The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Art of War, by Sun Tzu (2022)

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Art of War, by Sun Tzŭ

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Title: The Art of War

Author: Sun Tzŭ

Translator: Lionel Giles

Release Date: May 1994 [eBook #132]
[Most recently updated: October 16, 2021]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8



Translated from the Chinese with Introduction and Critical Notes



Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and the British Museum


To my brother
Captain Valentine Giles, R.G.
in the hope that
a work 2400 years old
may yet contain lessons worth consideration
by the soldier of today
this translation
is affectionately dedicated.


Preface to the Project Gutenberg Etext
Preface by Lionel Giles
Sun Wu and his Book
The Text of Sun Tzŭ
The Commentators
Appreciations of Sun Tzŭ
Apologies for War
Chapter I. Laying plans
Chapter II. Waging War
Chapter III. Attack by Stratagem
Chapter IV. Tactical Dispositions
Chapter V. Energy
Chapter VI. Weak Points and Strong
Chapter VII Manœuvring
Chapter VIII. Variation of Tactics
Chapter IX. The Army on the March
Chapter X. Terrain
Chapter XI. The Nine Situations
Chapter XII. The Attack by Fire
Chapter XIII. The Use of Spies

Preface to the Project Gutenberg Etext

When Lionel Giles began his translation of Sun Tzŭ’s Art of War, thework was virtually unknown in Europe. Its introduction to Europe began in 1782when a French Jesuit Father living in China, Joseph Amiot, acquired a copy ofit, and translated it into French. It was not a good translation because,according to Dr. Giles, "[I]t contains a great deal that Sun Tzŭ 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 aquestion of downright blunders, from which none can hope to be wholly exempt.Omissions were frequent; hard passages were willfully distorted or slurredover. Such offenses are less pardonable. They would not be tolerated in anyedition of a Latin or Greek classic, and a similar standard of honesty ought tobe insisted upon in translations from Chinese." In 1908 a new edition of Capt.Calthrop’s translation was published in London. It was an improvement on thefirst—omissions filled up and numerous mistakes corrected—but newerrors 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 Tzŭ deserved a better fate than hadbefallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I could hardly fail to improve onthe work of my predecessors."

Clearly, Dr. Giles’ work established much of the groundwork for the work oflater translators who published their own editions. Of the later editions ofthe Art of War I have examined; two feature Giles’ edited translationand notes, the other two present the same basic information from the ancientChinese commentators found in the Giles edition. Of these four, Giles’ 1910edition is the most scholarly and presents the reader an incredible amount ofinformation concerning Sun Tzŭ’s text, much more than any other translation.

The Giles’ edition of the Art of War, as stated above, was a scholarlywork. Dr. Giles was a leading sinologue at the time and an assistant in theDepartment of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts in the British Museum.Apparently he wanted to produce a definitive edition, superior to anything elsethat existed and perhaps something that would become a standard translation. Itwas the best translation available for 50 years. But apparently there was notmuch interest in Sun Tzŭ in English-speaking countries since it took the startof the Second World War to renew interest in his work. Several people publishedunsatisfactory English translations of Sun Tzŭ. In 1944, Dr. Giles’ translationwas edited and published in the United States in a series of military sciencebooks. 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 Chinesecivilization and language. It contains the Chinese text of Sun Tzŭ, the Englishtranslation, and voluminous notes along with numerous footnotes. Unfortunately,some of his notes and footnotes contain Chinese characters; some are completelyChinese. Thus, a conversion to a Latin alphabet etext was difficult. I did theconversion in complete ignorance of Chinese (except for what I learned whiledoing the conversion). Thus, I faced the difficult task of paraphrasing itwhile retaining as much of the important text as I could. Every paraphraserepresents a loss; thus I did what I could to retain as much of the text aspossible. Because the 1910 text contains a Chinese concordance, I was able totransliterate proper names, books, and the like at the risk of making the textmore obscure. However, the text, on the whole, is quite satisfactory for thecasual reader, a transformation made possible by conversion to an etext.However, I come away from this task with the feeling of loss because I knowthat someone with a background in Chinese can do a better job than I did; anysuch attempt would be welcomed.

Bob Sutton

Preface by Lionel Giles

The seventh volume of Mémoires concernant l’histoire, les sciences, lesarts, les mœurs, les usages, &c., des Chinois is devoted to the Art ofWar, and contains, amongst other treatises, “Les Treize Articles deSun-tse,” translated from the Chinese by a Jesuit Father, Joseph Amiot.Père Amiot appears to have enjoyed no small reputation as a sinologue in hisday, and the field of his labours was certainly extensive. But his so-calledtranslation of the Sun Tzŭ, if placed side by side with the original, is seenat once to be little better than an imposture. It contains a great deal thatSun Tzŭ did not write, and very little indeed of what he did. Here is a fairspecimen, taken from the opening sentences of chapter 5:—

De l’habileté dans le gouvernement des Troupes. Sun-tse dit : Ayezles noms de tous les Officiers tant généraux que subalternes; inscrivez-lesdans un catalogue à part, avec la note des talents & de la capacité dechacun d’eux, afin de pouvoir les employer avec avantage lorsquel’occasion en sera venue. Faites en sorte que tous ceux que vous devezcommander soient persuadés que votre principale attention est de les préserverde tout dommage. Les troupes que vous ferez avancer contre l’ennemidoivent être comme des pierres que vous lanceriez contre des œufs. De vous àl’ennemi il ne doit y avoir d’autre différence que celle du fort aufaible, du vide au plein. Attaquez à découvert, mais soyez vainqueur en secret.Voilà en peu de mots en quoi consiste l’habileté & toute laperfection même du gouvernement des troupes.

Throughout the nineteenth century, which saw a wonderful development in thestudy of Chinese literature, no translator ventured to tackle Sun Tzŭ, althoughhis work was known to be highly valued in China as by far the oldest and bestcompendium of military science. It was not until the year 1905 that the firstEnglish translation, by Capt. E.F. Calthrop. R.F.A., appeared at Tokyo underthe title “Sonshi”(the Japanese form of Sun Tzŭ). Unfortunately, itwas evident that the translator’s knowledge of Chinese was far too scantyto fit him to grapple with the manifold difficulties of Sun Tzŭ. He himselfplainly acknowledges that without the aid of two Japanese gentlemen “theaccompanying translation would have been impossible.” We can only wonder,then, that with their help it should have been so excessively bad. It is notmerely a question of downright blunders, from which none can hope to be whollyexempt. Omissions were frequent; hard passages were wilfully distorted orslurred over. Such offences are less pardonable. They would not be tolerated inany edition of a Greek or Latin classic, and a similar standard of honestyought to be insisted upon in translations from Chinese.

From blemishes of this nature, at least, I believe that the present translationis free. It was not undertaken out of any inflated estimate of my own powers;but I could not help feeling that Sun Tzŭ deserved a better fate than hadbefallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I could hardly fail to improve onthe work of my predecessors. Towards the end of 1908, a new and revised editionof Capt. Calthrop’s translation was published in London, this time,however, without any allusion to his Japanese collaborators. My first threechapters were then already in the printer’s hands, so that the criticismsof Capt. Calthrop therein contained must be understood as referring to hisearlier edition. This is on the whole an improvement on the other, thoughtthere still remains much that cannot pass muster. Some of the grosser blundershave been rectified and lacunae filled up, but on the other hand a certainnumber of new mistakes appear. The very first sentence of the introduction isstartlingly inaccurate; and later on, while mention is made of “an armyof Japanese commentators” on Sun Tzŭ (who are these, by the way?), not aword is vouchsafed about the Chinese commentators, who nevertheless, I ventureto assert, form a much more numerous and infinitely more important“army.”

A few special features of the present volume may now be noticed. In the firstplace, the text has been cut up into numbered paragraphs, both in order tofacilitate cross-reference and for the convenience of students generally. Thedivision follows broadly that of Sun Hsing-yen’s edition; but I havesometimes found it desirable to join two or more of his paragraphs into one. Inquoting from other works, Chinese writers seldom give more than the bare titleby way of reference, and the task of research is apt to be seriously hamperedin consequence. With a view to obviating this difficulty so far as Sun Tzŭ isconcerned, I have also appended a complete concordance of Chinese characters,following in this the admirable example of Legge, though an alphabeticalarrangement has been preferred to the distribution under radicals which headopted. Another feature borrowed from “The Chinese Classics” isthe printing of text, translation and notes on the same page; the notes,however, are inserted, according to the Chinese method, immediately after thepassages to which they refer. From the mass of native commentary my aim hasbeen to extract the cream only, adding the Chinese text here and there when itseemed to present points of literary interest. Though constituting in itself animportant branch of Chinese literature, very little commentary of this kind hashitherto been made directly accessible by translation.

I may say in conclusion that, owing to the printing off of my sheets as theywere completed, the work has not had the benefit of a final revision. On areview of the whole, without modifying the substance of my criticisms, I mighthave been inclined in a few instances to temper their asperity. Having chosento wield a bludgeon, however, I shall not cry out if in return I am visitedwith more than a rap over the knuckles. Indeed, I have been at some pains toput a sword into the hands of future opponents by scrupulously giving eithertext or reference for every passage translated. A scathing review, even fromthe pen of the Shanghai critic who despises “mere translations,”would not, I must confess, be altogether unwelcome. For, after all, the worstfate I shall have to dread is that which befell the ingenious paradoxes ofGeorge in The Vicar of Wakefield.


Sun Wu and his Book

Ssu-ma Ch’ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzŭ: [1]

Sun Tzŭ Wu was a native of the Ch’i State. His Art of War broughthim to the notice of Ho Lu, [2] King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him:

"I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory ofmanaging soldiers to a slight test?"

Sun Tzŭ 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 180ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzŭ divided them into two companies, and placedone of the King’s favourite concubines at the head of each. He then bade themall take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: "I presume you knowthe difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?"

The girls replied: Yes.

Sun Tzŭ went on: "When I say "Eyes front," you must look straight ahead. When Isay "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 faceright round towards your back."

Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, heset up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to thesound of drums, he gave the order "Right turn." But the girls only burst outlaughing. Sun Tzŭ said: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, iforders 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 Tzŭ: "If wordsof 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 soldiersnevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers."

So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now theking of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and whenhe saw that his favourite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatlyalarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: "We are now quitesatisfied as to our general’s ability to handle troops. If we are bereft ofthese two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wishthat they shall not be beheaded."

Sun Tzŭ replied: "Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be thegeneral of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, actingin that capacity, I am unable to accept."

Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed thepair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drumwas sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all theevolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheelingback, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturingto utter a sound. Then Sun Tzŭ sent a messenger to the King saying: "Yoursoldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for yourmajesty’s inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign maydesire; 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. Asfor us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops."

Thereupon Sun Tzŭ said: "The King is only fond of words, and cannot translatethem into deeds."

After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzŭ wasone who knew how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In thewest, he defeated the Ch’u State and forced his way into Ying, thecapital; to the north he put fear into the States of Ch’i and Chin, andspread his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzŭ shared in themight of the King.

About Sun Tzŭ himself this is all that Ssu-ma Ch’ien has to tell us inthis chapter. But he proceeds to give a biography of his descendant, Sun Pin,born about a hundred years after his famous ancestor’s death, and also theoutstanding military genius of his time. The historian speaks of him too as SunTzŭ, and in his preface we read: "Sun Tzŭ had his feet cut off and yetcontinued to discuss the art of war." [3] It seems likely, then, that "Pin" wasa nickname bestowed on him after his mutilation, unless the story was inventedin order to account for the name. The crowning incident of his career, thecrushing defeat of his treacherous rival P’ang Chuan, will be foundbriefly related in Chapter V. § 19, note.

To return to the elder Sun Tzŭ. He is mentioned in two other passages of theShih Chi:

In the third year of his reign [512 B.C.] Ho Lu, king of Wu, took the fieldwith Tzŭ-hsu [i.e. Wu Yuan] and Po P’ei, and attacked Ch’u. Hecaptured the town of Shu and slew the two prince’s sons who had formerly beengenerals of Wu. He was then meditating a descent on Ying [the capital]; but thegeneral Sun Wu said: "The army is exhausted. It is not yet possible. We mustwait"…. [After further successful fighting,] "in the ninth year [506 B.C.],King Ho Lu addressed Wu Tzŭ-hsu and Sun Wu, saying: "Formerly, you declaredthat it was not yet possible for us to enter Ying. Is the time ripe now?" Thetwo men replied: "Ch’u’s general Tzŭ-ch’ang, [4] is grasping andcovetous, and the princes of T’ang and Ts’ai both have a grudgeagainst him. If Your Majesty has resolved to make a grand attack, you must winover T’ang and Ts’ai, and then you may succeed." Ho Lu followedthis advice, [beat Ch’u in five pitched battles and marched into Ying.][5]

This is the latest date at which anything is recorded of Sun Wu. He does notappear to have survived his patron, who died from the effects of a wound in496. In another chapter there occurs this passage:[6]

From this time onward, a number of famous soldiers arose, one after the other:Kao-fan, [7] who was employed by the Chin State; Wang-tzu, [8] in the serviceof Ch’i; and Sun Wu, in the service of Wu. These men developed and threwlight upon the principles of war.

It is obvious enough that Ssu-ma Ch’ien at least had no doubt about thereality of Sun Wu as an historical personage; and with one exception, to benoticed presently, he is by far the most important authority on the period inquestion. It will not be necessary, therefore, to say much of such a work asthe Wu Yüeh Ch’un Ch’iu, which is supposed to have beenwritten by Chao Yeh of the 1st century A.D. The attribution is somewhatdoubtful; but even if it were otherwise, his account would be of little value,based as it is on the Shih Chi and expanded with romantic details. The story ofSun Tzŭ will be found, for what it is worth, in chapter 2. The only new pointsin it worth noting are: (1) Sun Tzŭ was first recommended to Ho Lu by WuTzŭ-hsu. (2) He is called a native of Wu. (3) He had previously lived a retiredlife, and his contemporaries were unaware of his ability.

The following passage occurs in the Huai-nan Tzŭ: "When sovereign and ministersshow perversity of mind, it is impossible even for a Sun Tzŭ to encounter thefoe." Assuming that this work is genuine (and hitherto no doubt has been castupon it), we have here the earliest direct reference for Sun Tzŭ, for Huai-nanTzŭ died in 122 B.C., many years before the Shih Chi was given to the world.

Liu Hsiang (80-9 B.C.) says: "The reason why Sun Tzŭ at the head of 30,000 menbeat 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’sgrandfather by Duke Ching of Ch’i [547-490 B.C.]. Sun Wu’s father SunP’ing, rose to be a Minister of State in Ch’i, and Sun Wu himself,whose style was Ch’ang-ch’ing, fled to Wu on account of therebellion which was being fomented by the kindred of T’ien Pao. He hadthree 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, consideringthat Sun Pin’s victory over Wei was gained in 341 B.C., may be dismissed aschronologically impossible. Whence these data were obtained by Teng Ming-shih Ido 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 isthe short preface written by the Great Ts’ao Ts’ao, or Wei Wu Ti,for his edition of Sun Tzŭ. I shall give it in full:—

I have heard that the ancients used bows and arrows to their advantage. [10]The Lun Yu says: “There must be a sufficiency of militarystrength.” The Shu Ching mentions "the army" among the "eightobjects of government." The I Ching says: "‘army’ indicates firmness andjustice; the experienced leader will have good fortune." The Shih Chingsays: "The King rose majestic in his wrath, and he marshalled his troops." TheYellow Emperor, T’ang the Completer and Wu Wang all used spears andbattle-axes in order to succour their generation. The Ssu-ma Fa says: "Ifone man slay another of set purpose, he himself may rightfully be slain." Hewho relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who reliessolely on peaceful measures shall perish. Instances of this are Fu Ch’ai[11] on the one hand and Yen Wang on the other. [12] In military matters, theSage’s rule is normally to keep the peace, and to move his forces only whenoccasion 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 workcomposed by Sun Wu is the profoundest of them all. [Sun Tzŭ was a native of theCh’i state, his personal name was Wu. He wrote the Art of War in13 chapters for Ho Lu, King of Wu. Its principles were tested on women, and hewas subsequently made a general. He led an army westwards, crushed theCh’u state and entered Ying the capital. In the north, he kept Ch’iand Chin in awe. A hundred years and more after his time, Sun Pin lived. He wasa descendant of Wu.] [13] In his treatment of deliberation and planning, theimportance of rapidity in taking the field, [14] clearness of conception, anddepth of design, Sun Tzŭ stands beyond the reach of carping criticism. Mycontemporaries, however, have failed to grasp the full meaning of hisinstructions, and while putting into practice the smaller details in which hiswork abounds, they have overlooked its essential purport. That is the motivewhich has led me to outline a rough explanation of the whole.

One thing to be noticed in the above is the explicit statement that the 13chapters were specially composed for King Ho Lu. This is supported by theinternal evidence of I. § 15, in which it seems clear that some ruler isaddressed.

In the bibliographic section of the Han Shu, there is an entry which has givenrise to much discussion: "The works of Sun Tzŭ of Wu in 82 p’ien (orchapters), with diagrams in 9 chuan." It is evident that this cannot be merelythe 13 chapters known to Ssu-ma Ch’ien, or those we possess today. ChangShou-chieh refers to an edition of Sun Tzŭ’s Art of War of which the "13chapters" formed the first chuan, adding that there were two other chuanbesides. This has brought forth a theory, that the bulk of these 82 chaptersconsisted of other writings of Sun Tzŭ—we should call themapocryphal—similar to the Wen Ta, of which a specimen dealing with theNine Situations [15] is preserved in the T’ung Tien, and another in HoShin’s commentary. It is suggested that before his interview with Ho Lu, SunTzŭ had only written the 13 chapters, but afterwards composed a sort ofexegesis in the form of question and answer between himself and the King. PiI-hsun, the author of the Sun Tzŭ Hsu Lu, backs this up with a quotation fromthe Wu Yüeh Ch’un Ch’iu: "The King of Wu summoned Sun Tzŭ, andasked him questions about the art of war. Each time he set forth a chapter ofhis work, the King could not find words enough to praise him." As he pointsout, if the whole work was expounded on the same scale as in theabove-mentioned fragments, the total number of chapters could not fail to beconsiderable. Then the numerous other treatises attributed to Sun Tzŭ might beincluded. The fact that the Han Chih mentions no work of Sun Tzŭ except the 82p’ien, whereas the Sui and T’ang bibliographies give the titles ofothers in addition to the "13 chapters," is good proof, Pi I-hsun thinks, thatall of these were contained in the 82 p’ien. Without pinning our faith tothe accuracy of details supplied by the Wu Yüeh Ch’un Ch’iu, oradmitting the genuineness of any of the treatises cited by Pi I-hsun, we maysee in this theory a probable solution of the mystery. Between Ssu-maCh’ien and Pan Ku there was plenty of time for a luxuriant crop offorgeries to have grown up under the magic name of Sun Tzŭ, and the 82p’ien may very well represent a collected edition of these lumpedtogether with the original work. It is also possible, though less likely, thatsome of them existed in the time of the earlier historian and were purposelyignored by him. [16]

Tu Mu’s conjecture seems to be based on a passage which states: "Wei Wu Tistrung together Sun Wu’s Art of War," which in turn may have resulted from amisunderstanding of the final words of Ts’ao King’s preface. This, as SunHsing-yen points out, is only a modest way of saying that he made anexplanatory paraphrase, or in other words, wrote a commentary on it. On thewhole, this theory has met with very little acceptance. Thus, the Ssu K’uCh’uan Shu says: "The mention of the 13 chapters in the Shih Chi showsthat they were in existence before the Han Chih, and that latter accretions arenot to be considered part of the original work. Tu Mu’s assertion can certainlynot be taken as proof."

There is every reason to suppose, then, that the 13 chapters existed in thetime of Ssu-ma Ch’ien practically as we have them now. That the work wasthen well known he tells us in so many words. "Sun Tzŭ’s 13 Chapters and WuCh’i’s Art of War are the two books that people commonly refer to on thesubject of military matters. Both of them are widely distributed, so I will notdiscuss them here." But as we go further back, serious difficulties begin toarise. The salient fact which has to be faced is that the Tso Chuan, thegreatest contemporary record, makes no mention whatsoever of Sun Wu, either asa general or as a writer. It is natural, in view of this awkward circumstance,that many scholars should not only cast doubt on the story of Sun Wu as givenin the Shih Chi, but even show themselves frankly skeptical as to the existenceof the man at all. The most powerful presentment of this side of the case is tobe found in the following disposition by Yeh Shui-hsin: [17]—

It is stated in Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s history that Sun Wu was a native of theCh’i State, and employed by Wu; and that in the reign of Ho Lu he crushedCh’u, entered Ying, and was a great general. But in Tso’s Commentary noSun Wu appears at all. It is true that Tso’s Commentary need not containabsolutely everything that other histories contain. But Tso has not omitted tomention vulgar plebeians and hireling ruffians such as Ying K’ao-shu,[18] Ts’ao Kuei, [19], Chu Chih-wu and Chuan She-chu [20]. In the case ofSun Wu, whose fame and achievements were so brilliant, the omission is muchmore glaring. Again, details are given, in their due order, about hiscontemporaries Wu Yuan and the Minister P’ei. [21] Is it credible thatSun Wu alone should have been passed over?

