SUN TZU AND THE ART OF WAR
Sun Tzu The Art of War is an influential book written by Sun Tzu, a famous Chinese general, 2,400 years ago, when pharaohs still ruled Egypt and the Greeks hadn't yet achieved their Golden Age. Admired by Mao, Napoleon, Patton, Tony Soprano and many modern cooperate executives, it is a concise, 13-chapter, how-to guide on how to use military tactics to defeat one's enemies. Admirers praise the book for its wisdom. Critics say its states the obvious. The book espoused ideas that for the most part had been around for a long time in a neat well-organized way.
Kazuhiko Makita wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “About 2,500 years ago in war-torn China, Sun Wu wrote what would become the world's most well-known military text. Born during China's Chunqiu period, the famed tactician who wrote The Art Of War is called a “military saint” in China and is considered one of its greatest ancient philosophers. Studied by generals during the Sengoku period (Warring States period in the late 15th to late 16th century) in Japan and by American presidents, Sun Wu's ideas have influenced people of the East and West, and from ancient to modern times, and continue to fascinate many. “Sun Wu was later called Sun Tzu, or Master Sun. [Source: Kazuhiko Makita, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2014]
Sun is a household name in China. In recent years The Art of War has achieved a place on bestseller lists and become so popular it has spawned is own cottage industry of seminars, self-help gurus, websites and supplementary guides. The book has become essential reading at business schools all over the world. In some bookstore you can find more than 100 titles tied to the Art of War. There was a Hollywood movie, loosely based on the book, about an evil Japanese businessmen, with Wesley Snipes.
Little is known about Sun Tzu, which literally means Master Sun. Tradition hold that he lived in the 6th or 5th century B.C., during the Spring and Autumn Period, and was born into an aristocratic military family. As a young man he became an adviser to the warlord of the state of Wu and helped him defeat his more powerful rivals from the state of Chu. The oldest known copy of The Art if War was written on bamboo strips sometime between 202 B.C. and A.D. 9.
Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher who lived in the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. Sun Tzu is traditionally credited as the author of “The Art of War”, the earliest — and still the most revered --- military treatise in the world. a widely influential work of military strategy that has affected both Western and Eastern philosophy. Aside from his legacy as the author of “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu is revered in Chinese and Asian culture as a legendary historical figure. His birth name was Sun Wu, and he was known outside of his family by his courtesy name Changqing. Since naming a written work after its author was customary in early China, “The Art of War” was originally referred to as simply "Sun Tzu." [Source:Sonshi.com |=|. Wikipedia +]
"Sun Tzu" (pronounced shwen-zuh) means Master Sun. Thus, Sun was his family name and Tzu is an honorary title. His given name was Wu. You will also often see "Sunzi." This is a newer transliteration and closer in pronunciation of Sun Tzu using the Pin-yin transcription system implemented by China's government in 1958. "Sun Tzu" is from the Wade-Giles system created by Thomas Wade in 1867. |=|
According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “There is no firm evidence that Sunzi existed. He is supposed to have been a contemporary of Confucius, but the book bearing his name was compiled a hundred years later, sometime in the second half of the fourth century B.C. Whatever the identity of the author or authors, the “Art of War” has had tremendous influence in China over the ages. It has also been read in military schools and corporate boardrooms around the world by men and women hoping to gain an advantage in the “dog-eat-dog” worlds of war and business. [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
According to Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Shih chi, also called the Records of the Grand Historian, Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general during the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 B.C.). The Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yueh confirms this account except it claims he originates from the state of Wu, not Ch'i. Most scholars surmise he lived from 544 B.C. to 496 B.C.. |=|
The Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yueh states: Sun Tzu, whose name was Wu, was a native of Wu. He excelled at military strategy but dwelled in secrecy far away from civilization, so ordinary people did not know of his ability. Wu Tzu-hsu [King Ho-lu's advisor], himself enlightened, wise, and skilled in discrimination, knew Sun Tzu could penetrate and destroy the enemy. One morning when he was discussing military affairs he recommended Sun Tzu seven times. King Ho-lu said: "Since you have found an excuse to advance this shih, I want to have him brought in." He questioned Sun Tzu about military strategy, and each time that he laid out a section of his book the king could not praise him enough. |=|
Sima Qian and other traditional historians placed him as a minister to King Ho-lu (Helü) of Wu and dated his lifetime to 544–496 B.C.. Modern scholars accepting his historicity nonetheless place the existing text of “The Art of War” in the later Warring States period based upon its style of composition and its descriptions of warfare. Traditional accounts state that the general's descendant Sun Bin also wrote a treatise on military tactics, also titled “The Art of War”. Since both Sun Wu and Sun Bin were referred to as Sun Tzu in classical Chinese texts, some historians believed them identical prior to the rediscovery of Sun Bin's treatise in 1972. +
Life of Sun Tzu
Little is known about Sun Tzu, which literally means Master Sun. Tradition hold that he lived in the 6th or 5th century B.C., during the Spring and Autumn Period, and was born into an aristocratic military family. As a young man he became an adviser to the warlord of the state of Wu and helped him defeat his more powerful rivals from the state of Chu.
