Iraq Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

Terra Cotta Soldiers (CC BY 2.0), and Qin Shi Huang in a 19th century portrait (Public Domain);Deriv.

The King Who Made War Illegal! Challenging the Official History of The Art of War and the Terra Cotta Army–Part II

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of a unified China. His remarkable success in ending 200 years of war and founding the empire through peaceful means had followed a methodology fully articulated in a manual that we know today as The Art of War but which author David Jones insists is really a manual for the management of organizations and relations between organizations.

There are great mysteries about the life of Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of China—and a grand conspiracy. And these tightly related events are of profound significance extending way beyond the borders of China.

[Read Part I here]

A portrait painting of Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of the Qin Dynasty.

A portrait painting of Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. (Public Domain)

A great deal had gone into the plans and execution that ended two hundred years of war and established an empire. There were remarkable achievements in the way the empire was administered, and the changes that had been put in place. Privilege and feudalism were eradicated. Placement and promotion were based on competence—not connections. But the first empire ended in only four years after the death of Qin Shi Huang. What could have gone wrong?

Not Everlasting Life, but a Swift Death for the Emperor

The emperor was on daily medications that were allegedly intended to make him immortal, but they were lead-based, and he died from poisoning. He died before he had fully institutionalized his regime, and he had no named competent successor. There were assassination attempts against the emperor, and it is not unreasonable to suspect that the poisoning may have been intentional. The enemies of Qin Shi Huang, who claimed the "Mantle of Heaven," considered him a usurper and heretic. In fact, his very existence was an offence to them.

A 19th century ukiyo-e by Kuniyoshi depicting the ships of the great sea expedition sent around 219 BC by the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, to find the legendary home of the immortals, the Mount Penglai, and retrieve the elixir of immortality.

A 19th century ukiyo-e by Kuniyoshi depicting the ships of the great sea expedition sent around 219 BC by the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, to find the legendary home of the immortals, the Mount Penglai, and retrieve the elixir of immortality. (Public Domain)

But opposition was not easily mobilized. The state's royal families had all been moved to the new capital. Their supports and networks has been shattered. All weapons had been confiscated and melted down. But stability and sustainability all depended on a solid core in the empire. It might be said that the first empire was based on a personality - a personality that had achieved miracles - and all of them in the living memory of the population. Perhaps a coup was simply impossible.

With the death of Qin Shi Huang the empire wobbled. It's likely many thought him immortal. And perhaps recovery might have occurred if a strong successor has followed him. But such was not to happen. A series of weak, unprepared, and ineffectual replacements paved the way for what could have been a simple takeover. The official history states that the first empire was replaced though an armed revolution led by peasants who despised Qin Shi Huang. This is almost certainly false.

Propaganda and Political Fabrication

With their return to power in the Han dynasty, the Confucians and military regained all that they had lost. But popularity and common support were not easily gained. The new regime knew that they had to discredit the life and achievements of the first emperor to ensure they became accepted as the legitimate power in the new nation. They designed and delivered a campaign of dis-information that was extraordinary, unprecedented, and utterly successful. To this day, the second (Han) dynasty is considered to be the founders of China, while Qin Shi Huang and the Qin Kingdom are given short shrift in the official histories.

The dis-information program was brutal. Most of it remains enshrined in what is considered the history of China, even though much of it is unverified. It included alleged facts about the emperor that I dismiss as political fabrication. Included were arguments that the emperor:

  • assembled an army of several hundred thousand soldiers to destroy the neighboring states and maintain order;
  • decapitated prisoners of war by the tens of thousands;
  • buried scholars alive;
  • burned all books that did not coincide with his views;
  • used the bodies of workers to reinforce the Great Wall;
  • spent the wealth of the nation on palaces and luxuries;
  • established a system of professional and amateur spies to report on dissidence with severe punishment for real or imagined infractions;
  • drove the people into near slavery and poverty to maintain the armed state.

Qin Shi Huang was loved by the people. He had travelled throughout the nation meeting them, using a state of the art system of highways that he had constructed to improve commerce and communication. He dramatically increased the standard of living and ended conscription. He made all citizens eligible to compete for employment. He regulated trade and standardized the written language. In short, the people of the old "Middle Kingdom" never had it so good. And sadly, it was too good to last.

The Incredible Terra Cotta Monument

And now we come to another mystery: Qin Shi Huang's now-famous terra cotta "army." Historians and tourism promoters believe it to be an army in the same way that others have declared Ping-fa the "Art of War." That declaration is based on appearance. Meaning and plain common sense have not been applied.

Statue from the ‘Terra Cotta Array’, China.

