Warriors are a less visible topic in the study of imperial China. They did not write history, but they made new history by destroying the old. The fall of the first enduring Chinese empire, the Han, collides with the rise of its last warriors known as the ?talons and fangs.? Despite some classical or deceptive myths like the Chinese ideal of bloodless victories and a culture without soldiers, the talons and fangs of the Eastern Han warlords demonstrated the full potential of military prestige in a Confucian hierarchy, the bloodcurdling reality of dynastic rivalry, as well as a romantic tradition infatuated with individual heroism.
Imperial China was a culture and an empire. It commands scholarly interest mostly for its early political sophistication and continuous cultural splendor. Despite a well-known Chinese dynastic cycle which involves as much peace as war, the fruits of Western scholarship have long been heavy on the brighter sides of traditional China: a high civilization teeming with humane philosophers, a united empire run by a sophisticated civil bureaucracy, and a refined people with sagelike poets of a bamboo grove and romantic dreamers in a red chamber. What has too often escaped from the general perception of traditional China as home to a glorious culture and storied continuity is the blood-soaked recurrence of civil wars and foreign conquests.