WASHINGTON, June 27, 2013 — If San Yang was the architect that drew up the framework for the creation of China, then Bai Chi was the bulldozer that cleared the land and leveled the grounds for the construction of the Chinese empire.
General Bai Chi, the Duke of Wu-An (???–257 BC) of the Ch’in kingdom, was the most capable and successful military commander in Chinese history. In a career that spanned more than 40 years, he rose to the rank of the Commanding General of the Ch’in army. He captured more than 70 cities and slaughtered over a million enemy soldiers.
In 260 BC, at the Battle of Chang-Ping, Bai Chi trapped and captured the entire enemy army of 400,000 men then massacred them, save for 240 youths to spread terror into the enemy, the Tsao kingdom. It was the greatest military disaster in human history. However, at the apex of his career, court intrigue summoned him home and deprived Bai Chi of further glory.
In the year following the Battle of Chang-Ping, the Ch’in King decided to renew the attack against the Tsao people. The Duke of Wu-An demurred, claimed physical illness and declined the offer of the military command. He believed the opportunity for conquest of the Tsao kingdom had passed. Later, when another general led the Ch’in army against the Tsao nation, it suffered disastrous defeats with heavy casualties. Bai Chi sneered, “See what happens when you don’t heed my counsel?”
The Duke’s political foes passed those words into the king’s ears. The irate king ordered the general to go forth and assume command of the army, but he again claimed illness and defied the king’s order. For that final insubordination, the king stripped Bai Chi of his position, demoted him to the rank of a common soldier and exiled him to the western border town of Ying-Mi.
Bai Chi again claimed illness and delayed his departure for three months. Finally, the king sent a courtier with royal guardsmen and evicted Bai Chi from Xian-Yang, the Capital of the kingdom. At Du-Yew, a city two kilometers west of the Capital, the ex-commanding general of the Ch’in army received one last royal edict – the king had sent his personal sword to the newly exiled soldier.
Holding the royal sword in his hand, Bai Chi lifted his head and asked the gods, “What sin had I committed to merit this predicament?” After a slight pause, he gave reply to his own question, “I deserve to die, for at Chang-Ping, I lied and massacred four hundred thousand Tsao prisoners; for that alone, I deserved to die.” With those final words, he slit his own throat with the king’s sword. Upon hearing news of his death, his former foes at the other kingdoms celebrated with glee and toasted his demise.
For his atrocities at Chang-Ping, Chinese historians nicknamed Bai Chi as, “The Butcher.” It should be pointed out that the Tsao kingdom had been the doorstop that kept the Ch’in nation out of the central plains of eastern Asia. The Tsao kingdom lost a tenth of its population at Chang-Ping, thus could no longer hold back the Ch’in onslaught. Within 40 years after Chang-Ping, with the help of some political skullduggery, the Ch’in state conquered the other kingdoms and completed the unification of China.
If the Tsao kingdom had defeated the Ch’in army at Chang-Ping, the modern geo-political landscape of eastern Asia would have been drastically altered. The Ch’in kingdom had committed over half a million men into that campaign and in spite of the victory, had suffered over 50 percent casualties in battle. An actual defeat at Chang-Ping would have left the Ch’in vulnerable to invasion by the powerful Chu kingdom to the south. With its great land mass and large population, the Chu kingdom stood the best chance among all the nations of that time to unify the land.
In any case, China would not have come into being as a great empire and there would be no Silk Road for trading with the west. Finally, the Era of the Warring States (475-221 BC) which had ended with the unification of China would have continued to rule the land; consequently, in the 21st Century, we might find a score of small nation states competing for supremacy in that distant land we currently call China.
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