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Qing forces of Chinese soldiers in 1899–1901. Left: two infantrymen of the New Imperial Army. Front: drum major of the regular army. Seated on the trunk: field artilleryman. Right: Boxers

Whether a soldier’s image is positive or negative is largely determined within the broader realm of political culture. Whether the soldier holds a negative or positive image is significant because of what this implies about Chinese thinking regarding violence and war. It also makes society more or less favorably disposed to the military as an institution or soldiering as a profession, and it may encourage or discourage the best and the brightest from aspiring to a military career.

It is often assumed that in traditional China the soldier was universally despised. China is widely believed to possess an anti-military ancient culture in which soldiering was looked down upon and warfare was considered barbaric. One oft-cited saying asserts that “good iron does not make nails, good men do not make soldiers.” However, this is a gross generalization and serious distortion of the record. In fact, the image of the soldier has fluctuated dramatically over time in Chinese history. Indeed, in many periods of Chinese history, soldiers have enjoyed a very positive image. Moreover, it is essential to distinguish officers from enlisted men: The rank and file has tended to be viewed with some scorn, while officers are often accorded more respect and deference. Chinese military leaders in particular have benefited from the colorful and largely positive depiction of martial heroes from Chinese history and mythology.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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