the Black Sea. This was probably mixed with minerals such as sulphur or saltpetre to create an inflammable syrup, which floated on water and was almost impossible to put out. Large bladders of this liquid were stored in the holds of Byzantian warships. A bellows pumped the mixture to directable nozzles on the deck. To heighten the terror in their enemies the Byzantians made the nozzles to look like hideous dragons, belching fire at the command of their obviously sorcerous masters. When the mixture was ignited the result was a jet of flame that could reportedly shoot out to 100 yards and could be kept up for over a minute. The resulting inferno not only ignited the enemy ships but it burned on the water, giving enemy sailors no refuge. With the wind in the right direction the flames created an impenetrable barrier between the Byzantians and the enemy fleet.

It was the Chinese, however, who realised the full potential of fire-weapons, around A.D. 900, by marrying a &lsquoGreek Fire&rsquo-like recipe with their own invention of the double-action bellows. This flamethrower could produce a more powerful and uninterrupted stream of fire. Like the Byzantians the Chinese deployed these particular weapons with their fleets, but they also developed battlefield flamethrowers. The simplest of these was known as the &lsquofire-lance&rsquo. It was a bamboo tube stuffed with a petroleum-based paste and firmly tied to the end of a lance-pole. When lit a jet of flame shot several feet out from the end and burned for nearly five minutes, longer than most of today&rsquos portable flamethrowers (although once lit it couldn&rsquot be put out). These devices were a key element in the defence of northern cities against nomadic tribes for nearly three hundred years. They reached their grandest form in the 14th century A.D. when dozens of them were mounted on wheeled batteries. Once lit the &lsquoFierce Flame Spouting Shield&rsquo, as it was known, was laboriously wheeled toward the enemy infantry, whilst swordsmen on either side took advantage of the smoke, terror and confusion to cut up the enemy ranks. It was only the increasing use of battlefield cannon that pushed these large ponderous weapons form the field.

The Chinese were also the first to exploit poison gas. As early as the 4th century B.C. the Chinese used noxious smoke to defend besieged cities. As the attackers attempted to undermine the city walls the defenders would attempt to tap into their tunnels with terracotta pipes. Then a bellows would be used to pump in smoke and noxious gas from a nearby furnace, causing fits, poisoning, suffocation and death in the enemy miners. By A.D. 1000 poison-bombs, noxious substances mixed with gunpowder and resin, were regularly being tossed from catapults or, later, fired from cannon. One &lsquoPoisonous Smoke Bomb&rsquo from A.D 1044 gave off thick clouds of smoke when it ignited causing &ldquobleeding from the nose and mouth&rdquo. Another terror weapon of the same period was a bomb that mostly consisted of 15 lbs of human excrement (ground and finely sifted), mixed with a few other special ingredients such as arsenic, poisonous herbs and ground up beetles. The bomb was said to cause irritation and blistering of the skin, and to be able to penetrate gaps in clothing and armour, much like the mustard gas of World War One. To protect friendly troops it was recommended that they suck on black plums and liquorice.

Even tear-gas was used in medieval China. The chronicler of a naval battle in A.D. 1161 describes &lsquoThunder-clap&rsquo bombs &ndash giant firecrackers wrapped in paper and filled with lime and sulphur. Upon landing in the water or on enemy ships they exploded with a mighty crack and scattered their contents which ignited generating thick clouds of irritant smoke that blinded the enemy. The Chinese did not have the monopoly on tear-gas, however. In the early 16th century A.D. the inhabitants of Brazil, trying to drive back the Portuguese conquistadors, created blinding smoke by burning chilli-peppers over coals.

Fire weapons and toxic smoke were probably the most famous and successful ancient terror weapons, but in my next article I shall talk about other forms of ancient WMD, such as poisons and plague, and I shall also discuss more subtle and exotic chemical weapons such as the narcotics used by the Assassins.

