Bai Qi — An Exceptional Marshal and God of War in Ancient History
Bai Qi (? — 257), honored as Lord Wu'an, was one of the most extraordinary generals in the State Qin and the entire history of China.
He has been respected as the God of War and the Killing Machine.
In his entire life, Bai Qi had participated and led over 70 wars and had never failed.
During the entire Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), over two million people lost their lives on the battlefields, and Bai Qi was responsible for about one million.
However, after leading and winning the largest annihilation war in ancient Chinese history, which severely weakened the strongest rival of State Qin, Bai Qi was forced to commit suicide, despite his insightful judgment and exceptional contribution to his country.
From A Soldier to An Accomplished Marshal
Bai Qi was born into a noble family, but according to Shang Yang's Reform in the State Qin, everyone should get promoted or noble titles based on their military achievements.
Hence, Bai Qi also started as an ordinary officer in Qin's army.
He got promoted quickly because of his extraordinary performance and remarkable contribution on the battlefield.
In his 30s, Bai Qi was nominated as the chief commander of Qin's army to fight against the alliance troop of the State Han and State Wei with around 240,000 warriors.
Exquisite Cart Decoration of the State Wei Inlaid with Gold and Silver — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Even though Bai Qi only had half of his rivals' soldiers, he annihilated all of his enemies and extended Qin's territory.
After this enormous success, he was trusted by his king with more power.
In the next few years, he led the Qin army to attack States Wei, Han, Chu, and Zhao and occupied around 70 cities of those kingdoms.
The strong State Chu in the south kept being defeated and had their capital city occupied by Bai Qi. This former powerful kingdom lost many good soldiers and land during those wars and could not recover and fight back.
No matter how many strong warriors other states sent, how bravely they had been fighting, or how close they had been allied, Bai Qi always won.
Gold Currency (Ying Yuan) of the State Chu — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Battle of Changping -- The Largest Annihilation War in Ancient Chinese History
After Bai Qi had severely weakened many kingdoms’ main forces, Qin started to attack its most potent rival, the State Zhao.
This was the Battle of Changping, the cruelest and largest annihilation war in the ancient history of China.
Over a million soldiers participated in this battle, and more than half lost their lives.
The first stage of this war lasted for three years (262 BC — 260 BC) when the famous and remarkable marshal Lian Po (327 BC — 243 BC) was the commander of the State Zhao’s army, who was excellent at defending strategies.
At that time, the leading commander of the State Qin was another general since Bai Qi was fighting in another place.
During these three years, around a million soldiers had been stationed on the battlefields, both sides had failed some battles, and no one could win.
Bronze Arrow Bolts of the Qin — Shaanxi Museum (Photo by Professor Gary Lee Todd)
Then, Qin’s prime minister Fan Ju sent many spies to the State Zhao and spread a rumor that this war had lasted for such a long time because General Lian Po had been taking many bribes and would surrender soon.
Meanwhile, the soldiers of the State Qin would only be threatened if General Zhao Kuo was in charge.
The King of Zhao had been unsatisfied with Lian Po’s defensive strategy for a long time; hence, he decided to change Zhao’s chief commander from Lian Po to Zhao Kuo.
Young general Zhao Kuo, intelligent and excellent at military strategies, was the son of a great general who had previously defeated the Qin army.
He was a brave, loyal, ordinary general. But, sadly, he encountered Bai Qi.
Military Success and Large-Scale Massacre
Hearing the replacement commander of the State Zhao, the King of Qin secretly nominated Bai Qi as Qin's new commander.
Bai Qi asked the former general to fake a failure and lured Zhao's army to step out of their solid base and chase.
Then, when Zhao's army was in movement, Bai Qi led his 30,000 cavalrymen to ambush, intercepted and cut off Zhao's over 450,000 soldiers' big army into some smaller troops.
The King of Qin immediately recruited another troop in person, promised them titles and farmland, and sent them to assist Bai Qi in cutting off the food supply of Zhao's army.
Zhao's soldiers were besieged separately and had their resources cut off. They tried to break the encirclement several times, but all failed.
Those poor soldiers insisted for another 46 days, with no supply but only constant attacks by Qin's aggressive warriors.
Unearthed Sword and Armor of the Qin — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum
After Qin killed leading commander Zhao Kuo in a breakout battle, the remaining 200,000 desperate soldiers of Zhao surrendered.
Bai Qi released 240 very young captives to return to their country, then tricked and killed the rest.
In this war, about 450,000 fine soldiers of the State Zhao were buried here in Changping.
Some emperors in successive dynasties commanded to build temples to memorize these poor soldiers’ souls and tried to rebury their bodies.
Until today, large numbers of bones and weapons in many mass graves still kept being excavated or exposed on this ancient battlefield, especially on heavily rainy days.
Site of the Changping Battlefield, the Place That Bai Qi Led Qin's Troop Besieged Armies of the State Zhao.
Controversial Reasons for Bai Qi's Slaughtering
The reason why Bai Qi slaughtered so many surrendered soldiers was not very clear.
