Soft Power in the Rise of Great Powers from the Historical Lessons of the Battle of Cheng Pu


The Battle of Cheng Pu between Jin and Chu is regarded as the “decisive battle” in the ancient history of China, in the Spring and Autumn period, the strong state of Chu rapidly expanded into the Central Plains, directly threatening the security of the Central Plains vassal states, including the Zhou royal family, and forming a strategic confrontation with the growing Jin state. Faced with the situation that Chu was strong and Jin was weak, the decision makers of Jin made full use of their “soft power” and planned their strategy to gradually build up a strategic advantage that was reasonable, favorable and rational, and in 632 B.C., with the help of the “retreat” strategy, they lured the enemy deeper and defeated Chu’s army at Cheng Pu, stopping the expansion of Chu’s power to the north. He finally established the position of Duke Wen of Jin as the hegemon of Spring and Autumn Period.

“In essence, the international relations of the pre-Qin era are the same as those of modern times.” As a classic case of using “soft power” to promote the rise of a country, studying the historical lessons of the Battle of Cheng Pu is helpful for us to correctly view the current international competition, especially the “soft power” in the process of China’s “peaceful rise” from the historical experience. The study of the historical lessons of the Battle of Cheng Pu is conducive to a correct view of the “soft power” in the current international competition, especially in China’s “peaceful rise”. The author intends to interpret the three aspects of state relations during the Spring and Autumn Period, the historical lessons of the Battle of Cheng Pu, and the inspiration for “peaceful rise”.

I. The “United Nations System” 2500 years ago – “The History of International Relations of the First Qin Dynasty”

The phrase “A high bank is a valley, a deep valley is a tomb” – from “The Book of Songs – Xiao Ya – The Crossing of October” – has long been used to describe the radical changes in society during the Spring and Autumn Period. In the Preface to the Records of the Grand Historian, it is recorded that during the Spring and Autumn Period, “36 kings were killed, 52 states were destroyed, and countless lords and vassals ran around without being able to protect their country”. In such a chaotic society, the relationship between states became a very important point in the development of history. The relationship between the Zhou royal family and the vassals and between the vassals became particularly tense and complicated, thus creating a “history of international relations of the pre-Qin Dynasty” with Chinese characteristics.

The Spring and Autumn period was a time when the vassals and lords competed to become the replacement of the Zhou royal family, the center or the central government. During this period, the hegemonic system of hegemonic rivalry maintained a considerable degree of order in China and avoided the chaos that would have followed if there had been no center (central). With reference to today’s international situation, the complex relations among the powers during the Spring and Autumn period produced a variety of foreign policies and strategies no less rich than those of contemporary times, and “in a sense, the Chinese system formed during the Spring and Autumn period was somewhat like the United Nations system of today”. This was manifested in the following ways.

(a) After the eastern migration, the Zhou royal family “was equivalent to a United Nations flag, and all countries were a member of the United Nations, and in this system, there were some basic norms of international law, and the primary concern was to maintain the existence of the Zhou royal family. Comparing the position of the United Nations in international relations today, it is easy to see the similarities between the two. Zhao Fei, a great official of Jin, said: “To seek hegemony, there is no better way than to enter the king and respect the Zhou. If Jin does not enter the king first, and then Qin enters it, it will not be able to command the world. Now the king is honored, and Jin’s capital.” This indicates that in order to become a great power at that time, it was necessary to respect the royal family of Zhou and take the initiative to undertake the corresponding obligations in order to win the political prestige of “hegemony”; this is similar to the practice of Japan today in seeking to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council so as to achieve its ideal of political power.

(2) Throughout the Spring and Autumn Period, the great powers fought endlessly for hegemony. But the great powers among the Great Powers were on the whole evenly matched and maintained a strategic balance of power among themselves. At that time, none of the great powers was so powerful that they could act alone without considering the reaction of other great powers. This was evidenced by Jin’s efforts to win the support of Qi and Qin before the Battle of Cheng Pu. The complex and volatile relations between the great powers during the Spring and Autumn Period give us a glimpse of the multipolar international society in today’s “one superpower, many powers” scenario.