The history of biological warfare

During the past century, more than 500 million people died of infectious diseases. Several tens of thousands of these deaths were due to the deliberate release of pathogens or toxins, mostly by the Japanese during their attacks on China during the Second World War. Two international treaties outlawed biological weapons in 1925 and 1972, but they have largely failed to stop countries from conducting offensive weapons research and large-scale production of biological weapons. And as our knowledge of the biology of disease-causing agents—viruses, bacteria and toxins—increases, it is legitimate to fear that modified pathogens could constitute devastating agents for biological warfare. To put these future threats into perspective, I discuss in this article the history of biological warfare and terrorism.

During the [Second World War], the Japanese army poisoned more than 1,000 water wells in Chinese villages to study cholera and typhus outbreaks

Man has used poisons for assassination purposes ever since the dawn of civilization, not only against individual enemies but also occasionally against armies ( Table 1 ). However, the foundation of microbiology by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch offered new prospects for those interested in biological weapons because it allowed agents to be chosen and designed on a rational basis. These dangers were soon recognized, and resulted in two international declarations—in 1874 in Brussels and in 1899 in The Hague—that prohibited the use of poisoned weapons. However, although these, as well as later treaties, were all made in good faith, they contained no means of control, and so failed to prevent interested parties from developing and using biological weapons. The German army was the first to use weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical, during the First World War, although their attacks with biological weapons were on a rather small scale and were not particularly successful: covert operations using both anthrax and glanders ( Table 2 ) attempted to infect animals directly or to contaminate animal feed in several of their enemy countries (Wheelis, 1999). After the war, with no lasting peace established, as well as false and alarming intelligence reports, various European countries instigated their own biological warfare programmes, long before the onset of the Second World War (Geissler & Moon, 1999).

Table 1

1155Emperor Barbarossa poisons water wells with human bodies, Tortona, Italy
1346Mongols catapult bodies of plague victims over the city walls of Caffa, Crimean Peninsula
1495Spanish mix wine with blood of leprosy patients to sell to their French foes, Naples, Italy
1650Polish fire saliva from rabid dogs towards their enemies
1675First deal between German and French forces not to use 'poison bullets'
1763British distribute blankets from smallpox patients to native Americans
1797Napoleon floods the plains around Mantua, Italy, to enhance the spread of malaria
1863Confederates sell clothing from yellow fever and smallpox patients to Union troops, USA

It is not clear whether any of these attacks caused the spread of disease. In Caffa, the plague might have spread naturally because of the unhygienic conditions in the beleaguered city. Similarly, the smallpox epidemic among Indians could have been caused by contact with settlers. In addition, yellow fever is spread only by infected mosquitoes. During their conquest of South America, the Spanish might also have used smallpox as a weapon. Nevertheless, the unintentional spread of diseases among native Americans killed about 90% of the pre-columbian population (McNeill, 1976).

Table 2

DiseasePathogenAbused 1
Category A (major public health hazards)  
AnthraxBacillus antracis (B)First World War
  Second World War
  Soviet Union, 1979
  Japan, 1995
  USA, 2001
BotulismClostridium botulinum (T)
Haemorrhagic feverMarburg virus (V)Soviet bioweapons programme
 Ebola virus (V)
 Arenaviruses (V)
PlagueYersinia pestis (B)Fourteenth-century Europe
  Second World War
SmallpoxVariola major (V)Eighteenth-century N. America
TularemiaFrancisella tularensis (B)Second World War
Category B (public health hazards)  
BrucellosisBrucella (B)
CholeraVibrio cholerae (B)Second World War
EncephalitisAlphaviruses (V)Second World War
Food poisoningSalmonella, Shigella (B)Second World War
  USA, 1990s
GlandersBurkholderia mallei (B)First World War
  Second World War
PsittacosisChlamydia psittaci (B)
Q feverCoxiella burnetti (B)
TyphusRickettsia prowazekii (B)Second World War
Various toxic syndromesVarious bacteriaSecond World War

Category C includes emerging pathogens and pathogens that are made more pathogenic by genetic engineering, including hantavirus, Nipah virus, tick-borne encephalitis and haemorrhagic fever viruses, yellow fever virus and multidrug-resistant bacteria.

