Bai Qi — An Exceptional Marshal and God of War in History of China

Bai Qi (? — 257), honored as Lord Wuan, was one of the most extraordinary generals in both the State Qin and the entire history of China.

He has been respected as the God of War, but also the Killing Machine. 

In this 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), there were over two million people lost their lives on the battlefields, and Bai Qi was responsible for about one million. 

However, after having led and won 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 to wars. 

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 that 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 had less than half soldiers than his rival, he annihilated all of his enemies and extended Qin’s territory. 

After this huge success, Bai Qi was trusted by his king with more power.

In the next few years, he led the Qin’s army attacked States Wei, Han, Chu, Zhao, and had 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 was unable to 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)

The Largest Annihilation War in Ancient Chinese History

After Bai Qi having severely weakened many kingdoms’ main forces, Qin started to attack its strongest rival, the State Zhao.

This was the War 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 3 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 in other battlefields. 

During these three years, around a million soldiers 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 saying the reason that this war had lasted for such a long time was that General Lian Po has 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 as well; hence, he decided to change Zhao’s chief commander from Lian Po to Zhao Kuo.

Young general Zhao Kuo was the son of a great general that had defeated the Qin’s army before. Zhao Kuo was smart and excellent at military strategies. 

Zhao Kuo was a brave, loyal, ordinary general. But, sadly, he encountered Bai Qi.

Bai Qi’s Huge 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 lure 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 troop ambushed, 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 to cut 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 for several times, but all failed; they had 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 leading commander Zhao Kuo was killed by Qin in a breakout battle, the remaining around 200,000 desperate soldiers of Zhao surrendered. 

Bai Qi released 240 very young captives to go back to their country, and then tricked and killed the rest of them.

In this war, about 450,000 fine soldiers of the State Zhao were buried here in Changping. 

Some emperors in the following dynasties in the history of China 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 in this ancient battlefield, especially in heavy 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 huge trouble no matter they were taken back to Qin or released back to Zhao. They would not well behave in Qin’s territory, nor pledge loyalty to the King of Qin, since Qin and Zhao had been rival for quite a long time. 

However, setting them free would make this victory pointless, and those persistent, brave soldiers would fight in more wars against Qin in the future.

Others believed that Bai Qi was just following the king’s command. The King of Qin didn’t want to take the blame of commanding to kill, so he implied Bai Qi to do it for him. 

Anyway, Bai Qi implemented the massacre and took all the blame. He had been frequently considered as a cruel, ruthless Killing Machine. 

Meanwhile, he did eliminate the biggest threats for his king. After the War of Changping, the State Qin became the strongest 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 to immediately attack the State Zhao, because every one of Zhao was still in shock, and wasn’t able to prepare for another war.

Bai Qi’s 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 Bai Qi’s strategy. 

They convinced Fan Ju that if Bai Qi won and perished the State Zhao, Bai Qi would be more powerful and respectable in the State Qin. 

Considering his career, 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 State Zhao and Han.

However, months later, the 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. 

Bai Qi believed that the State Zhao had well prepared at that time; and led by great general Lian Po, every one of Zhao was ready to revenge for their sacrificed people in the War of Changping. Besides, the alliance was quite solid and strong 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 Huge Failure of the State Qin

The King of Qin was frustrated, and even more furious after having heard that Bai Qi 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.

Bai Qi finally had to start off, but he 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 his killings in the War of Changping, he deserved a tragic ending. 

About one month after Bai Qi’s death, the State Qin was defeated. In this war, Qin had and lost many cities that they occupied before, and around 200,000 fine soldiers. 

Unearthed Terre Cotta Warriors of the Qin — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum 

Legacy of General Bai Qi

Bai Qi had long been resented by people of the other six kingdoms, especially the State Zhao. 

However, he was quite respected by the people of the State Qin. He brought his people with 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, to honor Bai Qi’s exceptional contribution to the State Qin, he granted honorable titles to the son of Bai Qi.  

Many emperors of the following dynasties also respected and memorized Bai Qi as one of the most remarkable generals in the history of China. 

As an extraordinary general that was excellent at the war of annihilation, Bai Qi's prediction, calculation, and movement in every battle were always extremely accurate and remarkable.

Unlike other generals, Bai Qi wasn’t interested in occupying lands and cities; instead, his main purpose was to perish the effective strength as much as possible.

As time goes by, the State Qin and State Zhao had been long gone, so did their resentments. Hence, people 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

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