The King Who Made War Illegal! Challenging the Official History of The
Art of War and the First Emperor
There are twogreat mysteriesaboutthe lifeof QinShi Huang,FirstEmperorof China—andagrand
conspiracy.Andthese tightlyrelatedeventsare of profoundsignificanceextendingwaybeyondthe
The young prince whowas far removedfromthe upperreachesof royal successioninthe state of Qin
probablydidn'tsee himself becomingfounderandemperorof China.Butthere were those whosawin
himsuch a destiny.A meetingthatwashardlydue tochance broughttogetherthatprince anda man
namedLü Pu-wei.Throughcareful nurturing,courtintrigue andagreatdeal of luck(includingthe
untimelydeathof seniormembersof the royal family) the youngprince Chengassumedthe throne of
the Qin Kingdomatage 13. Nowthat was remarkable enough,butwhocouldhave imaginedthatthis
youngman would,ina mere twenty-six years,endthe 200-yearlong"WarringStatesperiod"andfound
Ancient terra cotta statues. (Credit: BigStockPhoto)
The Child Who Made War Illegal
QinShi Huang succeededinconsolidatingstatesthathadbeenengagedinabrutal war for generations.
He establishedanewnational capital andsystemof government(still inplace today) andcancelledall
militaryandreligiousprivileges.The new nation,whicheliminatedfeudalismcenturiesbeforesucha
thingwas evendreamedpossible inEurope,made competence the solerequirementforemployment
and advancement.Privilegesthatemanatedfrommilitarypowerorreligiousinfluencewere eliminated.
In the newnationrule bylaw,equalityandmostimportantly - peace - were firmlyestablished.QinShi
Huang made war illegal.
The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang ( Public Domain )
How didthe youngking,injusta fewshortyearsfindouthow to endwar and founda nationbuilton
peace,andmake that happen?The kingwas firmlycommittedtothe bestrule ingovernance:surround
yourself withthe mostcompetentadvisorsandadministratorsyoucanfind.Hiscourt identifiedthe best
Theywere broughtto Qinwhere he hadestablishedaseriesof academiesdedicatedtolearningand
advancement.He gave the academyscholarsanincredible challenge.He toldthemhe wantedtoend
war— forever.Andhe wantedtobuildaunifiedChinathatwouldlast— forever.
Persuaders of Peace
The scholarsworkedlongand hard.In time,theydiscoveredafundamental principle thatwe donot
recognize tothisday:"Peace,"theysaid,"cannotbe made out of war. Peace can onlybe realized
Havingachievedthatmonumental understanding,theythensetouttodetermine whatthose peaceful
meansmightlooklike.Theytoldthe kingthathe neededtoengage abattalionof itinerant"persuaders"
to travel throughoutthe Middle Kingdom.Theywere tochallengepeople'sperceptionsandassumptions
such as the widespreadbelief thatwarwasnatural and unavoidable.Theywere promptedtoimagine a
time where stateslivedinharmony,landswere cultivated,andwhere average peoplehadareal chance
at comfortand improvement.These persuadersweremastersof theirart,andthey practicedit insmall
groups,and the courts of kings.
Persuaderswere trainedatthe academies,andastheytravelledthe land,theymade continual
reference toasmall manual that had guidedtheirlearning,andthatwasthe guide to theirnew
profession. The little manual waspocketsized,anditwasproducedbyQin'sSchool of SunTzu.
The Mysterious Manual
The manual didnot have a name.It time though,itbecame knownas"The Art of War." This wasan
invention.The firstsentenceinthe workbeginswith"The artof war...".In ancientChinese thatwas
expressedas"ping-fa,"butthe meaningof ping-fa2,300 years ago was"the art of diplomacy."Inmy
opinion,"diplomacy"aspreachedbythe Qinacademiesmeant,"How tomanage withoutthe waste of
conflict."The scope of these instructionswasbothinternal andexternal conflict.
A Chinese bamboo book, copy of The Art of War. The cover also reads " 乾隆御書", meaning it was
either commissioned or transcribed by the Qianlong Emperor. ( CC BY 2.0 )
Had someone pickedupacopy of the persuadermanual,theywouldthinkitajumble of mixed
strategiesandtacticsand odd,unintelligible stuffaboutmilitarymaneuvers.Afterall,ittalkedabout
armiesandbattles,stormingcastlesandsettingfires.Havinghadthe benefitof trainingundermasters,
the persuadersknewthatthe imagerywasan aidto learningandunderstandingandthe instructions
There may have beenanotherreasonforthe language andimagery:shouldapersuaderbe taken
prisonerasa spy,the manual wouldgive nothingawayaboutthe methodsbeingfollowed.If ping-fahad
beeninnon-metaphorical,non-militarylanguage,Qin's plansforpeaceful conquestwouldhave been
visible.Andthatcouldnotbe allowedtohappen.Itisfascinatingthatthisruse hasbeenperpetuated
Today,ping-faisfoundinthe militarystrategyandhistorysectionof bookstoresandlibraries.The
allegedmilitarycontexthasmigratedfromthe militaryacademiestoboardrooms,marital advice and
fitnessclubs;infact,it’sfoundinjustabouteverydomainwhere stridentcommandandcontrol are
preached.Andoften,institutionsthatlive bythatphilosophyhave the militaristversiononrequired
Today itis noteasyto evengainconsiderationof the possibilitythat ”SunTzu”was a mythical teacher,
and that the teachingswere metaphorical.Thathurdle remainsintactdespitelittle ornovalidhistorical
verificationof the book'sauthorship,age,orapplication.The bookremainsinthe militarygenre even
incomprehensibleandimpractical forthe managementof war.