1 Does not include time and place of production, but only indicates where agents were applied and probably resulted in casualties, in war, in research or as a terror agent. B, bacterium P, parasite T, toxin V, virus.

In North America, it was not the government but a dedicated individual who initiated a bioweapons research programme. Sir Frederick Banting, the Nobel-Prize-winning discoverer of insulin, created what could be called the first private biological weapon research centre in 1940, with the help of corporate sponsors (Avery, 1999 Regis, 1999). Soon afterwards, the US government was also pressed to perform such research by their British allies who, along with the French, feared a German attack with biological weapons (Moon, 1999, Regis, 1999), even though the Nazis apparently never seriously considered using biological weapons (Geissler, 1999). However, the Japanese embarked on a largescale programme to develop biological weapons during the Second World War (Harris, 1992, 1999, 2002) and eventually used them in their conquest of China. Indeed, alarm bells should have rung as early as 1939, when the Japanese legally, and then illegally, attempted to obtain yellow fever virus from the Rockefeller Institute in New York (Harris, 2002).

The father of the Japanese biological weapons programme, the radical nationalist Shiro Ishii, thought that such weapons would constitute formidable tools to further Japan's imperialistic plans. He started his research in 1930 at the Tokyo Army Medical School and later became head of Japan's bioweapon programme during the Second World War (Harris, 1992, 1999, 2002). At its height, the programme employed more than 5,000 people, and killed as many as 600 prisoners a year in human experiments in just one of its 26 centres. The Japanese tested at least 25 different disease-causing agents on prisoners and unsuspecting civilians. During the war, the Japanese army poisoned more than 1,000 water wells in Chinese villages to study cholera and typhus outbreaks. Japanese planes dropped plague-infested fleas over Chinese cities or distributed them by means of saboteurs in rice fields and along roads. Some of the epidemics they caused persisted for years and continued to kill more than 30,000 people in 1947, long after the Japanese had surrendered (Harris, 1992, 2002). Ishii's troops also used some of their agents against the Soviet army, but it is unclear as to whether the casualties on both sides were caused by this deliberate spread of disease or by natural infections (Harris, 1999). After the war, the Soviets convicted some of the Japanese biowarfare researchers for war crimes, but the USA granted freedom to all researchers in exchange for information on their human experiments. In this way, war criminals once more became respected citizens, and some went on to found pharmaceutical companies. Ishii's successor, Masaji Kitano, even published postwar research articles on human experiments, replacing 'human' with 'monkey' when referring to the experiments in wartime China (Harris, 1992, 2002).

Although some US scientists thought the Japanese information insightful, it is now largely assumed that it was of no real help to the US biological warfare programme projects. These started in 1941 on a small scale, but increased during the war to include more than 5,000 people by 1945. The main effort focused on developing capabilities to counter a Japanese attack with biological weapons, but documents indicate that the US government also discussed the offensive use of anti-crop weapons (Bernstein, 1987). Soon after the war, the US military started open-air tests, exposing test animals, human volunteers and unsuspecting civilians to both pathogenic and non-pathogenic microbes (Cole, 1988 Regis, 1999). A release of bacteria from naval vessels off

. nobody really knows what the Russians are working on today and what happened to the weapons they produced

the coasts of Virginia and San Francisco infected many people, including about 800,000 people in the Bay area alone. Bacterial aerosols were released at more than 200 sites, including bus stations and airports. The most infamous test was the 1966 contamination of the New York metro system with Bacillus globigii— a non-infectious bacterium used to simulate the release of anthrax—to study the spread of the pathogen in a big city. But with the opposition to the Vietnam War growing and the realization that biological weapons could soon become the poor man's nuclear bomb, President Nixon decided to abandon offensive biological weapons research and signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1972, an improvement on the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Although the latter disallowed only the use of chemical or biological weapons, the BTWC also prohibits research on biological weapons. However, the BTWC does not include means for verification, and it is somewhat ironic that the US administration let the verification protocol fail in 2002, particularly in view of the Soviet bioweapons project, which not only was a clear breach of the BTWC, but also remained undetected for years.

