The Yellow Emperor

The Battle of Banquan took place sometime around 2500BCE, perhaps near modern day Yuncheng in Shanxi province. The battle was between the tribe led by the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) and the Flame Emperor (Yandi).

The Chinese mythical hero Shennong, whose name literally means Divine Farmer taught farming as well as knowledge of herbs to the people. Shennong is considered to be amongst the Three Sovereigns known for imparting essential knowledge to mankind. It is believed that Shennong was the first of the Yan Emperors. The lineage lasted for perhaps more than 500 years from Shennong to the last Yan Emperor.

Shennong eating herbs to identify their properties
Shennong eating herbs to identify their properties

Yellow Emperor or Huangdi improved the lot of nomadic people by imparting knowledge of building shelter, taming of wild animals (he apparently tamed six special beasts, bear, brown bear, pi and xiu (Pixiu), Chu and tiger), building of carts, boats etc. He is also credited with growing of five Chinese cereals though some sources credits Shennong with this. He also invented Chinese calendar, astronomy, musical instruments, math calculations and also helped invention of Chinese character writing system.

Huangdi - The Yellow Emperor

Huangdi – The Yellow Emperor

The Yan emperor led his tribe in a campaign to conquer the nearby tribes who promptly turned to the Yellow Emperor for protection. Three battles were fought, last of which was the Battle of Banquan which resulted in the defeat and murder of the Yan Emperor and unification of the two tribes under the Yellow (Huang) Emperor. The new tribe was known as Yan Huang. Descendants of Yan and Yellow Emperor is a term to denote the Han Chinese people. The confederation of tribes was known as Huaxia which is an ancient term to refer to the Chinese civilization.

The fame of the Yellow Emperor led to the conflict with the tribe of Nine Li under Chi You. Chi You was some sort of supernatural creature who some believe was descendant of the Yandi (Yan Emperor). He could have been leader of an allied tribe of the Yan Emperor. He had 81 fierce brothers which may mean 81 allied clans. The resulting battle between the Yellow Emperor and Chi You was the Battle of Zhuolu.

Chi You

Chi You

During the battle, Chi You brought forth a thick fog which resulted in initial losses to the Huaxia. The Yellow Emperor then invented a South Pointing Chariot that helped orient the troops to the correct direction and brought them out of the fog. The South Pointing Chariot was a non-magnetic contraption. The chariot is first set up pointing towards South and then each twist and turn of chariot triggers a gear mechanism that keeps the pointer towards south. Chi You then brought down and ferocious storm. Yellow Emperor called upon her daughter, Nuba, a drought demon who dispelled the storm. Chi You was slain by Yinglong, the winged dragon.

Due to his ferocity in battle, Chi You was revered as the God of War. The tribes that were united under Chi You were dispersed or assimilated into the Huaxia tribes. Many Far Eastern people including the Koreans consider Chi You as their ancestor.

The Yellow Emperor thus established the primacy of the Huaxia tribe and laid the foundation of the Han Chinese civilization.

Median Empire

Astyages was the son of the “empire ender” Cyaraxes of Media. Astyages came to throne in 585 BCE after the death of Cyaraxes shortly after the battle of Halys river. The battle had taken place on May 28, 585 BCE. The battle ended abruptly due to a total solar eclipse. And this same total solar eclipse helps in identifying accurately the date of the battle.

Astyages was a “dreamer”. He dreamt that the son of his daughter Mandane would destroy his empire. Similar to the legend of Kansa (Krishna’s uncle), King Priam (Paris’s dad), and Laius (Father of Oedipus), Astyages decided that this is “not happening”. He looked around and decided that Cambyses I of the Achaemenid was “Quiet and Thoughtful Prince” to quote Herodotus and married Mandane of to him believing Cambyses I to be no threat. Later Astyages had another dream when Mandane become pregnant in which a vine tree from her womb took over the world. Astyages was a worried man. He sent his trusted general Harpagus to kill the child. Harpagus though was moral man loath to shed the royal blood. So he switched the child with a stillborn child of a shepherd, Mitradates. Remember that Krishna was also raised by a shepherd Vasudeva, Paris was raised by shepherds while Oedipus was also initially with couple of shepherds. Whats with abandoned children and shepherds!