The oldest available sources disagree as to where Sun Tzu was born. The Spring and Autumn Annals states that Sun Tzu was born in Qi, while Sima Qian's later Records of the Grand Historian states that Sun Tzu was a native of Wu. Both sources agree that Sun Tzu was born in the late Spring and Autumn Period and that he was active as a general and strategist, serving king Ho-lu of Wu in the late sixth century B.C., beginning around 512 B.C. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Skilled and experienced in warfare matters during a time of unprecedented political and military turmoil, Sun Tzu validated his words with results. When asked by King Ho-lu whether the book's principles can be applied to anyone, Sun Tzu replied, "Yes." With Sun Tzu as general, King Ho-lu captured the capital city of Ying to defeat the powerful Ch'u state in 506 B.C.. He then headed north and subdued the states of Ch'i and Chin. Not surprisingly, Sun Tzu's name quickly spread throughout the land and among the feudal lords. [Source: Sonshi.com |=|]
How Sun Tzu later lived or died is unknown. However, the Yueh Chueh Shu declared "ten miles outside the city gate of Wu Hsieh, there is a large tomb of the great strategist Sun Tzu." By the Han dynasty, his reputation as a wise and respected military leader was established and well-known. |=|
The most well-known story about Sun Tzu, taken from Sima Qian, goes: Before hiring Sun Tzu, the King of Wu tested Sun Tzu's skills by commanding him to train a harem of 180 concubines into soldiers. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, appointing the two concubines most favored by the king as the company commanders. When Sun Tzu first ordered the concubines to face right, they giggled. In response, Sun Tzu said that the general, in this case himself, was responsible for ensuring that soldiers understood the commands given to them. Then, he reiterated the command, and again the concubines giggled. Sun Tzu then ordered the execution of the king's two favored concubines, to the king's protests. He explained that if the general's soldiers understood their commands but did not obey, it was the fault of the officers. Sun Tzu also said that, once a general was appointed, it was his duty to carry out his mission, even if the king protested. After both concubines were killed, new officers were chosen to replace them. Afterwards, both companies, now well aware of the costs of further frivolity, performed their maneuvers flawlessly. +
Sima Qian claimed that Sun Tzu later proved on the battlefield that his theories were effective (for example, at the Battle of Boju), that he had a successful military career, and that he wrote “The Art of War” based on his tested expertise. However, the Zuozhuan, a historical text written centuries earlier than the Records of the Grand Historian, provides a much more detailed account of the Battle of Boju, but does not mention Sun Tzu at all.
Sima Qian’s on Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu is mentioned in three passages of the “Records of the Grand Historian Book” (the Shijì, or Shi Chi) of Sima Qian, China’s most famous early historian. Qian said “Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch`i State.” [Source: Lionel Giles, Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. in the British Museum, Project Gutenberg, First Published in 1910]
One goes “In the third year of his reign [512 B.C.] Ho Lu, king of Wu, took the field with Tzu-hsu [i.e. Wu Yuan] and Po P
ei, and attacked Chu. He captured the town of Shu and slew the two prince's sons who had formerly been generals of Wu. He was then meditating a descent on Ying [the capital]; but the general Sun Wu said: "The army is exhausted. It is not yet possible. We must wait"…. [After further successful fighting,] "in the ninth year [506 B.C.], King Ho Lu addressed Wu Tzu-hsu and Sun Wu, saying: "Formerly, you declared that it was not yet possible for us to enter Ying. Is the time ripe now?" The two men replied: "Ch
u's general Tzu-changis grasping and covetous, and the princes of T
ang and Tsai both have a grudge against him. If Your Majesty has resolved to make a grand attack, you must win over T
ang and Tsai, and then you may succeed." Ho Lu followed this advice, [beat Ch`u in five pitched battles and marched into Ying.]. This is the latest date at which anything is recorded of Sun Wu. He does not appear to have survived his patron, who diedfrom the effects of a wound in 496.
In another chapter there occurs this passage: From this time onward, a number of famous soldiers arose, one after the other: Kao-fan, who was employed by the Chin State; Wang-tzu, in the service of Ch`i; and Sun Wu, in the service of Wu. These men developed and threw light upon the principles of war.”