Even though they had just signed the BTWC, the Soviet Union established Biopreparat, a gigantic biowarfare project that, at its height, employed more than 50,000 people in various research and production centres (Alibek & Handelman, 1999). The size and scope of the Soviet Union's efforts were truly staggering: they produced and stockpiled tons of anthrax bacilli and smallpox virus, some for use in intercontinental ballistic missiles, and engineered multidrug-resistant bacteria, including plague. They worked on haemorrhagic fever viruses, some of the deadliest pathogens that humankind has encountered. When virologist Nikolai Ustinov died after injecting himself with the deadly Marburg virus, his colleagues, with the mad logic and enthusiasm of bioweapon developers, re-isolated the virus from his body and found that it had mutated into a more virulent form than the one that Ustinov had used. And few took any notice, even when accidents happened. In 1971, smallpox broke out in the Kazakh city of Aralsk and killed three of the ten people that were infected. It is speculated that they were infected from a bioweapons research centre on a small island in the Aral Sea (Enserink, 2002). In the same area, on other occasions, several fishermen and a researcher died from plague and glanders, respectively (Miller et al., 2002). In 1979, the Soviet secret police orchestrated a large cover-up to explain an outbreak of anthrax in Sverdlovsk, now Ekaterinburg, Russia, with poisoned meat from anthrax-contaminated animals sold on the black market. It was eventually revealed to have been due to an accident in a bioweapons factory, where a clogged air filter was removed but not replaced between shifts ( Fig. 1 ) (Meselson et al., 1994 Alibek & Handelman, 1999).

Anthrax as a biological weapon. Light (A) and electron (B) micrographs of anthrax bacilli, reproduced from the Centers of Disease Control Public Health Image Library. The map (C) shows six villages in which animals died after anthrax spores were released from a bioweapons factory in Sverdlovsk, USSR, in 1979. Settled areas are shown in grey, roads in white, lakes in blue and the calculated contours of constant dosage of anthrax spores in black. At least 66 people died after the accident. (Reprinted with permission from Meselson et al., 1994 © (1994) American Association for the Advancement of Science.)

The most striking feature of the Soviet programme was that it remained secret for such a long time. During the Second World War, the Soviets used a simple trick to check whether US researchers were occupied with secret research: they monitored whether American physicists were publishing their results. Indeed, they were not, and the conclusion was, correctly, that the US was busy building a nuclear bomb (Rhodes, 1988, pp. 327 and 501). The same trick could have revealed the Soviet bioweapons programme much earlier ( Fig. 2 ). With the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of these programmes were halted and the research centres abandoned or converted for civilian use. Nevertheless, nobody really knows what the Russians are working on today and what happened to the weapons they produced. Western security experts now fear that some stocks of biological weapons might not have been destroyed and have instead fallen into other hands (Alibek & Handelman, 1999 Miller et al., 2002). According to US intelligence, South Africa, Israel, Iraq and several other countries have developed or still are developing biological weapons (Zilinskas, 1997 Leitenberg, 2001).

Detecting biological warfare research. A comparison of the number of publications from two Russian scientists. L. Sandakchiev (black bars) was involved, as the head of the Vector Institute for viral research, in the Soviet project to produce smallpox as an offensive biological weapon. V. Krylov (white bars) was not. Note the decrease in publications by Sandakchiev compared with those by Krylov. The data were compiled from citations from a PubMed search for the researchers on 15 August 2002.