Statue from the ‘Terra Cotta Array’, China. (CC BY 2.0)

The terra cotta array, while it has soldiers and transport vehicles, also features a host of other "civilian" images. Guides (and the literature) at Xi'an affirm that it was constructed by the First Emperor "to protect him in the afterlife." He apparently expected to carry on with his battles even though he was dead. Qin Shi Huang was a brilliant leader. His material and conceptual inventions were centuries ahead of his time, yet we are told that he wanted to be protected by clay soldiers after he died. This is simply nonsense.

The Meaning Behind Ping-Fa

But if this is nonsense, then what were they for? When I took on the job of unearthing what ping-fa was really all about, I first looked at the context within which the book was written. Then, who wrote it? What was it used for? What did it achieve or help achieve? None of these questions have been addressed in the Sun Tzu commentary.

The unearthed Bamboo slips of the manual dubbed "Art of War" discovered in 1972 in the what is now Shandong Province.

The unearthed Bamboo slips of the manual dubbed "Art of War" discovered in 1972 in the what is now Shandong Province. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

They are the critical questions. And in examining the terra cotta array, we need to ask more of the same.

Statues from the ‘Terra Cotta Array’

Statues from the ‘Terra Cotta Array’ (CC BY 2.0)

There is a known, and undisputed fact: Qin Shi Huang created a new nation from the warring states. It is also generally agreed that he prohibited war in the new empire.  But there is less agreement how he brought all this about.  The scant legitimate history about this period and the nation-building process can't seem to avoid declaring that Qin had a massive army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and that it crushed those opposed to amalgamation.

Here's just one example: One report on China's founding said that the Qin army of 600,000 captured 450,000 in one battle. And the army was so intimidating all these captives stood patiently to be beheaded. This is clearly nonsense. I argue that the evidence strongly supports the idea that he ended war and founded the empire through peaceful means, convincing the warring states that there were far more reasons to come together into a joint empire than to continue fighting among themselves. 

Peace, Not War

What would make sense in terms of the Terra Cotta Array is that he wanted to make a profound, and visible statement to the people of China about the terrible times of the 200-year Warring States period, and the grand new times of the Chinese empire. And he would want his people to see exactly what the costs of war were, and how foolish such expenditures were. His advisors made it clear to him that peace did not come from war; actually, more war comes from war. Therefore, he wanted people to come from all areas of the empire to see an exhibit. They could not have helped but to be totally dazzled. Perhaps some did get to see it before the site was terrorized, and almost totally destroyed by the marauding warriors of the Han dynasty. If there were records of the display, its function, and what the people's reactions were, they did not survive the Han dynasty.

Xian (China) ‘Terra Cotta Array’ Panorama.

Xian (China) ‘Terra Cotta Array’ Panorama. (CC BY 2.0)

As a final footnote, we have today a book that shows in clear, concise steps how to ensure people can live in peace in a complex environment. We have an exhibit that shows just how dreadful the costs of war are. We are left to conclude that though peace takes a great deal of work to achieve, war takes even more work, and its benefits are not at all evident. Both are artifacts of Qin Shi Huang, the greatest peacemaker and nation builder ever. But both the monument and the book are known throughout the world today— as instruments of war.

Final Notes:

1. Is this article entirely factual?

This is an analysis that combines known, undisputed facts - plus my interpretations of certain facts - in delivering a coherent, complete picture of events leading up to, and following, the establishment of the Chinese empire in 221 BC. I am convinced that further archaeological discoveries, including the opening of Qin Shi Huang's tomb, will prove all that is contained within this article.

2. Could we apply the Sun Tzu methodology today to help achieve peace?

Yes, but we must recognize the fact that achieving peace is far more difficult than starting a war. Peace requires very hard work, and the work never ends.

3. Is making peace costly?

It is hugely expensive in intelligence gathering, relationship development, and management and communications. But the sum is paltry compared to the costs of war. If you want to compare the costs of peace and war, ask— what is a human life worth?


David G. Jones B.A., M.A. is a retired government executive and university teacher. Fellow of the University of King's College, he was awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal, and holds an officer's commission in the Canadian Army. He has been studying the origins of the Chinese empire for two decades, and is author of The School of Sun Tzu: Winning Empires without War.


Top Image: Terra Cotta Soldiers (CC BY 2.0), and Qin Shi Huang in a 19th century portrait (Public Domain);Deriv.

By David G Jones


Jones, David G. (2012) ‘The School of Sun Tzu: Winning Empires without War.’ Published by iUniverse

Giles, Lionel (1910) ‘The Art of War’. Published by Allandale Online Publishing [Online] Available at:

Huang, J.H., ed. (1993) ‘The Art of War: The New Translation’.  Published by HarperCollins Canada / Non-Fiction; 1 edition

Shibumi's picture

David G

David G. Jones B.A., M.A. is a retired government executive and university teacher and administrator. Among other achievements, he is a Fellow of the University of King's College and was awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal. He also holds an officer's... Read More

Next article