In point of literary style, Sun Tzŭ’s work belongs to the same school as KuanTzŭ, [22] Liu T’ao, [23] and the Yüeh Yu [24] and may have been theproduction of some private scholar living towards the end of the "Spring andAutumn" or the beginning of the "Warring States" period. [25] The story thathis precepts were actually applied by the Wu State, is merely the outcome ofbig talk on the part of his followers.

From the flourishing period of the Chou dynasty [26] down to the time of the"Spring and Autumn," all military commanders were statesmen as well, and theclass of professional generals, for conducting external campaigns, did not thenexist. It was not until the period of the "Six States" [27] that this customchanged. Now although Wu was an uncivilized State, it is conceivable that Tsoshould have left unrecorded the fact that Sun Wu was a great general and yetheld no civil office? What we are told, therefore, about Jang-chu [28] and SunWu, is not authentic matter, but the reckless fabrication of theorizingpundits. The story of Ho Lu’s experiment on the women, in particular, isutterly preposterous and incredible.

Yeh Shui-hsin represents Ssu-ma Ch’ien as having said that Sun Wu crushedCh’u and entered Ying. This is not quite correct. No doubt the impressionleft on the reader’s mind is that he at least shared in these exploits. Thefact may or may not be significant; but it is nowhere explicitly stated in theShih Chi either that Sun Tzŭ was general on the occasion of the taking of Ying,or that he even went there at all. Moreover, as we know that Wu Yuan and PoP’ei both took part in the expedition, and also that its success waslargely due to the dash and enterprise of Fu Kai, Ho Lu’s younger brother, itis not easy to see how yet another general could have played a very prominentpart in the same campaign.

Ch’en Chen-sun of the Sung dynasty has the note:—

Military writers look upon Sun Wu as the father of their art. But the fact thathe does not appear in the Tso Chuan, although he is said to have served underHo Lu King of Wu, makes it uncertain what period he really belonged to.

He also says:—

The works of Sun Wu and Wu Ch’i may be of genuine antiquity.

It is noticeable that both Yeh Shui-hsin and Ch’en Chen-sun, whilerejecting the personality of Sun Wu as he figures in Ssu-ma Ch’ien’shistory, are inclined to accept the date traditionally assigned to the workwhich passes under his name. The author of the Hsu Lu fails to appreciate thisdistinction, and consequently his bitter attack on Ch’en Chen-sun reallymisses its mark. He makes one of two points, however, which certainly tell infavour of the high antiquity of our "13 chapters." "Sun Tzŭ," he says, "musthave lived in the age of Ching Wang [519-476], because he is frequentlyplagiarized in subsequent works of the Chou, Ch’in and Han dynasties."The two most shameless offenders in this respect are Wu Ch’i and Huai-nanTzŭ, both of them important historical personages in their day. The formerlived only a century after the alleged date of Sun Tzŭ, and his death is knownto have taken place in 381 B.C. It was to him, according to Liu Hsiang, thatTseng Shen delivered the Tso Chuan, which had been entrusted to him by itsauthor. [29] Now the fact that quotations from the Art of War,acknowledged or otherwise, are to be found in so many authors of differentepochs, establishes a very strong anterior to them all,—in other words,that Sun Tzŭ’s treatise was already in existence towards the end of the 5thcentury B.C. Further proof of Sun Tzŭ’s antiquity is furnished by the archaicor wholly obsolete meanings attaching to a number of the words he uses. A listof these, which might perhaps be extended, is given in the Hsu Lu; and thoughsome of the interpretations are doubtful, the main argument is hardly affectedthereby. Again, it must not be forgotten that Yeh Shui-hsin, a scholar andcritic of the first rank, deliberately pronounces the style of the 13 chaptersto belong to the early part of the fifth century. Seeing that he is actuallyengaged in an attempt to disprove the existence of Sun Wu himself, we may besure that he would not have hesitated to assign the work to a later date had henot honestly believed the contrary. And it is precisely on such a point thatthe judgment of an educated Chinaman will carry most weight. Other internalevidence is not far to seek. Thus in XIII. § 1, there is an unmistakableallusion to the ancient system of land-tenure which had already passed away bythe time of Mencius, who was anxious to see it revived in a modified form. [30]The only warfare Sun Tzŭ knows is that carried on between the various feudalprinces, in which armored chariots play a large part. Their use seems to haveentirely died out before the end of the Chou dynasty. He speaks as a man of Wu,a state which ceased to exist as early as 473 B.C. On this I shall touchpresently.

But once refer the work to the 5th century or earlier, and the chances of itsbeing other than a bonâ fide production are sensibly diminished. Thegreat age of forgeries did not come until long after. That it should have beenforged in the period immediately following 473 is particularly unlikely, for noone, as a rule, hastens to identify himself with a lost cause. As for YehShui-hsin’s theory, that the author was a literary recluse, that seems to mequite untenable. If one thing is more apparent than another after reading themaxims of Sun Tzŭ, it is that their essence has been distilled from a largestore of personal observation and experience. They reflect the mind not only ofa born strategist, gifted with a rare faculty of generalization, but also of apractical soldier closely acquainted with the military conditions of his time.To say nothing of the fact that these sayings have been accepted and endorsedby all the greatest captains of Chinese history, they offer a combination offreshness and sincerity, acuteness and common sense, which quite excludes theidea that they were artificially concocted in the study. If we admit, then,that the 13 chapters were the genuine production of a military man livingtowards the end of the "Ch’un Ch’iu" period, are we not bound, inspite of the silence of the Tso Chuan, to accept Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s accountin its entirety? In view of his high repute as a sober historian, must we nothesitate to assume that the records he drew upon for Sun Wu’s biography werefalse and untrustworthy? The answer, I fear, must be in the negative. There isstill one grave, if not fatal, objection to the chronology involved in thestory as told in the Shih Chi, which, so far as I am aware, nobody has yetpointed out. There are two passages in Sun Tzŭ in which he alludes tocontemporary affairs. The first in in VI. § 21:—

Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yüeh exceed our own in number,that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then thatvictory can be achieved.

The other is in XI. § 30:—

Asked if an army can be made to imitate the shuai-jan, I should answer,Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yüeh are enemies; yet if they arecrossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come toeach other’s assistance just as the left hand helps the right.

These two paragraphs are extremely valuable as evidence of the date ofcomposition. They assign the work to the period of the struggle between Wu andYüeh. So much has been observed by Pi I-hsun. But what has hitherto escapednotice is that they also seriously impair the credibility of Ssu-maCh’ien’s narrative. As we have seen above, the first positive date givenin connection with Sun Wu is 512 B.C. He is then spoken of as a general, actingas confidential adviser to Ho Lu, so that his alleged introduction to thatmonarch had already taken place, and of course the 13 chapters must have beenwritten earlier still. But at that time, and for several years after, down tothe capture of Ying in 506, Ch’u and not Yüeh, was the great hereditaryenemy of Wu. The two states, Ch’u and Wu, had been constantly at war forover half a century, [31] whereas the first war between Wu and Yüeh was wagedonly in 510, [32] and even then was no more than a short interlude sandwichedin the midst of the fierce struggle with Ch’u. Now Ch’u is notmentioned in the 13 chapters at all. The natural inference is that they werewritten at a time when Yüeh had become the prime antagonist of Wu, that is,after Ch’u had suffered the great humiliation of 506. At this point, atable of dates may be found useful.

514Accession of Ho Lu.
512Ho Lu attacks Ch’u, but is dissuaded from enteringYing,
the capital. Shih Chi mentions Sun Wu as general.
511Another attack on Ch’u.
510Wu makes a successful attack on Yüeh. This is thefirst
war between the two states.
509 or 508Ch’u invades Wu, but is signally defeated atYu-chang.
506Ho Lu attacks Ch’u with the aid of T’ang andTs’ai.
Decisive battle of Po-chu, and capture of Ying. Last
mention of Sun Wu in Shih Chi.
505Yüeh makes a raid on Wu in the absence of its army.Wu
is beaten by Ch’in and evacuates Ying.
504Ho Lu sends Fu Ch’ai to attack Ch’u.
497Kou Chien becomes King of Yüeh.
496Wu attacks Yüeh, but is defeated by Kou Chien atTsui-li.
Ho Lu is killed.
494Fu Ch’ai defeats Kou Chien in the great battle ofFu-
chaio, and enters the capital of Yüeh.
485 or 484Kou Chien renders homage to Wu. Death of WuTzŭ-hsu.
482Kou Chien invades Wu in the absence of FuCh’ai.
478 to 476Further attacks by Yüeh on Wu.
475Kou Chien lays siege to the capital of Wu.
473Final defeat and extinction of Wu.

The sentence quoted above from VI. § 21 hardly strikes me as one that couldhave been written in the full flush of victory. It seems rather to imply that,for the moment at least, the tide had turned against Wu, and that she wasgetting the worst of the struggle. Hence we may conclude that our treatise wasnot in existence in 505, before which date Yüeh does not appear to have scoredany notable success against Wu. Ho Lu died in 496, so that if the book waswritten for him, it must have been during the period 505-496, when there was alull in the hostilities, Wu having presumably exhausted by its supreme effortagainst Ch’u. On the other hand, if we choose to disregard the traditionconnecting Sun Wu’s name with Ho Lu, it might equally well have seen the lightbetween 496 and 494, or possibly in the period 482-473, when Yüeh was onceagain becoming a very serious menace. [33] We may feel fairly certain that theauthor, whoever he may have been, was not a man of any great eminence in hisown day. On this point the negative testimony of the Tso Chuan far outweighsany shred of authority still attaching to the Shih Chi, if once its other factsare discredited. Sun Hsing-yen, however, makes a feeble attempt to explain theomission of his name from the great commentary. It was Wu Tzŭ-hsu, he says, whogot all the credit of Sun Wu’s exploits, because the latter (being an alien)was not rewarded with an office in the State.

How then did the Sun Tzŭ legend originate? It may be that the growing celebrityof the book imparted by degrees a kind of factitious renown to its author. Itwas felt to be only right and proper that one so well versed in the science ofwar should have solid achievements to his credit as well. Now the capture ofYing was undoubtedly the greatest feat of arms in Ho Lu’s reign; it made a deepand lasting impression on all the surrounding states, and raised Wu to theshort-lived zenith of her power. Hence, what more natural, as time went on,than that the acknowledged master of strategy, Sun Wu, should be popularlyidentified with that campaign, at first perhaps only in the sense that hisbrain conceived and planned it; afterwards, that it was actually carried out byhim in conjunction with Wu Yuan, [34] Po P’ei and Fu Kai?

It is obvious that any attempt to reconstruct even the outline of Sun Tzŭ’slife must be based almost wholly on conjecture. With this necessary proviso, Ishould say that he probably entered the service of Wu about the time of Ho Lu’saccession, and gathered experience, though only in the capacity of asubordinate officer, during the intense military activity which marked thefirst half of the prince’s reign. [35] If he rose to be a general at all, hecertainly was never on an equal footing with the three above mentioned. He wasdoubtless present at the investment and occupation of Ying, and witnessed Wu’ssudden collapse in the following year. Yüeh’s attack at this critical juncture,when her rival was embarrassed on every side, seems to have convinced him thatthis upstart kingdom was the great enemy against whom every effort wouldhenceforth have to be directed. Sun Wu was thus a well-seasoned warrior when hesat down to write his famous book, which according to my reckoning must haveappeared towards the end, rather than the beginning of Ho Lu’s reign. The storyof the women may possibly have grown out of some real incident occurring aboutthe same time. As we hear no more of Sun Wu after this from any source, he ishardly likely to have survived his patron or to have taken part in thedeath-struggle with Yüeh, which began with the disaster at Tsui-li.

If these inferences are approximately correct, there is a certain irony in thefate which decreed that China’s most illustrious man of peace should becontemporary with her greatest writer on war.

The Text of Sun Tzŭ

I have found it difficult to glean much about the history of Sun Tzŭ’s text.The quotations that occur in early authors go to show that the "13 chapters" ofwhich Ssu-ma Ch’ien speaks were essentially the same as those now extant.We have his word for it that they were widely circulated in his day, and canonly regret that he refrained from discussing them on that account. SunHsing-yen says in his preface:—

During the Ch’in and Han dynasties Sun Tzŭ’s Art of War was ingeneral use amongst military commanders, but they seem to have treated it as awork of mysterious import, and were unwilling to expound it for the benefit ofposterity. Thus it came about that Wei Wu was the first to write a commentaryon it.

As we have already seen, there is no reasonable ground to suppose thatTs’ao Kung tampered with the text. But the text itself is often soobscure, and the number of editions which appeared from that time onward sogreat, especially during the T’ang and Sung dynasties, that it would besurprising if numerous corruptions had not managed to creep in. Towards themiddle of the Sung period, by which time all the chief commentaries on Sun Tzŭwere in existence, a certain Chi T’ien-pao published a work in 15chuan entitled "Sun Tzŭ with the collected commentaries of ten writers."There was another text, with variant readings put forward by Chu Fu ofTa-hsing, which also had supporters among the scholars of that period; but inthe Ming editions, Sun Hsing-yen tells us, these readings were for some reasonor other no longer put into circulation. Thus, until the end of the 18thcentury, the text in sole possession of the field was one derived from ChiT’ien-pao’s edition, although no actual copy of that important work wasknown to have survived. That, therefore, is the text of Sun Tzŭ which appearsin the War section of the great Imperial encyclopedia printed in 1726, theKu Chin T’u Shu Chi Ch’eng. Another copy at my disposal ofwhat is practically the same text, with slight variations, is that contained inthe "Eleven philosophers of the Chou and Ch’in dynasties" [1758]. And theChinese printed in Capt. Calthrop’s first edition is evidently a similarversion which has filtered through Japanese channels. So things remained untilSun Hsing-yen [1752-1818], a distinguished antiquarian and classical scholar,who claimed to be an actual descendant of Sun Wu, [36] accidentally discovereda copy of Chi T’ien-pao’s long-lost work, when on a visit to the libraryof the Hua-yin temple. [37] Appended to it was the I Shuo of ChengYu-Hsien, mentioned in the T’ung Chih, and also believed to haveperished. This is what Sun Hsing-yen designates as the "original edition (ortext)"—a rather misleading name, for it cannot by any means claim to setbefore us the text of Sun Tzŭ in its pristine purity. Chi T’ien-pao was acareless compiler, and appears to have been content to reproduce the somewhatdebased version current in his day, without troubling to collate it with theearliest editions then available. Fortunately, two versions of Sun Tzŭ, evenolder than the newly discovered work, were still extant, one buried in theT’ung Tien, Tu Yu’s great treatise on the Constitution, the othersimilarly enshrined in the T’ai P’ing Yu Lan encyclopedia.In both the complete text is to be found, though split up into fragments,intermixed with other matter, and scattered piecemeal over a number ofdifferent sections. Considering that the Yu Lan takes us back to theyear 983, and the T’ung Tien about 200 years further still, to themiddle of the T’ang dynasty, the value of these early transcripts of SunTzŭ can hardly be overestimated. Yet the idea of utilizing them does not seemto have occurred to anyone until Sun Hsing-yen, acting under Governmentinstructions, undertook a thorough recension of the text. This is his ownaccount:—

Because of the numerous mistakes in the text of Sun Tzŭ which his editors hadhanded down, the Government ordered that the ancient edition [of ChiT’ien-pao] should be used, and that the text should be revised andcorrected throughout. It happened that Wu Nien-hu, the Governor Pi Kua, andHsi, a graduate of the second degree, had all devoted themselves to this study,probably surpassing me therein. Accordingly, I have had the whole work cut onblocks as a textbook for military men.

The three individuals here referred to had evidently been occupied on the textof Sun Tzŭ prior to Sun Hsing-yen’s commission, but we are left in doubt as tothe work they really accomplished. At any rate, the new edition, whenultimately produced, appeared in the names of Sun Hsing-yen and only oneco-editor Wu Jen-shi. They took the "original edition" as their basis, and bycareful comparison with older versions, as well as the extant commentaries andother sources of information such as the I Shuo, succeeded in restoring a verylarge number of doubtful passages, and turned out, on the whole, what must beaccepted as the closest approximation we are ever likely to get to Sun Tzŭ’soriginal work. This is what will hereafter be denominated the "standard text."

The copy which I have used belongs to a reissue dated 1877. It is in 6 pen,forming part of a well-printed set of 23 early philosophical works in 83 pen.[38] It opens with a preface by Sun Hsing-yen (largely quoted in thisintroduction), vindicating the traditional view of Sun Tzŭ’s life andperformances, and summing up in remarkably concise fashion the evidence in itsfavour. This is followed by Ts’ao Kung’s preface to his edition, and thebiography of Sun Tzŭ from the Shih Chi, both translated above. Then come,firstly, Cheng Yu-hsien’s I Shuo, [39] with author’s preface, and next, a shortmiscellany of historical and bibliographical information entitled Sun Tzŭ HsuLu, compiled by Pi I-hsun. As regards the body of the work, each separatesentence is followed by a note on the text, if required, and then by thevarious commentaries appertaining to it, arranged in chronological order. Thesewe shall now proceed to discuss briefly, one by one.

The Commentators

Sun Tzŭ can boast an exceptionally long distinguished roll of commentators,which would do honour to any classic. Ou-yang Hsiu remarks on this fact, thoughhe wrote before the tale was complete, and rather ingeniously explains it bysaying that the artifices of war, being inexhaustible, must therefore besusceptible of treatment in a great variety of ways.

1. TS’AO TS’AO or Ts’ao Kung, afterwards known as Wei Wu Ti[A.D. 155-220]. There is hardly any room for doubt that the earliest commentaryon Sun Tzŭ actually came from the pen of this extraordinary man, whosebiography in the San Kuo Chih reads like a romance. One of the greatestmilitary geniuses that the world has seen, and Napoleonic in the scale of hisoperations, he was especially famed for the marvelous rapidity of his marches,which has found expression in the line "Talk of Ts’ao Ts’ao, andTs’ao Ts’ao will appear." Ou-yang Hsiu says of him that he was agreat captain who "measured his strength against Tung Cho, Lu Pu and the twoYuan, father and son, and vanquished them all; whereupon he divided the Empireof Han with Wu and Shu, and made himself king. It is recorded that whenever acouncil of war was held by Wei on the eve of a far-reaching campaign, he hadall his calculations ready; those generals who made use of them did not loseone battle in ten; those who ran counter to them in any particular saw theirarmies incontinently beaten and put to flight." Ts’ao Kung’s notes on SunTzŭ, models of austere brevity, are so thoroughly characteristic of the sterncommander known to history, that it is hard indeed to conceive of them as thework of a mere littérateur. Sometimes, indeed, owing to extreme compression,they are scarcely intelligible and stand no less in need of a commentary thanthe text itself. [40]

2. MENG SHIH. The commentary which has come down to us under this name iscomparatively meager, and nothing about the author is known. Even his personalname has not been recorded. Chi T’ien-pao’s edition places him after ChiaLin, and Ch’ao Kung-wu also assigns him to the T’ang dynasty, [41]but this is a mistake. In Sun Hsing-yen’s preface, he appears as Meng Shih ofthe Liang dynasty [502-557]. Others would identify him with Meng K’ang ofthe 3rd century. He is named in one work as the last of the "FiveCommentators," the others being Wei Wu Ti, Tu Mu, Ch’en Hao and Chia Lin.

3. LI CH’UAN of the 8th century was a well-known writer on militarytactics. One of his works has been in constant use down to the present day. TheT’ung Chih mentions "Lives of famous generals from the Chou to theT’ang dynasty" as written by him. [42] According to Ch’ao Kung-wuand the T’ien-i-ko catalogue, he followed a variant of the text of SunTzŭ which differs considerably from those now extant. His notes are mostlyshort and to the point, and he frequently illustrates his remarks by anecdotesfrom Chinese history.

4. TU YU (died 812) did not publish a separate commentary on Sun Tzŭ, his notesbeing taken from the T’ung Tien, the encyclopedic treatise on theConstitution which was his life-work. They are largely repetitions ofTs’ao Kung and Meng Shih, besides which it is believed that he drew onthe ancient commentaries of Wang Ling and others. Owing to the peculiararrangement of T’ung Tien, he has to explain each passage on its merits,apart from the context, and sometimes his own explanation does not agree withthat of Ts’ao Kung, whom he always quotes first. Though not strictly tobe reckoned as one of the "Ten Commentators," he was added to their number byChi T’ien-pao, being wrongly placed after his grandson Tu Mu.