QinShi Huang was the firstemperorof a unifiedChina.Hisremarkable successinending200 yearsof
war and foundingthe empirethroughpeaceful meanshadfollowedamethodologyfullyarticulatedina
manual that we knowtodayas The Art of War but whichauthorDavidJonesinsistsisreallyamanual for
the managementof organizationsandrelationsbetweenorganizations.
There are greatmysteriesaboutthe life of QinShi Huang,FirstEmperorof China—andagrand
conspiracy.Andthese tightlyrelatedeventsare of profoundsignificanceextendingwaybeyondthe
A greatdeal had gone intothe plansand executionthatendedtwohundredyearsof warand
establishedanempire.There were remarkable achievementsinthe waythe empire wasadministered,
and the changesthat had beenputinplace.Privilege andfeudalismwere eradicated.Placementand
promotionwere basedoncompetence—notconnections.Butthe firstempire endedinonlyfouryears
afterthe deathof QinShi Huang. What couldhave gone wrong?
Not Everlasting Life, but a Swift Death for the Emperor
The emperorwason dailymedicationsthatwere allegedlyintendedtomake himimmortal,butthey
were lead-based,andhe diedfrompoisoning. He diedbefore he hadfullyinstitutionalizedhisregime,
and he had no namedcompetentsuccessor.There were assassinationattemptsagainstthe emperor,
and itis notunreasonable tosuspectthatthe poisoningmayhave beenintentional.The enemiesof Qin
Shi Huang, whoclaimedthe "Mantle of Heaven,"consideredhimausurperandheretic.Infact,hisvery
existence wasanoffence tothem.
But oppositionwasnoteasilymobilized.The state'sroyal familieshadall beenmovedtothe new
down.But stabilityandsustainabilityall dependedona solidcore inthe empire.Itmightbe saidthat the
firstempire wasbasedona personality - apersonalitythathadachievedmiracles - andall of theminthe
livingmemoryof the population.Perhapsacoup wassimplyimpossible.
Withthe deathof QinShi Huangthe empire wobbled.It'slikelymanythoughthimimmortal.And
perhapsrecoverymighthave occurredif a strong successorhas followedhim.Butsuchwasnot to
happen.A seriesof weak,unprepared,andineffectual replacementspavedthe wayforwhatcouldhave
beena simple takeover.The official historystatesthatthe firstempire wasreplacedthoughanarmed
Propaganda and Political Fabrication
Withtheirreturnto powerinthe Han dynasty,the Confuciansandmilitaryregainedall thattheyhad
lost.But popularityandcommonsupportwere noteasilygained.The new regime knew thattheyhadto
discreditthe life andachievementsof the firstemperortoensure theybecame acceptedasthe
legitimate powerinthe newnation.Theydesignedanddeliveredacampaignof dis-information that
was extraordinary,unprecedented,andutterlysuccessful.Tothisday,the second(Han) dynastyis
consideredtobe the foundersof China,whileQinShi Huangandthe QinKingdomare givenshortshrift
inthe official histories.
The dis-informationprogramwasbrutal.Mostof itremainsenshrinedinwhatisconsideredthe history
of China,eventhoughmuchof itis unverified.Itincludedallegedfactsaboutthe emperorthatI dismiss
as political fabrication.Includedwereargumentsthatthe emperor:
o assembledanarmyof several hundredthousandsoldierstodestroythe neighboringstatesand
o decapitatedprisonersof warby the tensof thousands;
o burnedall booksthatdid notcoincide withhisviews;
o usedthe bodiesof workerstoreinforce the GreatWall;
o spentthe wealthof the nationonpalacesand luxuries;
o establishedasystemof professional andamateurspiestoreportondissidence withsevere
o drove the people into nearslaveryandpovertytomaintainthe armedstate.
QinShi Huang was lovedbythe people.He hadtravelledthroughoutthe nationmeetingthem, usinga
state of the art systemof highwaysthathe had constructedto improve commerce andcommunication.
He dramaticallyincreasedthe standardof livingandendedconscription.He made all citizenseligible to
compete foremployment.He regulatedtrade andstandardizedthe writtenlanguage.Inshort,the
people of the old"Middle Kingdom"neverhaditso good. Andsadly,itwas too goodto last.