The child was found to be alive and kicking at the age of ten playing King of the Hill. Astyages stupid magi told him that winning the game fulfills the prophecy of the child becoming king and thus is no longer a threat. Astyages lets the child live but decides to teach the treacherous Harpagus a lesson. Astyages orders the murder of only son of Harpagus and feeding him the general in a banquet. Harpagus did not react to this horrific act and bid his time.

The child became the king of the Achaemenid dynasty after his father Cambyses I, who was a vassal of the Median empire. Goaded by Harpagus, the grandson rebelled against his grandfather. After three years of struggle, Astyages’s troops mutinied during the battle of Pasargadae, probably arranged by Harpagus who led the troops. Astyages was defeated and captured, thus ending the Median empire in 550 BCE.

The child was Cyrus II also known as Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire (Achaemenid Empire) that at its peak was the largest empire in the history of the world in terms of percentage of world population under it.  About 50 million out of the then 112 million people, 44.48% of the total world population, lived and died under Cyrus.

The End of An Empire

Royal Library of Ashurbanipal was a great library discovered in the ruins of Nineveh in modern Iraq. Ashurbanipal was the last strong king of Assyria with his reign lasting almost 40 years (668 – 637 BCE). Ashurbanipal was a learned man, perhaps the only Assyrian king who could read and write. He built a great royal library which was perhaps the inspiration for the later Library of Alexandria. His library consisted of more than 10,000 distinct texts consisting of 30,000+ clay tablets and numerous wax boards and payrii. He was a strong king and used his wars and threats of war to stock his library with knowledge gleaned from various regions of Mesopotamia. This library is the best source of such classics as the Epic of Gilgamesh (the epic traces its origin to sometime around 18th century BCE) and the creation myth of Enuma Eli. I can imagine the king reclining on his bed with pretty ladies of the harem, enjoying the sweet taste of most expensive wine of the period and reading the epic of Gilgamesh and imagining himself doing the deeds of Gilgamesh.

 

Library of Ashurbanipal
Library of Ashurbanipal

The alliance of Nabopolassar of Babylonia and Cyaxares of Media was formalized by a marriage between the daughter of Cyaxares, Amytis, and the son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar II. It was this Amytis, the legend has it, for whom Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Garden of Babylon, so that she would not miss her native Media. It was this Nebuchadnezzar II after whom Saddam Hussein named one of his Elite Republican Guard Division. The alliance later included the Scythians and Cimmerians. Taking advantage of the internal strife in the Assyrian empire, this alliance of nations that were under the domination of Assyria for a long time waged a war against the Assyrian empire for almost ten years (616 BCE – 605 BCE). This long war included another battle of Megiddo where Necho II of Egypt, who was on his way to assists the Assyrians, defeated King Josiah of Judah. Nineveh, the great capital of Assyrian empire, fell in 612 BCE. The capital of the empire was then moved to Harran that survived a two year siege but fell in 610 BCE. The capital was again moved to Carchamesh. The battle of Carchamesh in 605 BCE finally sealed the fate of the Assyrian Empire. Within 20 years of death of mighty Ashurbanipal, Assyrian empire that had been one of the strongest and greatest kingdom/empire in the greater Mesopotamia for almost 1500 years (21st Century BCE – 7th Century BCE) ceased to exists as an independent nation.

Armageddon

The book of Revelation, verse 16:14-16, implies that the Devil will gathered the Kings of Earth and the whole world into a place called in hebrew, Armageddon or Har Megiddo i.e. the Mountain of Megiddo. Megiddo is a plain in Israel, which was the location of many old Fortresses and consequently many battles. Apparently, the memory of the battles had such an impact that the writers of Bible accorded it the honor of hosting the Last Battle.

Thus it should not come to us as a surprise that the first detailed historical account of a battle was of the Battle of Megiddo which took place in the season of battles (Spring) of 1457 BCE i.e. almost 3500 years ago. The battle was fought between the Egyptian empire under Pharaoh Thutmose III and his vassal states of Kadesh, Megiddo, Canaan that rose in rebellion.

