“Any day you are in the service…no one can do away with the three cents of silver due you. But every bit of this silver comes from the tax money turned in by the general population, some from your own local districts. At home you are farmers yourselves… The taxpayers feed you for a whole year without asking you to work. All they expect is that you beat off the pirates in one engagement or two. If you do not even try to kill the pirates to give these people protection, what are they feeding you for?”
This quote from prominent Chinese military leader and theorist Qi Jiguang shows how soldiers can exhibit the same features regardless of differences in geography, time and culture. The vast majority of soldiers are professionals, but every culture deals with their unmotivated, homesick, or lazy recruits and they produce juicy quotes that show how the leaders motivated the less-than-stellar soldiers.
Qi Jiguang’s successful leadership of Chinese forces and recorded principles helped reform and invigorate the military forces fielded by the late Ming Dynasty (1550-1644). The Ming Dynasty entered a period of decline for much of the 16th century and faced threats from Japanese pirates (Wokou) and multiple Japanese invasions during the Sino-Japanese Korean War (1592-1598). Born into a hereditary military family in 1528, Qi recruited, trained, equipped, and led Chinese forces against Japanese pirates from 1555 to 1565; he is credited by historians with ending their threat. He died in 1588.
Qi’s writings evoke a system of rewards and punishments written in the Seven Military Classics by theorists such as Sunzi (Sun-Tzu) and Wuzi. Qi dictated that a squad leader’s death would result in the execution of the remaining soldiers and also advised a system of group and individual rewards. Based on Qi’s experience against Japanese pirates in southern China and his training of soldiers, he wrote “The New Book Recording Effective Technique” and later wrote the “Record of Military Training” to assist other leaders in creating disciplined forces that could effectively assert the government’s desires.
The Mandarin Duck Formation consisted of an eleven-person unit led by a squad leader with two teams of five: one multiple-tipped spear person to entangle the enemy weapon, one shield person to protect him, two spear people to assist in thrusting at the entangled enemy, and one sword person for additional combat power. A single cook accompanied the unit.
Qi directed that squads repeatedly drill in coordinating their individuals’ respective and mutually supportive functions. While the function of individual members remained the same, the specific configuration could be changed between three different models.
During this week that remembers the military service and the dead of World War I, it is important to move beyond uncritical hero worship to recognize the realities of military service. At the same time we are praising the military as heroes, every NCO and officer can tell stories about unmotivated soldiers that sometimes need a kick in the pants. Just as Qi used that to further motivate soldiers to hunt down pirates and protect the country, I can see this quote being used by sergeants and NCOs to motivate the junior enlisted soldiers that need it. Like Qi wrote, those soldiers who aren’t doing their duty are paid using tax dollars from their own communities and from the citizens they are supposed to protect and they should feel a certain sense of responsibility to do better.