(3) Duke Huan of Qi had the “meeting of Kwai Qiu” and Duke Wen of Jin had the “alliance of trampling on the earth”. “If the members of the system encounter invasion by external enemies, that is, by the so-called barbarians in the vicinity, then the members of this United Nations are obliged to help each other.” These alliances embodied the attempts of the vassal lords during the Spring and Autumn Period to establish a “collective security model” under their own leadership. The two “meetings of repudiation” held between Jin and Chu in the mid- and late-Spring and Autumn period also demonstrated that the struggling great powers at that time already had the ability to “increase trust and clear doubts” by establishing a “strategic dialogue mechanism The two “meetings to reconcile” also demonstrated the foresight of the then struggling powers to “enhance trust and clear doubts” by establishing a “strategic dialogue mechanism” to seek a win-win situation.

As some scholars have said, “The international relations of the Chinese pre-Qin dynasty are not fundamentally different from those of modern Western-style international relations; the core is war and peace, and they all revolve around the causes of war and the conditions of peace.” It is a certain similarity in the nature of state relations in the Spring and Autumn period and modern Western-style international relations that determines that an in-depth study of the history of hegemony among the powers in the Spring and Autumn period is conducive to drawing the essence of historical experience from it, so as to better understand and grasp the current changing international situation. The Battle of Cheng Pu between Jin and Chu, the largest battle of the Spring and Autumn Period, created the historical pattern of Jin and Chu’s struggle for hegemony over the Central Plains. The study of the Battle of Cheng Pu is undoubtedly of great significance to the study and understanding of the “history of international relations of the pre-Qin Dynasty”.

Lessons from the use of “soft power” by both sides in the Battle of Cheng Pu

“Soft power” (softpower) is a concept first proposed by Joseph Nye, former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, 15 years ago. The ability of a state to achieve its objectives in international affairs through attraction rather than coercion, i.e., the “ability to elicit behavior. Generally speaking, soft power works by persuading others to follow, emulate, or agree to abide by international rules, institutions, and systems dominated by a state with significant soft power. Specifically, “soft power” mainly includes the following aspects: first, the attractiveness and infectious power of culture; second, the attractiveness of ideology and political values; third, the morality and legitimacy of foreign policy; fourth, the affinity in dealing with interstate relations; fifth, the attractiveness of development paths and institutional models; and sixth, the orientation and influence on international norms, international standards and international mechanisms. Sixth is the ability to guide, formulate and control international norms, international standards and international mechanisms; seventh is the degree of appreciation and recognition of a country’s international image by international public opinion.

It can be seen that “soft power” is a product of modern international relations, but did “soft power” exist in China 2,500 years ago during the Spring and Autumn Period? The answer is yes. As we have already mentioned, the pre-Qin period in China, including the Spring and Autumn period, already had an international political system similar to the modern Western international relations pattern. In the content of the Battle of Cheng Pu in Zuo Zhuan, the word “virtue” appears 6 times, “ritual” 9 times and “faith” 3 times. These texts reflect the competition of “soft power” between the two sides in the Battle of Cheng Pu.

(1) Background: The expansion of Chu and the rise of Jin – the “clash of civilizations” between Chu’s barbarism and Zhou’s rites

According to the Records of the Grand Historian of Chu, the founder of the state of Chu, Shou Xiong, was the chief of the Ji Lian tribe, who participated in the struggle against the Shang Dynasty and was valued by the royal family of the Zhou Dynasty, and was given the title of “Zi” and was subject to the Zhou Dynasty. However, “in the Zhou dynasty, the surname of a foreigner is the queen” (Zuo Zhuan – The Eleventh Year of the Emperor Yin), and Chu was a foreign feudal state of the Zhou dynasty and was given a low title. Naturally, the people of Chu still had a grudge against this. At first, the royal family was strong enough to deter them, but by the time of King Zhaoge of the Western Zhou Dynasty, the strength of the two sides had already waxed and waned, and as a result, King Zhaoge’s expedition to Chu “did not return from the south”. From then on, the Zhou dynasty was in decline, while the state of Chu grew stronger and stronger, and gradually took the road of fighting against the Zhou royal family. In the Spring and Autumn period, Chu continued to grow bigger and bigger, and Xiong Tong made himself King Wu of Chu, “The king did not add to the throne, so I honored my own ears”. The kingdom of Chu was not able to take over the “Hanyang sisters”. The northern advance of Chu was free of any resistance and posed a serious threat to the Central Xia.