5. TU MU (803-852) is perhaps the best known as a poet—a bright star evenin the glorious galaxy of the T’ang period. We learn from Ch’aoKung-wu that although he had no practical experience of war, he was extremelyfond of discussing the subject, and was moreover well read in the militaryhistory of the Ch’un Ch’iu and Chan Kuo eras. His notes, therefore,are well worth attention. They are very copious, and replete with historicalparallels. The gist of Sun Tzŭ’s work is thus summarized by him: "Practicebenevolence and justice, but on the other hand make full use of artifice andmeasures of expediency." He further declared that all the military triumphs anddisasters of the thousand years which had elapsed since Sun Tzŭ’s death would,upon examination, be found to uphold and corroborate, in every particular, themaxims contained in his book. Tu Mu’s somewhat spiteful charge againstTs’ao Kung has already been considered elsewhere.

6. CH’EN HAO appears to have been a contemporary of Tu Mu. Ch’aoKung-wu says that he was impelled to write a new commentary on Sun Tzŭ becauseTs’ao Kung’s on the one hand was too obscure and subtle, and that of TuMu on the other too long-winded and diffuse. Ou-yang Hsiu, writing in themiddle of the 11th century, calls Ts’ao Kung, Tu Mu and Ch’en Haothe three chief commentators on Sun Tzŭ, and observes that Ch’en Hao iscontinually attacking Tu Mu’s shortcomings. His commentary, though not lackingin merit, must rank below those of his predecessors.

7. CHIA LIN is known to have lived under the T’ang dynasty, for hiscommentary on Sun Tzŭ is mentioned in the T’ang Shu and was afterwardsrepublished by Chi Hsieh of the same dynasty together with those of Meng Shihand Tu Yu. It is of somewhat scanty texture, and in point of quality, too,perhaps the least valuable of the eleven.

8. MEI YAO-CH’EN (1002-1060), commonly known by his "style" as MeiSheng-yu, was, like Tu Mu, a poet of distinction. His commentary was publishedwith a laudatory preface by the great Ou-yang Hsiu, from which we may cull thefollowing:—

Later scholars have misread Sun Tzŭ, distorting his words and trying to makethem square with their own one-sided views. Thus, though commentators have notbeen lacking, only a few have proved equal to the task. My friend Sheng-yu hasnot fallen into this mistake. In attempting to provide a critical commentaryfor Sun Tzŭ’s work, he does not lose sight of the fact that these sayings wereintended for states engaged in internecine warfare; that the author is notconcerned with the military conditions prevailing under the sovereigns of thethree ancient dynasties, [43] nor with the nine punitive measures prescribed tothe Minister of War. [44] Again, Sun Wu loved brevity of diction, but hismeaning is always deep. Whether the subject be marching an army, or handlingsoldiers, or estimating the enemy, or controlling the forces of victory, it isalways systematically treated; the sayings are bound together in strict logicalsequence, though this has been obscured by commentators who have probablyfailed to grasp their meaning. In his own commentary, Mei Sheng-yu has brushedaside all the obstinate prejudices of these critics, and has tried to bring outthe true meaning of Sun Tzŭ himself. In this way, the clouds of confusion havebeen dispersed and the sayings made clear. I am convinced that the present workdeserves to be handed down side by side with the three great commentaries; andfor a great deal that they find in the sayings, coming generations will haveconstant reason to thank my friend Sheng-yu.

Making some allowance for the exuberance of friendship, I am inclined toendorse this favourable judgment, and would certainly place him aboveCh’en Hao in order of merit.

9. WANG HSI, also of the Sung dynasty, is decidedly original in some of hisinterpretations, but much less judicious than Mei Yao-ch’en, and on thewhole not a very trustworthy guide. He is fond of comparing his own commentarywith that of Ts’ao Kung, but the comparison is not often flattering tohim. We learn from Ch’ao Kung-wu that Wang Hsi revised the ancient textof Sun Tzŭ, filling up lacunae and correcting mistakes. [45]

10. HO YEN-HSI of the Sung dynasty. The personal name of this commentator isgiven as above by Cheng Ch’iao in the Tung Chih, written about the middleof the twelfth century, but he appears simply as Ho Shih in the Yu Hai, and MaTuan-lin quotes Ch’ao Kung-wu as saying that his personal name isunknown. There seems to be no reason to doubt Cheng Ch’iao’s statement,otherwise I should have been inclined to hazard a guess and identify him withone Ho Ch’u-fei, the author of a short treatise on war, who lived in thelatter part of the 11th century. Ho Shih’s commentary, in the words of theT’ien-i-ko catalogue, "contains helpful additions" here and there, but ischiefly remarkable for the copious extracts taken, in adapted form, from thedynastic histories and other sources.

11. CHANG YU. The list closes with a commentator of no great originalityperhaps, but gifted with admirable powers of lucid exposition. His commentatoris based on that of Ts’ao Kung, whose terse sentences he contrives toexpand and develop in masterly fashion. Without Chang Yu, it is safe to saythat much of Ts’ao Kung’s commentary would have remained cloaked in itspristine obscurity and therefore valueless. His work is not mentioned in theSung history, the T’ung K’ao, or the Yu Hai, but it finds a nichein the T’ung Chih, which also names him as the author of the "Lives ofFamous Generals." [46]

It is rather remarkable that the last-named four should all have flourishedwithin so short a space of time. Ch’ao Kung-wu accounts for it by saying:"During the early years of the Sung dynasty the Empire enjoyed a long spell ofpeace, and men ceased to practice the art of war. but when [Chao] Yuan-hao’srebellion came [1038-42] and the frontier generals were defeated time aftertime, the Court made strenuous inquiry for men skilled in war, and militarytopics became the vogue amongst all the high officials. Hence it is that thecommentators of Sun Tzŭ in our dynasty belong mainly to that period. [47]

Besides these eleven commentators, there are several others whose work has notcome down to us. The Sui Shu mentions four, namely Wang Ling (often quoted byTu Yu as Wang Tzŭ); Chang Tzŭ-shang; Chia Hsu of Wei; [48] and Shen Yu of Wu.The T’ang Shu adds Sun Hao, and the T’ung Chih Hsiao Chi, while theT’u Shu mentions a Ming commentator, Huang Jun-yu. It is possible thatsome of these may have been merely collectors and editors of othercommentaries, like Chi T’ien-pao and Chi Hsieh, mentioned above.

Appreciations of Sun Tzŭ

Sun Tzŭ has exercised a potent fascination over the minds of some of China’sgreatest men. Among the famous generals who are known to have studied his pageswith enthusiasm may be mentioned Han Hsin (d. 196 B.C.), [49] Feng I (d. 34A.D.), [50] Lu Meng (d. 219), [51] and Yo Fei (1103-1141). [52] The opinion ofTs’ao Kung, who disputes with Han Hsin the highest place in Chinesemilitary annals, has already been recorded. [53] Still more remarkable, in oneway, is the testimony of purely literary men, such as Su Hsun (the father of SuTung-p’o), who wrote several essays on military topics, all of which owetheir chief inspiration to Sun Tzŭ. The following short passage by him ispreserved in the Yu Hai: [54]—

Sun Wu’s saying, that in war one cannot make certain of conquering, [55] isvery different indeed from what other books tell us. [56] Wu Ch’i was aman of the same stamp as Sun Wu: they both wrote books on war, and they arelinked together in popular speech as "Sun and Wu." But Wu Ch’i’s remarkson war are less weighty, his rules are rougher and more crudely stated, andthere is not the same unity of plan as in Sun Tzŭ’s work, where the style isterse, but the meaning fully brought out.

The following is an extract from the "Impartial Judgments in the Garden ofLiterature" by Cheng Hou:—

Sun Tzŭ’s 13 chapters are not only the staple and base of all military men’straining, but also compel the most careful attention of scholars and men ofletters. His sayings are terse yet elegant, simple yet profound, perspicuousand eminently practical. Such works as the Lun Yu, the I Chingand the great Commentary, [57] as well as the writings of Mencius, HsunK’uang and Yang Chu, all fall below the level of Sun Tzŭ.

Chu Hsi, commenting on this, fully admits the first part of the criticism,although he dislikes the audacious comparison with the venerated classicalworks. Language of this sort, he says, "encourages a ruler’s bent towardsunrelenting warfare and reckless militarism."

Apologies for War

Accustomed as we are to think of China as the greatest peace-loving nation onearth, we are in some danger of forgetting that her experience of war in allits phases has also been such as no modern State can parallel. Her longmilitary annals stretch back to a point at which they are lost in the mists oftime. She had built the Great Wall and was maintaining a huge standing armyalong her frontier centuries before the first Roman legionary was seen on theDanube. What with the perpetual collisions of the ancient feudal States, thegrim conflicts with Huns, Turks and other invaders after the centralization ofgovernment, the terrific upheavals which accompanied the overthrow of so manydynasties, besides the countless rebellions and minor disturbances that haveflamed up and flickered out again one by one, it is hardly too much to say thatthe clash of arms has never ceased to resound in one portion or another of theEmpire.

No less remarkable is the succession of illustrious captains to whom China canpoint with pride. As in all countries, the greatest are fond of emerging at themost fateful crises of her history. Thus, Po Ch’i stands out conspicuousin the period when Ch’in was entering upon her final struggle with theremaining independent states. The stormy years which followed the break-up ofthe Ch’in dynasty are illuminated by the transcendent genius of Han Hsin.When the House of Han in turn is tottering to its fall, the great and balefulfigure of Ts’ao Ts’ao dominates the scene. And in the establishmentof the T’ang dynasty, one of the mightiest tasks achieved by man, thesuperhuman energy of Li Shih-min (afterwards the Emperor T’ai Tsung) wasseconded by the brilliant strategy of Li Ching. None of these generals needfear comparison with the greatest names in the military history of Europe.

In spite of all this, the great body of Chinese sentiment, from Lao Tzŭdownwards, and especially as reflected in the standard literature ofConfucianism, has been consistently pacific and intensely opposed to militarismin any form. It is such an uncommon thing to find any of the literati defendingwarfare on principle, that I have thought it worth while to collect andtranslate a few passages in which the unorthodox view is upheld. The following,by Ssu-ma Ch’ien, shows that for all his ardent admiration of Confucius,he was yet no advocate of peace at any price:—

Military weapons are the means used by the Sage to punish violence and cruelty,to give peace to troublous times, to remove difficulties and dangers, and tosuccour those who are in peril. Every animal with blood in its veins and hornson its head will fight when it is attacked. How much more so will man, whocarries in his breast the faculties of love and hatred, joy and anger! When heis pleased, a feeling of affection springs up within him; when angry, hispoisoned sting is brought into play. That is the natural law which governs hisbeing…. What then shall be said of those scholars of our time, blind to allgreat issues, and without any appreciation of relative values, who can onlybark out their stale formulas about "virtue" and "civilization," condemning theuse of military weapons? They will surely bring our country to impotence anddishonour and the loss of her rightful heritage; or, at the very least, theywill bring about invasion and rebellion, sacrifice of territory and generalenfeeblement. Yet they obstinately refuse to modify the position they havetaken up. The truth is that, just as in the family the teacher must not sparethe rod, and punishments cannot be dispensed with in the State, so militarychastisement can never be allowed to fall into abeyance in the Empire. All onecan say is that this power will be exercised wisely by some, foolishly byothers, and that among those who bear arms some will be loyal and othersrebellious. [58]

The next piece is taken from Tu Mu’s preface to his commentary on SunTzŭ:—

War may be defined as punishment, which is one of the functions of government.It was the profession of Chung Yu and Jan Ch’iu, both disciples ofConfucius. Nowadays, the holding of trials and hearing of litigation, theimprisonment of offenders and their execution by flogging in the market-place,are all done by officials. But the wielding of huge armies, the throwing downof fortified cities, the hauling of women and children into captivity, and thebeheading of traitors—this is also work which is done by officials. Theobjects of the rack and of military weapons are essentially the same. There isno intrinsic difference between the punishment of flogging and cutting offheads in war. For the lesser infractions of law, which are easily dealt with,only a small amount of force need be employed: hence the use of militaryweapons and wholesale decapitation. In both cases, however, the end in view isto get rid of wicked people, and to give comfort and relief to the good….

Chi-sun asked Jan Yu, saying: "Have you, Sir, acquired your military aptitudeby study, or is it innate?" Jan Yu replied: "It has been acquired by study."[59] "How can that be so," said Chi-sun, "seeing that you are a disciple ofConfucius?" "It is a fact," replied Jan Yu; "I was taught by Confucius. It isfitting that the great Sage should exercise both civil and military functions,though to be sure my instruction in the art of fighting has not yet gone veryfar."

Now, who the author was of this rigid distinction between the "civil" and the"military," and the limitation of each to a separate sphere of action, or inwhat year of which dynasty it was first introduced, is more than I can say.But, at any rate, it has come about that the members of the governing class arequite afraid of enlarging on military topics, or do so only in a shamefacedmanner. If any are bold enough to discuss the subject, they are at once setdown as eccentric individuals of coarse and brutal propensities. This is anextraordinary instance in which, through sheer lack of reasoning, men unhappilylose sight of fundamental principles.

When the Duke of Chou was minister under Ch’eng Wang, he regulatedceremonies and made music, and venerated the arts of scholarship and learning;yet when the barbarians of the River Huai revolted, [60] he sallied forth andchastised them. When Confucius held office under the Duke of Lu, and a meetingwas convened at Chia-ku, [61] he said: "If pacific negotiations are inprogress, warlike preparations should have been made beforehand." He rebukedand shamed the Marquis of Ch’i, who cowered under him and dared notproceed to violence. How can it be said that these two great Sages had noknowledge of military matters?

We have seen that the great Chu Hsi held Sun Tzŭ in high esteem. He alsoappeals to the authority of the Classics:—

Our Master Confucius, answering Duke Ling of Wei, said: "I have never studiedmatters connected with armies and battalions." [62] Replying to K’ungWen-tzu, he said: I have not been instructed about buff-coats and weapons." Butif we turn to the meeting at Chia-ku, we find that he used armed force againstthe men of Lai, so that the marquis of Ch’i was overawed. Again, when theinhabitants of Pi revolted; he ordered his officers to attack them, whereuponthey were defeated and fled in confusion. He once uttered the words: "If Ifight, I conquer." [63] And Jan Yu also said: "The Sage exercises both civiland military functions." [64] Can it be a fact that Confucius never studied orreceived instruction in the art of war? We can only say that he did notspecially choose matters connected with armies and fighting to be the subjectof his teaching.

Sun Hsing-yen, the editor of Sun Tzŭ, writes in similar strain:—

Confucius said: "I am unversed in military matters." [65] He also said: "If Ifight, I conquer." Confucius ordered ceremonies and regulated music. Now warconstitutes one of the five classes of State ceremonial, [66] and must not betreated as an independent branch of study. Hence, the words "I am unversed in"must be taken to mean that there are things which even an inspired Teacher doesnot know. Those who have to lead an army and devise stratagems, must learn theart of war. But if one can command the services of a good general like Sun Tzŭ,who was employed by Wu Tzŭ-hsu, there is no need to learn it oneself. Hence theremark added by Confucius: "If I fight, I conquer."

The men of the present day, however, willfully interpret these words ofConfucius in their narrowest sense, as though he meant that books on the art ofwar were not worth reading. With blind persistency, they adduce the example ofChao Kua, who pored over his father’s books to no purpose, [67] as a proof thatall military theory is useless. Again, seeing that books on war have to do withsuch things as opportunism in designing plans, and the conversion of spies,they hold that the art is immoral and unworthy of a sage. These people ignorethe fact that the studies of our scholars and the civil administration of ourofficials also require steady application and practice before efficiency isreached. The ancients were particularly chary of allowing mere novices to botchtheir work. [68] Weapons are baneful [69] and fighting perilous; and uselessunless a general is in constant practice, he ought not to hazard other men’slives in battle. [70] Hence it is essential that Sun Tzŭ’s 13 chapters shouldbe studied.

Hsiang Liang used to instruct his nephew Chi [71] in the art of war. Chi got arough idea of the art in its general bearings, but would not pursue his studiesto their proper outcome, the consequence being that he was finally defeated andoverthrown. He did not realize that the tricks and artifices of war are beyondverbal computation. Duke Hsiang of Sung and King Yen of Hsu were brought todestruction by their misplaced humanity. The treacherous and underhand natureof war necessitates the use of guile and stratagem suited to the occasion.There is a case on record of Confucius himself having violated an extortedoath, [72] and also of his having left the Sung State in disguise. [73] Can wethen recklessly arraign Sun Tzŭ for disregarding truth and honesty?


The following are the oldest Chinese treatises on war, after Sun Tzŭ. The noteson each have been drawn principally from the Ssu k’u ch’uan shuchien ming mu lu, ch. 9, fol. 22 sqq.

1. Wu Tzŭ, in 1 chuan or 6 chapters. By Wu Ch’i (d. 381 B.C.). A genuinework. See Shih Chi, ch. 65.

2. Ssu-ma Fa, in 1 chuan or 5 chapters. Wrongly attributed to Ssu-ma Jang-chuof the 6th century B.C. Its date, however, must be early, as the customs of thethree ancient dynasties are constantly to be met within its pages. See ShihChi, ch. 64.

The Ssu K’u Ch’uan Shu (ch. 99, f. 1) remarks that the oldest threetreatises on war, Sun Tzŭ, Wu Tzŭ and Ssu-ma Fa, are, generally speaking, onlyconcerned with things strictly military—the art of producing, collecting,training and drilling troops, and the correct theory with regard to measures ofexpediency, laying plans, transport of goods and the handling ofsoldiers—in strong contrast to later works, in which the science of waris usually blended with metaphysics, divination and magical arts in general.

3. Liu T’ao, in 6 chuan, or 60 chapters. Attributed to Lu Wang (or LuShang, also known as T’ai Kung) of the 12th century B.C. [74] But itsstyle does not belong to the era of the Three Dynasties. Lu Te-ming (550-625A.D.) mentions the work, and enumerates the headings of the six sections sothat the forgery cannot have been later than Sui dynasty.

4. Wei Liao Tzŭ, in 5 chuan. Attributed to Wei Liao (4th cent. B.C.), whostudied under the famous Kuei-ku Tzŭ. The work appears to have been originallyin 31 chapters, whereas the text we possess contains only 24. Its matter issound enough in the main, though the strategical devices differ considerablyfrom those of the Warring States period. It is been furnished with a commentaryby the well-known Sung philosopher Chang Tsai.

5. San Lueh in 3 chuan. Attributed to Huang-shih Kung, a legendary personagewho is said to have bestowed it on Chang Liang (d. 187 B.C.) in an interview ona bridge. But here again, the style is not that of works dating from theCh’in or Han period. The Han Emperor Kuang Wu [25-57 A.D.] apparentlyquotes from it in one of his proclamations; but the passage in question mayhave been inserted later on, in order to prove the genuineness of the work. Weshall not be far out if we refer it to the Northern Sung period [420-478 A.D.],or somewhat earlier.

6. Li Wei Kung Wen Tui, in 3 sections. Written in the form of a dialoguebetween T’ai Tsung and his great general Li Ching, it is usually ascribedto the latter. Competent authorities consider it a forgery, though the authorwas evidently well versed in the art of war.

7. Li Ching Ping Fa (not to be confounded with the foregoing) is a shorttreatise in 8 chapters, preserved in the T’ung Tien, but not publishedseparately. This fact explains its omission from the Ssu K’u Ch’uanShu.

8. Wu Ch’i Ching, in 1 chuan. Attributed to the legendary minister FengHou, with exegetical notes by Kung-sun Hung of the Han dynasty (d. 121 B.C.),and said to have been eulogized by the celebrated general Ma Lung (d. 300A.D.). Yet the earliest mention of it is in the Sung Chih. Although a forgery,the work is well put together.

Considering the high popular estimation in which Chu-ko Liang has always beenheld, it is not surprising to find more than one work on war ascribed to hispen. Such are (1) the Shih Liu Ts’e (1 chuan), preserved in the Yung LoTa Tien; (2) Chiang Yuan (1 chuan); and (3) Hsin Shu (1 chuan), which stealswholesale from Sun Tzŭ. None of these has the slightest claim to be consideredgenuine.

Most of the large Chinese encyclopedias contain extensive sections devoted tothe literature of war. The following references may be found useful:—

T’ung Tien (circa 800 A.D.), ch. 148-162.
T’ai P’ing Yu Lan (983), ch. 270-359.
Wen Hsien Tung K’ao (13th cent.), ch. 221.
Yu Hai (13th cent.), ch. 140, 141.
San Ts’ai T’u Hui (16th cent).
Kuang Po Wu Chih (1607), ch. 31, 32.
Ch’ien Ch’io Lei Shu (1632), ch. 75.
Yuan Chien Lei Han (1710), ch. 206-229.
Ku Chin T’u Shu Chi Ch’eng (1726), section XXX, esp. ch.81-90.
Hsu Wen Hsien T’ung K’ao (1784), ch. 121-134.
Huang Ch’ao Ching Shih Wen Pien (1826), ch. 76, 77.