Apart from state-sponsored biowarfare programmes, individuals and non-governmental groups have also gained access to potentially dangerous microorganisms, and some have used them (Purver, 2002). A few examples include the spread of hepatitis, parasitic infections, severe diarrhoea and gastroenteritis. The latter occurred when a religious sect tried to poison a whole community by spreading Salmonella in salad bars to interfere with a local election (Török et al., 1997 Miller et al., 2002). The sect, which ran a hospital on its grounds, obtained the bacterial strain from a commercial supplier. Similarly, a right-wing laboratory technician tried to get hold of the plague bacterium from the American Tissue Culture Collection, and was only discovered after he complained that the procedure took too long (Cole, 1996). These examples clearly indicate that organized groups or individuals with sufficient determination can obtain dangerous biological agents. All that is required is a request to 'colleagues' at scientific institutions, who share their published materials with the rest of the community (Breithaupt, 2000). The relative ease with which this can be done explains why the numerous hoaxes in the USA after the anthrax mailings had to be taken seriously, thus causing an estimated economic loss of US $100 million (Leitenberg, 2001).

These examples clearly indicate that organized groups or individuals with sufficient determination can obtain dangerous biological agents

Another religious cult, in Japan, proved both the ease and the difficulties of using biological weapons. In 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult used Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 train passengers and injuring more than 5,000 (Cole, 1996). Before these attacks, the sect had also tried, on several occasions, to distribute (non-infectious) anthrax within the city with no success. It was obviously easy for the sect members to produce the spores but much harder to disseminate them (Atlas, 2001 Leitenberg, 2001). The still unidentified culprits of the 2001 anthrax attacks in the USA were more successful, sending contaminated letters that eventually killed five people and, potentially even more seriously, caused an upsurge in demand for antibiotics, resulting in over-use and thus contributing to drug resistance (Atlas, 2001 Leitenberg, 2001 Miller et al., 2002).

One interesting aspect of biological warfare is the accusations made by the parties involved, either as excuses for their actions or to justify their political

Cuba frequently accused the USA of using biological warfare

goals. Many of these allegations, although later shown to be wrong, have been exploited either as propaganda or as a pretext for war, as recently seen in the case of Iraq. It is clearly essential to draw the line between fiction and reality, particularly if, on the basis of such evidence, politicians call for a 'pre-emptive' war or allocate billions of dollars to research projects. Examples of such incorrect allegations include a British report before the Second World War that German secret agents were experimenting with bacteria in the Paris and London subways, using harmless species to test their dissemination through the transport system (Regis, 1999 Leitenberg, 2001). Although this claim was never substantiated, it might have had a role in promoting British research on anthrax in Porton Down and on Gruinard Island. During the Korean War, the Chinese, North Koreans and Soviets accused the USA of deploying biological weapons of various kinds. This is now seen as wartime propaganda, but the secret deal between the USA and Japanese bioweapons researchers did not help to diffuse these allegations (Moon, 1992). Later, the USA accused the Vietnamese of dropping fungal toxins on the US Hmong allies in Laos. However, it was found that the yellow rain associated with the reported variety of syndromes was simply bee faeces ( Fig. 3 Seeley et al., 1985). The problem with such allegations is that they develop a life of their own, no matter how unbelievable they are. For example, the conspiracy theory that HIV is a biological weapon is still alive in some people's minds. Depending on whom one asks, KGB or CIA scientists developed HIV to damage the USA or to destabilize Cuba, respectively. Conversely, in 1997, Cuba was the first country to officially file a complaint under Article 5 of the BTWC, accusing the USA of releasing a plant pathogen (Leitenberg, 2001). Although this was never proven, the USA did indeed look into biological agents to kill Fidel Castro and Frederik Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Miller et al., 2002).

Hmong refugees from Laos, who collaborated with the American armed forces during the Vietnam War, accused the Soviet Union of attacking them with biological or chemical weapons. However, the alleged toxin warfare agent known as yellow rain matches perfectly the yellow spots of bee faeces on leaves in the forest of the Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. (Image reprinted with permission from Seeley et al., 1985 © (1985) M. Meselson, Harvard University).

