The Authenticity of the Seventh Military Classic

Feb 2018
This refers to the military treatise, 'Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong.' There has been considerable debate over whether it contains the authentic records of conversations Tang Taizong and Li Jing, slightly edited at a later date, or whether it was a Song-era forgery.

I read this book without any context initially and was seriously impressed. I've read pretty much every notable military treatise from Sun Bin to Nicephoras Phocas and John Boyd, and this treatise stood out as written by exceptional practitioners and not just theorists. Of course, if this was actually a record of conversations between Tang Taizong and Li Jing, it would be by two of the greatest leaders in history, and thus fit perfectly.

David Graff calls it a "brilliant forgery" and does not make use of it in his Eurasian Way of War book that incorporates Li Jing (Li Weigong)'s other military writings. He does not give much evidence himself, but cites an older dissertation which is hard to find and on microfilm, so I haven't seen it. Ralph Sawyer lays out the traditional Chinese-language cases on both sides in note 4 of his translation, which is too complicated to be relayed here. He cautiously concludes that: "Detailed, specialized studies of the text’s provenance are clearly required. However, we can tentatively conclude that final compilation probably occurred in the Northern Sung—perhaps under Emperor Shen-tsung’s mandate—from earlier materials. Whether the original materials were extensively supplemented or were simply rephrased in contemporary language and judiciously expanded upon remains unknown."

More recently (2017), Hayrettin İhsan Erkoç, a Central Asian specialist, analyzed the treatise with Li Jing's actual campaigns against the Eastern Turks, and found that several patterns emerged between his campaign strategies and the treatise recommendations, concluding that it is mostly authentic. The Impact of General Li Jing's Military Thought on the Fall of the Eastern Türk Qaghanate

Thoughts on its legitimacy? If it is legitimate, this is an unheralded gem in my view, but that is a big if.
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Sep 2012
Been a long time since I last encountered it and to be honest I've largely forgotten most of the details. I would however trust Graff, preeminent fellow in Tang military matters that he is. What thesis does he cite for it? If it's Graff's own PhD, I have a copy of it somewhere I think.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
I'm intrigued by this and think well of Graff's comparative work on Byzantium. Do you have a reference to the dissertation? Is it this Boodberg?
Sep 2012
My, my, that is rather ancient, not within my power to track down either unfortunately. I'm afraid I can't offer anything else at this point in time, it's rather beyond my expertise, such that it is.