The bibliographical sections of certain historical works also deservemention:—

Ch’ien Han Shu, ch. 30.
Sui Shu, ch. 32-35.
Chiu T’ang Shu, ch. 46, 47.
Hsin T’ang Shu, ch. 57,60.
Sung Shih, ch. 202-209.
T’ung Chih (circa 1150), ch. 68.

To these of course must be added the great Catalogue of the ImperialLibrary:—

Ssu K’u Ch’uan Shu Tsung Mu T’i Yao (1790), ch. 99, 100.


1. Shih Chi, ch. 65.

2. He reigned from 514 to 496 B.C.

3. Shih Chi, ch. 130.

4. The appellation of Nang Wa.

5. Shih Chi, ch. 31.

6. Shih Chi, ch. 25.

7. The appellation of Hu Yen, mentioned in ch. 39 under the year 637.

8. Wang-tzu Ch’eng-fu, ch. 32, year 607.

9. The mistake is natural enough. Native critics refer to a work of the Handynasty, which says: "Ten li outside the Wu gate [of the city ofWu, now Soochow in Kiangsu] there is a great mound, raised to commemorate theentertainment of Sun Wu of Ch’i, who excelled in the art of war, by theKing of Wu."

10. "They attached strings to wood to make bows, and sharpened wood to makearrows. The use of bows and arrows is to keep the Empire in awe."

11. The son and successor of Ho Lu. He was finally defeated and overthrown byKou chien, King of Yüeh, in 473 B.C. See post.

12. King Yen of Hsu, a fabulous being, of whom Sun Hsing-yen says in hispreface: "His humanity brought him to destruction."

13. The passage I have put in brackets is omitted in the T’u Shu, and maybe an interpolation. It was known, however to Chang Shou-chieh of theT’ang dynasty, and appears in the T’ai P’ing Yu Lan.

14. Ts’ao Kung seems to be thinking of the first part of chap. II,perhaps especially of § 8.

15. See chap. XI.

16. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Wu Tzŭ, which is not in 6chapters, has 48 assigned to it in the Han Chih. Likewise, the Chung Yung iscredited with 49 chapters, though now only in one only. In the case of veryshort works, one is tempted to think that p’ien might simply mean"leaves."

17. Yeh Shih of the Sung dynasty [1151-1223].

18. He hardly deserves to be bracketed with assassins.

19. See Chapter 7, § 27 and Chapter 11, § 28.

20. See Chapter 11, § 28. Chuan Chu is the abbreviated form of his name.

21. I.e. Po P’ei. See ante.

22. The nucleus of this work is probably genuine, though large additions havebeen made by later hands. Kuan chung died in 645 B.C.

23. See infra, beginning of INTRODUCTION.

24. I do not know what this work, unless it be the last chapter of anotherwork. Why that chapter should be singled out, however, is not clear.

25. About 480 B.C.

26. That is, I suppose, the age of Wu Wang and Chou Kung.

27. In the 3rd century B.C.

28. Ssu-ma Jang-chu, whose family name was T’ien, lived in the latterhalf of the 6th century B.C., and is also believed to have written a work onwar. See Shih Chi, ch. 64, and infra at the beginning of the INTRODUCTION.

29. See Legge’s Classics, vol. V, Prolegomena p. 27. Legge thinks that theTso Chuan must have been written in the 5th century, but not before 424 B.C.

30. See Mencius III. 1. iii. 13-20.

31. When Wu first appears in the Ch’un Ch’iu in 584, it is alreadyat variance with its powerful neighbour. The Ch’un Ch’iu firstmentions Yüeh in 537, the Tso Chuan in 601.

32. This is explicitly stated in the Tso Chuan, XXXII, 2.

33. There is this to be said for the later period, that the feud would tend togrow more bitter after each encounter, and thus more fully justify the languageused in XI. § 30.

34. With Wu Yuan himself the case is just the reverse:—a spurioustreatise on war has been fathered on him simply because he was a great general.Here we have an obvious inducement to forgery. Sun Wu, on the other hand,cannot have been widely known to fame in the 5th century.

35. From Tso Chuan: "From the date of King Chao’s accession [515] there was noyear in which Ch’u was not attacked by Wu."

36. Preface ad fin: "My family comes from Lo-an, and we are really descendedfrom Sun Tzŭ. I am ashamed to say that I only read my ancestor’s work from aliterary point of view, without comprehending the military technique. So longhave we been enjoying the blessings of peace!"

37. Hoa-yin is about 14 miles from T’ung-kuan on the eastern border ofShensi. The temple in question is still visited by those about the ascent ofthe Western Sacred Mountain. It is mentioned in a text as being "situated fiveli east of the district city of Hua-yin. The temple contains theHua-shan tablet inscribed by the T’ang Emperor Hsuan Tsung [713-755]."

38. See my "Catalogue of Chinese Books" (Luzac & Co., 1908), no. 40.

39. This is a discussion of 29 difficult passages in Sun Tzŭ.

40. Cf. Catalogue of the library of Fan family at Ningpo: "His commentary isfrequently obscure; it furnishes a clue, but does not fully develop themeaning."

41. Wen Hsien T’ung K’ao, ch. 221.

42. It is interesting to note that M. Pelliot has recently discovered chapters1, 4 and 5 of this lost work in the "Grottos of the Thousand Buddhas." SeeB.E.F.E.O., t. VIII, nos. 3-4, p. 525.

43. The Hsia, the Shang and the Chou. Although the last-named was nominallyexistent in Sun Tzŭ’s day, it retained hardly a vestige of power, and the oldmilitary organization had practically gone by the board. I can suggest no otherexplanation of the passage.

44. See Chou Li, xxix. 6-10.

45. T’ung K’ao, ch. 221.

46. This appears to be still extant. See Wylie’s "Notes," p. 91 (new edition).

47. T’ung K’ao, loc. cit.

48. A notable person in his day. His biography is given in the San Kuo Chih,ch. 10.

49. See XI. § 58, note.

50. Hou Han Shu, ch. 17 ad init.

51. San Kuo Chih, ch. 54.

52. Sung Shih, ch. 365 ad init.

53. The few Europeans who have yet had an opportunity of acquainting themselveswith Sun Tzŭ are not behindhand in their praise. In this connection, I mayperhaps be excused for quoting from a letter from Lord Roberts, to whom thesheets of the present work were submitted previous to publication: "Many of SunWu’s maxims are perfectly applicable to the present day, and no. 11 [in ChapterVIII] is one that the people of this country would do well to take to heart."

54. Ch. 140.

55. See IV. § 3.

56. The allusion may be to Mencius VI. 2. ix. 2.

57. The Tso Chuan.

58. Shih Chi, ch. 25, fol. I.

59. Cf. Shih Chi, ch 47.

60. See Shu Ching, preface § 55.

61. See Shih Chi, ch. 47.

62. Lun Yu, XV. 1.

63. I failed to trace this utterance.

64. Supra.

65. Supra.

66. The other four being worship, mourning, entertainment of guests, andfestive rites. See Shu Ching, ii. 1. III. 8, and Chou Li, IX. fol. 49.

67. See XIII. § 11, note.

68. This is a rather obscure allusion to the Tso Chuan, where Tzŭ-ch’ansays: "If you have a piece of beautiful brocade, you will not employ a merelearner to make it up."

69. Cf. Tao Te Ching, ch. 31.

70. Sun Hsing-yen might have quoted Confucius again. See Lun Yu, XIII. 29, 30.

71. Better known as Hsiang Yu [233-202 B.C.].

72. Shih Chi, ch. 47.

73. Shih Chi, ch. 38.

74. See XIII. § 27, note. Further details on T’ai Kung will be found inthe Shih Chi, ch. 32 ad init. Besides the tradition which makes him a formerminister of Chou Hsin, two other accounts of him are there given, according towhich he would appear to have been first raised from a humble private stationby Wen Wang.


[Ts’ao Kung, in defining the meaning of the Chinese for the title of thischapter, says it refers to the deliberations in the temple selected by thegeneral for his temporary use, or as we should say, in his tent. See. § 26.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.

2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Henceit is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken intoaccount in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditionsobtaining in the field.

4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5)Method and discipline.

[It appears from what follows that Sun Tzŭ means by "Moral Law" a principle ofharmony, not unlike the Tao of Lao Tzŭ in its moral aspect. One might betempted to render it by "morale," were it not considered as an attribute of theruler in § 13.]

5, 6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with theirruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed byany danger.

[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzŭ as saying: "Without constant practice, the officers willbe nervous and undecided when mustering for battle; without constant practice,the general will be wavering and irresolute when the crisis is at hand."]

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

[The commentators, I think, make an unnecessary mystery of two words here. MengShih refers to "the hard and the soft, waxing and waning" of Heaven. Wang Hsi,however, may be right in saying that what is meant is "the general economy ofHeaven," including the five elements, the four seasons, wind and clouds, andother phenomena.]

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open groundand narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence,courage and strictness.

[The five cardinal virtues of the Chinese are (1) humanity or benevolence; (2)uprightness of mind; (3) self-respect, self-control, or "proper feeling;" (4)wisdom; (5) sincerity or good faith. Here "wisdom" and "sincerity" are putbefore "humanity or benevolence," and the two military virtues of "courage" and"strictness" substituted for "uprightness of mind" and "self-respect,self-control, or ‘proper feeling.’"]

10. By Method and discipline are to be understood the marshalling of thearmy in its proper subdivisions, the gradations of rank among the officers,the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the controlof military expenditure.

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows themwill be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the militaryconditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:—

13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

[I.e., "is in harmony with his subjects." Cf. § 5.]

(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?

[See §§ 7, 8]

(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

[Tu Mu alludes to the remarkable story of Ts’ao Ts’ao (A.D.155-220), who was such a strict disciplinarian that once, in accordance withhis own severe regulations against injury to standing crops, he condemnedhimself to death for having allowed his horse to shy into a field of corn!However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense ofjustice by cutting off his hair. Ts’ao Ts’ao’s own comment on thepresent passage is characteristically curt: "when you lay down a law, see thatit is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed the offender must be put to death."]

(5) Which army is the stronger?

[Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch’en puts it, freelyrendered, "esprit de corps and ‘big battalions.’"]

(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzŭ as saying: "Without constant practice, the officers willbe nervous and undecided when mustering for battle; without constant practice,the general will be wavering and irresolute when the crisis is at hand."]

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(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

[On which side is there the most absolute certainty that merit will be properlyrewarded and misdeeds summarily punished?]

14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, willconquer:—let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkensnot to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:—let such a one bedismissed!

[The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzŭ’s treatise was composedexpressly for the benefit of his patron Ho Lu, king of the Wu State.]

16. While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpfulcircumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.

17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one’s plans.

[Sun Tzŭ, as a practical soldier, will have none of the "bookish theoric." Hecautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract principles; "for," as ChangYu puts it, "while the main laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough forthe benefit of all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemyin attempting to secure a favourable position in actual warfare." On the eve ofthe battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, commanding the cavalry, went to the Dukeof Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations were for themorrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find himselfCommander-in-chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment.The Duke listened quietly and then said: "Who will attack the firsttomorrow—I or Bonaparte?" "Bonaparte," replied Lord Uxbridge. "Well,"continued the Duke, "Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects; andas my plans will depend upon his, how can you expect me to tell you what mineare?" [1] ]

18. All warfare is based on deception.

[The truth of this pithy and profound saying will be admitted by every soldier.Col. Henderson tells us that Wellington, great in so many military qualities,was especially distinguished by "the extraordinary skill with which heconcealed his movements and deceived both friend and foe."]

19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, wemust seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are faraway; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

[All commentators, except Chang Yu, say, "When he is in disorder, crush him."It is more natural to suppose that Sun Tzŭ is still illustrating the uses ofdeception in war.]

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superiorstrength, evade him.

22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to beweak, that he may grow arrogant.

[Wang Tzŭ, quoted by Tu Yu, says that the good tactician plays with hisadversary as a cat plays with a mouse, first feigning weakness and immobility,and then suddenly pouncing upon him.]

23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.

[This is probably the meaning though Mei Yao-ch’en has the note: "whilewe are taking our ease, wait for the enemy to tire himself out." The Yu Lan has"Lure him on and tire him out."]

If his forces are united, separate them.

[Less plausible is the interpretation favoured by most of the commentators: "Ifsovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them."]

24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulgedbeforehand.

26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple erethe battle is fought.

[Chang Yu tells us that in ancient times it was customary for a temple to beset apart for the use of a general who was about to take the field, in orderthat he might there elaborate his plan of campaign.]

The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus domany calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how muchmore no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foreseewho is likely to win or lose.

[1] "Words on Wellington," by Sir. W. Fraser.


[Ts’ao Kung has the note: "He who wishes to fight must first count thecost," which prepares us for the discovery that the subject of the chapter isnot what we might expect from the title, but is primarily a consideration ofways and means.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: In the operations of war, where there are in the field athousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousandmail-clad soldiers,

[The "swift chariots" were lightly built and, according to Chang Yu, used forthe attack; the "heavy chariots" were heavier, and designed for purposes ofdefence. Li Ch’uan, it is true, says that the latter were light, but thisseems hardly probable. It is interesting to note the analogies between earlyChinese warfare and that of the Homeric Greeks. In each case, the war-chariotwas the important factor, forming as it did the nucleus round which was groupeda certain number of foot-soldiers. With regard to the numbers given here, weare informed that each swift chariot was accompanied by 75 footmen, and eachheavy chariot by 25 footmen, so that the whole army would be divided up into athousand battalions, each consisting of two chariots and a hundred men.]

with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li,

[2.78 modern li go to a mile. The length may have varied slightly sinceSun Tzŭ’s time.]

the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests,small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armour, willreach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost ofraising an army of 100,000 men.

2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, the men’sweapons will grow dull and their ardour will be damped. If you lay siege to atown, you will exhaust your strength.

3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not beequal to the strain.

4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardour damped, your strengthexhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to takeadvantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avertthe consequences that must ensue.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never beenseen associated with long delays.

[This concise and difficult sentence is not well explained by any of thecommentators. Ts’ao Kung, Li Ch’uan, Meng Shih, Tu Yu, Tu Mu andMei Yao-ch’en have notes to the effect that a general, though naturallystupid, may nevertheless conquer through sheer force of rapidity. Ho Shih says:"Haste may be stupid, but at any rate it saves expenditure of energy andtreasure; protracted operations may be very clever, but they bring calamity intheir train." Wang Hsi evades the difficulty by remarking: "Lengthy operationsmean an army growing old, wealth being expended, an empty exchequer anddistress among the people; true cleverness insures against the occurrence ofsuch calamities." Chang Yu says: "So long as victory can be attained, stupidhaste is preferable to clever dilatoriness." Now Sun Tzŭ says nothing whatever,except possibly by implication, about ill-considered haste being better thaningenious but lengthy operations. What he does say is something much moreguarded, namely that, while speed may sometimes be injudicious, tardiness cannever be anything but foolish—if only because it means impoverishment tothe nation. In considering the point raised here by Sun Tzŭ, the classicexample of Fabius Cunctator will inevitably occur to the mind. That generaldeliberately measured the endurance of Rome against that of Hannibals’sisolated army, because it seemed to him that the latter was more likely tosuffer from a long campaign in a strange country. But it is quite a mootquestion whether his tactics would have proved successful in the long run.Their reversal it is true, led to Cannae; but this only establishes a negativepresumption in their favour.]

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that canthoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

[That is, with rapidity. Only one who knows the disastrous effects of a longwar can realize the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it to a close.Only two commentators seem to favour this interpretation, but it fits well intothe logic of the context, whereas the rendering, "He who does not know theevils of war cannot appreciate its benefits," is distinctly pointless.]

8. The skilful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are hissupply-waggons loaded more than twice.

[Once war is declared, he will not waste precious time in waiting forreinforcements, nor will he return his army back for fresh supplies, butcrosses the enemy’s frontier without delay. This may seem an audacious policyto recommend, but with all great strategists, from Julius Caesar to NapoleonBonaparte, the value of time—that is, being a little ahead of youropponent—has counted for more than either numerical superiority or thenicest calculations with regard to commissariat.]

9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus thearmy will have food enough for its needs.

[The Chinese word translated here as "war material" literally means "things tobe used", and is meant in the widest sense. It includes all the impedimenta ofan army, apart from provisions.]

10. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained bycontributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distancecauses the people to be impoverished.

[The beginning of this sentence does not balance properly with the next, thoughobviously intended to do so. The arrangement, moreover, is so awkward that Icannot help suspecting some corruption in the text. It never seems to occur toChinese commentators that an emendation may be necessary for the sense, and weget no help from them there. The Chinese words Sun Tzŭ used to indicate thecause of the people’s impoverishment clearly have reference to some system bywhich the husbandmen sent their contributions of corn to the army direct. Butwhy should it fall on them to maintain an army in this way, except because theState or Government is too poor to do so?]

11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; andhigh prices cause the people’s substance to be drained away.

[Wang Hsi says high prices occur before the army has left its own territory.Ts’ao Kung understands it of an army that has already crossed thefrontier.]

12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted byheavy exactions.

13, 14. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes ofthe people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their incomes will bedissipated;

[Tu Mu and Wang Hsi agree that the people are not mulcted not of 3/10, but of7/10, of their income. But this is hardly to be extracted from our text. HoShih has a characteristic tag: "The people being regarded as the essential partof the State, and food as the people’s heaven, is it not right that those inauthority should value and be careful of both?"]

while Government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-platesand helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantlets,draught-oxen and heavy waggons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.

15. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartloadof the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own, and likewise asingle picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one’s own store.

[Because twenty cartloads will be consumed in the process of transporting onecartload to the front. A picul is a unit of measure equal to 133.3 pounds (65.5kilograms).]

16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that theremay be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.

[Tu Mu says: "Rewards are necessary in order to make the soldiers see theadvantage of beating the enemy; thus, when you capture spoils from the enemy,they must be used as rewards, so that all your men may have a keen desire tofight, each on his own account."]

17. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken,those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should besubstituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used inconjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.

18. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength.

19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.

[As Ho Shih remarks: "War is not a thing to be trifled with." Sun Tzŭ herereiterates the main lesson which this chapter is intended to enforce."]

20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of thepeople’s fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peaceor in peril.


1. Sun Tzŭ said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to takethe enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it, tocapture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

[The equivalent to an army corps, according to Ssu-ma Fa, consisted nominallyof 12500 men; according to Ts’ao Kung, the equivalent of a regimentcontained 500 men, the equivalent to a detachment consists from any numberbetween 100 and 500, and the equivalent of a company contains from 5 to 100men. For the last two, however, Chang Yu gives the exact figures of 100 and 5respectively.]

2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence;supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance withoutfighting.

[Here again, no modern strategist but will approve the words of the old Chinesegeneral. Moltke’s greatest triumph, the capitulation of the huge French army atSedan, was won practically without bloodshed.]

3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy’s plans;

[Perhaps the word "balk" falls short of expressing the full force of theChinese word, which implies not an attitude of defence, whereby one might becontent to foil the enemy’s stratagems one after another, but an active policyof counter-attack. Ho Shih puts this very clearly in his note: "When the enemyhas made a plan of attack against us, we must anticipate him by delivering ourown attack first."]

the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces;

[Isolating him from his allies. We must not forget that Sun Tzŭ, in speaking ofhostilities, always has in mind the numerous states or principalities intowhich the China of his day was split up.]

the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field;

[When he is already at full strength.]

and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided.

[Another sound piece of military theory. Had the Boers acted upon it in 1899,and refrained from dissipating their strength before Kimberley, Mafeking, oreven Ladysmith, it is more than probable that they would have been masters ofthe situation before the British were ready seriously to oppose them.]

The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war,will take up three whole months;

[It is not quite clear what the Chinese word, here translated as "mantlets",described. Ts’ao Kung simply defines them as "large shields," but we geta better idea of them from Li Ch’uan, who says they were to protect theheads of those who were assaulting the city walls at close quarters. This seemsto suggest a sort of Roman testudo, ready made. Tu Mu says they were wheeledvehicles used in repelling attacks, but this is denied by Ch’en Hao. Seesupra II. 14. The name is also applied to turrets on city walls. Of the"movable shelters" we get a fairly clear description from several commentators.They were wooden missile-proof structures on four wheels, propelled fromwithin, covered over with raw hides, and used in sieges to convey parties ofmen to and from the walls, for the purpose of filling up the encircling moatwith earth. Tu Mu adds that they are now called "wooden donkeys."]

and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.