We are witnessing a renewed interest in biological warfare and terrorism owing to several factors, including the discovery that Iraq has been developing biological weapons (Zilinskas, 1997), several bestselling novels describing biological attacks, and the anthrax letters after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. As history tells us, virtually no nation with the ability to develop weapons of mass destruction has abstained from doing so. And the Soviet project shows that international treaties are basically useless unless an effective verification procedure is in place. Unfortunately, the same knowledge that is needed to develop drugs and vaccines against pathogens has the potential to be abused for the development of biological weapons ( Fig. 4 Finkel, 2001). Thus, some critics have suggested that information about potentially harmful pathogens should not be made public but rather put into the hands of 'appropriate representatives' (Danchin, 2002 Wallerstein, 2002). A recent report on anti-crop agents was already self-censored before publication, and journal editors now recommend special scrutiny for sensitive papers (Mervis & Stokstad, 2002 Cozzavelli, 2003 Malakoff, 2003). Whether or not such measures are useful deterrents might be questionable, because the application of available knowledge is clearly enough to kill. An opposing view calls for the imperative publication of information about the development of biological weapons to give scientists, politicians and the interested public all the necessary information to determine a potential threat and devise countermeasures.

. virtually no nation with the ability to develop weapons of mass destruction has abstained from doing so

Intimate interactions of hosts and pathogens. (A) The face of a smallpox victim in Accra, Ghana, 1967. (Photograph from the Center of Disease Control's Public Health Image Library.) (B) A poxvirus-infected cell is shown to illustrate just one of the many intricate ways in which pathogens can interact with, abuse or mimic their hosts. The virus is shown in red, the actin skeleton of the cell in green. Emerging viruses rearrange actin into tail-like structures that push them into neighbouring cells. (Image by F. Frischknecht and M. Way, reprinted with permission from the Journal of General Virology.)

The current debate about biological weapons is certainly important in raising awareness and increasing our preparedness to counter a potential attack. It could also prevent an overreaction such as that caused in response to the anthrax letters mailed in the USA. However, contrasting the speculative nature of biological attacks with the grim reality of the millions of people who still die each year from preventable infections, we might ask ourselves just how many resources we can afford to allocate in preparation for a hypothetical human-inflicted disaster.

State Qin&rsquos Failure After the War of Changping

After the War of Changping, Bai Qi suggested to immediately attack the State Zhao, because every one of Zhao was still in shock, and wasn&rsquot able to prepare for another war.

Bai Qi&rsquos this plan scared Qin&rsquos nearby empires, who then united together and sent a great deal of money to Fan Ju, the prime minister of the State Qin, and persuaded him to stop Bai Qi&rsquos strategy.

They convinced Fan Ju that if Bai Qi won and perished the State Zhao, Bai Qi would be more powerful and respectable in the State Qin.

Considering his career, plus Qin&rsquos soldiers and agriculture also required time to recover from those big wars, Fan Ju agreed. He persuaded the King of Qin to cease the war and accept reparations and some ceded cities from the State Zhao and Han.

However, months later, the State Zhao refused to cede those cities that they had promised.

On the contrary, Zhao sent plenty of treasures to the other five kingdoms and formed a solid alliance to confront the State Qin.

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Unearthed Bronze Carriage of the Warring States Period &mdash Nanjing Museum

The King of Qin was furious about this default, so he commanded Bai Qi to attack Zhao again.

But Bai Qi was sick at that time. He also persuaded the king not to fight this war.

Bai Qi believed that the State Zhao had well prepared at that time and led by great general Lian Po, every one of Zhao was ready to revenge for their sacrificed people in the War of Changping. Besides, the alliance was quite solid and strong this time.

The King of Qin didn&rsquot listen to him and initiated the war. As Bai Qi had predicted, the State Qin kept losing. Around 100,000 soldiers of Qin lost their lives in this war.

mv2.jpg/v1/fill/w_180,h_116,al_c,q_80,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01,blur_2/%E6%88%98%E5%9B%BD%E5%BC%A9%E5%A4%8D%E5%8E%9F%E5%9B%BE%20.jpg" />

Restored Crossbow of the Warring States Period &mdash Hubei Museum

5 Flaying And Staking

Another notable tactic of highly intimidating psychological warfare from ancient Assyria, the real ancient kings of brutality, was called flaying and staking. Flaying and staking is mentioned in the Holy Bible, and other surviving works depict this gruesome process, which was a horrific style of execution in the name of intimidation. It began with flaying the offender, usually a provincial governor of a conquered territory who refused to bow to the mighty Assyrian rule. The Assyrians would skin the person alive but not quite until death, just enough to make them suffer and to gather enough skin to place around the walls of wherever they were in order to scare off any rival armies.