Jin was an ancient state with the surname of Ji in the early years of the Western Zhou Dynasty, and its founder, Shu Yu, was the youngest brother of King Cheng of the Zhou Dynasty. At the end of the Western Zhou Dynasty, the Marquis of Jin supported King Ping to move east to Luoyi, and was rewarded by King Ping for his great contribution to the founding of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. In the early Spring and Autumn period, there was a long struggle between the office and the nobles for the throne in Jin. It took 60 to 70 years before the state was reestablished by replacing the great clan with a side branch. The newly established state of Jin was energetic and the son of Duke Wu of Jin, Duke Xian of Jin, expanded vigorously. Later, the struggle for the throne led to 15 years of civil unrest in Jin, and Duke Xian of Jin’s son, Chong Er, spent 19 years in exile before he was finally escorted by Duke Mu of Qin to return to his country and take over power, namely Duke Wen of Jin. In just four years, Duke Wen of Jin, who was already 62 years old when he succeeded to the throne, led the rapid rise of the state of Jin and made great achievements both internally and externally. At this time, there were no leaders in the Central Plains and only Jin had the strength to compete with Chu in the Central Plains.

The confrontation between Jin and Chu before the Battle of Cheng Pu was essentially the inevitable product of the frictional fusion of two different cultural expansions.

Although the strength of the Zhou royal family fell after the eastward migration, its influence was still great: “First of all, it was a political symbol of the unity of the Chinese states, and in dealing with the invasion and attack of the barbarians and the barbarians, the Zhou royal family was a banner indicating the difference between the Chinese states and the non-Chinese tribes; and it was the cultural center of the Spring and Autumn period, the common ideology of the vassal states. It was the main disseminator and maker of Chinese culture during the Spring and Autumn period, centered on the Zhou dynasty’s canonical system.”

The unique status and influence of the Zhou royal family made it necessary for the great powers to fight for hegemony under the banner of “Respecting the King and Expelling the Barbarians”. The year after Duke Wen of Jin succeeded to the throne, Jin sent troops to pacify the Zhou royal family and escort King Xiang of Zhou back to the capital. The Duke of Jin’s act of “honoring the king”, including the act of offering the Chu prisoners to the king of Zhou after the Battle of Cheng Pu, shows that in the Battle of Cheng Pu, Jin was fighting as the representative of the Zhou royal family and even the whole Central Plains lords. The fact that the Duke of Jin himself was a member of the Ji clan, an “uncle” of King Xiang of Zhou, and that he had left an excellent reputation in various countries during his 19 years of exile before he succeeded the throne, greatly increased “international public opinion” on Jin’s “international image and recognition. This greatly increased “international public opinion” on Jin’s “international image and recognition”. Even King Cheng of Chu affirmed this by saying that “virtue is invincible”. The battle of Cheng Pu by Duke Wen of Jin was a “famous battle”.

On the contrary, as described by Mr. Zhang Yinlin, a former historian, “the life of the Chu people was full of leisure and leisurely air, in contrast to the serious and nervous attitude of the northerners.” The Chu people had a unique cultural system and always appeared as the antagonist of the Zhou royal family in the process of expansion. Therefore, when Chu expanded into the hinterland of the Central Plains culture, there was bound to be a strong backlash from the mainstream culture of the Central Plains, which showed that Chu did not have “the appeal of cultural values” at that time. Moreover, the historical fact that “King Zhaoge’s southern expedition was not resumed” was also very damaging to the “international image” of Chu. In addition to the realistic interests, the Song Cheng Duke’s decision to rebel against Chu and pass to Jin, which was the trigger of the Battle of Cheng Pu, was to a large extent related to the fact that Song and Jin had “the same root and origin” in culture, which was the embodiment of “soft power”. This is the embodiment of “soft power”.

