A "total War"? Rethinking Military Ideology in the Book of Lord Shang

Yuri Pines*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The Book of Lord Shang, commonly identified as a major work of the so-called Legalist school, is also an important, albeit much neglected treatise in the history of Chinese military thought. Beyond specific recommendations concerning both defensive and offensive warfare, the book presents a coherent view that the state should restructure its socioeconomic and cultural policies in order to turn every man into a valiant soldier. The book epitomizes the ideology of "total war" in which the differences between civilian and military affairs are blurred. The society is profoundly militarized and the army, in turn, is profoundly bureaucratized. This article explores military thought in the Book of Lord Shang and focuses on its views of mobilization, indoctrination of soldiers, military discipline, rules of military engagement, and military command. I further deal with the question of why the book's military ideology has been all but neglected after the end of the Han dynasty.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)97-134
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Chinese Military History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


  • Book of Lord Shang
  • Warring States
  • mass armies
  • military thought


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