Social, Economic and Political Impacts of Warfare

“Listen up! There’s no war that will end all wars”. The wise words spoken by the Japanese writer
Haruki Murakami, whose books and stories sold well both Japan and internationally, on the one
side, demonstrates that warfare cannot be fully foolproof to achieve political stability. On the
other side, it contends that victories in warfare cannot prevent future wars from taking place.
Nonetheless, can it be argued that warfare threatens the society as a whole? Or In other words,
“ How does warfare play the role in a country’s politics, economy, technology and culture? By
comparing and contrasting the three countries: China, Japan and the Mongols, readers can
have a better understanding of the themes that are present in the warfare. And accordingly, this
paper will argue that warfare is detrimental to a society as a whole. Although warfare advances
technology to some extent, it seriously damages a nation’s political stability, economic
development and cultural preservation as analyzed below.

From the perspective of politics, one can obviously see that though warfare can be a means to
overthrow an old dynasty, it can not guarantee the stability of a new empire. First, readers may
take Qin dynasty as an example. During the early Zhou times, The rulers of Zhou adopted the
political system of enfeoffment to reign the country. They divided the land and its people to the
imperial kinsmen, meritorious officials and the nobles, whom were ordered to go to various
regions to become princes and establish their own vassal states. This kind of hereditary ruling
system resulted in contentions among vassals for more than five hundred years. Qin state, as
stated in the assigned reading Li Si, “The feudal state of Qin, utilizing Legalist practices of
strong centralization of power, regimentation of its people, and aggressive warfare, had built
itself up to a position of formidable strength in the late Zhou dynasty”(Li Si). Here, one can
realize that Qin state stood out from the other states through the Legalists’ ideas of radical wars
and harsh regulations of its people. In 221 B.C.E, Qin finally defeated all of his enemies and

unified China. Under the system of Prefectures and Counties, the country was brought into the
direct and absolute control of the central government. However, the Qin dynasty only lasted for
less than fifteen years, which was attributed to the emperor’s tyranny, extravagance as well as a
series system of ruthless penalties. For instance, in the textbook, it briefly describes Qin’s laws
as, “The penalties imposed by Qin law were hard labor, physical mutilation, banishment,
slavery, or death”(chapter 3). As a result, many popular revolts broke out and Qin was
unfortunately forced to surrender its rule. Hence, readers can learn that although the aggressive
warfare helps Qin dynasty reached the pinnacle of power, it cannot eventually make Qin empire
maintain a stable rule. In contrast, the subsequent Han dynasty did not put to use the ideas of
Legalism but instead completely abided by the Confucianism based on a centralized rule which
was set up by the former Qin dynasty. During the rule of Emperor Wu, there was a heated
debate going on, known as the debate on Salt and iron. The groups of confusion scholars
quoted the Conducian words, expressing “Instead they all should set examples of benevolence
and duty and virtuously care for people, for then, those nearby will flock to them and those far
away will joyfully submit your their authority”(The debate on salt and iron). From the statement
above, one can know that the reason why Han dynasty could achieve a relatively political
stability was believed to partly due to the closely implementation of Confucianism centered on
benevolent governance. Then, readers can shift the gaze to Kamakura shogunate of Japan
during the twelfth century. In 1180, Minamoto no Yoritomo initiated the civil war against the
Taira clan, which was known as the “Genpei War”. The five-year civil war resulted in the
downfall of Kiyomori and the rise of the Kamakura military government under Yoritomo in 1192.
However, as the Mongol threat approached, the Kamakura government summoned their
samurai in 1274 to wage a war of resistance against the Mongol invasion. Even though Japan
triumphed, the winning came at a huge cost. As what it is stated in the textbook, “Building

defenses against the second invasion reduced food production. The Hōjō made promises of
rewards they could not keep and pressured temples for money” (chapter 11). Here, one can see
that the military rewarding system carried out by former leader Yoritomo was beginning to
crumble due to the defense war, and the government did not have the financial support to
sustain the needs of the samurai. This battle against the Mongol was considered to be a trigger
for the decline of the Kamakura regime according to the following explanation in the textbook.
Therefore, it illustrates that the warfare will instead threaten the political stability of a country.


From the point of view of the economy, warfare hinders economic prosperity. During the Han
dynasty, the seventh emperor, known as Emperor Wu, who was believed to be one of the most
great significant emperors who had exerted an enormous influence on the history of China. He
initiated large-scale wars to fight against a non-Chinese nomadic tribes. In chapter 3 concerning
the Han dynasty, the author opposes the wars conducted by the Emperor Wu, explaining, “To
push the Xiongnu back, he sent several armies of one hundred thousand to three hundred
thousand troops deep into Xiongnu territory. These costly campaigns were of limited value
because the Xiongnu were a moving target…it was very difficult for Chinese troops to carry
enough food to stay long in Xiongnu territory” (chapter 3). Here, it helps to understand that the
expenses of fighting the Huns outweighed the benefits of it. Elsewhere, in the assigned reading,
Emperor Wu had to implement a series of system changes, for example, “ To generate the
revenue to pay for these military ventures, Emperor Wu manipulated coinage, confisticated the
lands of nobles, sold offices and titles, also established government monopolies in the
production of iron, salt, and liquor, enterprises that had previously been sources of great profit
for private entrepreneurs. Large-scale grain dealing had also been a profitable business, which
the government now took over under the name of the system of equable marketing” (The