(2) The Battle of Cheng Pu: the contest between “rigid and impolite” and “able to attack with virtue”

There is a complete account of the Battle of Cheng Pu in Zuo Zhuan, but the account of the specific battle is only 123 words, which can be described as brief. Most of the ink is used to depict the planning of both sides before the battle. As strategists from the East and West have agreed, the preparation for war is often more important than the war itself, and in the preparation for war, the spirit seems to be more important than the material. Analyzing the preparation for war on both sides, Jin had the advantage in all aspects of political institutions, diplomacy, and propaganda. Sun Tzu says, “A victorious soldier first wins and then seeks war.” Jin’s army could be considered a victorious army and Chu’s army could be considered a defeated army. The Jin army’s victory was well deserved.

(1) Political system: The institutional gap between Jin and Chu was firstly reflected in the choice of the commander: the commander of Chu, Zi Yu, was “rigid and impolite” and ignored the order of King Cheng of Chu to “disobey the Jin division”, so he was responsible for the failure of the war; while the commander of Jin was successively “The difference in reputation between the two commanders can be seen from the comments in the history books. What’s more, the political system of Jin was quite democratic, the ministers were outspoken, and the ruler was able to take in the elegant words. On the contrary, when Zi Yu was appointed in Chu, “all the old men congratulated him”, but only the young Yi Jia said he would be defeated. In reality, it was because Zi Yu was recommended by the important minister Zi Wen, so he did not dare to say it explicitly. The old men of the state of Chu were so obsequious that they contrasted sharply with the generosity of the great minister of Jin, Zhao Xiao, who recommended He Gu, who had not followed the Duke of Jin into exile, to be his commander. The most fatal thing is that the strategic decision of King Cheng of Chu was wavering, but no one expressed it directly, which eventually caused Ziyu’s army to go deep alone. Whenever the Duke of Jin hesitated and wavered, there was always a minister who dared to give him some guidance. It is written in the “State Language”: “This is the division, only Ziyu wants it, contrary to the king’s heart …… Chu division will be defeated.” These words come precisely from the mouth of Wang Sun Qi, a Chu man who defected to Jin before the Battle of Cheng Pu. “This is the expression of Jin’s comprehensive national power, especially its “soft power”.

(2) Diplomatic strategy: Before the Battle of Cheng Pu, the diplomatic actions of Jin and Chu to draw in and divide other vassal states were also the focus of their struggle. At first, Jin was in the passive position of “one word from Chu will determine three states, one word from me will kill them” in diplomacy. However, after realizing this, Jin’s decision makers soon launched a series of diplomatic actions. On the one hand, Jin used the “silver bullet offensive” to divide Chu from Qi and Qin, eliminating the possibility of a back-and-forth attack. On the other hand, the strategic alliance of Chu was completely dismantled as Cao and Wei “surrendered to Chu” one after another. Thus, it fundamentally changed the unfavorable diplomatic situation of “backstabbing and reneging on one’s word in order to exert one’s revenge”. In the Spring and Autumn Annals, it is recorded that “the Marquis of Jin, the Qi division, the Song division, the Qin division and the Chu division fought at Cheng Pu.” Except for Jin and Chu, the other three states of the Spring and Autumn Period were all on Jin’s side. With such a successful diplomatic strategy, how could they not win? Chu, on the other hand, did not know how to use alliances in diplomacy, and was often greedy for small gains but lost the big momentum, and eventually ended up isolated and without help.

(3) Public opinion propaganda: The most successful example of Jin’s public opinion propaganda is “retreat”. When the Duke of Jin was in exile in Chu, he was treated well by King Cheng of Chu, as the minister of Jin, Zi Zou, said, “If you betray your benefactor and eat your words, you will be overbearing your enemy, and I will bend Chu straight.” The Duke of Jin sheltered the traitor who betrayed his benefactor, which was “unkind and unrighteous” according to reason. But the Jin army retreated. On the one hand, it is to avoid the enemy’s fronts; more importantly, it is to induce the eager commander of the Chu army, Zi Yu, to make the unrighteous move of “the king retreating from his subjects”. In the Spring and Autumn period, the chariot war was a kind of aristocratic warfare, with certain procedures for the formation and accepted principles of engagement, that is, it was still inseparable from the constraints of “ritual”. In the Spring and Autumn period, the number of troops was small, and the nobles and commoners who knew the “rituals” accounted for a large part of the army. Violation of the “rites” in war will cause confusion in the minds of soldiers, and doubt whether the war is in line with the “rites”, which will have a direct impact on the combat effectiveness of the army. Therefore, when the war started, “the Chu people wanted to stop, but Ziyu could not”. The soldiers and generals were no longer of one mind. Jin’s propaganda war created a good public opinion in favor of Jin and disturbed Chu’s army. It was a double whammy.