The Incredible Terra Cotta Monument
Andnowwe come to anothermystery:QinShi Huang'snow-famousterracotta"army." Historiansand
tourismpromotersbelieveittobe an army in the same waythat othershave declared Ping-fathe "Artof
War." That declarationisbasedonappearance.Meaningandplaincommonsense have notbeen
The terra cotta array, while ithassoldiersandtransportvehicles,alsofeaturesahostof other"civilian"
images.Guides(andthe literature) atXi'anaffirmthatitwas constructedbythe First Emperor"to
protecthimin the afterlife."He apparentlyexpectedtocarryon withhisbattleseventhoughhe was
dead.QinShi Huang was a brilliantleader.Hismaterial andconceptual inventionswere centuriesahead
of histime,yetwe are toldthat he wantedto be protectedbyclaysoldiersafterhe died.Thisissimply
The Meaning Behind Ping-Fa
But if thisis nonsense,thenwhatwere theyfor?WhenItookon the job of unearthing whatping-fawas
reallyall about,Ifirstlookedatthe contextwithinwhichthe bookwaswritten.Then,whowrote it?
What was itusedfor?What did itachieve orhelpachieve?None of these questionshave been
addressedinthe SunTzu commentary.
They are the critical questions.Andinexaminingthe terracotta array,we needtoask more of the same.
There isa known,andundisputedfact: QinShi Huangcreateda new nationfromthe warringstates.It is
alsogenerallyagreedthathe prohibitedwarinthe new empire. Butthere islessagreementhow he
broughtall thisabout. The scant legitimate historyaboutthisperiodandthe nation-buildingprocess
can't seemto avoiddeclaringthatQinhad a massive armyof hundredsof thousandsof soldiers,and
that itcrushedthose opposedtoamalgamation.
Here'sjustone example:One reportonChina'sfoundingsaidthatthe Qinarmyof 600,000 captured
450,000 inone battle.Andthe army wasso intimidatingall these captivesstoodpatientlytobe
beheaded.This isclearlynonsense. Iargue thatthe evidence stronglysupportsthe ideathathe ended
war and foundedthe empirethroughpeaceful means,convincingthe warringstatesthatthere were far
more reasonsto come togetherintoa jointempire thantocontinue fightingamongthemselves.
Peace, Not War
What wouldmake sense intermsof the Terra Cotta Arrayis that he wantedtomake a profound,and
visible statementtothe people of Chinaaboutthe terrible timesof the 200-yearWarring Statesperiod,
and the grand newtimesof the Chinese empire.Andhe wouldwanthispeopletosee exactlywhatthe
costs of war were,andhowfoolishsuchexpenditureswere.Hisadvisorsmade itcleartohimthat peace
didnot come fromwar; actually,more war comesfromwar. Therefore,he wantedpeopletocome from
all areas of the empire tosee an exhibit.Theycouldnothave helpedbuttobe totallydazzled.Perhaps
some didgetto see it before the site wasterrorized,andalmosttotallydestroyedbythe marauding
warriorsof the Han dynasty.If there were recordsof the display,itsfunction,andwhatthe people's
reactionswere,theydidnotsurvive the Handynasty.
Xian (China) ‘Terra Cotta Array’ Panorama. ( CC BY 2.0 )
As a final footnote,we have todayabookthat showsinclear,concise stepshow toensure people can
live inpeace ina complex environment.We have anexhibitthatshowsjusthow dreadful the costsof
war are.We are lefttoconclude thatthoughpeace takesa greatdeal of work to achieve,wartakeseven
more work,and itsbenefitsare notat all evident.Bothare artifactsof QinShi Huang, the greatest
peacemakerandnationbuilderever.Butboththe monumentandthe bookare knownthroughoutthe
worldtoday— asinstrumentsof war.
1. Is thisarticle entirelyfactual?
Thisis an analysisthatcombinesknown,undisputedfacts - plusmyinterpretationsof certainfacts - in
deliveringacoherent,complete picture of eventsleadingupto,andfollowing,the establishmentof the
Chinese empire in221 BC. I am convincedthatfurtherarchaeological discoveries,includingthe opening
of QinShi Huang's tomb,will prove all thatiscontainedwithinthisarticle.
2. Couldwe applythe Sun Tzu methodologytodaytohelpachieve peace?
Yes,but we mustrecognize the factthat achievingpeace isfarmore difficultthanstartingawar. Peace
3. Is makingpeace costly?
It ishugelyexpensive inintelligence gathering,relationshipdevelopment,andmanagementand
communications.Butthe sumispaltrycomparedto the costs of war. If you wantto compare the costs
of peace andwar, ask— whatis a humanlife worth?
David G.Jones B.A.,M.A.is a retired governmentexecutiveand university teacher. Fellow of the
Universityof King'sCollege, he wasawarded theQueen'sJubilee Medal,and holdsan officer's
commission in theCanadian Army.Hehasbeen studying theoriginsof the Chineseempire for two
decades,and is authorof The School of SunTzu: WinningEmpireswithoutWar .
Jones,DavidG. (2012) ‘The School of SunTzu: WinningEmpireswithoutWar.’PublishedbyiUniverse
Giles,Lionel (1910) ‘The Art of War’. PublishedbyAllandaleOnline Publishing[Online] Available
Huang,J.H., ed.(1993) ‘The Art of War: The New Translation’. PublishedbyHarperCollinsCanada/Non-