Debate on Salt and Iron). From the statement above, one can know that though Emperor Wu
increased the fiscal revenue by the central government, this act got the government involved in
the competition with the public, which inhibited the
commercial development of the private businesses. From the long run perspective, the
monopoly of coinage, salt and iron hinders the historical opportunity of China’s market
economy. Now, readers can shift their attention to the Mongol conquest of the southern Song
Dynasty of China. The Mongols constantly launched three major wars against the Song
dynasty, which were subsequently depicted in the textbook as the following, “In 1268, The
Mongols set siege to Xiangyang, a major city on a northern tributary leading into the Yangzi
River; The Mongols, landing their cavalry on both sides of the river and using catapults to
destroy Song ships, still prevailed; The final battle occurred off the coast of Guangdong
province”(chapter 12). It is through these three major wars that the Mongols successfully
eliminated southern Song dynasty and became the first ethnic group to unify China. Yet, the
establishment of the Yuan dynasty did not prosper the economy of China. Even though the
Mongols encouraged international trade between China and other countries, the economy of
China had been stagnant for a long period of time as it is recorded in the textbook, “…the
economy of north China, in particular, was hard hit by the Mongols and began a downward
spiral that took centuries to reverse. First came the devastation of the initial conquest. Restoring
production was impeded by widespread scattering of the population, much of it forced be the
conquerors. Taxation. Once it was in the hands of tax farmers, was often ruinous. The Mongols
had difficulty regulating the paper currency, and by the fourteenth century inflation was
rampant”(chapter 12). From the statement above, one can learn the fact that the warfare
subsequently initiated by the Mongols led to China’s economy held back in the long term. The

Yuan dynasty survived 276 years until it ended in 1386 as a result of political corruption and
aggravation of class contradictions.

With regards to the cultural improvement, many of the past cultural classics had not been
inherited through the series of warfare. As continue to analyze the negative effects on China’s
culture of the conquest of the Song Dynasty by Khubai. In chapter 12, there are several
examples demonstrating that the Mongols severely damaged the Chinese culture. For instance,
as the book puts forth, “ The Mongols, like the Khitans and Jurchens before them, did not see
anything particularly desirable in the openness of Chinese society, with opportunities for people
to rise in status through hard work or education. They aimed instead at stability and placed
people in hereditary occupational categories…Besides these occupational categories, the
Mongols classified the population into four grades, apparently as a way to keep the Chinese
from using their numbers to gain a dominant position”(chapter 12). From here, readers can
know that know that the Mongols adopted a feudal and conservative system to classify people,
which degraded the status of the Chinese. In regards to the legal system, the textbook
introduces to readers, “Chinese were subject to severe penalties if they fought back when
attacked by a Mongol. Mongols, however, merely had to pay a fine if found guilty of murdering a
Chinese”(chapter 12). Here, the strong inequalities arouses people’s utmost indignation.
Elsewhere, as to the examination system, the Mongols “had the effect of limiting opportunities
for those from the southeast where educational traditions were strongest. On top of that, only
about 2 percent of the positions in the bureaucracy were filled through the examination system.”
Taking all of these policies into consideration, the Mongols exerts irresistible negative effects on
Chinese culture. Another evidence of the failure to protect the cultural treasures was the
“burning of the books and the execution of Confucian scholars” formulated by emperor Qin Shi

Huang. These acts of destruction were detailed in the Li Si, “ The first was an effort to achieve
thought control through destroying all literature except the Classics of Changes, the royal
archives of the Qin house, and books on technical subjects, such as medicine, agriculture, and
forestry. The measure was aimed particularly at the Classic of Documents and the Classic of
Odes. The execution of some 460 scholars in the following year was an attempt to eliminate
opposition to the emperor by ruthlessly destroying all potentially ‘subversive’ elements”(Li Si).
Here, though Qin dynasty achieved the unification of China, yet it caused great loss of
ideological and cultural classics.

On accounts of technology, technology can be facilitated by the occurrence of warfare. For
instance, during the eastern Zhou dynasty, Even though the nature of warfare changed from the
“righteousness” to “aggression”, warfare accelerated the development of technology to cope
with new brutal fighting. As for Japan, because of the shogunate’s economic inclusion and
tax-exempt system, the means of production were rapidly improved and the agricultural
productivity were higher than before.

When it comes to the military and non-military elites, the Qin dynasty realized the transition from
the patriarchal clan system, also known as “hereditary monopoly”, to the prefectural and county
system under the imperial power through warfare. As to the Mongols government, there were
few opportunities for Chinese educated elites to take positions in government as compared to
there had been before the Mongols’s rule as Yuan dynasty deployed most people from other
ethnic groups. However, in contrary to the non-military elites system in China, the Kamakura
shogunate developed a strict system of feudal hierarchy dominated by the samurai.

To sum up, warfare does not bring social development and human progress. Political instability,
economic decline and cultural loss will be the victims of warfare. How to avoid wars and cherish
peace should be the eternal topic pursued by human society.