Even before the war started, Jin had already won the first opportunity. As Zuo Zhuan said, “I am soft”, it was Jin’s strategy of overcoming the strong with the soft, “able to attack with virtue”, which laid the foundation of Jin’s victory in the Battle of Cheng Pu.

(3) “The Alliance of Trampling the Earth”-Transforming Military Victory into Political Victory

The Battle of Cheng Pu was of great significance, and its defeat was a serious setback and loss on the road to hegemony for Chu. However, the defeat of Cheng Pu was more of a psychological blow to Chu, and the weakening of its national power was limited. Therefore, the key for Duke Wen of Jin to take advantage of the Battle of Cheng Pu to “win the prestige and determine the hegemony” was the subsequent “alliance of trampling on the earth”, which was a series of actions of Duke Wen of Jin to make his It was through a series of actions of the “Alliance of Trampling the Earth” that the Duke of Jin reached the peak of his hegemony, demonstrating his skillful use of “soft power”.

In this alliance, King Xiang of Zhou appointed Duke Wen of Jin as “Marquis” and gave him the task of “respecting the king’s orders, pacifying the four kingdoms and correcting the king’s evil thoughts”, giving Jin the “imperial sword” to exercise the power of conquest on behalf of the Zhou royal family. “. In fact, Duke Wen of Jin put himself in the position of guardian of the mainstream social and cultural order represented by the “Zhou rites”. And he saw Chu as the “destroyer of the mainstream social and cultural order”. During the Spring and Autumn period, international relations were characterized by fierce and brutal battles on the one hand, and competition on the other hand, with the banner of respecting rites and supporting Zhou. The five hegemons of the Spring and Autumn period came out one after another, all playing the card of “respecting the king and expelling the barbarians”, holding the son of heaven and making the vassals. Whether it is the Duke of Qi Huan “nine vassals, a world”, or the Duke of Jin “to seek the vassals is better than to diligent king” strategy, all so.

The Duke of Jin took advantage of the “cultural value of the royal family of Zhou” to turn a military victory into a political victory. This fundamentally laid the political capital for Jin’s hegemony in the future.

The use of “soft power” in the Battle of Cheng Pu brought realistic inspiration

(1) The victory of Jin in the Battle of Cheng Pu was a victory of the strategy of “hiding the light and doing something”.

The key to Jin’s victory was its focus on itself. The key was to focus on the development of its own strength, especially the “soft power”. After his succession, Duke Wen of Jin not only paid attention to economic and military development, but also paid special attention to the “teaching of literature”, teaching the people about righteousness, faith and propriety. He prepared the people materially, spiritually and institutionally for hegemony. Therefore, it was the Duke of Jin’s “hiding his light and doing something” that laid the foundation for hegemony.

Although China’s comprehensive national power has been greatly improved, China will continue to adhere to Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “hiding the light and doing something”. To become a real power, China must first do its own thing, and this thing is the top priority. In the words of Deng Xiaoping, it is to “bury our heads in the sand and do a good job, our own business”. At present, not only to continue to steadily increase the “hard power”, “soft power” construction also need to “bide their time and do something”. Only in this way can we really solidify the foundation of “soft power” and avoid committing crimes similar to the former Soviet Union because of the lack of “soft power” to complement each other, the unilateral pursuit of GDP-centered “hard power “(2) The Battle of Chengpu

(2) The victory of Jin in the Battle of Cheng Pu was a victory of correctly applying the international “rules of the game”.