[These were great mounds or ramparts of earth heaped up to the level of theenemy’s walls in order to discover the weak points in the defence, and also todestroy the fortified turrets mentioned in the preceding note.]

5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to theassault like swarming ants,

[This vivid simile of Ts’ao Kung is taken from the spectacle of an armyof ants climbing a wall. The meaning is that the general, losing patience atthe long delay, may make a premature attempt to storm the place before hisengines of war are ready.]

with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town stillremains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.

[We are reminded of the terrible losses of the Japanese before Port Arthur, inthe most recent siege which history has to record.]

6. Therefore the skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without anyfighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrowstheir kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

[Chia Lin notes that he only overthrows the Government, but does no harm toindividuals. The classical instance is Wu Wang, who after having put an end tothe Yin dynasty was acclaimed "Father and mother of the people."]

7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus,without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.

[Owing to the double meanings in the Chinese text, the latter part of thesentence is susceptible of quite a different meaning: "And thus, the weapon notbeing blunted by use, its keenness remains perfect."]

This is the method of attacking by stratagem.

8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surroundhim; if five to one, to attack him;

[Straightway, without waiting for any further advantage.]

if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

[Tu Mu takes exception to the saying; and at first sight, indeed, it appears toviolate a fundamental principle of war. Ts’ao Kung, however, gives a clue toSun Tzŭ’s meaning: "Being two to the enemy’s one, we may use one part of ourarmy in the regular way, and the other for some special diversion." Chang Yuthus further elucidates the point: "If our force is twice as numerous as thatof the enemy, it should be split up into two divisions, one to meet the enemyin front, and one to fall upon his rear; if he replies to the frontal attack,he may be crushed from behind; if to the rearward attack, he may be crushed infront." This is what is meant by saying that ‘one part may be used in theregular way, and the other for some special diversion.’ Tu Mu does notunderstand that dividing one’s army is simply an irregular, just asconcentrating it is the regular, strategical method, and he is too hasty incalling this a mistake."]

9. If equally matched, we can offer battle;

[Li Ch’uan, followed by Ho Shih, gives the following paraphrase: "Ifattackers and attacked are equally matched in strength, only the able generalwill fight."]

if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy;

[The meaning, "we can watch the enemy," is certainly a great improvementon the above; but unfortunately there appears to be no very good authority forthe variant. Chang Yu reminds us that the saying only applies if the otherfactors are equal; a small difference in numbers is often more thancounterbalanced by superior energy and discipline.]

if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.

10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the endit must be captured by the larger force.

11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State: if the bulwark is complete atall points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the Statewill be weak.

[As Li Ch’uan tersely puts it: "Gap indicates deficiency; if thegeneral’s ability is not perfect (i.e. if he is not thoroughly versed in hisprofession), his army will lack strength."]

12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon hisarmy:—

13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of thefact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.

[Li Ch’uan adds the comment: "It is like tying together the legs of athoroughbred, so that it is unable to gallop." One would naturally think of"the ruler" in this passage as being at home, and trying to direct themovements of his army from a distance. But the commentators understand just thereverse, and quote the saying of T’ai Kung: "A kingdom should not begoverned from without, and army should not be directed from within." Of courseit is true that, during an engagement, or when in close touch with the enemy,the general should not be in the thick of his own troops, but a little distanceapart. Otherwise, he will be liable to misjudge the position as a whole, andgive wrong orders.]

14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers akingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causesrestlessness in the soldier’s minds.

[Ts’ao Kung’s note is, freely translated: "The military sphere and thecivil sphere are wholly distinct; you can’t handle an army in kid gloves." AndChang Yu says: "Humanity and justice are the principles on which to govern astate, but not an army; opportunism and flexibility, on the other hand, aremilitary rather than civil virtues to assimilate the governing of anarmy"—to that of a State, understood.]

15. (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination,

[That is, he is not careful to use the right man in the right place.]

through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances.This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

[I follow Mei Yao-ch’en here. The other commentators refer not to theruler, as in §§ 13, 14, but to the officers he employs. Thus Tu Yu says: "If ageneral is ignorant of the principle of adaptability, he must not be entrustedwith a position of authority." Tu Mu quotes: "The skilful employer of men willemploy the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man. Forthe wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to showhis courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and thestupid man has no fear of death."]

16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come fromthe other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, andflinging victory away.

17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He willwin who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

[Chang Yu says: If he can fight, he advances and takes the offensive; if hecannot fight, he retreats and remains on the defensive. He will invariablyconquer who knows whether it is right to take the offensive or the defensive.]

(2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

[This is not merely the general’s ability to estimate numbers correctly, as LiCh’uan and others make out. Chang Yu expounds the saying moresatisfactorily: "By applying the art of war, it is possible with a lesser forceto defeat a greater, and vice versa. The secret lies in an eye for locality,and in not letting the right moment slip. Thus Wu Tzŭ says: ‘With a superiorforce, make for easy ground; with an inferior one, make for difficultground.’"]

(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all itsranks.

(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.

(5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by thesovereign.

[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzŭ as saying: "It is the sovereign’s function to give broadinstructions, but to decide on battle it is the function of the general." It isneedless to dilate on the military disasters which have been caused by undueinterference with operations in the field on the part of the home government.Napoleon undoubtedly owed much of his extraordinary success to the fact that hewas not hampered by central authority.]

Victory lies in the knowledge of these five points.

[Literally, “These five things are knowledge of the principle ofvictory.”]

18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need notfear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy,for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

[Li Ch’uan cites the case of Fu Chien, prince of Ch’in, who in 383A.D. marched with a vast army against the Chin Emperor. When warned not todespise an enemy who could command the services of such men as Hsieh An andHuan Ch’ung, he boastfully replied: "I have the population of eightprovinces at my back, infantry and horsemen to the number of one million; why,they could dam up the Yangtsze River itself by merely throwing their whips intothe stream. What danger have I to fear?" Nevertheless, his forces were soonafter disastrously routed at the Fei River, and he was obliged to beat a hastyretreat.]

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

[Chang Yu said: "Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowingyourself enables you to stand on the defensive." He adds: "Attack is the secretof defence; defence is the planning of an attack." It would be hard to find abetter epitome of the root-principle of war.]


[Ts’ao Kung explains the Chinese meaning of the words for the title ofthis chapter: "marching and countermarching on the part of the two armies witha view to discovering each other’s condition." Tu Mu says: "It is through thedispositions of an army that its condition may be discovered. Conceal yourdispositions, and your condition will remain secret, which leads to victory;show your dispositions, and your condition will become patent, which leads todefeat." Wang Hsi remarks that the good general can "secure success bymodifying his tactics to meet those of the enemy."]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond thepossibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating theenemy.

2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but theopportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

[That is, of course, by a mistake on the enemy’s part.]

3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat,

[Chang Yu says this is done, "By concealing the disposition of his troops,covering up his tracks, and taking unremitting precautions."]

but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.

4. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able todo it.

5. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat theenemy means taking the offensive.

[I retain the sense found in a similar passage in §§ 1-3, in spite of the factthat the commentators are all against me. The meaning they give, "He who cannotconquer takes the defensive," is plausible enough.]

6. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, asuperabundance of strength.

7. The general who is skilled in defence hides in the most secret recesses ofthe earth;

[Literally, "hides under the ninth earth," which is a metaphor indicating theutmost secrecy and concealment, so that the enemy may not know hiswhereabouts."]

he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven.

[Another metaphor, implying that he falls on his adversary like a thunderbolt,against which there is no time to prepare. This is the opinion of most of thecommentators.]

Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the other, avictory that is complete.

8. To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not theacme of excellence.

[As Ts’ao Kung remarks, "the thing is to see the plant before it hasgerminated," to foresee the event before the action has begun. Li Ch’uanalludes to the story of Han Hsin who, when about to attack the vastly superiorarmy of Chao, which was strongly entrenched in the city of Ch’eng-an,said to his officers: "Gentlemen, we are going to annihilate the enemy, andshall meet again at dinner." The officers hardly took his words seriously, andgave a very dubious assent. But Han Hsin had already worked out in his mind thedetails of a clever stratagem, whereby, as he foresaw, he was able to capturethe city and inflict a crushing defeat on his adversary."]

9. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the wholeEmpire says, "Well done!"

[True excellence being, as Tu Mu says: "To plan secretly, to movesurreptitiously, to foil the enemy’s intentions and balk his schemes, so thatat last the day may be won without shedding a drop of blood." Sun Tzŭ reserveshis approbation for things that

"the world’s coarse thumb
And finger fail to plumb."

10. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength;

["Autumn hair" is explained as the fur of a hare, which is finest in autumn,when it begins to grow afresh. The phrase is a very common one in Chinesewriters.]

to see sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder isno sign of a quick ear.

[Ho Shih gives as real instances of strength, sharp sight and quick hearing: WuHuo, who could lift a tripod weighing 250 stone; Li Chu, who at a distance of ahundred paces could see objects no bigger than a mustard seed; and ShihK’uang, a blind musician who could hear the footsteps of a mosquito.]

11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, butexcels in winning with ease.

[The last half is literally "one who, conquering, excels in easy conquering."Mei Yao-ch’en says: "He who only sees the obvious, wins his battles withdifficulty; he who looks below the surface of things, wins with ease."]

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit forcourage.

[Tu Mu explains this very well: "Inasmuch as his victories are gained overcircumstances that have not come to light, the world as large knows nothing ofthem, and he wins no reputation for wisdom; inasmuch as the hostile statesubmits before there has been any bloodshed, he receives no credit forcourage."]

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes.

[Ch’en Hao says: "He plans no superfluous marches, he devises no futileattacks." The connection of ideas is thus explained by Chang Yu: "One who seeksto conquer by sheer strength, clever though he may be at winning pitchedbattles, is also liable on occasion to be vanquished; whereas he who can lookinto the future and discern conditions that are not yet manifest, will nevermake a blunder and therefore invariably win."]

Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it meansconquering an enemy that is already defeated.

14. Hence the skilful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeatimpossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

[A "counsel of perfection" as Tu Mu truly observes. "Position" need not beconfined to the actual ground occupied by the troops. It includes all thearrangements and preparations which a wise general will make to increase thesafety of his army.]

15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle afterthe victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights andafterwards looks for victory.

[Ho Shih thus expounds the paradox: "In warfare, first lay plans which willensure victory, and then lead your army to battle; if you will not begin withstratagem but rely on brute strength alone, victory will no longer beassured."]

16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres tomethod and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.

17. In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement; secondly,Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of chances;fifthly, Victory.

18. Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity toMeasurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of chances toCalculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances.

[It is not easy to distinguish the four terms very clearly in the Chinese. Thefirst seems to be surveying and measurement of the ground, which enable us toform an estimate of the enemy’s strength, and to make calculations based on thedata thus obtained; we are thus led to a general weighing-up, or comparison ofthe enemy’s chances with our own; if the latter turn the scale, then victoryensues. The chief difficulty lies in third term, which in the Chinese somecommentators take as a calculation of numbers, thereby making it nearlysynonymous with the second term. Perhaps the second term should be thought ofas a consideration of the enemy’s general position or condition, while thethird term is the estimate of his numerical strength. On the other hand, Tu Musays: "The question of relative strength having been settled, we can bring thevaried resources of cunning into play." Ho Shih seconds this interpretation,but weakens it. However, it points to the third term as being a calculation ofnumbers.]

19. A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound’s weight placed inthe scale against a single grain.

[Literally, "a victorious army is like an i (20 oz.) weighed against a shu(1/24 oz.); a routed army is a shu weighed against an i." The point is simplythe enormous advantage which a disciplined force, flushed with victory, hasover one demoralized by defeat. Legge, in his note on Mencius, I. 2. ix. 2,makes the i to be 24 Chinese ounces, and corrects Chu Hsi’s statement that itequaled 20 oz. only. But Li Ch’uan of the T’ang dynasty here givesthe same figure as Chu Hsi.]

20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up watersinto a chasm a thousand fathoms deep. So much for tactical dispositions.

Chapter V. ENERGY

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The control of a large force is the same principle as thecontrol of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.

[That is, cutting up the army into regiments, companies, etc., with subordinateofficers in command of each. Tu Mu reminds us of Han Hsin’s famous reply to thefirst Han Emperor, who once said to him: "How large an army do you think Icould lead?" "Not more than 100,000 men, your Majesty." "And you?" asked theEmperor. "Oh!" he answered, "the more the better."]

2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different fromfighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs andsignals.

3. To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt of the enemy’s attackand remain unshaken—this is effected by manœuvers direct and indirect.

[We now come to one of the most interesting parts of Sun Tzŭ’s treatise, thediscussion of the cheng and the ch’i." As it is by no meanseasy to grasp the full significance of these two terms, or to render themconsistently by good English equivalents; it may be as well to tabulate some ofthe commentators’ remarks on the subject before proceeding further. LiCh’uan: "Facing the enemy is cheng, making lateral diversion isch’i. Chia Lin: "In presence of the enemy, your troops should bearrayed in normal fashion, but in order to secure victory abnormal manœuversmust be employed." Mei Yao-ch’en: "Ch’i is active,cheng is passive; passivity means waiting for an opportunity, activitybrings the victory itself." Ho Shih: "We must cause the enemy to regard ourstraightforward attack as one that is secretly designed, and vice versa; thuscheng may also be ch’i, and ch’i may also becheng." He instances the famous exploit of Han Hsin, who when marchingostensibly against Lin-chin (now Chao-i in Shensi), suddenly threw a largeforce across the Yellow River in wooden tubs, utterly disconcerting hisopponent. [Ch’ien Han Shu, ch. 3.] Here, we are told, the march onLin-chin was cheng, and the surprise manœuver was ch’i."Chang Yu gives the following summary of opinions on the words: "Militarywriters do not agree with regard to the meaning of ch’i andcheng. Wei Liao Tzŭ [4th cent. B.C.] says: ‘Direct warfare favoursfrontal attacks, indirect warfare attacks from the rear.’ Ts’ao Kungsays: ‘Going straight out to join battle is a direct operation; appearing onthe enemy’s rear is an indirect manœuver.’ Li Wei-kung [6th and 7th cent. A.D.]says: ‘In war, to march straight ahead is cheng; turning movements, onthe other hand, are ch’i.’ These writers simply regardcheng as cheng, and ch’i as ch’i; theydo not note that the two are mutually interchangeable and run into each otherlike the two sides of a circle [see infra, § 11]. A comment on the T’angEmperor T’ai Tsung goes to the root of the matter: ‘A ch’imanœuver may be cheng, if we make the enemy look upon it ascheng; then our real attack will be ch’i, and vice versa.The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our realintent.’" To put it perhaps a little more clearly: any attack or otheroperation is cheng, on which the enemy has had his attention fixed;whereas that is ch’i," which takes him by surprise or comes froman unexpected quarter. If the enemy perceives a movement which is meant to bech’i," it immediately becomes cheng."]

4. That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against anegg—this is effected by the science of weak points and strong.

5. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, butindirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.

[Chang Yu says: "Steadily develop indirect tactics, either by pounding theenemy’s flanks or falling on his rear." A brilliant example of "indirecttactics" which decided the fortunes of a campaign was Lord Roberts’ night marchround the Peiwar Kotal in the second Afghan war. [1]

6. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhausible as Heaven and Earth,unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end butto begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away but to return once more.

[Tu Yu and Chang Yu understand this of the permutations of ch’iand cheng. But at present Sun Tzŭ is not speaking of cheng atall, unless, indeed, we suppose with Cheng Yu-hsien that a clause relating toit has fallen out of the text. Of course, as has already been pointed out, thetwo are so inextricably interwoven in all military operations, that they cannotreally be considered apart. Here we simply have an expression, in figurativelanguage, of the almost infinite resource of a great leader.]

7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of thesefive give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

8. There are not more than five primary colours (blue, yellow, red, white, andblack), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen.

9 There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet,bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavours than can ever be tasted.

10. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack—the directand the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless seriesof manœuvers.

11. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is likemoving in a circle—you never come to an end. Who can exhaust thepossibilities of their combination?

12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even rollstones along in its course.

13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon whichenables it to strike and destroy its victim.

[The Chinese here is tricky and a certain key word in the context it is useddefies the best efforts of the translator. Tu Mu defines this word as "themeasurement or estimation of distance." But this meaning does not quite fit theillustrative simile in §. 15. Applying this definition to the falcon, it seemsto me to denote that instinct of self-restraint which keeps the birdfrom swooping on its quarry until the right moment, together with the power ofjudging when the right moment has arrived. The analogous quality in soldiers isthe highly important one of being able to reserve their fire until the veryinstant at which it will be most effective. When the "Victory" went into actionat Trafalgar at hardly more than drifting pace, she was for several minutesexposed to a storm of shot and shell before replying with a single gun. Nelsoncoolly waited until he was within close range, when the broadside he brought tobear worked fearful havoc on the enemy’s nearest ships.]

14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in hisdecision.

[The word "decision" would have reference to the measurement of distancementioned above, letting the enemy get near before striking. But I cannot helpthinking that Sun Tzŭ meant to use the word in a figurative sense comparable toour own idiom "short and sharp." Cf. Wang Hsi’s note, which after describingthe falcon’s mode of attack, proceeds: "This is just how the ‘psychologicalmoment’ should be seized in war."]

15. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to thereleasing of the trigger.

[None of the commentators seem to grasp the real point of the simile of energyand the force stored up in the bent cross-bow until released by the finger onthe trigger.]

16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder andyet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may bewithout head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.

[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "The subdivisions of the army having been previouslyfixed, and the various signals agreed upon, the separating and joining, thedispersing and collecting which will take place in the course of a battle, maygive the appearance of disorder when no real disorder is possible. Yourformation may be without head or tail, your dispositions all topsy-turvy, andyet a rout of your forces quite out of the question."]

17. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulatescourage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

[In order to make the translation intelligible, it is necessary to tone downthe sharply paradoxical form of the original. Ts’ao Kung throws out ahint of the meaning in his brief note: "These things all serve to destroyformation and conceal one’s condition." But Tu Mu is the first to put it quiteplainly: "If you wish to feign confusion in order to lure the enemy on, youmust first have perfect discipline; if you wish to display timidity in order toentrap the enemy, you must have extreme courage; if you wish to parade yourweakness in order to make the enemy over-confident, you must have exceedingstrength."]

18. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question ofsubdivision;

[See supra, § 1.]

concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latentenergy;

[The commentators strongly understand a certain Chinese word here differentlythan anywhere else in this chapter. Thus Tu Mu says: "seeing that we arefavourably circumstanced and yet make no move, the enemy will believe that weare really afraid."]

masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.

[Chang Yu relates the following anecdote of Kao Tsu, the first Han Emperor:“Wishing to crush the Hsiung-nu, he sent out spies to report on theircondition. But the Hsiung-nu, forewarned, carefully concealed all theirable-bodied men and well-fed horses, and only allowed infirm soldiers andemaciated cattle to be seen. The result was that spies one and all recommendedthe Emperor to deliver his attack. Lou Ching alone opposed them, saying:‘When two countries go to war, they are naturally inclined to make anostentatious display of their strength. Yet our spies have seen nothing but oldage and infirmity. This is surely some ruse on the part of the enemy, and itwould be unwise for us to attack.’ The Emperor, however, disregardingthis advice, fell into the trap and found himself surrounded atPo-teng.”]

19. Thus one who is skilful at keeping the enemy on the move maintainsdeceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act.

[Ts’ao Kung’s note is "Make a display of weakness and want." Tu Mu says:"If our force happens to be superior to the enemy’s, weakness may be simulatedin order to lure him on; but if inferior, he must be led to believe that we arestrong, in order that he may keep off. In fact, all the enemy’s movementsshould be determined by the signs that we choose to give him." Note thefollowing anecdote of Sun Pin, a descendent of Sun Wu: In 341 B.C., theCh’i State being at war with Wei, sent T’ien Chi and Sun Pinagainst the general P’ang Chuan, who happened to be a deadly personalenemy of the later. Sun Pin said: "The Ch’i State has a reputation forcowardice, and therefore our adversary despises us. Let us turn thiscircumstance to account." Accordingly, when the army had crossed the borderinto Wei territory, he gave orders to show 100,000 fires on the first night,50,000 on the next, and the night after only 20,000. P’ang Chuan pursuedthem hotly, saying to himself: "I knew these men of Ch’i were cowards:their numbers have already fallen away by more than half." In his retreat, SunPin came to a narrow defile, which he calculated that his pursuers would reachafter dark. Here he had a tree stripped of its bark, and inscribed upon it thewords: "Under this tree shall P’ang Chuan die." Then, as night began tofall, he placed a strong body of archers in ambush near by, with orders toshoot directly if they saw a light. Later on, P’ang Chuan arrived at thespot, and noticing the tree, struck a light in order to read what was writtenon it. His body was immediately riddled by a volley of arrows, and his wholearmy thrown into confusion. [The above is Tu Mu’s version of the story; theShih Chi, less dramatically but probably with more historical truth, makesP’ang Chuan cut his own throat with an exclamation of despair, after therout of his army.] ]

He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.

20. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of pickedmen he lies in wait for him.

[With an emendation suggested by Li Ching, this then reads, "He lies in waitwith the main body of his troops."]

21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does notrequire too much from individuals.

[Tu Mu says: "He first of all considers the power of his army in the bulk;afterwards he takes individual talent into account, and uses each men accordingto his capabilities. He does not demand perfection from the untalented."]

Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilise combined energy.

22. When he utilises combined energy, his fighting men become as it were likeunto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remainmotionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, tocome to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.

[Ts’au Kung calls this "the use of natural or inherent power."]

23. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of around stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on thesubject of energy.

[The chief lesson of this chapter, in Tu Mu’s opinion, is the paramountimportance in war of rapid evolutions and sudden rushes. "Great results," headds, "can thus be achieved with small forces."]

[1] "Forty-one Years in India," chapter 46.


[Chang Yu attempts to explain the sequence of chapters as follows: "Chapter IV,on Tactical Dispositions, treated of the offensive and the defensive; chapterV, on Energy, dealt with direct and indirect methods. The good generalacquaints himself first with the theory of attack and defence, and then turnshis attention to direct and indirect methods. He studies the art of varying andcombining these two methods before proceeding to the subject of weak and strongpoints. For the use of direct or indirect methods arises out of attack anddefence, and the perception of weak and strong points depends again on theabove methods. Hence the present chapter comes immediately after the chapter onEnergy."]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of theenemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has tohasten to battle, will arrive exhausted.

2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does notallow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.

[One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own terms or fights not atall. [1] ]

3. By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of hisown accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemyto draw near.

[In the first case, he will entice him with a bait; in the second, he willstrike at some important point which the enemy will have to defend.]

4. If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him;

[This passage may be cited as evidence against Mei Yao- Ch’en’sinterpretation of I. § 23.]

if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he canforce him to move.

5. Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly toplaces where you are not expected.

6. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches throughcountry where the enemy is not.

[Ts’ao Kung sums up very well: "Emerge from the void [q.d. like "a boltfrom the blue"], strike at vulnerable points, shun places that are defended,attack in unexpected quarters."]

7. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack placeswhich are undefended.

[Wang Hsi explains "undefended places" as "weak points; that is to say, wherethe general is lacking in capacity, or the soldiers in spirit; where the wallsare not strong enough, or the precautions not strict enough; where relief comestoo late, or provisions are too scanty, or the defenders are variance amongstthemselves."]

You can ensure the safety of your defence if you only hold positions thatcannot be attacked.

[I.e., where there are none of the weak points mentioned above. There israther a nice point involved in the interpretation of this later clause. Tu Mu,Ch’en Hao, and Mei Yao-ch’en assume the meaning to be: "In order tomake your defence quite safe, you must defend even those places that are notlikely to be attacked;" and Tu Mu adds: "How much more, then, those that willbe attacked." Taken thus, however, the clause balances less well with thepreceding—always a consideration in the highly antithetical style whichis natural to the Chinese. Chang Yu, therefore, seems to come nearer the markin saying: "He who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heightsof heaven [see IV. § 7], making it impossible for the enemy to guard againsthim. This being so, the places that I shall attack are precisely those that theenemy cannot defend…. He who is skilled in defence hides in the most secretrecesses of the earth, making it impossible for the enemy to estimate hiswhereabouts. This being so, the places that I shall hold are precisely thosethat the enemy cannot attack."]

8. Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know whatto defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does not know what toattack.

[An aphorism which puts the whole art of war in a nutshell.]

9. O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible,through you inaudible;

[Literally, "without form or sound," but it is said of course with reference tothe enemy.]

and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.

10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’sweak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are morerapid than those of the enemy.

11. If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even thoughhe be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do isattack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.

[Tu Mu says: "If the enemy is the invading party, we can cut his line ofcommunications and occupy the roads by which he will have to return; if we arethe invaders, we may direct our attack against the sovereign himself." It isclear that Sun Tzŭ, unlike certain generals in the late Boer war, was nobeliever in frontal attacks.]

12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us eventhough the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All weneed do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.

[This extremely concise expression is intelligibly paraphrased by Chia Lin:"even though we have constructed neither wall nor ditch." Li Ch’uan says:"we puzzle him by strange and unusual dispositions;" and Tu Mu finally clinchesthe meaning by three illustrative anecdotes—one of Chu-ko Liang, who whenoccupying Yang-p’ing and about to be attacked by Ssu-ma I, suddenlystruck his colors, stopped the beating of the drums, and flung open the citygates, showing only a few men engaged in sweeping and sprinkling the ground.This unexpected proceeding had the intended effect; for Ssu-ma I, suspecting anambush, actually drew off his army and retreated. What Sun Tzŭ is advocatinghere, therefore, is nothing more nor less than the timely use of "bluff."]

13. By discovering the enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves,we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy’s must be divided.

[The conclusion is perhaps not very obvious, but Chang Yu (after MeiYao-ch’en) rightly explains it thus: "If the enemy’s dispositions arevisible, we can make for him in one body; whereas, our own dispositions beingkept secret, the enemy will be obliged to divide his forces in order to guardagainst attack from every quarter."]

14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up intofractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of awhole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy’s few.

15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one,our opponents will be in dire straits.

16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then theenemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several differentpoints;

[Sheridan once explained the reason of General Grant’s victories by saying that"while his opponents were kept fully employed wondering what he was going todo, he was thinking most of what he was going to do himself."]

(Video) "The Art of War", by Sun Tzu (Lionel Giles translation, 1910)

and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shallhave to face at any given point will be proportionately few.

17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should hestrengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, hewill weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left.If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.

[In Frederick the Great’s Instructions to his Generals we read: "Adefensive war is apt to betray us into too frequent detachment. Those generalswho have had but little experience attempt to protect every point, while thosewho are better acquainted with their profession, having only the capital objectin view, guard against a decisive blow, and acquiesce in small misfortunes toavoid greater."]

18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks;numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparationsagainst us.

[The highest generalship, in Col. Henderson’s words, is "to compel the enemy todisperse his army, and then to concentrate superior force against each fractionin turn."]

19. Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentratefrom the greatest distances in order to fight.

[What Sun Tzŭ evidently has in mind is that nice calculation of distances andthat masterly employment of strategy which enable a general to divide his armyfor the purpose of a long and rapid march, and afterwards to effect a junctionat precisely the right spot and the right hour in order to confront the enemyin overwhelming strength. Among many such successful junctions which militaryhistory records, one of the most dramatic and decisive was the appearance ofBlucher just at the critical moment on the field of Waterloo.]

20. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotentto succour the right, the right equally impotent to succour the left, the vanunable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van. How much more so ifthe furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred li apart,and even the nearest are separated by several li!

[The Chinese of this last sentence is a little lacking in precision, but themental picture we are required to draw is probably that of an army advancingtowards a given rendezvous in separate columns, each of which has orders to bethere on a fixed date. If the general allows the various detachments to proceedat haphazard, without precise instructions as to the time and place of meeting,the enemy will be able to annihilate the army in detail. Chang Yu’s note may beworth quoting here: "If we do not know the place where our opponents mean toconcentrate or the day on which they will join battle, our unity will beforfeited through our preparations for defence, and the positions we hold willbe insecure. Suddenly happening upon a powerful foe, we shall be brought tobattle in a flurried condition, and no mutual support will be possible betweenwings, vanguard or rear, especially if there is any great distance between theforemost and hindmost divisions of the army."]

21. Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yüeh exceed our own innumber, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say thenthat victory can be achieved.

[Alas for these brave words! The long feud between the two states ended in 473B.C. with the total defeat of Wu by Kou Chien and its incorporation in Yüeh.This was doubtless long after Sun Tzŭ’s death. With his present assertioncompare IV. § 4. Chang Yu is the only one to point out the seeming discrepancy,which he thus goes on to explain: "In the chapter on Tactical Dispositions itis said, ‘One may know how to conquer without being able to do it,’ whereashere we have the statement that ‘victory’ can be achieved.’ The explanation is,that in the former chapter, where the offensive and defensive are underdiscussion, it is said that if the enemy is fully prepared, one cannot makecertain of beating him. But the present passage refers particularly to thesoldiers of Yüeh who, according to Sun Tzŭ’s calculations, will be kept inignorance of the time and place of the impending struggle. That is why he sayshere that victory can be achieved."]

22. 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.

[An alternative reading offered by Chia Lin is: "Know beforehand all plansconducive to our success and to the enemy’s failure."

23. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity.

[Chang Yu tells us that by noting the joy or anger shown by the enemy on beingthus disturbed, we shall be able to conclude whether his policy is to lie lowor the reverse. He instances the action of Cho-ku Liang, who sent the scornfulpresent of a woman’s head-dress to Ssu-ma I, in order to goad him out of hisFabian tactics.]

Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.

24. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may knowwhere strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

[Cf. IV. § 6.]

25. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is toconceal them;

[The piquancy of the paradox evaporates in translation. Concealment is perhapsnot so much actual invisibility (see supra § 9) as "showing no sign" ofwhat you mean to do, of the plans that are formed in your brain.]

conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlestspies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.

[Tu Mu explains: "Though the enemy may have clever and capable officers, theywill not be able to lay any plans against us."]

26. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy’s owntactics—that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.

27. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is thestrategy out of which victory is evolved.

[I.e., everybody can see superficially how a battle is won; what theycannot see is the long series of plans and combinations which has preceded thebattle.]

28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let yourmethods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

[As Wang Hsi sagely remarks: "There is but one root-principle underlyingvictory, but the tactics which lead up to it are infinite in number." With thiscompare Col. Henderson: "The rules of strategy are few and simple. They may belearned in a week. They may be taught by familiar illustrations or a dozendiagrams. But such knowledge will no more teach a man to lead an army likeNapoleon than a knowledge of grammar will teach him to write like Gibbon."]

29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runsaway from high places and hastens downwards.

30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what isweak.

[Like water, taking the line of least resistance.]

31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which itflows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he isfacing.

32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there areno constant conditions.

33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and therebysucceed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.

34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equallypredominant;

[That is, as Wang Hsi says: "they predominate alternately."]

the four seasons make way for each other in turn.

[Literally, "have no invariable seat."]

There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing.

[Cf. V. § 6. The purport of the passage is simply to illustrate the want offixity in war by the changes constantly taking place in Nature. The comparisonis not very happy, however, because the regularity of the phenomena which SunTzŭ mentions is by no means paralleled in war.]

[1] See Col. Henderson’s biography of Stonewall Jackson, 1902 ed., vol. II, p.490.


1. Sun Tzŭ said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign.

2. Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must blend andharmonise the different elements thereof before pitching his camp.

["Chang Yu says: "the establishment of harmony and confidence between thehigher and lower ranks before venturing into the field;" and he quotes a sayingof Wu Tzŭ (chap. 1 ad init.): "Without harmony in the State, no militaryexpedition can be undertaken; without harmony in the army, no battle array canbe formed." In an historical romance Sun Tzŭ is represented as saying to WuYuan: "As a general rule, those who are waging war should get rid of all thedomestic troubles before proceeding to attack the external foe."]

3. After that, comes tactical manœuvering, than which there is nothing moredifficult.

[I have departed slightly from the traditional interpretation of Ts’aoKung, who says: "From the time of receiving the sovereign’s instructions untilour encampment over against the enemy, the tactics to be pursued are mostdifficult." It seems to me that the tactics or manœuvers can hardly be said tobegin until the army has sallied forth and encamped, and Ch’ien Hao’snote gives color to this view: "For levying, concentrating, harmonizing andentrenching an army, there are plenty of old rules which will serve. The realdifficulty comes when we engage in tactical operations." Tu Yu also observesthat "the great difficulty is to be beforehand with the enemy in seizingfavourable position."]

The difficulty of tactical manœuvering consists in turning the devious into thedirect, and misfortune into gain.

[This sentence contains one of those highly condensed and somewhat enigmaticalexpressions of which Sun Tzŭ is so fond. This is how it is explained byTs’ao Kung: "Make it appear that you are a long way off, then cover thedistance rapidly and arrive on the scene before your opponent." Tu Mu says:"Hoodwink the enemy, so that he may be remiss and leisurely while you aredashing along with utmost speed." Ho Shih gives a slightly different turn:"Although you may have difficult ground to traverse and natural obstacles toencounter this is a drawback which can be turned into actual advantage bycelerity of movement." Signal examples of this saying are afforded by the twofamous passages across the Alps—that of Hannibal, which laid Italy at hismercy, and that of Napoleon two thousand years later, which resulted in thegreat victory of Marengo.]

4. Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the enemy out ofthe way, and though starting after him, to contrive to reach the goal beforehim, shows knowledge of the artifice of deviation.

[Tu Mu cites the famous march of Chao She in 270 B.C. to relieve the town ofO-yu, which was closely invested by a Ch’in army. The King of Chao firstconsulted Lien P’o on the advisability of attempting a relief, but thelatter thought the distance too great, and the intervening country too ruggedand difficult. His Majesty then turned to Chao She, who fully admitted thehazardous nature of the march, but finally said: "We shall be like two ratsfighting in a whole—and the pluckier one will win!" So he left thecapital with his army, but had only gone a distance of 30 li when hestopped and began throwing up entrenchments. For 28 days he continuedstrengthening his fortifications, and took care that spies should carry theintelligence to the enemy. The Ch’in general was overjoyed, andattributed his adversary’s tardiness to the fact that the beleaguered city wasin the Han State, and thus not actually part of Chao territory. But the spieshad no sooner departed than Chao She began a forced march lasting for two daysand one night, and arrive on the scene of action with such astonishing rapiditythat he was able to occupy a commanding position on the "North hill" before theenemy had got wind of his movements. A crushing defeat followed for theCh’in forces, who were obliged to raise the siege of O-yu in all hasteand retreat across the border.]

5. Manœuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude,most dangerous.

[I adopt the reading of the T’ung Tien, Cheng Yu-hsien and the T’uShu, since they appear to apply the exact nuance required in order to makesense. The commentators using the standard text take this line to mean thatmanœuvers may be profitable, or they may be dangerous: it all depends on theability of the general.]

6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage,the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach aflying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores.

[Some of the Chinese text is unintelligible to the Chinese commentators, whoparaphrase the sentence. I submit my own rendering without much enthusiasm,being convinced that there is some deep-seated corruption in the text. On thewhole, it is clear that Sun Tzŭ does not approve of a lengthy march beingundertaken without supplies. Cf. infra, § 11.]

7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make forcedmarches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at astretch,

[The ordinary day’s march, according to Tu Mu, was 30 li; but on oneoccasion, when pursuing Liu Pei, Ts’ao Ts’ao is said to havecovered the incredible distance of 300 li within twenty-four hours.]

doing a hundred li in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of allyour three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.

8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall behind, and onthis plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its destination.

[The moral is, as Ts’ao Kung and others point out: Don’t march a hundredli to gain a tactical advantage, either with or without impedimenta.Manœuvers of this description should be confined to short distances. StonewallJackson said: "The hardships of forced marches are often more painful than thedangers of battle." He did not often call upon his troops for extraordinaryexertions. It was only when he intended a surprise, or when a rapid retreat wasimperative, that he sacrificed everything for speed. [1] ]

9. If you march fifty li in order to outmanœuver the enemy, you willlose the leader of your first division, and only half your force will reach thegoal.

[Literally, "the leader of the first division will be torn away."]

10. If you march thirty li with the same object, two-thirds of your armywill arrive.

[In the T’ung Tien is added: "From this we may know the difficulty ofmanœuvering."]

11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is lost; withoutprovisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost.

[I think Sun Tzŭ meant "stores accumulated in dépôts." But Tu Yu says "fodderand the like," Chang Yu says "Goods in general," and Wang Hsi says "fuel, salt,foodstuffs, etc."]

12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs ofour neighbours.

13. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with theface of the country—its mountains and forests, its pitfalls andprecipices, its marshes and swamps.

14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make useof local guides.

[§§. 12-14 are repeated in chap. XI. § 52.]

15. In war, practise dissimulation, and you will succeed.

[In the tactics of Turenne, deception of the enemy, especially as to thenumerical strength of his troops, took a very prominent position. [2] ]

Move only if there is a real advantage to be gained.

16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided bycircumstances.

17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind,

[The simile is doubly appropriate, because the wind is not only swift but, asMei Yao-ch’en points out, "invisible and leaves no tracks."]

your compactness that of the forest.

[Meng Shih comes nearer to the mark in his note: "When slowly marching, orderand ranks must be preserved"—so as to guard against surprise attacks. Butnatural forest do not grow in rows, whereas they do generally possess thequality of density or compactness.]

18. In raiding and plundering be like fire,

[Cf. Shih Ching, IV. 3. iv. 6: "Fierce as a blazing fire which no mancan check."]

in immovability like a mountain.

[That is, when holding a position from which the enemy is trying to dislodgeyou, or perhaps, as Tu Yu says, when he is trying to entice you into a trap.]

19. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, falllike a thunderbolt.

[Tu Yu quotes a saying of T’ai Kung which has passed into a proverb: "Youcannot shut your ears to the thunder or your eyes to the lighting—sorapid are they." Likewise, an attack should be made so quickly that it cannotbe parried.]

20. When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be divided amongst your men;

[Sun Tzŭ wishes to lessen the abuses of indiscriminate plundering by insistingthat all booty shall be thrown into a common stock, which may afterwards befairly divided amongst all.]

when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for the benefit ofthe soldiery.

[Ch’en Hao says "quarter your soldiers on the land, and let them sow andplant it." It is by acting on this principle, and harvesting the lands theyinvaded, that the Chinese have succeeded in carrying out some of their mostmemorable and triumphant expeditions, such as that of Pan Ch’ao whopenetrated to the Caspian, and in more recent years, those of Fu-k’ang-anand Tso Tsung-t’ang.]

21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.

[Chang Yu quotes Wei Liao Tzŭ as saying that we must not break camp until wehave gained the resisting power of the enemy and the cleverness of the opposinggeneral. Cf. the "seven comparisons" in I. § 13.]

22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation.

[See supra, §§ 3, 4.]

Such is the art of manœuvering.

[With these words, the chapter would naturally come to an end. But there nowfollows a long appendix in the shape of an extract from an earlier book on War,now lost, but apparently extant at the time when Sun Tzŭ wrote. The style ofthis fragment is not noticeably different from that of Sun Tzŭ himself, but nocommentator raises a doubt as to its genuineness.]

23. The Book of Army Management says:

[It is perhaps significant that none of the earlier commentators give us anyinformation about this work. Mei Yao- Ch’en calls it "an ancient militaryclassic," and Wang Hsi, "an old book on war." Considering the enormous amountof fighting that had gone on for centuries before Sun Tzŭ’s time between thevarious kingdoms and principalities of China, it is not in itself improbablethat a collection of military maxims should have been made and written down atsome earlier period.]

On the field of battle,

[Implied, though not actually in the Chinese.]

the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs anddrums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institutionof banners and flags.

24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and eyes ofthe host may be focussed on one particular point.

[Chang Yu says: "If sight and hearing converge simultaneously on the sameobject, the evolutions of as many as a million soldiers will be like those of asingle man."!]

25. The host thus forming a single united body, is it impossible either for thebrave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to retreat alone.

[Chuang Yu quotes a saying: "Equally guilty are those who advance againstorders and those who retreat against orders." Tu Mu tells a story in thisconnection of Wu Ch’i, when he was fighting against the Ch’inState. Before the battle had begun, one of his soldiers, a man of matchlessdaring, sallied forth by himself, captured two heads from the enemy, andreturned to camp. Wu Ch’i had the man instantly executed, whereupon anofficer ventured to remonstrate, saying: "This man was a good soldier, andought not to have been beheaded." Wu Ch’i replied: "I fully believe hewas a good soldier, but I had him beheaded because he acted without orders."]

This is the art of handling large masses of men.

26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums, and infighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing the ears andeyes of your army.

[Ch’en Hao alludes to Li Kuang-pi’s night ride to Ho-yang at the head of500 mounted men; they made such an imposing display with torches, that thoughthe rebel leader Shih Ssu-ming had a large army, he did not dare to disputetheir passage.]

27. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit;

["In war," says Chang Yu, "if a spirit of anger can be made to pervade allranks of an army at one and the same time, its onset will be irresistible. Nowthe spirit of the enemy’s soldiers will be keenest when they have newly arrivedon the scene, and it is therefore our cue not to fight at once, but to waituntil their ardor and enthusiasm have worn off, and then strike. It is in thisway that they may be robbed of their keen spirit." Li Ch’uan and otherstell an anecdote (to be found in the Tso Chuan, year 10, § 1) of Ts’aoKuei, a protege of Duke Chuang of Lu. The latter State was attacked byCh’i, and the duke was about to join battle at Ch’ang-cho, afterthe first roll of the enemy’s drums, when Ts’ao said: "Not just yet."Only after their drums had beaten for the third time, did he give the word forattack. Then they fought, and the men of Ch’i were utterly defeated.Questioned afterwards by the Duke as to the meaning of his delay, Ts’aoKuei replied: "In battle, a courageous spirit is everything. Now the first rollof the drum tends to create this spirit, but with the second it is already onthe wane, and after the third it is gone altogether. I attacked when theirspirit was gone and ours was at its height. Hence our victory." Wu Tzŭ (chap.4) puts "spirit" first among the "four important influences" in war, andcontinues: "The value of a whole army—a mighty host of a millionmen—is dependent on one man alone: such is the influence of spirit!"]

a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.

[Chang Yu says: "Presence of mind is the general’s most important asset. It isthe quality which enables him to discipline disorder and to inspire courageinto the panic-stricken." The great general Li Ching (A.D. 571-649) has asaying: "Attacking does not merely consist in assaulting walled cities orstriking at an army in battle array; it must include the art of assailing theenemy’s mental equilibrium."]

28. Now a soldier’s spirit is keenest in the morning;

[Always provided, I suppose, that he has had breakfast. At the battle of theTrebia, the Romans were foolishly allowed to fight fasting, whereas Hannibal’smen had breakfasted at their leisure. See Livy, XXI, liv. 8, lv. 1 and 8.]

by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only onreturning to camp.

29. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, butattacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art ofstudying moods.

30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbubamongst the enemy:—this is the art of retaining self-possession.

31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at easewhile the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy isfamished:—this is the art of husbanding one’s strength.

32. To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order,to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confidentarray:—this is the art of studying circumstances.

33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor tooppose him when he comes downhill.

34. Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not attack soldiers whosetemper is keen.

35. Do not swallow a bait offered by the enemy.

[Li Ch’uan and Tu Mu, with extraordinary inability to see a metaphor,take these words quite literally of food and drink that have been poisoned bythe enemy. Ch’en Hao and Chang Yu carefully point out that the saying hasa wider application.]

Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.

[The commentators explain this rather singular piece of advice by saying that aman whose heart is set on returning home will fight to the death against anyattempt to bar his way, and is therefore too dangerous an opponent to betackled. Chang Yu quotes the words of Han Hsin: "Invincible is the soldier whohath his desire and returneth homewards." A marvelous tale is told ofTs’ao Ts’ao’s courage and resource in ch. 1 of the San Kuo Chi, In198 A.D., he was besieging Chang Hsiu in Jang, when Liu Piao sentreinforcements with a view to cutting off Ts’ao’s retreat. The latter wasobliged to draw off his troops, only to find himself hemmed in between twoenemies, who were guarding each outlet of a narrow pass in which he had engagedhimself. In this desperate plight Ts’ao waited until nightfall, when hebored a tunnel into the mountain side and laid an ambush in it. As soon as thewhole army had passed by, the hidden troops fell on his rear, while Ts’aohimself turned and met his pursuers in front, so that they were thrown intoconfusion and annihilated. Ts’ao Ts’ao said afterwards: "Thebrigands tried to check my army in its retreat and brought me to battle in adesperate position: hence I knew how to overcome them."]

36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.

[This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object, asTu Mu puts it, is "to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thusprevent his fighting with the courage of despair." Tu Mu adds pleasantly:"After that, you may crush him."]

Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

[Ch’en Hao quotes the saying: "Birds and beasts when brought to bay willuse their claws and teeth." Chang Yu says: "If your adversary has burned hisboats and destroyed his cooking-pots, and is ready to stake all on the issue ofa battle, he must not be pushed to extremities." Ho Shih illustrates themeaning by a story taken from the life of Yen-ch’ing. That general,together with his colleague Tu Chung-wei was surrounded by a vastly superiorarmy of Khitans in the year 945 A.D. The country was bare and desert-like, andthe little Chinese force was soon in dire straits for want of water. The wellsthey bored ran dry, and the men were reduced to squeezing lumps of mud andsucking out the moisture. Their ranks thinned rapidly, until at last FuYen-ch’ing exclaimed: "We are desperate men. Far better to die for ourcountry than to go with fettered hands into captivity!" A strong gale happenedto be blowing from the northeast and darkening the air with dense clouds ofsandy dust. To Chung-wei was for waiting until this had abated before decidingon a final attack; but luckily another officer, Li Shou-cheng by name, wasquicker to see an opportunity, and said: "They are many and we are few, but inthe midst of this sandstorm our numbers will not be discernible; victory willgo to the strenuous fighter, and the wind will be our best ally." Accordingly,Fu Yen-ch’ing made a sudden and wholly unexpected onslaught with hiscavalry, routed the barbarians and succeeded in breaking through to safety.]

37. Such is the art of warfare.

[1] See Col. Henderson, op. cit. vol. I. p. 426.

[2] For a number of maxims on this head, see "Marshal Turenne" (Longmans,1907), p. 29.


[The heading means literally "The Nine Variations," but as Sun Tzŭ does notappear to enumerate these, and as, indeed, he has already told us (V §§ 6-11)that such deflections from the ordinary course are practically innumerable, wehave little option but to follow Wang Hsi, who says that "Nine" stands for anindefinitely large number. "All it means is that in warfare we ought to varyour tactics to the utmost degree…. I do not know what Ts’ao Kung makesthese Nine Variations out to be, but it has been suggested that they areconnected with the Nine Situations" - of chapt. XI. This is the view adopted byChang Yu. The only other alternative is to suppose that something has beenlost—a supposition to which the unusual shortness of the chapter lendssome weight.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign,collects his army and concentrates his forces.

[Repeated from VII. § 1, where it is certainly more in place. It may have beeninterpolated here merely in order to supply a beginning to the chapter.]

2. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high roadsintersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in dangerously isolatedpositions.

[The last situation is not one of the Nine Situations as given in the beginningof chap. XI, but occurs later on (ibid. § 43. q.v.). Chang Yu defines thissituation as being situated across the frontier, in hostile territory. LiCh’uan says it is "country in which there are no springs or wells, flocksor herds, vegetables or firewood;" Chia Lin, "one of gorges, chasms andprecipices, without a road by which to advance."]

In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In a desperate position,you must fight.

3. There are roads which must not be followed,

["Especially those leading through narrow defiles," says Li Ch’uan,"where an ambush is to be feared."]

armies which must be not attacked,

[More correctly, perhaps, "there are times when an army must not be attacked."Ch’en Hao says: "When you see your way to obtain a rival advantage, butare powerless to inflict a real defeat, refrain from attacking, for fear ofovertaxing your men’s strength."]

towns which must not be besieged,

[Cf. III. § 4 Ts’ao Kung gives an interesting illustration from his ownexperience. When invading the territory of Hsu-chou, he ignored the city ofHua-pi, which lay directly in his path, and pressed on into the heart of thecountry. This excellent strategy was rewarded by the subsequent capture of nofewer than fourteen important district cities. Chang Yu says: "No town shouldbe attacked which, if taken, cannot be held, or if left alone, will not causeany trouble." Hsun Ying, when urged to attack Pi-yang, replied: "The city issmall and well-fortified; even if I succeed intaking it, it will be no greatfeat of arms; whereas if I fail, I shall make myself a laughing-stock." In theseventeenth century, sieges still formed a large proportion of war. It wasTurenne who directed attention to the importance of marches, countermarches andmanœuvers. He said: "It is a great mistake to waste men in taking a town whenthe same expenditure of soldiers will gain a province." [1] ]

positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must notbe obeyed.

[This is a hard saying for the Chinese, with their reverence for authority, andWei Liao Tzŭ (quoted by Tu Mu) is moved to exclaim: "Weapons are balefulinstruments, strife is antagonistic to virtue, a military commander is thenegation of civil order!" The unpalatable fact remains, however, that evenImperial wishes must be subordinated to military necessity.]

4. The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompanyvariation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.

5. The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted with theconfiguration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn his knowledge topractical account.

[Literally, "get the advantage of the ground," which means not only securinggood positions, but availing oneself of natural advantages in every possibleway. Chang Yu says: "Every kind of ground is characterized by certain naturalfeatures, and also gives scope for a certain variability of plan. How it ispossible to turn these natural features to account unless topographicalknowledge is supplemented by versatility of mind?"]

6. So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of varying hisplans, even though he be acquainted with the Five Advantages, will fail to makethe best use of his men.

[Chia Lin tells us that these imply five obvious and generally advantageouslines of action, namely: "if a certain road is short, it must be followed; ifan army is isolated, it must be attacked; if a town is in a parlous condition,it must be besieged; if a position can be stormed, it must be attempted; and ifconsistent with military operations, the ruler’s commands must be obeyed." Butthere are circumstances which sometimes forbid a general to use theseadvantages. For instance, "a certain road may be the shortest way for him, butif he knows that it abounds in natural obstacles, or that the enemy has laid anambush on it, he will not follow that road. A hostile force may be open toattack, but if he knows that it is hard-pressed and likely to fight withdesperation, he will refrain from striking," and so on.]

7. Hence in the wise leader’s plans, considerations of advantage and ofdisadvantage will be blended together.

["Whether in an advantageous position or a disadvantageous one," saysTs’ao Kung, "the opposite state should be always present to your mind."]

8. If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may succeed inaccomplishing the essential part of our schemes.

[Tu Mu says: "If we wish to wrest an advantage from the enemy, we must not fixour minds on that alone, but allow for the possibility of the enemy also doingsome harm to us, and let this enter as a factor into our calculations."]

9. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready toseize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.

[Tu Mu says: "If I wish to extricate myself from a dangerous position, I mustconsider not only the enemy’s ability to injure me, but also my own ability togain an advantage over the enemy. If in my counsels these two considerationsare properly blended, I shall succeed in liberating myself…. For instance; if Iam surrounded by the enemy and only think of effecting an escape, thenervelessness of my policy will incite my adversary to pursue and crush me; itwould be far better to encourage my men to deliver a bold counter-attack, anduse the advantage thus gained to free myself from the enemy’s toils." See thestory of Ts’ao Ts’ao, VII. § 35, note.]

10. Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them;

[Chia Lin enumerates several ways of inflicting this injury, some of whichwould only occur to the Oriental mind:—"Entice away the enemy’s best andwisest men, so that he may be left without counselors. Introduce traitors intohis country, that the government policy may be rendered futile. Foment intrigueand deceit, and thus sow dissension between the ruler and his ministers. Bymeans of every artful contrivance, cause deterioration amongst his men andwaste of his treasure. Corrupt his morals by insidious gifts leading him intoexcess. Disturb and unsettle his mind by presenting him with lovely women."Chang Yu (after Wang Hsi) makes a different interpretation of Sun Tzŭ here:"Get the enemy into a position where he must suffer injury, and he will submitof his own accord."]

and make trouble for them,

[Tu Mu, in this phrase, in his interpretation indicates that trouble should bemade for the enemy affecting their "possessions," or, as we might say,"assets," which he considers to be "a large army, a rich exchequer, harmonyamongst the soldiers, punctual fulfillment of commands." These give us awhip-hand over the enemy.]

and keep them constantly engaged;

[Literally, "make servants of them." Tu Yu says "prevent them from having anyrest."]

hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point.

[Meng Shih’s note contains an excellent example of the idiomatic use of: "causethem to forget pien (the reasons for acting otherwise than on their firstimpulse), and hasten in our direction."]

11. The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s notcoming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his notattacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.

12. There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1)Recklessness, which leads to destruction;

["Bravery without forethought," as Ts’ao Kung analyzes it, which causes aman to fight blindly and desperately like a mad bull. Such an opponent, saysChang Yu, "must not be encountered with brute force, but may be lured into anambush and slain." Cf. Wu Tzŭ, chap. IV. ad init.: "In estimating the characterof a general, men are wont to pay exclusive attention to his courage,forgetting that courage is only one out of many qualities which a generalshould possess. The merely brave man is prone to fight recklessly; and he whofights recklessly, without any perception of what is expedient, must becondemned." Ssu-ma Fa, too, makes the incisive remark: "Simply going to one’sdeath does not bring about victory."]

(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;

[Ts’ao Kung defines the Chinese word translated here as "cowardice" asbeing of the man "whom timidity prevents from advancing to seize an advantage,"and Wang Hsi adds "who is quick to flee at the sight of danger." Meng Shihgives the closer paraphrase "he who is bent on returning alive," this is, theman who will never take a risk. But, as Sun Tzŭ knew, nothing is to be achievedin war unless you are willing to take risks. T’ai Kung said: "He who letsan advantage slip will subsequently bring upon himself real disaster." In 404A.D., Liu Yu pursued the rebel Huan Hsuan up the Yangtsze and fought a navalbattle with him at the island of Ch’eng-hung. The loyal troops numberedonly a few thousands, while their opponents were in great force. But HuanHsuan, fearing the fate which was in store for him should be be overcome, had alight boat made fast to the side of his war-junk, so that he might escape, ifnecessary, at a moment’s notice. The natural result was that the fightingspirit of his soldiers was utterly quenched, and when the loyalists made anattack from windward with fireships, all striving with the utmost ardor to befirst in the fray, Huan Hsuan’s forces were routed, had to burn all theirbaggage and fled for two days and nights without stopping. Chang Yu tells asomewhat similar story of Chao Ying-ch’i, a general of the Chin State whoduring a battle with the army of Ch’u in 597 B.C. had a boat kept inreadiness for him on the river, wishing in case of defeat to be the first toget across.]

(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;

[Tu Mu tells us that Yao Hsing, when opposed in 357 A.D. by Huang Mei, TengCh’iang and others shut himself up behind his walls and refused to fight.Teng Ch’iang said: "Our adversary is of a choleric temper and easilyprovoked; let us make constant sallies and break down his walls, then he willgrow angry and come out. Once we can bring his force to battle, it is doomed tobe our prey." This plan was acted upon, Yao Hsiang came out to fight, was luredas far as San-yuan by the enemy’s pretended flight, and finally attacked andslain.]

(4) a delicacy of honour which is sensitive to shame;

This need not be taken to mean that a sense of honour is really a defect in ageneral. What Sun Tzŭ condemns is rather an exaggerated sensitiveness toslanderous reports, the thin-skinned man who is stung by opprobrium, howeverundeserved. Mei Yao-ch’en truly observes, though somewhat paradoxically:"The seeker after glory should be careless of public opinion."]

(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

[Here again, Sun Tzŭ does not mean that the general is to be careless of thewelfare of his troops. All he wishes to emphasize is the danger of sacrificingany important military advantage to the immediate comfort of his men. This is ashortsighted policy, because in the long run the troops will suffer more fromthe defeat, or, at best, the prolongation of the war, which will be theconsequence. A mistaken feeling of pity will often induce a general to relievea beleaguered city, or to reinforce a hard-pressed detachment, contrary to hismilitary instincts. It is now generally admitted that our repeated efforts torelieve Ladysmith in the South African War were so many strategical blunderswhich defeated their own purpose. And in the end, relief came through the veryman who started out with the distinct resolve no longer to subordinate theinterests of the whole to sentiment in favour of a part. An old soldier of oneof our generals who failed most conspicuously in this war, tried once, Iremember, to defend him to me on the ground that he was always "so good to hismen." By this plea, had he but known it, he was only condemning him out of SunTzŭ’s mouth.]

13. These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct ofwar.

14. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely befound among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.

[1] "Marshal Turenne," p. 50.


[The contents of this interesting chapter are better indicated in § 1 than bythis heading.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: We come now to the question of encamping the army, andobserving signs of the enemy. Pass quickly over mountains, and keep in theneighbourhood of valleys.

[The idea is, not to linger among barren uplands, but to keep close to suppliesof water and grass. Cf. Wu Tzŭ, ch. 3: "Abide not in natural ovens," i.e. "theopenings of valleys." Chang Yu tells the following anecdote: Wu-tuCh’iang was a robber captain in the time of the Later Han, and Ma Yuanwas sent to exterminate his gang. Ch’iang having found a refuge in thehills, Ma Yuan made no attempt to force a battle, but seized all the favourablepositions commanding supplies of water and forage. Ch’iang was soon insuch a desperate plight for want of provisions that he was forced to make atotal surrender. He did not know the advantage of keeping in the neighbourhoodof valleys."]

2. Camp in high places,

[Not on high hills, but on knolls or hillocks elevated above the surroundingcountry.]

facing the sun.

[Tu Mu takes this to mean "facing south," and Ch’en Hao "facing east."Cf. infra, §§ 11, 13.

Do not climb heights in order to fight. So much for mountain warfare.

3. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it.

["In order to tempt the enemy to cross after you," according to Ts’aoKung, and also, says Chang Yu, "in order not to be impeded in your evolutions."The T’ung Tien reads, "If the enemy crosses a river," etc. But in view ofthe next sentence, this is almost certainly an interpolation.]

4. When an invading force crosses a river in its onward march, do not advanceto meet it in mid-stream. It will be best to let half the army get across, andthen deliver your attack.

[Li Ch’uan alludes to the great victory won by Han Hsin over Lung Chu atthe Wei River. Turning to the Ch’ien Han Shu, ch. 34, fol. 6 verso, wefind the battle described as follows: "The two armies were drawn up on oppositesides of the river. In the night, Han Hsin ordered his men to take some tenthousand sacks filled with sand and construct a dam higher up. Then, leadinghalf his army across, he attacked Lung Chu; but after a time, pretending tohave failed in his attempt, he hastily withdrew to the other bank. Lung Chu wasmuch elated by this unlooked-for success, and exclaiming: "I felt sure that HanHsin was really a coward!" he pursued him and began crossing the river in histurn. Han Hsin now sent a party to cut open the sandbags, thus releasing agreat volume of water, which swept down and prevented the greater portion ofLung Chu’s army from getting across. He then turned upon the force which hadbeen cut off, and annihilated it, Lung Chu himself being amongst the slain. Therest of the army, on the further bank, also scattered and fled in alldirections.]

5. If you are anxious to fight, you should not go to meet the invader near ariver which he has to cross.

[For fear of preventing his crossing.]

6. Moor your craft higher up than the enemy, and facing the sun.

[See supra, § 2. The repetition of these words in connection with water is veryawkward. Chang Yu has the note: "Said either of troops marshalled on theriver-bank, or of boats anchored in the stream itself; in either case it isessential to be higher than the enemy and facing the sun." The othercommentators are not at all explicit.]

Do not move up-stream to meet the enemy.

[Tu Mu says: "As water flows downwards, we must not pitch our camp on the lowerreaches of a river, for fear the enemy should open the sluices and sweep usaway in a flood. Chu-ko Wu-hou has remarked that ‘in river warfare we must notadvance against the stream,’ which is as much as to say that our fleet must notbe anchored below that of the enemy, for then they would be able to takeadvantage of the current and make short work of us." There is also the danger,noted by other commentators, that the enemy may throw poison on the water to becarried down to us.]

So much for river warfare.

7. In crossing salt-marshes, your sole concern should be to get over themquickly, without any delay.

[Because of the lack of fresh water, the poor quality of the herbage, and lastbut not least, because they are low, flat, and exposed to attack.]

8. If forced to fight in a salt-marsh, you should have water and grass nearyou, and get your back to a clump of trees.

[Li Ch’uan remarks that the ground is less likely to be treacherous wherethere are trees, while Tu Mu says that they will serve to protect the rear.]

So much for operations in salt-marshes.

9. In dry, level country, take up an easily accessible position with risingground to your right and on your rear,

[Tu Mu quotes T’ai Kung as saying: "An army should have a stream or amarsh on its left, and a hill or tumulus on its right."]

so that the danger may be in front, and safety lie behind. So much forcampaigning in flat country.

10. These are the four useful branches of military knowledge

[Those, namely, concerned with (1) mountains, (2) rivers, (3) marshes, and (4)plains. Compare Napoleon’s "Military Maxims," no. 1.]

which enabled the Yellow Emperor to vanquish four several sovereigns.

[Regarding the "Yellow Emperor": Mei Yao-ch’en asks, with someplausibility, whether there is an error in the text as nothing is known ofHuang Ti having conquered four other Emperors. The Shih Chi (ch. 1 ad init.)speaks only of his victories over Yen Ti and Ch’ih Yu. In the LiuT’ao it is mentioned that he "fought seventy battles and pacified theEmpire." Ts’ao Kung’s explanation is, that the Yellow Emperor was thefirst to institute the feudal system of vassals princes, each of whom (to thenumber of four) originally bore the title of Emperor. Li Ch’uan tells usthat the art of war originated under Huang Ti, who received it from hisMinister Feng Hou.]