Lionel Giles wrote: “It is obvious enough that Sima Qian at least had no doubt about the reality of Sun Wu as an historical personage; and with one exception, to be noticed presently, he is by far the most important authority on the period in question.”
Sima Qian’s Account of Sun Tzu and the Concubine Army
Sima Qian (Ssu-ma Ch`ien) wrote: Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” “brought him to the notice of Ho Lu, King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him: "I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight test?" Sun Tzu replied: "You may." Ho Lu asked: "May the test be applied to women?" The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace. [Source: Lionel Giles, Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. in the British Museum, Project Gutenberg, First Published in 1910]
Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King's favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: "I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?" The girls replied: Yes. Sun Tzu went on: "When I say "Eyes front," you must look straight ahead. When I say "Left turn," you must face towards your left hand. When I say "Right turn," you must face towards your right hand. When I say "About turn," you must face right round towards your back." Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he gave the order "Right turn." But the girls only burst out laughing. Sun Tzu said: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame." So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order "Left turn," whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter.
Sun Tzu: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers." So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now the king of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: "We are now quite satisfied as to our general's ability to handle troops. If We are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded." Sun Tzu replied: "Having once received His Majesty's commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept."
Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: "Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty's inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire; bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey." But the King replied: "Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops." Thereupon Sun Tzu said: "The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds." After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the west, he defeated the Ch
u State and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north he put fear into the States of Chi and Chin, and spread his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the might of the King. About Sun Tzu himself this is all that Sima Qian has to tell us in this chapter.
Other Early Accounts of Sun Tzu
According to Lionel Giles: The following passage occurs in the Huai-nan Tzu: "When sovereign and ministers show perversity of mind, it is impossible even for a Sun Tzu to encounter the foe." Assuming that this work is genuine (and hitherto no doubt has been cast upon it), we have here the earliest direct reference for Sun Tzu, for Huai-nan Tzu died in 122 B.C., many years before the SHIH CHI was given to the world. [Source: Lionel Giles, Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. in the British Museum, Project Gutenberg, First Published in 1910]
Liu Hsiang (80-9 B.C.) says: "The reason why Sun Tzu at the head of 30,000 men beat Ch
u with 200,000 is that the latter were undisciplined." Teng Ming-shih informs us that the surname "Sun" was bestowed on Sun Wu's grandfather by Duke Ching of Chi [547-490 B.C.]. Sun Wu's father Sun P
ing, rose to be a Minister of State in Chi, and Sun Wu himself, whose style was Ch
ang-ching, fled to Wu on account of the rebellion which was being fomented by the kindred of T`ien Pao. He had three sons, of whom the second, named Ming, was the father of Sun Pin. According to this account then, Pin was the grandson of Wu, which, considering that Sun Pin's victory over Wei was gained in 341 B.C., may be dismissed as chronological impossible. Whence these data were obtained by Teng Ming-shih I do not know, but of course no reliance whatever can be placed in them.
An interesting document which has survived from the close of the Han period is the short preface written by the Great Ts
ao Tsao, or Wei Wu Ti, for his edition of Sun Tzu. I shall give it in full: I have heard that the ancients used bows and arrows to their advantage. The Shu Chu mentions "the army" among the "eight objects of government." The I Ching says: "'army' indicates firmness and justice; the experienced leader will have good fortune." The Shih Ching says: "The King rose majestic in his wrath, and he marshaled his troops." The Yellow Emperor, T`ang the Completer and Wu Wang all used spears and battle-axes in order to succor their generation.
The Ssu-Ma Fa says: "If one man slay another of set purpose, he himself may rightfully be slain." He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish. Instances of this are Fu Ch
ai on the one hand and Yen Wang on the other. In military matters, the Sage's rule is normally to keep the peace, and to move his forces only when occasion requires. He will not use armed force unless driven to it by necessity. Many books have I read on the subject of war and fighting; but the work composed by Sun Wu is the profoundest of them all. [Sun Tzu was a native of the Chi state, his personal name was Wu. He wrote “The Art of War”” in 13 chapters for Ho Lu, King of Wu. Its principles were tested on women, and he was subsequently made a general. He led an army westwards, crushed the Ch
u state and entered Ying the capital. In the north, he kept Chi and Chin in awe. A hundred years and more after his time, Sun Pin lived. He was a descendant of Wu.] In his treatment of deliberation and planning, the importance of rapidity in taking the field, clearness of conception, and depth of design, Sun Tzu stands beyond the reach of carping criticism. My contemporaries, however, have failed to grasp the full meaning of his instructions, and while putting into practice the smaller details in which his work abounds, they have overlooked its essential purport. That is the motive which has led me to outline a rough explanation of the whole.
