The Battle of Changping

The battle of Changping between the Qin State and the Zhao State was the largest battle in ancient China. It decided the future fate of the Chinese nation.

In 262 BC, the army of the Qin State invaded the Han State and seized the Yewang region. The Shangdang region, the northern region of the Han State, lost the connection with the capital of the Han State. In order to save their city, the defenders of Shangdang sent messengers to the Zhao State. They said they were willing to give Shangdang to the Zhao State, not the Qin State. They hoped the army of the Zhao State could save the city. The Zhao State accepted the proposal.

In 260 BC, the Shangdang region fell during the new invasion of the Qin’s army led by Wang He. The people of Shangdang struggled to leave the region and flee to the Zhao State. The Zhao’s army was stationed in an area named Changping which is in modern-day Gaoping of Shanxi Province, in order to aid the refugees from Shangdang.

The first commander of the Zhao’s army was named Lian Po, who was a famous old general. In the encounter with the scouts of Qin, the Zhao’s warriors suffered a setback and an assistant general was killed. The army of Qin fiercely attacked the army of Zhao, and broke several forts of the Zhao’s army. Lian Po knew the Zhao’s army was not able to defeat the Qin’s army in field battle, so he insisted on a defence strategy. His army built a very strong long wall based on a terrain advantage. Lian Po was sure that the army of Qin couldn’t stay a long time because their supply line was overstretched. The Qin’s army had no way to break the stone long wall of the Zhao’s army. They tried to infuriate the Zhao’s warriors and induce field battle, but they failed.

The Qin State thought the only way to defeat the Zhao’s army was to make the Zhao State dismiss Lian Po. The prime minister of the Qin State sent spies to defame Lian Po in the Zhao State. The spies said this old general was a craven, and the army of Qin didn’t fear him. If the Zhao State sent Zhao Kuo to be the commander,the Qin’s army would be scared. The king of Zhao believed the words of the spies and appointed Zhao Kuo to take the place of Lian Po.

Zhao Kuo’s father was named Zhao She who was an excellent general of the Zhao State. Zhao Kuo loved to read military works since his childhood, and sometimes his father couldn’t argue with him because he was always right. Zhao She said to his wife, “War is the thing to place people in death. However, Kuo thinks it is easy to manage. If Kuo doesn’t become a commander, it may have no influence. But if Kuo becomes a commander, he will be the person who destroys the Zhao’s army.”

Before Zhao Kuo left the capital of Zhao, Zhao Kuo’s mother tried to persuade the Zhao’s king to cancel the appointment. But the Zhao’s king didn’t accept her advice. Zhao Kuo’s mother requested the king not to punish her if her son is incompetent. The king made a promise.

When the king of the Qin State heard Zhao Kuo took the place of Lian Po, he appointed Bai Qi to take the place of Wang He. Bai Qi was a very experienced general. He had defeated the armies of the eastern states in a lot of battles, and he had a very foul reputation because his army always massacred people who laid down their arms.

Zhao Kuo changed the orders and appointments of Lian Po. In an encounter, the Qin’s army pretended a retreat in defeat. Zhao Kuo then led most of his army to march forward for seeking a decisive battle against the Qin’s army. The Qin’s army retreated into their defensive line that was also reinforced by a long wall. The Zhao’s army was not able to break the defensive line of the Qin’s army. Bai Qi had already deployed two forces to lie in wait before making a lure. Taking advantage of terrain, twenty-five thousand troops of Qin cut off the retreat route of the Zhao’s army, and five thousand horsemen of Qin prevented the Zhao’s troops that stayed in the defensive line from assisting the main force led by Zhao Kuo. The supply line of the Zhao’s army was cut off by the Qin’s army.

The Zhao’s army couldn’t retreat, and also was defeated by the assault of the Qin’s troops. So they had to build a rampart and wait for assistance. The king of Qin heard the supply line of the Zhao’s army was cut off. He then personally went to the Henei region and enlisted all men who were above the age of 15 for assisting Bai Qi to prevent the Zhao’s army from obtaining any reinforcements or supplies. The newly enlisted Qin army reinforced the encirclement against the Zhao’s army.

The Zhao’s army had not gotten supplies for forty-six days. After the exhaustion of food, the troops of Zhao were in despair. They tried to break the encirclement a lot of times, but all failed. Zhao Kuo personally led selected troops to fight against the Qin’s troops. Unfortunately he was killed by arrows. The death of the commander and hunger made the Zhao’s army lay down their arms hopelessly. Totally four hundred thousand troops of Zhao surrendered to Bai Qi.

Bai Qi knew that no one was willing to be ruled by the Qin State, and he thought that the Zhao’s troops would rebel once they had a chance. He decided to kill all the Zhao’s troops. He cheated the Zhao’s troops so they lost vigilance. And then Bai Qi ordered his army to kill all of them. Only two hundred and forty very young men were released because Bai Qi needed these scared young men to bring the horrible news to the Zhao State and make the Zhao’s people lose the will of resistance. When the horrible news came to the Zhao State, all people wore mourning apparel and cried their hearts out. Parents lost their sons, children lost their fathers, and wives lost their husbands. The king of Zhao didn’t punish Zhao Kuo’s mother, because he had given a promise to her. In the battle of Changping, the Zhao State lost all their excellent troops. After this disastrous defeat, the Zhao State could never recover.

In 258 BC, according to the words of Bai Qi, more than half of the Qin’s troops died in battle and all supplies were depleted since the battle of Changping. The massacre in Changping didn’t destroy the resistance will of the Zhao’s people.

In 257 BC, Bai Qi killed himself because he refused a new appointment and offended the king of the Qin State. When Bai Qi heard the order of forcing him to kill himself, he cried, “Did I offend the Heaven? Why do I get this fate?” But after a long while, he sighed and said, “I deserve death. In the battle of Changping, the several hundred thousand troops of Zhao surrendered to me, but I cheated them and killed all of them. It was enough to make me die.”

The descendants of the people of the Han and Zhao states have never forgotten the crimes of Bai Qi. In the area where the battle took place, it is said that there is a kind of bean product called “meat of Bai Qi”, which means people want to eat Bai Qi’s meat for revenge. In the area, a large number of bones of the victims of the Zhao State were found.

Because of the victory in the battle of Changping, the Qin State, which was the only totalitarian state at that time, had more strategic advantages over the eastern states. After 39 years, the Qin State annexed the last eastern state and pushed its totalitarian system to all Chinese areas by force. In the past two thousand years, though there were a lot of dynasties in China, they had the same system, which is called the Qin’s system.

Unearthed bones of the troops of the Zhao State

(Unearthed bones of the troops of the Zhao State. The picture was taken by Yike Jiang on October 24, 2017 in the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Changping, which is located in Gaoping, Shanxi Province.)

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