Staking was similar to impalement, but the executioner would slowly shove the stake up through the anus of the condemned, taking great care to only move the vital organs aside so as to not kill the offender. [7] Then, in traditional impalement-like fashion, they would sometimes hoist the stake up by burying the butt end of it into the ground to put on display before their cities. The reason for the tedious process was to keep the person alive as long as possible, and sometimes, these poor condemned persons would live for several days on end.

Era of Turmoil Begins

In 1788, the Regent of Nepal sent Gurkha forces to invade Tibet.

The Qing Emperor responded in strength, and the Nepalese retreated.

The Gurkhas returned three years later, plundering and destroying some famous Tibetan monasteries. The Chinese sent a force of 17,000 which, along with Tibetan troops, drove the Gurkhas out of Tibet and south to within 20 miles of Kathmandu.

Despite this sort of assistance from the Chinese Empire, the people of Tibet chafed under increasingly meddlesome Qing rule.

Between 1804, when the Eighth Dalai Lama died, and 1895, when the Thirteenth Dalai Lama assumed the throne, none of the incumbent incarnations of the Dalai Lama lived to see their nineteenth birthdays.

If the Chinese found a certain incarnation too hard to control, they would poison him. If the Tibetans thought an incarnation was controlled by the Chinese, then they would poison him themselves.


  1. Burton Watson, trans., Records of the Grand Historian. Vol. 3: Qin Dynasty, (Chinese U. of Hong Kong Press Hong Kong, 1993), p. 184.Back to (1)
  2. For example, Thomas Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (Blackwell Oxford, 1989) Sechin Jagchid and Van Jay Symons, Peace, War and Trade along the Great Wall (Indiana University Press Bloomington, 1989) Yü Ying-shih, Trade and Expansion in Han China: A Study in the Structure of Sino-Barbarian Economic Relations (University of California Press Berkeley, 1967).Back to (2)
  3. See for example, Hong, Y. T. et al, 'A 6000-year record of changes in drought and precipitation in northeastern China based on a 13C time series from peat cellulose,' Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 185 (2001), 111-19 Kong Zhaochen et al, 'Neimenggu zizhiqu Chifengshi jujin 8000 – 2400 nian jian huanjing kaoguxue de chubu yanjiu' ['Preliminary environmental archaeology research on the period between 8000 - 2400 BP in Chifeng, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region'], Huanjing kaogu yanjiu, 1 (Beijing, 1991), 112-19 Qiu Shanwen et al, 'Dongbei xibu shadi gu turang yu quanxinshi huanjing' ['Ancient desert soils and the environment of the western area of northeast China during the Pleistocene'], in Zhongguo quanxinshi danuanqi qihou yu huanjing (Beijing, 1992), pp. 153-60 M. G. Winkler and P. K. Wang, 'The late-quaternary vegetation and climate of China,' in H. E. Wright, et al, eds, Global Climates since the Last Glacial Maximum (Minneapolis and London, 1993), pp. 221-64 Yang Zhirong and Suo Xiufen, 'Zhongguo beifang nongmu jiaocuodai dongnan bu hunajin kaogu yanjiu' ['Research of environmental archaeology of the southeastern part of the agriculture-pastoralism interaction zone of north China'], Huanjing kaogu yanjiu, 2 (Beijing, 2000), 81-8. I am grateful to Gideon Shelach for introducing me to these studies.Back to (3)
  4. F. Dikköter, The Discourse of Race in Modern China (Stanford University Press Stanford, 1992), pp. 1-30 ff.Back to (4)

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