Battle of Boju, Sun Tzu and Ho Lu
The Battle of Boju was the decisive battle of the war fought in 506 B.C. between Wu and Chu, two major kingdoms during the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. The Wu forces were led by King Helü, his brother Fugai, and Chu exile Wu Zixu. According to Sima Qian's Shiji, Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, was a main commander of the Wu army, but he was not mentioned in the Zuo Zhuan and other earlier historical texts. [Source: Wikipedia]
Joshua Mark wrote in Ancient History Encyclopedia: “If Sun-Tzu really did serve Ho-Lu, as is commonly accepted, then the Wu victory at Boju would confirm his importance to Ho-Lu and, perhaps, the authenticity of the concubine story (or at least some version of it). At the decisive Battle of Boju, Sun-Tzu is said to have led the Wu forces with King Ho-Lu, along with Ho-Lu’s brother Fugai, and defeated the Chu forces through use of his tactics. [Source: Joshua Mark, Ancient History Encyclopedia. ancient.eu/Sun-Tzu ^=^]
In The Art of War, Sun-Tzu writes: Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Chu exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then that victory can be achieved. Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own tactics--that is what the multitude cannot comprehend. (Sun-Tzu, 6.21-26).
“At Boju, the Chu forces were numerically superior to the Wu and King Ho-Lu hesitated to attack, though both armies were martialed on the field. Fugai requested that orders be given to sound the charge but Ho-Lu refused. Fugai then chose to act on his own in accordance with Sun-Tzu’s strategic advice and drove the enemy from the field. He then pursued the fleeing opponents, defeating them repeatedly in five further engagements, and capturing the Chu capital of Ying. ^=^
“Fugai’s success in the Wu-Chu wars was due entirely to his own courage and his belief in the precepts of Sun-Tzu. Through intelligence brought by spies, Fugai knew that the opposing general, Nang Wa, was despised by his troops and that they had no will to fight (following Sun-Tzu’s “force him to reveal himself…find out his vulnerable spots”), he compared his army with that of Nang Wa’s and found it sufficient to his ends and he won victory from the enemy’s own tactics by refusing to adhere to the standard rules of war as understood at that time. He did not let the enemy retreat to safety, did not allow them to cross en masse the Qingfa River (but cut the forces in half mid-stream), prevented their mobilization and formation of lines, and even later attacked them at their dinner.” ^=^
Questions About Sima Qian’s Accounts on Sun Tzu
Question have been raised on why Sun Tzu wasn’t mentioned in The Zuo zhuan generally translated as Zuo Tradition, Commentary of Zuo, Tso Tradition, or Commentary of tso), an ancient Chinese narrative history that is traditionally regarded as a commentary on the ancient Chinese chronicle Spring and Autumn Annals. It comprises thirty densely written chapters covering a period from 722 to 468 B.C., and focuses mainly on political, diplomatic, and military affairs from that era. [Source: Wikipedia]
The respected Chinese scholar and critic Yeh Shui-hsin wrote: “It is stated in Sima Qian’s history that Sun Wu [Sun Tzu] was a native of the Ch
i State, and employed by Wu; and that in the reign of Ho Lu he crushed Chu, entered Ying, and was a great general. But in Tso's Commentary no Sun Wu appears at all. It is true that Tso's Commentary need not contain absolutely everything that other histories contain. But Tso has not omitted to mention vulgar plebeians and hireling ruffians such as Ying K
ao-shu, Tsao Kuei, Chu Chih-wu and Chuan She-chu. In the case of Sun Wu, whose fame and achievements were so brilliant, the omission is much more glaring. Again, details are given, in their due order, about his contemporaries Wu Yuan and the Minister P`ei. Is it credible that Sun Wu alone should have been passed over? [Source: Lionel Giles, Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. in the British Museum, Project Gutenberg, First Published in 1910]
In point of literary style, Sun Tzu's work belongs to the same school as Kuan Tzu, Liu T`ao, and the Yueh Yu and may have been the production of some private scholar living towards the end of the "Spring and Autumn" or the beginning of the "Warring States" period. The story that his precepts were actually applied by the Wu State, is merely the outcome of big talk on the part of his followers. From the flourishing period of the Chou dynasty down to the time of the "Spring and Autumn," all military commanders were statesmen as well, and the class of professional generals, for conducting external campaigns, did not then exist. It was not until the period of the "Six States" that this custom changed. Now although Wu was an uncivilized State, it is conceivable that Tso should have left unrecorded the fact that Sun Wu was a great general and yet held no civil office? What we are told, therefore, about Jang-chu and Sun Wu, is not authentic matter, but the reckless fabrication of theorizing pundits. The story of Ho Lu's experiment on the women, in particular, is utterly preposterous and incredible.
