“It is too soon to ask the weight of the Emperor’s cauldrons.”
—Spring and Autumn Annals
In Chinese history, there is no 1492 or 1776. China’s rich history dates back more than three millennia. China cherishes no founding myth like the story of a promised land given to Abraham or a precise moment of creation like the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Instead, China’s history is one of war and rivalries within fixed geographic boundaries—vast oceans to the east, forbidding deserts to the north, tow- ering mountains to the west. Dynasties and rulers have come and gone, and in the Chinese way of thinking, they will come and go for millennia to come. As Henry Kissinger has noted, “China’s sense of time beats to a different rhythm from America’s. When an American is asked to date a historical event, he refers to a specific day on the calendar; when a Chi- nese describes an event, he places it within a dynasty. And of the fourteen imperial dynasties, ten have each lasted longer than the entire history of the United States.”1 The Chinese ying pai hawks do not get lost in their long, complex history; instead, they have sought specific lessons from his- torical successes and failures that they can use to win the Marathon.
The hawks write books about a key era of history out of which China was forged, known as the Spring Autumn and Warring States periods2— five centuries of largely political struggles. The final two-and-a-half- century stretch began around 475 BC and ended with the unification of seven feuding states under the Qin dynasty. (The word China comes from Qin.) Both periods were plagued by power politics, intrigue, decep- tion, and open warfare among China’s warlords. It was a brutal, Darwin- ian world of competition, where warlords formed coalitions to oust one another, all with the goal of becoming the ba, roughly equivalent to the English word hegemon. Five ba rose and fell in the Spring Autumn period, then two coalitions competed in the Warring States. The hawks draw les- sons for the Marathon from both.
The ying pai strategists in Beijing have long drawn key lessons from the Warring States period, lessons that in large measure define China’s approach to strategy today. However, the China policy community in the United States has only recently come to grips with this fact—and even today this view is not widely accepted across the U.S. government. Our decades-long ignorance of China’s strategic thinking has been costly; our lack of understanding has led us to make concessions to the Chinese that seem outright senseless in hindsight.