Tuthmose III
Tuthmose III

Forces under Thutmose III that numbered between ten to twenty thousand and consisted of chariots and infantry marched from their border fortresses to first Gaza and then to Yahem. In total, this journey took 22 days (10 days to Gaza, one day rest and then 11 days to Yahem). The opposing forces numbered between ten to fifteen thousand. Battle of Megiddo is the first battle for which such detailed description is provided.

There were three routes to the fortress of Megiddo from Yehem. The northern and southern approaches were easy and the middle approach was a difficult one where in the soldiers could move only in single file. This would make an ambush catastrophic. Thutmose’s generals advised him to take the northern or southern approach. But the “Napoleon  of Egypt” decided that his enemies would also expect him to do the same and thus followed the difficult route. It was revealed then that the northern and southern routes were defended by rebel infantry.

Battle of Megiddo
Battle of Megiddo

Thutmose III attacked next day quickly defeating the defenders who retreated to the city. Here is where the discipline that would be there in a professional standing army (like that of Tiglath Pileser III) was found missing in the Egyptian forces. Instead of pressing their attack to the city, the “army” took to plundering the enemy camp. This gave the defenders enough time to regroup inside the city. The inability to capture the city quickly resulted in a long siege of the city by Thutmose’s forces. The siege took seven months and at the end of it the city fell with plunder of 340 prisoners, 2,041 mares, 191 foals, 6 stallions, 924 chariots, 200 suits of armor, 502 bows, 1,929 cattle, 22,500 sheep, and the royal armor, chariot and tent-poles of the King of Megiddo coming Egyptian’s way. I believe that the reference to royal armor and tent poles implies complete subjugation of the King of Megiddo and may be his execution. There is reference of King of Kadesh escaping but nothing about the King of Megiddo.

The battle reasserted the Egyptian dominance of Canaan and was the first step in Thutmose III extending the Egyptian empire to its greatest extent.

A layman’s view on US vs China

China concentrated on economy in the past few decades learning from the mistakes of Soviet Union that it is not worth competing with US over military expenditure. China, in the immediate future, is more concerned about its neighborhood. i.e. India, Taiwan, Japan, South China Sea. Chinese plan seems to be to reach a stage where it would be very difficult for US to interfere in any action that China takes. China also has a very effective stooge in the form of North Korea. The Chinese economy is so intermixed with that of US that China believes that in the future, in any conflict in the region, US will think that it is not worth interfering. Thus effectively giving China a sphere of influence encompassing most of East and South East Asia.

To achieve this parity, China needs to neutralize the US Navy, US AirForce, US technology, US allies. Lets look at each.

US Navy:
The primary US naval weapons are its carriers. China knows the results of the big carrier battles that took place between the US and Japan during the second world war and knows that building a carrier force to counter US carrier fleet is not sustainable. For one, you need to build at least 10 carriers. US has 12 in its fleet. Allowing for the chance that at least half of them would be at home ports or deployed elsewhere, China can expect that in extreme conditions US will put 6 carrier in the pacific. In the gulf wars, US had deployed 3 carriers. Given the strength of China, we can expect 6. Building a naval fleet of 10 carriers to have a chance of defeating US 6, would take a long time and a lot of money. Besides just building a fleet is not enough. You need the carrier air wing and the experienced pilots to fly the planes. PLAN knows that it cant match the skill of US navy pilots who have an experience of more than 70 years in carrier operations. So carriers are out.

Flight deck of USS Harry S Truman

 

Chinese Aircraft carrier Varyag in 2005

To neutralize the US carriers, China is developing/deployed carrier killers. Intermediate range ballistic missiles accurate enough to hit a floating carrier. Aegis missile cruisers with their SM2 and SM3 missiles can counter it, but a large number of missiles can still overwhelm them. It just takes one missile to breach the shield. Carriers will have to come inside the range of shore based fighters to hit targets on the mainland. Shore based fighters armed with harpoon like anti ship missiles could be another option. Swarms of anti ship cruise missiles are another option. Chinese Song class diesel submarines and newer nuclear submarines are also another weapon. Remember the incident when a Song class submarine surfaced near a US carrier and none of the 18 carrier group ships detected them? If not sink the carriers, it can at least neuter their effectiveness.