History of “The Art of War
Sun Tzu's victories under, king Ho-lu of Wu, beginning around 512 B.C., inspired him to write “The Art of War”. “The Art of War” was one of the most widely read military treatises in the subsequent Warring States period, a time of constant war among seven nations – Zhao, Qi, Qin, Chu, Han, Wei, and Yan – who fought to control the vast expanse of fertile territory in Eastern China. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Translator Lionel Giles wrote: “I have found it difficult to glean much about the history of Sun Tzu's text. The quotations that occur in early authors go to show that the "13 chapters" of which Sima Qian speaks were essentially the same as those now extant. We have his word for it that they were widely circulated in his day, and can only regret that he refrained from discussing them on that account. Sun Hsing-yen says in his preface: — During the Ch`in and Han dynasties Sun Tzu's “The Art of War” was in general use amongst military commanders, but they seem to have treated it as a work of mysterious import, and were unwilling to expound it for the benefit of posterity. [Source: Lionel Giles, Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. in the British Museum, Project Gutenberg, First Published in 1910]
There are numerous theories concerning when the text was completed and concerning the identity of the author or authors, but archeological recoveries show “The Art of War” had taken roughly its current form by at least the early Han. Because it is impossible to prove definitively when “The Art of War” was completed before this date, the differing theories concerning the work's author or authors and date of completion are unlikely to be completely resolved. Some modern scholars believe that it contains not only the thoughts of its original author but also commentary and clarifications from later military theorists, such as Li Quan and Du Mu. +
Of the military texts written before the unification of China and Shi Huangdi's subsequent book burning in the second century B.C., six major works have survived. During the much later Song dynasty, these six works were combined with a Tang text into a collection called the Seven Military Classics. As a central part of that compilation, “The Art of War” formed the foundations of orthodox military theory in early modern China. Illustrating this point, the book was required reading to pass the tests for imperial appointment to military positions. +
The oldest known copy of The Art if War was written on bamboo strips sometime between 202 B.C. and A.D. 9. On April 10, 1972, the Yinqueshan Han Tombs in Shandong were accidentally unearthed by construction workers. Scholars uncovered a collection of ancient texts written on unusually well-preserved bamboo slips. Among them were “The Art of War” and Sun Bin's Military Methods. Although Han dynasty bibliographies noted the latter publication as extant and written by a descendant of Sun, it had previously been lost. The rediscovery of Sun Bin's work is regarded as extremely important by scholars, both because of Sun Bin's relationship to Sun Tzu and because of the work's addition to the body of military thought in Chinese late antiquity. The discovery as a whole significantly expanded the body of surviving Warring States military theory. Sun Bin's treatise is the only known military text surviving from the Warring States period discovered in the twentieth century and bears the closest similarity to “The Art of War” of all surviving texts. +
About “The Art of War”
“The Art of War” presents a philosophy of war for managing conflicts and winning battles. It is accepted as a masterpiece on strategy and has been frequently cited and referred to by generals and theorists since it was first published, translated, and distributed internationally. [Source: Sonshi.com |=|]
The Hsun-tzu states: What the military esteems is seizing advantage; what it practices is change and deception. One who excels at employing the military responds precipitously, distantly, and darkly. No one knows from where he goes forth. When Sun Tzu and Wu Tzu employed them, they had no enemies under Heaven. |=|
Sun Tzu's Art of War uses language that may be unusual in a Western text on warfare and strategy. For example, the eleventh chapter states that a leader must be "serene and inscrutable" and capable of comprehending "unfathomable plans". The text contains many similar remarks that have long confused Western readers lacking an awareness of the East Asian context. The meanings of such statements are clearer when interpreted in the context of Taoist thought and practice. Sun Tzu viewed the ideal general as an enlightened Taoist master, which has led to “The Art of War” being considered a prime example of Taoist strategy. [Source: Wikipedia]
The book has also become popular among political leaders and those in business management. Despite its title, “The Art of War” addresses strategy in a broad fashion, touching upon public administration and planning. The text outlines theories of battle, but also advocates diplomacy and the cultivation of relationships with other nations as essential to the health of a state. +
Sun Pin, Sun Tzu’s Descendant
