Bai Qi massacres surrendered troops-白起坑杀降卒

At the end of the Warring States period, guided by Fan Ju’s strategy of “befriend distant states while attacking neighboring states”, the state of Qin launched an attack on the state of Han, capturing the city of Yewang and besieging Shangdang. In order to force Qin to withdraw its troops, the King of Han ordered the commander Feng Ting to surrender Shangdang to Qin. However, Feng Ting refused to surrender to Qin and decided to offer Shangdang to the state of Zhao instead. The King of Zhao gladly accepted and sent Lian Po to lead the army to guard Changping, preventing Qin’s attack.

Unwilling to accept Shangdang becoming Zhao’s territory, the King of Qin dispatched Wang He to lead the troops and attack Changping. The Qin army repeatedly challenged the Zhao army, but the Zhao forces, utilizing the advantage of the terrain, steadfastly defended their position. The war lasted for three years, causing suffering to the people of both states. With the Zhao people lacking food and seeking aid from the state of Qi, who ignored their plea, and the Qin treasury depleted due to the war, the soldiers became weary. Both states found it difficult to sustain the burden of the war and hoped for a swift resolution.

Qin, with strategists like Fan Ju, intentionally treated Zhao envoys warmly during peace negotiations, leading other states to believe that Qin and Zhao had reconciled, thereby isolating Zhao from potential alliances with other states. Additionally, Qin bribed officials in Zhao’s capital, spreading rumors that Lian Po’s avoidance of battle was an indication of his intention to surrender to Qin, and that Zhao’s greatest threat was Zhao Kuo.

Qin’s aim in spreading these rumors was to prompt the King of Zhao to recall Lian Po. Lian Po refrained from engaging in battle because he knew that the Qin army, fatigued from their journey and eager for a quick resolution, would be vulnerable to defeat if he could exploit the advantage of the terrain and wear down the Qin forces before counterattacking. Despite Zhao’s king’s confusion and repeated urgings for Lian Po to engage, Lian Po persisted in his defensive strategy for three months. Eventually, suspicions arose in Zhao, leading to the replacement of Lian Po with Zhao Kuo as the commander of the army.

Once in command, Zhao Kuo abandoned Lian Po’s cautious approach and advocated for an aggressive offensive strategy, hoping for a decisive victory to annihilate the Qin army. This change in strategy worried Qin, prompting them to adjust their tactics and reinforce their troops, appointing Bai Qi as the commander. To prevent any leaks about Bai Qi’s appointment, the King of Qin issued a decree stating that anyone revealing Bai Qi’s role would be executed.

Bai Qi, a renowned general of Qin, had risen from a common warrior to the position of Lord Wu’an. He had commanded over seventy battles without a single defeat. Bai Qi’s goal in battle was not just to capture cities but to exterminate the enemy, relentlessly pursuing them. By the late Warring States period, Lord Wu’an Bai Qi had become a name that instilled fear in the armies of the six states.

Zhao Kuo, lacking practical experience in warfare and overconfident in his pursuit of victory, played into Bai Qi’s hands. In August of 260 BC, unaware of the enemy’s situation, Zhao Kuo led the main Zhao army in a reckless attack on the Qin forces. Bai Qi feigned retreat upon slight resistance, luring the Zhao army into a trap at Changbi. Bai Qi’s encirclement was like a large pocket, and when the Zhao army was fully inside, a 25,000-strong ambush force stationed on both sides of the encirclement cut off the Zhao army’s retreat path, effectively trapping them.

With the Zhao army’s escape route cut off, they resorted to desperate resistance within the encirclement, awaiting reinforcements. The news of the Qin army’s encirclement reached Qin, prompting the King of Qin to personally rush to Henan and conscript all males over fifteen into a force to assist in Changping. This force blocked the Zhao’s food and reinforcements route to Changping, completely cutting off the main Zhao army’s logistical support. By September of that year, the Zhao army had been cut off from supplies for 46 days, and countless soldiers had perished from starvation, their morale shattered.

Zhao Kuo hoped to break out of the encirclement, dividing his army into four parts and launching successive attacks on the Qin camp, hoping to create an escape route with sheer force. However, the Qin army’s defenses were impregnable. In the end, Zhao Kuo personally led the elite troops, attempting a forced breakout, only to be shot dead by the Qin army’s arrow formation. With the death of their commander, the morale of the Zhao army collapsed, and over 400,000 soldiers surrendered.

The surrender of over 400,000 Zhao soldiers posed a dilemma for Bai Qi. They had surrendered to Qin out of necessity, with no food or reinforcements, and their homeland was in Zhao. They could not be trusted to truly serve Qin, so this army was of no use to Qin. Releasing them back to Zhao would be akin to releasing a tiger back to the mountains. However, guarding and supplying such a large number of prisoners would be impossible for Qin at that time, and controlling them in case of rebellion would be equally challenging. After much deliberation, Bai Qi made a shocking decision. He selected the youngest 240 soldiers among the Zhao surrendering army, let them return to Zhao to spread the word, and then buried the remaining soldiers alive in a valley.

This was the famous Battle of Changping in history. This war severely weakened the vitality of the state of Zhao, and it never fully recovered. Over half of the adult male population of Zhao died in this battle. This battle terrified the other six states and accelerated the process of Qin’s unification of China.