Some said Bai Qi considered those large numbers of fine soldiers would be colossal trouble no matter whether they were taken back to Qin or released back to Zhao.
They would not behave well in Qin's territory nor pledge loyalty to the King of Qin since Qin and Zhao had been rivals for quite a long time.
However, setting them free would make this victory pointless, and those persistent, brave soldiers would fight more wars against Qin in the future.
Others believed that he was following the king's command. The King of Qin didn't want to take the blame for commanding the slaughterings, so he asked Bai Qi to do it.
Anyway, Bai Qi implemented the massacre and took all the blame. He had been frequently considered a cruel, ruthless Killing Machine.
Meanwhile, he did eliminate Qin's most significant threat to his king.
After the War of Changping, the State Qin became the most substantial empire, while others all changed to defensive mode.
Certificate (Hu Fu) of the King of Qin to Deploy Forces — Shaanxi History Museum
State Qin’s Failure After the War of Changping
After the War of Changping, Bai Qi suggested immediately attacking the State Zhao because everyone in Zhao was still in shock and couldn’t prepare for another war.
This plan scared Qin’s nearby empires, who then united together and sent a great deal of money to Fan Ju, the prime minister of the State Qin, and persuaded him to stop this strategy.
They convinced Fan Ju that if Bai Qi won and conquered the State Zhao, he would be more powerful and respectable in the State Qin.
Considering his career and power, plus Qin’s soldiers and agriculture also required time to recover from those big wars, Fan Ju agreed.
He persuaded the King of Qin to cease the war and accept reparations and some ceded cities from the States Zhao and Han.
However, months later, State Zhao refused to cede those cities that they had promised.
On the contrary, Zhao sent plenty of treasures to the other five kingdoms and formed a solid alliance to confront the State Qin.
Unearthed Bronze Carriage of the Warring States Period — Nanjing Museum
The King of Qin was furious about this default, so he commanded Bai Qi to attack Zhao again.
But Bai Qi was sick at that time. He also persuaded the king not to fight this war.
He believed that the State Zhao had been well prepared this time. Also, led by great general Lian Po, every one of Zhao was ready to revenge for their sacrificed people in the Battle of Changping.
Besides, the alliance was quite solid this time.
The King of Qin didn’t listen to him and initiated the war.
As Bai Qi had predicted, the State Qin kept losing. Around 100,000 soldiers of Qin lost their lives in this war.
Restored Crossbow of the Warring States Period — Hubei Museum
Suicide of General Bai Qi and Big Failure of the State Qin
The King of Qin was frustrated and even more furious after having heard that Bai Qi had told other people about his previous accurate prediction.
So the king forced Bai Qi to lead the army and fight, no matter how heavily he was sick.
He finally had to start but marched very slowly because of his physical condition.
The King of Qin and prime minister Fan Ju blamed Bai Qi for being reluctant and trying to hold up the war. So, under the persuasion of Fan Ju, the king commanded Bai Qi to suicide.
Before his death, Bai Qi said that after such a great deal of killings in the War of Changping, he deserved a tragic ending.
About one month after his death, the State Qin was defeated. In this war, Qin had lost many cities that they occupied before and around 200,000 fine soldiers.
Legacy of General Bai Qi
Bai Qi had long been resented by the people of the other six kingdoms, especially the State Zhao.
However, he was respected by the people of the State Qin.
He brought his people victory and had only killed trained soldiers on the battlefields, never civilians.
Many of Qin's people sympathized with Bai Qi, for his exceptional achievements but with such a sad ending; so they built many temples to memorize him.
After Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BC — 210 BC) ascended to the throne, he granted honorable titles to the son of Bai Qi to honor his exceptional contribution to the State Qin.
Jade Goblet Unearthed From Site of Royal Palace (Epang Palace) of the Qin Dynasty — Xi'an Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Many emperors of the following dynasties also respected and memorized Bai Qi as one of the most remarkable generals in history.
As an extraordinary general that was excellent at the war of annihilation, Bai Qi's prediction, calculation, and movement in every battle were always extraordinarily accurate and remarkable.
Unlike other generals, Bai Qi wasn't interested in occupying lands and cities; instead, his primary purpose was to perish adequate strength as much as possible.
As time passed, the State Qin and State Zhao were long gone, and so did their resentments. However, people still could see Bai Qi's crudity in the War of Changping and his extraordinary military talent.
Mountain Daliang of Shanxi Province, from Where Could Overlook the Ancient Battlefield of Changping
Next Story: Commander of Unification and Politician of Wisdom — Wang Jian
You Might Also Like:
Warring States Period (403 B. C. — 221 B. C.) — Wars Among the Seven Kingdom
Great General and the Writer of the Art of War — Sun Tzu
General with Great Achievements and Controversial Reputation — Wu Qi
First Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang and His United Feudal Empire — Qin Dynasty
Slave Born Great Marshal Who Defeated the Xiongnu — Wei Qing
Famous, Influential Figures in the History of China
Brief, Comprehensive Introduction to Chinese History