Sun Bin (died 316 B.C.) was a military strategist who lived during the Warring States period of Chinese history. An alleged descendant of Sun Tzu, Sun Bin was tutored in military strategy by the hermit Guiguzi. He was accused of treason while serving in the Wei state and was sentenced to face-tattooing (criminal branding) and had his kneecaps removed, permanently crippling him. Sun escaped from Wei later and rose to prominence in the Qi state, by serving as a military strategist and commander. He led Qi to victory against the Wei state at the Battle of Guiling and Battle of Maling. Sun authored the military treatise Sun Bin's Art of War, which was rediscovered in a 1972 archaeological excavation after being lost for almost 2000 years. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Sima Qiam mentions Sun Pin. Sun Pin was born about a hundred years after his famous ancestor's death, and also the outstanding military genius of his time. The historian speaks of him too as Sun Tzu, and in his preface we read: "Sun Tzu had his feet cut off and yet continued to discuss “The Art of War””." It seems likely, then, that "Pin" was a nickname bestowed on him after his mutilation, unless the story was invented in order to account for the name. The crowning incident of his career, the crushing defeat of his treacherous rival P`ang Chuan. +
Sun Bin was framed for treason by a fellow student named Pang Juanm who reported Sun Bin to King Hui of Wei, who ordered Sun Bin to be executed. Pang pretended to plead for mercy on Sun's behalf, and the king instead condemned Sun to face-tattooing and removal of the kneecaps, effectively branding Sun as a criminal and crippling him for life. Pang pretended to take pity on Sun and treated him well while trying to trick Sun into compiling his knowledge on military strategy into a book, after which Pang could kill him. Sun Bin eventually realized Pang's true intentions and feigned madness. Pang attempted to test whether Sun had really become insane or not, so he had Sun locked up in a pigsty. Sun appeared to enjoy himself there and even consumed animal faeces, calling them delicious. Pang believed that Sun was truly mad and lowered his guard. Sun Bin later escaped from the Wei state with the help of diplomats from the Qi state. +
Sun Bin's Art of War is a military treatise authored by Sun Bin. The book was believed to be lost after the Han Dynasty, and although there were numerous references to it in post-contemporary texts, some historians still believed that the book was never written and could be a forgery. However, in April 1972, archaeologists excavated several fragments of scrolls from a tomb in Linyi, Shandong province. Sun Bin's Art of War was found among the scrolls. Although ancient texts mention that the original Sun Bin's Art of War was 89 chapters long, the rediscovered copy had 16 verifiable chapters only. As fragments of Sun Tzu's The Art of War were discovered as well, historians believed that some of the chapters might belong to The Art of War instead. +
The newly discovered text provided historians with a different perspective on the Battle of Guiling and Battle of Maling. In addition, when compared to Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Sun Bin's Art of War contained one major difference from the former. The former advised against siege warfare, while the latter suggested tactics for attacking a besieged city. This paralleled a shift in the strategic consideration of siege warfare during the later stages of the Warring States period. +
Lionel Giles Translation of “The Art of War”
When Lionel Giles began his translation of Sun Tzu's “The Art of War”, the work was virtually unknown in Europe. Its introduction to Europe began in 1782 when a French Jesuit Father living in China, Joseph Amiot, acquired a copy of it, and translated it into French. It was not a good translation because, according to Dr. Giles, "[I]t contains a great deal that Sun Tzu did not write, and very little indeed of what he did." The first translation into English was published in 1905 in Tokyo by Capt. E. F. Calthrop, R.F.A. However, this translation is, in the words of Dr. Giles, "excessively bad." He goes further in this criticism: "It is not merely a question of downright blunders, from which none can hope to be wholly exempt. Omissions were frequent; hard passages were willfully distorted or slurred over. Such offenses are less pardonable. They would not be tolerated in any edition of a Latin or Greek classic, and a similar standard of honesty ought to be insisted upon in translations from Chinese." [Source: Bob Sutton, MIT, Project Gutenberg]
In 1908 a new edition of Capt. Calthrop's translation was published in London. It was an improvement on the first — omissions filled up and numerous mistakes corrected — but new errors were created in the process. Dr. Giles, in justifying his translation, wrote: "It was not undertaken out of any inflated estimate of my own powers; but I could not help feeling that Sun Tzu deserved a better fate than had befallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I could hardly fail to improve on the work of my predecessors." Clearly, Dr. Giles' work established much of the groundwork for the work of later translators who published their own editions. Of the later editions of “The Art of War”” I have examined; two feature Giles' edited translation and notes, the other two present the same basic information from the ancient Chinese commentators found in the Giles edition. Of these four, Giles' 1910 edition is the most scholarly and presents the reader an incredible amount of information concerning Sun Tzu's text, much more than any other translation.
