Military Technology

Up Timeline and Maps



The Song period is a good point to take stock of China's military technology. First, warfare was central to the history of the period. The confrontation between the Song and the three successive non-Chinese states to the north (Liao, Jin, and Yuan) made warfare not only a major preoccupation for those in government service, but also a stimulus to rethinking major intellectual issues. Second, we have illustrated sources for the military arts of the period, in particular, The Essentials of the Military Arts, published in the eleventh century. Most of the illustrations in this section have been drawn from this book. Third, the military technology of the Song-Yuan era can be compared to that of Europe in the same period. In this era, although China did not win all the wars, it had surprisingly advanced military technology.  


Warfare in this period usually aimed to capture cities, which were the centers of both commerce and government. Therefore, this unit deals primarily with the type of weapons, implements, and strategies used in attacking and defending cities. Before firearms were invented, crossbows and catapults were the most important of these weapons.


Think about the following issues as you view the sections on the right. 


Given the military technology of the period, how much of an advantage went to the side that could afford lots of expensive weapons? 

In what ways was siege warfare in China similar to siege warfare in medieval Europe? What sorts of differences are significant? 

Why would the Chinese publish guides to the construction of weapons? What if they fell into the hands of the enemy? 

Would the nomads of the north, such as the Mongols, have any particular advantage in siege warfare? 



spears, clubs, and swords




crossbows and armor





gunpowder and firearms