During the Spring and Autumn Period, although the vassal states repeatedly resisted the king’s orders, no one dared to replace the nominal position of “common lord” of the Zhou Emperor, and the Zhou “rituals” were still the guidelines for international relations. To abide by the “rites” is to abide by the international rules, while to violate the “rites” may cause major international disputes and be condemned by international public opinion. Throughout the Battle of Cheng Pu, Jin was able to skillfully apply the international rules and won the “morality and legitimacy of foreign policy”. It was able to gain the support of the Zhou royal family and the Central Plains countries because it enhanced its “affinity for interstate relations”.

China’s “peaceful rise” means that China can no longer expect “great turmoil, division and restructuring” in the world as it did in Mao’s time, but needs to maintain a long-term stable and peaceful international environment and international system. This requires China to participate more actively in the existing international rules and to integrate into the existing international system. China must first participate in the unfair and reasonable parts of the existing international rules before it can be transformed from within, that is, China must “learn to be a legitimate and loyal opponent of the international system”. The lessons of history tell us that in the 21st century China should use international norms, rules and organizations to create favorable conditions for itself and be a mainstay of world peace and development, not the next challenger to the international order. This is related to the overall strategy of China’s development in the 21st century.

(3) The victory of Jin in the Battle of Cheng Pu once again proves that the use of “soft power” is based on hard power

Throughout the ages, any great power that tries to rise must experience the baptism of blood and fire, and so did Jin in the Battle of Cheng Pu. “It was the rapid development of Jin under the leadership of Duke Wen of Jin that laid the foundation for Jin’s long-sleeved and unrestricted success among the vassal states.

Looking at the stormy course of the 50 years since the founding of New China, we can more deeply appreciate the interdependent relationship between “hard power” and “soft power”. Why is this important? The key is the lack of “hard power”. It is precisely with the deepening of reform and opening up that, when our “hard power” is strong enough, the “soft power” of the Chinese nation will have a foundation, and it is only then that we will be able to gradually become a leader in the world’s culture. gradually become more and more glorious in the forest of world culture. In order to truly complete the “peaceful rise” of China, we need to make our “soft power” truly “soft” on the one hand, and our “hard power” truly “hard” on the other. We need to make our “hard power” really “hard”.

(4) The victory of Jin in the Battle of Cheng Pu was essentially a cultural victory

For most of the Spring and Autumn Period, the so-called hegemony was maintained by Jin. King Hui of Liang told Mencius that “Jin is the strongest state in the world”, and because of this superpower, he was able to stop the Di from invading southward in the north, the Chu from moving northward in the south, and the Qin from moving eastward in the west. With the integration of the Chinese in the Central Plains and the neighboring minority groups, the “Huayi view”, which distinguished by geographic location, culture and blood ties, was gradually replaced by the “Yixia view”, which distinguished by culture. Whenever powerful lords rose to power, they sought to shed their status as barbarians to gain the identity of the Xia (e.g., Qin, Chu, Wu, and Yue) or went to war with the barbarians to win their hearts (e.g., Qi and Jin), reflecting the common “cultural identity” of the time. It can be seen that the Duke of Jin was able to win the support of the Zhou royal family and other Central Plains states by using the cohesive, attractive and infectious power of culture, and the victory of Jin was essentially a cultural victory.

During its 5,000 years of development, the Chinese nation, with its profound and sophisticated culture, has deeply attracted other countries and nations around the world, and has positively influenced the cultural development of these countries and nations, making an important contribution to the prosperity of world culture. Efforts to enhance the country’s “soft power”, strengthen the attractiveness of Chinese culture, let the world understand Chinese culture and identify with it are necessary to build a good international environment and let China “rise peacefully. As some scholars have described, “Hundreds of thousands of international students from the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia, South Africa and other countries are studying in China’s higher education institutions; the world’s top scholars are competing for academic exchanges and lectures in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei; political and business leaders from various countries consider it a great honor to receive honorary degrees from Chinese universities. The sign of China’s real strength in the 21st century is not the aircraft carriers cruising in the four seas, showing off their power, but what Confucius said, ‘Those who are near say (delight), those who are far come. This is what China will look like when it truly rises.

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