The Giles' edition of “The Art of War””, as stated above, was a scholarly work. Dr. Giles was a leading sinologue at the time and an assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts in the British Museum. Apparently he wanted to produce a definitive edition, superior to anything else that existed and perhaps something that would become a standard translation. It was the best translation available for 50 years. But apparently there was not much interest in Sun Tzu in English- speaking countries since it took the start of the Second World War to renew interest in his work. Several people published unsatisfactory English translations of Sun Tzu.
In 1944, Dr. Giles' translation was edited and published in the United States in a series of military science books. But it wasn't until 1963 that a good English translation (by Samuel B. Griffith and still in print) was published that was an equal to Giles' translation. While this translation is more lucid than Dr. Giles' translation, it lacks his copious notes that make his so interesting. Dr. Giles produced a work primarily intended for scholars of the Chinese civilization and language. It contains the Chinese text of Sun Tzu, the English translation, and voluminous notes along with numerous footnotes. Unfortunately, some of his notes and footnotes contain Chinese characters; some are completely Chinese.
Advice of Sun Tzu
"The art of war," wrote Sun Tzu, "is of vital importance to the state...a matter of life and death, survival or doom...Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." To reduce bloodshed and avoid risk, Sun emphasized avoiding battles unless victory was assured and proposed that shows of force could produce the same outcome as actually fighting. Sun said the ablest leaders knew how to win without fighting.
But if war wasn't avoidable Sun Tzu argued that total war was the only way to go. And in going about that he advocated careful planning and preparation, good organization, exploiting an enemy's weaknesses, and carefully picking the battles.
Sun Tzu said “War is a deceitful game” and advised using spies, disinformation, surprise attacks and sowing confusion among the enemy ranks. He advised armies to act strong when they were strong and act strong when they were weak and to be flexible and adapt battle plans as conditions change.
There are sections in The Art of War on troop deployment, political support, and using terrain, weather and diversions. One of Sun's favorite tactics was the use of incendiary attacks against people and equipment. "Fire starts best when the weather is dry," was one of his tips. He also suggested crying wolf again and again, lulling the enemy into complacency, and then striking hard with all you got.
Often repeated proverbs from The Art of War include : 1) “Know your enemy and know yourself, and in a hundred battles you will never face defeat”; 2) "Speed is everything...A army should move as fast as a gale” and “act as suddenly as a thunderclap." 3) “Engaging in unreasonable battles with smaller forces will only make you the prey of an enemy with a larger force." “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” may be the most well-known quote in China and was frequently referenced by Mao Zedong when he led the Communist Party.
Zhao Chengfeng is the 70-something chairman of the Shandong SunZi Research Association. Long fascinated by Sun Wu's philosophy, he said he was taught The Art Of War when he was in the military and decided to devote himself to researching the famous warrior after he retired. He formed the association in 2008 to promote exchanges between domestic and overseas researchers. “Sun Wu's The Art Of War is not constrained by time or national boundaries," he said. “It has a universality that can be accepted by a wide range of academic fields. Along with Confucius, Sun Wu is one of the great philosophers born in Shandong." [Source: Kazuhiko Makita, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2014]
Selections from the Sunzi (Art of War)
1) The military is a great matter of the state. It is the ground of life and death, the Way ( dao) of survival or extinction. One cannot but investigate it. Thus base it in the five. Compare by means of the appraisals, and so seek out its nature. The first is the way ( dao), the second is Heaven, the third is Earth, the fourth is the general, the fifth is method. The Way is what orders the people to have the same purpose as their superior. Thus they can die with him, live with him, and not harbor deceit. [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
2) “The military is a way ( dao) of deception. Thus when able, manifest inability. When active, manifest inactivity. When near, manifest as far. When far, manifest as near. 7) When he seeks advantage, lure him. When he is in chaos, take him. When he is substantial, prepare against him. When he is strong, avoid him. Attack where he is unprepared. Emerge where he does not expect. These are the victories of the military lineage. They cannot be transmitted in advance.
3) What is meant by skilled is to be victorious over the easily defeated. Thus the battles of the skilled are without extraordinary victory, without reputation for wisdom, and without merit for courage. Thus one’s victories are without error. Being without error, what one arranges is necessarily victorious, since one is victorious over the already defeated. One skilled at battle takes a stand in the ground of no.defeat and so does not lose the enemy’s defeat. Therefore, the victorious military is first victorious and after that does battle. The defeated military first does battle and after that seeks victory. “
4) Heaven is yin and yang, cold and hot, the order of the seasons. Going with it, going against it.. this is military victory. Earth is high and low, broad and narrow, far and near, steep and level, death and life. The general is wisdom, trustworthiness, courage, and strictness. Method is ordering divisions, the way of ranking, and principal supply.
