The Man Behind the Man: 8 Great Commanders Who Stood in the Shadows of Legendary Leaders

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2 – Bai Qi (? – 257 BC) [King Zhaoxiang of Qin]

Zhaoxiang was the King of Qin for 57 years (307 BC – 250 BC), and he owes an awful lot of his dominance to the extraordinary military skill of his prime minister, Bai Qi. According to Chinese historians, Bai Qi is one of the four best generals of the Warring States era along with Lian Po, Wang Jian, and Li Mu.

Not a great deal is known about his early life, but we do know that Bai Qi was the Qin commander at the Battle of Yique in 293 BC. He led his 120,000 man army against the combined might of the Wei and Han states which had a total of 240,000 men. The Qin utterly annihilated their enemies and suffered fewer than 8,000 losses against approximately 150,000 enemy casualties.

The rest of his military career was marked by a series of impressive victories. In 278 BC, he captured Chu’s capital city, Ying, and received the title of Lord Wu’an (lord of martial peace) from his grateful king. Perhaps his most notable victory came at the enormous Battle of Changping, an almost two-year fight between around 1 million men. Eventually, the Qin army emerged victorious over the Zhao army who suffered an estimated 450,000 casualties. The victory ensured that Qin unification of China was almost inevitable.

Bai Qi’s importance was emphasized in his absence. In 257 BC, he claimed he was ill, and command of the army at the siege of Handan was given to General Wang Ling who lost the battle. When Bai Qi returned, he told his king that a long-range war was impractical and claimed he was sick once again when asked to command. Eventually, the King of Qin exiled Bai Qi who was later forced to commit suicide.

Chinese historians have yet to find a record to show that Bai Qi ever suffered a defeat. He embarked on over 70 campaigns, captured over 80 castles and was involved in the death of up to two million enemy soldiers. The latter fact led him to become known as the ‘human butcher.’ There was no question about his ruthlessness. After successfully capturing a Wei fortress in 272 BC which resulted in the death of 130,000 enemy soldiers, Bai Qi killed another 20,000 Zhao soldiers and threw their bodies into a river.

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