How Large Was The Ancient Chinese Army

Greater China used to be much greater in the past. During the height of the Qin Dynasty, the armies of the Chinese Empire were larger than ever before. This was the Empire’s most prosperous age, with a massive and numerous population, enabled it to generate a large conscription of soldiers. They could raise armies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. The presence of the Chinese Army was felt from the east to the west from Japan to the Middle-East.

Traditionally, the Chinese military saw significant changes in its organization and structure. During the Qin Dynasty, the army was divided into armies of different sizes. Each army was further divided up into five-man units, which could then be formed into larger military formations. Each unit was typically composed of five officers, ten enlisted soldiers, and sixty auxiliaries. The auxiliary personal was made up of charioteers and attendants.

At the peak of the Qin Dynasty, the Army was divided into forty territorial divisions. Each of these divisions was headed by a general, who was responsible for its operations in the region. They could also order their troops to carry out military operations in foreign territories that the Empire occupied. The Qin military was strong and notorious, known for its ability to maintain a high level of discipline, organization and order in the Empire.

Ancient Chinese soldiers were formidable enemy in battles. Records show that they possessed impressive martial skills, preferring to fight hand-in-hand with their spears and swords. This physical strength and determined courage bled through foreign armies, with some foreign kingdoms even reporting that the Chinese soldiers seemed invincible.

However, despite its prowess in battle, the Chinese Army was still not powerful enough to conquer the entire world. The Empire was constantly challenged by foreign invaders, who managed to gain a foothold in China.

The numbers of China’s active service army in the Qin Dynasty vary wildly depending on the source. Based on records, it is likely that the number was somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million soldiers. This number doesn’t take into account any auxiliaries or regional militias, or the number of soldiers deployed on border or naval defences.

The size and force of the Chinese Army changed over the centuries, ranging from hundreds of thousands to several million in active service. However, historians agree that the Chinese Army was at its largest and strongest during the reign of the Qin Dynasty.

Technology and Tactics

The Ancient Chinese military was not only known for its numbers but also for its technological innovation. The Chinese Army employed a number of tactics, devices and weapons which enhanced the Army’s combat ability.

Before the Qin Dynasty, the Chinese Army employed a variety of weapons including swords, spears, bows and arrows and crossbows. When the Qin Dynasty came to the throne the crossbows were refined, giving the Chinese a serious advantage on the battlefield. The Qin military also employed chariots, iron spears, iron swords, firepikes and iron-tipped halberds. All these weapons gave the Chinese a considerable edge in hand-to-hand combat.

The Chinese also made great strides in siege warfare during the Qin Dynasty. One of the most effective weapons employed was the trebuchet, which could sling stones and fireballs at enemy fortifications. The Chinese also employed the battering ram, which allowed the Army to break through fortifications.

The Qin also made considerable improvements in siegecraft, allowing the Army to capture enemy cities easily and quickly. During sieges, the Chinese employed siege towers, which provided the Army with a birds’ eye view of the city and allowed its troops to scale the walls of the city. It also employed catapults, which could fire arrows into heavily fortified cities.

Arsenals and Armour

The Chinese Army in the Qin Dynasty was also well known for its use of armouries and arsenals. The Chinese Army was equipped with a wide range of weapons, from swords and spears, to crossbows and trebuchets. All of these weapons were made using cutting-edge technology, such as cast-iron and steel. This gave the Chinese a significant edge over their enemies, who were mostly using wooden or stone weapons.

The Chinese Army was also well-equipped with various kinds of armour. These included leather armour and scale armour, which was made from tiny metal plates sewn together. They also equipped their soldiers with helmets, which provided additional protection from enemy weapons.

Moreover, the arsenals of the Qin Dynasty also included siege engines and other advanced technologies, such as gunpowder. Gunpowder-firing weapons, such as fire lances, were used by the Chinese military, giving them an additional advantage in hand-to-hand combat or siege situations.

Supply Chain and Communication

The Chinese in the Qin Dynasty had an advanced supply chain and communication system that enabled them to keep their armies well supplied, even whilst on campaign. The Chinese Army was supplied with food, weapons and materials through a complex network of roads, canals, and waterways. This enabled them to quickly move troops and weaponry from one part of the country to another. Moreover, the Chinese also developed an efficient system of communication, which allowed them to quickly send orders and messages over long distances.

The Qin Dynasty also placed a lot of emphasis on military logistics. They developed a system of rationing and stockpiling, which enabled them to stockpile food, weapons and materials for long-term campaigns. This was instrumental in allowing the Chinese to maintain their large armies in the field for years at a time.

In addition, the Chinese were also advanced in terms of their intelligence gathering and counterintelligence operations. They employed spies, who were tasked with monitoring the movements and activities of enemy forces. The Chinese Army also had a highly skilled reconnaissance corps, which was highly effective in detecting enemy movements over long distances.

Psychological and Espionage Tactics

The Ancient Chinese employed a number of psychological and espionage strategies to gain an advantage over their enemies. They often employed false flags and deception tactics to misdirect their enemies. This allowed the Chinese to conceal their true numbers and intentions, enabling them to surprise their enemies by attacking them from unexpected directions.

In addition, the Chinese also employed intimidation and fear tactics to demoralise their opponents. This included staging large-scale displays of power and wealth, which often caused their enemies to flee in terror.

Moreover, the Chinese employed a network of spies and agents who were tasked with gathering information and intelligence about their enemies. These spies were sent to infiltrate enemy camps and cities, and report back to the Chinese military. This enabled the Chinese to gain an advantage over their foes, as they were able to prepare for their enemies’ every move.

In addition, the Chinese also employed a variety of psychological and propaganda tactics to sway their enemies into surrendering or fleeing. This included playing loud drums and trumpets, employing banners and executing prisoners in public, which often caused enemy forces to break and flee in terror.


The Ancient Chinese Army was one of the most advanced in the world during the time of the Qin Dynasty. This was down to its sophisticated organisation, technological innovation and psychological tactics. The Qin military was so powerful that it was able to field armies of up to a million soldiers, and its presence was felt from the east to the west.

Letha Wimmer is a military expert with more than a decade of direct experience in the U.S. Army and National Guard. She specializes in researching and writing about the world's armies and their capabilities, equipment, capabilities, strategies, organizations, and operations. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an Aerial Firefighting Certificate and numerous other advanced aviation certifications. She also enjoys traveling to distant lands to gain firsthand knowledge about their military forces and has written extensively for various websites on the subject.

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