Art of War On Victory
1) In general, the method of employing the military...Taking a state whole is superior. Destroying it is inferior to this. Taking a division whole is superior. Destroying it is inferior to this. Taking a battalion whole is superior. Destroying it is inferior to this. Taking a company whole is superior. Destroying it is inferior to this. Taking a squad whole is superior. Destroying it is inferior to this. Therefore, one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not skillful. Subduing the other’s military without battle is skillful. Thus the superior military cuts down strategy. Its inferior cuts down alliances. Its inferior cuts down the military. The worst attacks cities. [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
2) Knowing victory has five aspects: a) Knowing when one can and cannot do battle is victory; b) Discerning the use of the many and the few is victory; c) Superior and inferior desiring the same is victory; d) Using preparation to await the unprepared is victory; e) The general being capable and the ruler not interfering is victory. These five are a way ( dao) of knowing victory. Thus it is said...Knowing the other and knowing oneself, In one hundred battles no danger. Not knowing the other and knowing oneself, One victory for one defeat. Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself, In every battle certain danger.
3) In the past the skillful first made themselves invincible to await the enemy’s vincibility. Invincibility lies in oneself. Vincibility lies in the enemy. Thus the skilled can make themselves invincible. They cannot cause the enemy’s vincibility. Thus it is said, “Victory can be known but cannot be made.” Invincibility is defense. Vincibility is attack. 4) Defend and one has a surplus. Attack and one is insufficient. One skilled at defense hides below the nine earths and moves above the nine heavens. Thus one can preserve oneself and be all victorious.
5) In seeing victory, not going beyond what everyone knows is not skilled. Victory in battle that all.under Heaven calls skilled is not skilled. Thus lifting the down of an autumn leaf does not make great strength. Seeing the sun and the moon does not make a clear eye. Hearing thunder does not make a keen ear. What is meant by skilled is to be victorious over the easily defeated. Thus the battles of the skilled are without extraordinary victory, without reputation for wisdom, and without merit for courage. Thus one’s victories are without error. Being without error, what one arranges is necessarily victorious, since one is victorious over the already defeated. One skilled at battle takes a stand in the ground of no.defeat and so does not lose the enemy’s defeat. Therefore, the victorious military is first victorious and after that does battle. The defeated military first does battle and after that seeks victory.
The Art of War a Tourist Draw?
Kazuhiko Makita wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Drive north-east for about two hours on the highway from Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, and you arrive at Guangrao county. Take a look around and you will find Sun Wu Road and Bingsheng (the Saint of War) Road. Go into a restaurant and you can try a local liquor with a name that translates roughly as “military saint king alcohol”. The county claims Sun Wu, was born nearby and has dubbed itself “Sun Wu's hometown”. On the outskirts of Guangrao county is a memorial temple dedicated to him. [Source: Kazuhiko Makita, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2014 ]
“In the 1990s, the county rebuilt the mausoleum, which was originally constructed in the 12th century. Inside, panel exhibits and miniature models give a detailed introduction to Sun Wu's life and The Art Of War. Just inside the entrance stands an imposing 3.2 meter statue of him. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." This quote from The Art Of War is displayed prominently in the exhibition room.
“Mr Zhao Chengfeng, 70, chairman of the Shandong SunZi Research Association, has long been entranced by Sun Wu's philosophy. He said he was taught The Art Of War when he was in the military and decided to devote himself to researching the famous warrior after he retired. He formed the association in 2008 to promote exchanges between domestic and overseas researchers. “Sun Wu's The Art Of War is not constrained by time or national boundaries," he said. “It has a universality that can be accepted by a wide range of academic fields. Along with Confucius, Sun Wu is one of the great philosophers born in Shandong."
“Although Guangrao county is little known outside of Sun Wu researchers, it could be on the verge of a major transformation. In March 2012, it established the Sun Tzu Cultural Tourist Area Management Committee and is pushing ahead with tourism developments aimed at selling itself as Sun Wu's hometown. The man-made Sun Wu Lake is surrounded by a huge, 42 square kilometers tourism district that is to include a theme park, research institute, hot spring hotel and other facilities. “It will be a base for transmitting Sun Wu's philosophy to the world," said Mr Wang Tingwen, director of the Center for Sun Tzu Cultural Studies of Guangrao. Though expectations are great, the theme park will require 1.6 billion yuan (S$321 million) in investments and more than 3 billion yuan for the entire district.
“With China's economy slowing down, development projects led by local municipalities have failed one after another. “Engaging in unreasonable battles with smaller forces will only make you the prey of an enemy with a larger force." Amid the sounds of hammering, I seemed to hear the words of a wise man warning against imprudence. “
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv
Text Sources: Sun Tzu, Translated by Lionel Giles, classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.htm; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.
Last updated November 2021