Battle of Changping

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Battle of Changping
Part of Warring States Period
Battle of Changping.png
Battle of Changping between Qin and Zhao
DateApril, 262 BC – July, 260 BC
Northwest of Gaoping, Shanxi

Decisive Qin victory

  • Severe weakening of Zhao military might
State of Zhao State of Qin
Commanders and leaders
Lian Po (replaced mid-battle)
Zhao Kuo 
Wang He (王齕)
Bai Qi
450,000 550,000
Casualties and losses
450,000 (executed)[1] around 250,000

The Battle of Changping (長平之戰) was a military campaign that took place during the Warring States period in ancient China. It concluded in 260 BC with a decisive victory by the State of Qin over the State of Zhao, greatly weakening Zhao.

The main source for the events of this period is Records of the Grand Historian, written more than a century later.

Qin invasion of Shangdang[edit]

Qin attacked the town of Qinyang in the State of Han in 265 BC, which made Shangdang (in modern-day southeastern Shanxi province) an exclave land. Qin continued to invade Han in order to occupy Shangdang, which was in a strategic position west of Zhao and its capture would open an invasion route into Zhao. Within four years the Qin army isolated Shangdang from the rest of Han by capturing the main roads and fortresses across the Taihang Mountains. Shangdang was poised to fall.

Rather than see Qin take Shangdang, Feng Ting, Shangdang's commander offered the region to Zhao. King Xiaocheng of Zhao (趙孝成王) accepted and dispatched Lian Po and an army to secure the strategic territory from the encroaching Qin. The Qin army however was quick to capture Shangdang and Feng Ting had to evacuate the city. The Zhao army met the Qin army, led by Wang He, in 262 BC at Changping Pass (in present-day Gaoping, Shanxi), east of Shangdang. The Zhao suffered several minor defeats during initial confrontations with the Qin forces. Having assessed the enemy, Lian Po decided the only way to defeat the Qin was to wait them out, as Changping was much farther away from Qin territory than Zhao and keeping the army supplied would be much more taxing to the Qin.

The Zhao built several fortresses in the summer of 260 BC and then waited for the Qin to go away. The Qin managed to breach the defenses once but did not have the strength or equipment to exploit it; nonetheless, the Qin refused to leave. A three-year stalemate ensued.

A new strategy[edit]

The Qin sent agents into Zhao and Han to spread rumors that Lian Po was too senile and cowardly to fight. King Xiaocheng of Zhao was already dissatisfied with Po's strategy of dragging out the war, so he had Po replaced by Zhao Kuo, son of the late famous Zhao general Zhao She. Upon hearing that the Zhao king fell for the rumor, the Qin secretly replaced Wang He with the renowned general Bai Qi, who was known for being brutally efficient in annihilation battles.

According to legend,[clarification needed] Zhao She had told his wife on his deathbed never to let his son Zhao Kuo command an army, because he thought of war as games and treated it with hubris rather than caution, despite having never experienced actual battles. When Zhao Kuo was appointed general, Lady Zhao and minister Lin Xiangru tried but failed to persuade King Xiaocheng to rescind the appointment. However, Lady Zhao did manage to extract a promise from the king that the Zhao clan would not be punished if Zhao Kuo failed his mission.

Zhao defeated[edit]

Zhao Kuo assumed command in July 260 BC of an army reinforced to approximately 400,000 men.[citation needed] He took part of his army and attacked the Qin camp. Bai Qi responded with a maneuver that resembled the Battle of Cannae. Part of the Qin army withdrew toward the Qin fortress, drawing Zhao Kuo after them. A body of 25,000 cavalry and 5,000 light cavalry with bows and crossbows remained behind to spring the trap.

When the Zhao attack reached the Qin fortress, the Qin cavalry ambushed Zhao Kuo's rear while the Qin light cavalry surrounded the Zhao fortress. With the enemy trapped, Bai Qi launched a counterattack. The Zhao army was split in two and its supply lines cut. Zhao Kuo was unable to continue his attack or return to the Zhao fortress; his army dug in on a hill and awaited relief.

Since 295 BC, Zhao foreign policy had been dominated by opportunism and had frequently shifted between hezong (合縱) (anti-Qin alliances) and lianheng (連橫) (pro-Qin alliances). Thus, as the battle in Changping unfolded, Zhao was unable to secure support from either the State of Chu or the State of Qi. King Zhaoxiang of Qin used this opportunity to mobilize additional forces against Zhao from Henei (in modern-day Henan province), by bestowing one grade of noble rank on the population and ordered a nationwide mobilization conscripting every able-bodied man over the age of 15, with the king himself personally overseeing the reserves to the Changping frontline in order to bolster the encirclement.

Zhao Kuo's hill fortification was besieged for 46 days. In September, having run out of food and water and with low morale, his desperate army made several unsuccessful attempts to break out. The general was killed by Qin archers while leading his best troops in a final attempt to breach the encirclement. With their commander dead, the Zhao army finally surrendered.


Bai Qi ordered the captured soldiers to be executed, presumably by being buried alive;[2] but the local population was hostile to Qin rule, and he was afraid executing the captured soldiers would precipitate a revolt. He released 240 of the youngest soldiers to spread terror in Zhao, then the rest were buried alive as planned. Sima Qian claimed over 450,000 Zhao soldiers were killed during and after the battle. Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (685–762) later built a temple over a collection of some of the human remains, and bones continue to be discovered on the site.[3]

Prior to the campaign, Zhao had been one of the most powerful of the Warring States. The campaign addressed the immediate Qin threat, as three years of war financially and domestically exhausted both states. However, Zhao never recovered from the defeat, which allowed Qin to gain military dominance over the other states. In 221 BC Qin would use this dominance to unify China.

In popular culture[edit]

The 2004 Chinese television series Changping of the War is based on the battle. The battle also features as background to the events taking place in the manga Kingdom with the events having a direct and indirect impact on the character development of several major characters on many sides, most notably Wan Ji of Zhao, who led an army of other survivors and families of those killed in bloody and gory revenge upon Qin citizens. Wang He, the other general, was divided into two different generals, Wang Qi, and Wang He, the former fought on Changping. Changping is also a major plot point in Legend of Haolan-the catastrophe and chaos in Zhao State causes the main characters to flee to Qin.


  1. ^ Sima Qian claimed over 450,000 Zhao soldiers were killed during and after the battle; all survivors were killed (buried alive) with the exceptions of 240 of the youngest soldiers who were released.
  2. ^白平论著/啄木斋文丛/训诂类/“坑”非活埋辩.pdf[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ 长平古战场 Archived 2009-10-26 at the Wayback Machine


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°47′53″N 112°55′26″E / 35.79806°N 112.92389°E / 35.79806; 112.92389