USS Lake Champlain - A Triconderoga class Aegis missile cruiser - The light gray squares fore and aft are the Vertical Launching System containing various missiles including the Standard Missiles

US Airforce:
China is developing its own fifth generation stealth aircraft which experts believe would be somewhere between the capability of an F22 Raptor and an F35 Lightning II and much much cheaper. With the F22 facing serious issues (The entire fleet was grounded recently) and Chinese Chengdu J20 being ahead of schedule (Estimated time for deployment 2017-18), the US air superiority is questionable. The cost of F35 has ballooned beyond the wildest planning and it is now the most expensive weapons system in the world history without the number or the quality associated with it. China can purchase far more of its homegrown stealth planes and would have far larger number of bases out of which to operate. The number of bases that US has in the region is limited. These bases would also be susceptible to missile strikes. Taking out Kadina in japan would itself take out the entire F22 fleet of the region. Obviously US will disburse its air wing. With the superior number of its stealth airplanes, Chinese could overwhelm any US air wing within 30-40 sorties. One of the main reasons for US air superiority in recent wars have been its AWACS. The US war plan has these AWACS operating outside the missile range of enemy fighters and directing their own fighters against the enemy ones. No enemy fighters could reach the AWACS. Chinese stealth fighters could sneak up on the AWACS and take them out resulting in the US stealth fighters having to turn on their own radars instead of relying on AWACS making them easier to find. China also will be operating close to its own territory thus can use its own shore/ship based radars. Compared to the size of Chinese armed forces the other forces in the region would have fewer shore based radars that could help USAF. Also, the sheer number of cheap home built radars would help the non stealth Chinese fighters (Cheaper and older home built J7 and J8 and more modern SU27, SU30 MKK, Shenyang J11 and Chengdu J10) to take on the US F15s and F16s.

F22 Raptop

 

J20 Vs F22 Vs T-50

US B52 bombers used so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, can only be used where there is complete air superiority otherwise they are just lumbering easy targets. 30 of them were shot down in the Vietnam war by the much inferior Vietnamese air force. Imagine how many of the 74 remaining would be shot down by the Chinese. Only the B2 and B1 would be able to pose a serious challenge. But their effectiveness in turning the war would be limited considering their small numbers. Plus one B2 costs more than a billion dollar. China would have to just destroy 4-5 of the 20 B2s for them to have a loss rate of more than 25% and then being confined back home.

US Technology:
Chinese Cyber soldiers have been stealing secrets from the US government and contractors for years. Chengdu J20 looks surprisingly similar to F22 to realize its origins lies in Lockheed Martin (or may be the design is too optimal to be ignored). China is building its own GPS network to not rely on Glonass or the US GPS. With its anti sat missiles, blinding lasers China could at least attempt to take out US GPS and recon satellites to at least limit their usefulness.

US allies:
None of the US allies in the region, Japan, Korea, Taiwan have the kind of strength to take on China. Their contribution would be mostly more as a support and base locations. The only US “Ally” that could change the course of war is India. If in a full fledged US-China war, India enters on US side, they could tie up a lot of Chinese airforce plus threaten Chinese bases with their carriers.

One thing that goes in favor for US is experience. US armed forces have continuously been involved in one conflict or the other for the past 200 years. That sort of experience counts a lot. A single veteran soldier is worth more than a few rookies. US is not going to fight the war with a fixed play book. They are smart and will figure out ways to counter Chinese strengths during the war. US commanders are experienced and have sufficient freedom to operate independently. Chinese military leaders lack that. In addition, US armed forces are well integrated. Navy, AirForce, Army are used to heavy coordination with each other. China is still to learn that. US also does regular military exercises with its allies thus interoperability in war is improved. Plus we are not counting the other US allies, UK, Britain, France, Germany. They can turn the war. China does not have an ally except North Korea, which would just want to fight with South Korea and cannot be relied on to go by the plan. Russia can get enough spooked by a rising china on its southern border to support the allies, if not by actual force, at least by mobilization. That will tie up a lot of Chinese assets on their northern border.

The conclusion of the long writeup: China – US one on one can go either way. With everyone involved, the allies win.

Disclaimer: The views are my own and I am neither a military strategist nor related in any remote way to armed forces of any nation.