11. All armies prefer high ground to low,

["High Ground," says Mei Yao-ch’en, "is not only more agreeable andsalubrious, but more convenient from a military point of view; low ground isnot only damp and unhealthy, but also disadvantageous for fighting."]

and sunny places to dark.

12. If you are careful of your men,

[Ts’ao Kung says: "Make for fresh water and pasture, where you can turnout your animals to graze."]

and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of every kind,

[Chang Yu says: "The dryness of the climate will prevent the outbreak ofillness."]

and this will spell victory.

13. When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the sunny side, with the slope onyour right rear. Thus you will at once act for the benefit of your soldiers andutilise the natural advantages of the ground.

14. When, in consequence of heavy rains up-country, a river which you wish toford is swollen and flecked with foam, you must wait until it subsides.

15. Country in which there are precipitous cliffs with torrents runningbetween, deep natural hollows,

The latter defined as "places enclosed on every side by steep banks, with poolsof water at the bottom."]

confined places,

[Defined as "natural pens or prisons" or "places surrounded by precipices onthree sides—easy to get into, but hard to get out of."]

tangled thickets,

[Defined as "places covered with such dense undergrowth that spears cannot beused."]


[Defined as "low-lying places, so heavy with mud as to be impassable forchariots and horsemen."]

and crevasses,

[Defined by Mei Yao-ch’en as "a narrow difficult way between beetlingcliffs." Tu Mu’s note is "ground covered with trees and rocks, and intersectedby numerous ravines and pitfalls." This is very vague, but Chia Lin explains itclearly enough as a defile or narrow pass, and Chang Yu takes much the sameview. On the whole, the weight of the commentators certainly inclines to therendering "defile." But the ordinary meaning of the Chinese in one place is "acrack or fissure" and the fact that the meaning of the Chinese elsewhere in thesentence indicates something in the nature of a defile, make me think that SunTzŭ is here speaking of crevasses.]

should be left with all possible speed and not approached.

16. While we keep away from such places, we should get the enemy to approachthem; while we face them, we should let the enemy have them on his rear.

17. If in the neighbourhood of your camp there should be any hilly country,ponds surrounded by aquatic grass, hollow basins filled with reeds, or woodswith thick undergrowth, they must be carefully routed out and searched; forthese are places where men in ambush or insidious spies are likely to belurking.

[Chang Yu has the note: "We must also be on our guard against traitors who maylie in close covert, secretly spying out our weaknesses and overhearing ourinstructions."]

18. When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is relying on thenatural strength of his position.

[Here begin Sun Tzŭ’s remarks on the reading of signs, much of which is so goodthat it could almost be included in a modern manual like Gen. Baden-Powell’s"Aids to Scouting."]

19. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious for theother side to advance.

[Probably because we are in a strong position from which he wishes to dislodgeus. "If he came close up to us, says Tu Mu, "and tried to force a battle, hewould seem to despise us, and there would be less probability of our respondingto the challenge."]

20. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is tendering a bait.

21. Movement amongst the trees of a forest shows that the enemy is advancing.

[Ts’ao Kung explains this as "felling trees to clear a passage," andChang Yu says: "Every man sends out scouts to climb high places and observe theenemy. If a scout sees that the trees of a forest are moving and shaking, hemay know that they are being cut down to clear a passage for the enemy’smarch."]

The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of thick grass means thatthe enemy wants to make us suspicious.

[Tu Yu’s explanation, borrowed from Ts’ao Kung’s, is as follows: "Thepresence of a number of screens or sheds in the midst of thick vegetation is asure sign that the enemy has fled and, fearing pursuit, has constructed thesehiding-places in order to make us suspect an ambush." It appears that these"screens" were hastily knotted together out of any long grass which theretreating enemy happened to come across.]

22. The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an ambuscade.

[Chang Yu’s explanation is doubtless right: "When birds that are flying alongin a straight line suddenly shoot upwards, it means that soldiers are in ambushat the spot beneath."]

Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming.

23. When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of chariotsadvancing; when the dust is low, but spread over a wide area, it betokens theapproach of infantry.

["High and sharp," or rising to a peak, is of course somewhat exaggerated asapplied to dust. The commentators explain the phenomenon by saying that horsesand chariots, being heavier than men, raise more dust, and also follow oneanother in the same wheel-track, whereas foot-soldiers would be marching inranks, many abreast. According to Chang Yu, "every army on the march must havescouts some way in advance, who on sighting dust raised by the enemy, willgallop back and report it to the commander-in-chief." Cf. Gen. Baden-Powell:"As you move along, say, in a hostile country, your eyes should be looking afarfor the enemy or any signs of him: figures, dust rising, birds getting up,glitter of arms, etc." [1] ]

When it branches out in different directions, it shows that parties have beensent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and fro signify thatthe army is encamping.

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[Chang Yu says: "In apportioning the defences for a cantonment, light horsewill be sent out to survey the position and ascertain the weak and strongpoints all along its circumference. Hence the small quantity of dust and itsmotion."]

24. Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is aboutto advance.

["As though they stood in great fear of us," says Tu Mu. "Their object is tomake us contemptuous and careless, after which they will attack us." Chang Yualludes to the story of T’ien Tan of the Ch’i-mo against the Yenforces, led by Ch’i Chieh. In ch. 82 of the Shih Chi we read:"T’ien Tan openly said: ‘My only fear is that the Yen army may cut offthe noses of their Ch’i prisoners and place them in the front rank tofight against us; that would be the undoing of our city.’ The other side beinginformed of this speech, at once acted on the suggestion; but those within thecity were enraged at seeing their fellow-countrymen thus mutilated, and fearingonly lest they should fall into the enemy’s hands, were nerved to defendthemselves more obstinately than ever. Once again T’ien Tan sent backconverted spies who reported these words to the enemy: "What I dread most isthat the men of Yen may dig up the ancestral tombs outside the town, and byinflicting this indignity on our forefathers cause us to become faint-hearted.’Forthwith the besiegers dug up all the graves and burned the corpses lying inthem. And the inhabitants of Chi-mo, witnessing the outrage from thecity-walls, wept passionately and were all impatient to go out and fight, theirfury being increased tenfold. T’ien Tan knew then that his soldiers wereready for any enterprise. But instead of a sword, he himself took a mattock inhis hands, and ordered others to be distributed amongst his best warriors,while the ranks were filled up with their wives and concubines. He then servedout all the remaining rations and bade his men eat their fill. The regularsoldiers were told to keep out of sight, and the walls were manned with the oldand weaker men and with women. This done, envoys were dispatched to the enemy’scamp to arrange terms of surrender, whereupon the Yen army began shouting forjoy. T’ien Tan also collected 20,000 ounces of silver from the people,and got the wealthy citizens of Chi-mo to send it to the Yen general with theprayer that, when the town capitulated, he would not allow their homes to beplundered or their women to be maltreated. Ch’i Chieh, in high goodhumor, granted their prayer; but his army now became increasingly slack andcareless. Meanwhile, T’ien Tan got together a thousand oxen, decked themwith pieces of red silk, painted their bodies, dragon-like, with coloredstripes, and fastened sharp blades on their horns and well-greased rushes ontheir tails. When night came on, he lighted the ends of the rushes, and drovethe oxen through a number of holes which he had pierced in the walls, backingthem up with a force of 5000 picked warriors. The animals, maddened with pain,dashed furiously into the enemy’s camp where they caused the utmost confusionand dismay; for their tails acted as torches, showing up the hideous pattern ontheir bodies, and the weapons on their horns killed or wounded any with whomthey came into contact. In the meantime, the band of 5000 had crept up withgags in their mouths, and now threw themselves on the enemy. At the same momenta frightful din arose in the city itself, all those that remained behind makingas much noise as possible by banging drums and hammering on bronze vessels,until heaven and earth were convulsed by the uproar. Terror-stricken, the Yenarmy fled in disorder, hotly pursued by the men of Ch’i, who succeeded inslaying their general Ch’i Chien…. The result of the battle was theultimate recovery of some seventy cities which had belonged to the Ch’iState."]

Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that he willretreat.

25. When the light chariots come out first and take up a position on the wings,it is a sign that the enemy is forming for battle.

26. Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot.

[The reading here is uncertain. Li Ch’uan indicates "a treaty confirmedby oaths and hostages." Wang Hsi and Chang Yu, on the other hand, simply say"without reason," "on a frivolous pretext."]

27. When there is much running about

[Every man hastening to his proper place under his own regimental banner.]

and the soldiers fall into rank, it means that the critical moment has come.

28. When some are seen advancing and some retreating, it is a lure.

29. When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears, they are faint from wantof food.

30. If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves, the armyis suffering from thirst.

[As Tu Mu remarks: "One may know the condition of a whole army from thebehavior of a single man."]

31. If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes no effort to secureit, the soldiers are exhausted.

32. If birds gather on any spot, it is unoccupied.

[A useful fact to bear in mind when, for instance, as Ch’en Hao says, theenemy has secretly abandoned his camp.]

Clamour by night betokens nervousness.

33. If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. Ifthe banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers areangry, it means that the men are weary.

[Tu Mu understands the sentence differently: "If all the officers of an armyare angry with their general, it means that they are broken with fatigue" owingto the exertions which he has demanded from them.]

34. When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food,

[In the ordinary course of things, the men would be fed on grain and the horseschiefly on grass.]

and when the men do not hang their cooking-pots over the camp-fires, showingthat they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determinedto fight to the death.

[I may quote here the illustrative passage from the Hou Han Shu, ch. 71, givenin abbreviated form by the P’ei Wen Yun Fu: "The rebel Wang Kuo of Liangwas besieging the town of Ch’en- ts’ang, and Huang-fu Sung, who wasin supreme command, and Tung Cho were sent out against him. The latter pressedfor hasty measures, but Sung turned a deaf ear to his counsel. At last therebels were utterly worn out, and began to throw down their weapons of theirown accord. Sung was not advancing to the attack, but Cho said: ‘It is aprinciple of war not to pursue desperate men and not to press a retreatinghost.’ Sung answered: ‘That does not apply here. What I am about to attack is ajaded army, not a retreating host; with disciplined troops I am falling on adisorganized multitude, not a band of desperate men.’ Thereupon he advances tothe attack unsupported by his colleague, and routed the enemy, Wang Kuo beingslain."]

35. The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in subduedtones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file.

36. Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of his resources;

[Because, when an army is hard pressed, as Tu Mu says, there is always a fearof mutiny, and lavish rewards are given to keep the men in good temper.]

too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress.

[Because in such case discipline becomes relaxed, and unwonted severity isnecessary to keep the men to their duty.]

37. To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the enemy’s numbers,shows a supreme lack of intelligence.

[I follow the interpretation of Ts’ao Kung, also adopted by LiCh’uan, Tu Mu, and Chang Yu. Another possible meaning set forth by Tu Yu,Chia Lin, Mei Tao-ch’en and Wang Hsi, is: "The general who is firsttyrannical towards his men, and then in terror lest they should mutiny, etc."This would connect the sentence with what went before about rewards andpunishments.]

38. When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign thatthe enemy wishes for a truce.

[Tu Mu says: "If the enemy open friendly relations be sending hostages, it is asign that they are anxious for an armistice, either because their strength isexhausted or for some other reason." But it hardly needs a Sun Tzŭ to draw suchan obvious inference.]

39. If the enemy’s troops march up angrily and remain facing ours for a longtime without either joining battle or taking themselves off again, thesituation is one that demands great vigilance and circumspection.

[Ts’ao Kung says a manœuver of this sort may be only a ruse to gain timefor an unexpected flank attack or the laying of an ambush.]

40. If our troops are no more in number than the enemy, that is amplysufficient; it only means that no direct attack can be made.

[Literally, "no martial advance." That is to say, cheng tactics and frontalattacks must be eschewed, and stratagem resorted to instead.]

What we can do is simply to concentrate all our available strength, keep aclose watch on the enemy, and obtain reinforcements.

[This is an obscure sentence, and none of the commentators succeed in squeezingvery good sense out of it. I follow Li Ch’uan, who appears to offer thesimplest explanation: "Only the side that gets more men will win." Fortunatelywe have Chang Yu to expound its meaning to us in language which is lucidityitself: "When the numbers are even, and no favourable opening presents itself,although we may not be strong enough to deliver a sustained attack, we can findadditional recruits amongst our sutlers and camp-followers, and then,concentrating our forces and keeping a close watch on the enemy, contrive tosnatch the victory. But we must avoid borrowing foreign soldiers to help us."He then quotes from Wei Liao Tzŭ, ch. 3: "The nominal strength of mercenarytroops may be 100,000, but their real value will be not more than half thatfigure."]

41. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure tobe captured by them.

[Ch’en Hao, quoting from the Tso Chuan, says: "If bees and scorpionscarry poison, how much more will a hostile state! Even a puny opponent, then,should not be treated with contempt."]

42. If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they willnot prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless.If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are notenforced, they will still be useless.

43. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, butkept under control by means of iron discipline.

[Yen Tzŭ [B.C. 493] said of Ssu-ma Jang-chu: "His civil virtues endeared him tothe people; his martial prowess kept his enemies in awe." Cf. Wu Tzŭ, ch. 4init.: "The ideal commander unites culture with a warlike temper; theprofession of arms requires a combination of hardness and tenderness."]

This is a certain road to victory.

44. If in training soldiers commands are habitually enforced, the army will bewell-disciplined; if not, its discipline will be bad.

45. If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his ordersbeing obeyed,

[Tu Mu says: "A general ought in time of peace to show kindly confidence in hismen and also make his authority respected, so that when they come to face theenemy, orders may be executed and discipline maintained, because they all trustand look up to him." What Sun Tzŭ has said in § 44, however, would lead onerather to expect something like this: "If a general is always confident thathis orders will be carried out," etc."]

the gain will be mutual.

[Chang Yu says: "The general has confidence in the men under his command, andthe men are docile, having confidence in him. Thus the gain is mutual." Hequotes a pregnant sentence from Wei Liao Tzŭ, ch. 4: "The art of giving ordersis not to try to rectify minor blunders and not to be swayed by petty doubts."Vacillation and fussiness are the surest means of sapping the confidence of anarmy.]

[1] "Aids to Scouting," p. 26.

Chapter X. TERRAIN

[Only about a third of the chapter, comprising §§ 1-13, deals with "terrain,"the subject being more fully treated in ch. XI. The "six calamities" arediscussed in §§ 14-20, and the rest of the chapter is again a mere string ofdesultory remarks, though not less interesting, perhaps, on that account.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit: (1)Accessible ground;

[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "plentifully provided with roads and means ofcommunications."]

(2) entangling ground;

[The same commentator says: "Net-like country, venturing into which you becomeentangled."]

(3) temporising ground;

[Ground which allows you to "stave off" or "delay."]

(4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a great distancefrom the enemy.

[It is hardly necessary to point out the faultiness of this classification. Astrange lack of logical perception is shown in the Chinaman’s unquestioningacceptance of glaring cross-divisions such as the above.]

2. Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is calledaccessible.

3. With regard to ground of this nature, be before the enemy in occupying theraised and sunny spots, and carefully guard your line of supplies.

[The general meaning of the last phrase is doubtlessly, as Tu Yu says, "not toallow the enemy to cut your communications." In view of Napoleon’s dictum, "thesecret of war lies in the communications," [1] we could wish that Sun Tzŭ haddone more than skirt the edge of this important subject here and in I. § 10,VII. § 11. Col. Henderson says: "The line of supply may be said to be as vitalto the existence of an army as the heart to the life of a human being. Just asthe duelist who finds his adversary’s point menacing him with certain death,and his own guard astray, is compelled to conform to his adversary’s movements,and to content himself with warding off his thrusts, so the commander whosecommunications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false position, andhe will be fortunate if he has not to change all his plans, to split up hisforce into more or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferiornumbers on ground which he has not had time to prepare, and where defeat willnot be an ordinary failure, but will entail the ruin or surrender of his wholearmy." [2]

Then you will be able to fight with advantage.

4. Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called entangling.

5. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sallyforth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and youfail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue.

6. When the position is such that neither side will gain by making the firstmove, it is called temporising ground.

[Tu Mu says: "Each side finds it inconvenient to move, and the situationremains at a deadlock."]

7. In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should offer us anattractive bait,

[Tu Yu says, "turning their backs on us and pretending to flee." But this isonly one of the lures which might induce us to quit our position.]

it will be advisable not to stir forth, but rather to retreat, thus enticingthe enemy in his turn; then, when part of his army has come out, we may deliverour attack with advantage.

8. With regard to narrow passes, if you can occupy them first, let them bestrongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy.

[Because then, as Tu Yu observes, "the initiative will lie with us, and bymaking sudden and unexpected attacks we shall have the enemy at our mercy."]

9. Should the enemy forestall you in occupying a pass, do not go after him ifthe pass is fully garrisoned, but only if it is weakly garrisoned.

10. With regard to precipitous heights, if you are beforehand with youradversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait for himto come up.

[Ts’ao Kung says: "The particular advantage of securing heights anddefiles is that your actions cannot then be dictated by the enemy." [For theenunciation of the grand principle alluded to, see VI. § 2]. Chang Yu tells thefollowing anecdote of P’ei Hsing-chien (A.D. 619-682), who was sent on apunitive expedition against the Turkic tribes. "At night he pitched his camp asusual, and it had already been completely fortified by wall and ditch, whensuddenly he gave orders that the army should shift its quarters to a hill nearby. This was highly displeasing to his officers, who protested loudly againstthe extra fatigue which it would entail on the men. P’ei Hsing-chien,however, paid no heed to their remonstrances and had the camp moved as quicklyas possible. The same night, a terrific storm came on, which flooded theirformer place of encampment to the depth of over twelve feet. The recalcitrantofficers were amazed at the sight, and owned that they had been in the wrong.‘How did you know what was going to happen?’ they asked. P’ei Hsing-chienreplied: ‘From this time forward be content to obey orders without askingunnecessary questions.’ From this it may be seen," Chang Yu continues, "thathigh and sunny places are advantageous not only for fighting, but also becausethey are immune from disastrous floods."]

11. If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him, but retreatand try to entice him away.

[The turning point of Li Shih-min’s campaign in 621 A.D. against the tworebels, Tou Chien-te, King of Hsia, and Wang Shih-ch’ung, Prince ofCheng, was his seizure of the heights of Wu-lao, in spite of which Tou Chien-tepersisted in his attempt to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was defeated and takenprisoner. See Chiu T’ang Shu, ch. 2, fol. 5 verso, and also ch. 54.]

12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength ofthe two armies is equal, it is not easy to provoke a battle,

[The point is that we must not think of undertaking a long and wearisome march,at the end of which, as Tu Yu says, "we should be exhausted and our adversaryfresh and keen."]

and fighting will be to your disadvantage.

13. These six are the principles connected with Earth.

[Or perhaps, "the principles relating to ground." See, however, I. § 8.]

The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful to study them.

14. Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not arising from naturalcauses, but from faults for which the general is responsible. These are: (1)Flight; (2) insubordination; (3) collapse; (4) ruin; (5) disorganisation; (6)rout.

15. Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against another tentimes its size, the result will be the flight of the former.

16. When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, theresult is insubordination.

[Tu Mu cites the unhappy case of T’ien Pu [Hsin T’ang Shu, ch.148], who was sent to Wei in 821 A.D. with orders to lead an army against WangT’ing-ts’ou. But the whole time he was in command, his soldierstreated him with the utmost contempt, and openly flouted his authority byriding about the camp on donkeys, several thousands at a time. T’ien Puwas powerless to put a stop to this conduct, and when, after some months hadpassed, he made an attempt to engage the enemy, his troops turned tail anddispersed in every direction. After that, the unfortunate man committed suicideby cutting his throat.]

When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the resultis collapse.

[Ts’ao Kung says: "The officers are energetic and want to press on, thecommon soldiers are feeble and suddenly collapse."]

17. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting theenemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before thecommander-in-chief can tell whether or no he is in a position to fight, theresult is ruin.

[Wang Hsi’s note is: "This means, the general is angry without cause, andat the same time does not appreciate the ability of his subordinate officers;thus he arouses fierce resentment and brings an avalanche of ruin upon hishead."]

18. When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are notclear and distinct;

[Wei Liao Tzŭ (ch. 4) says: "If the commander gives his orders with decision,the soldiers will not wait to hear them twice; if his moves are made withoutvacillation, the soldiers will not be in two minds about doing their duty."General Baden-Powell says, italicizing the words: "The secret of gettingsuccessful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell—in theclearness of the instructions they receive." [3] Cf. also Wu Tzŭ ch. 3: "themost fatal defect in a military leader is difference; the worst calamities thatbefall an army arise from hesitation."]

when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men,

[Tu Mu says: "Neither officers nor men have any regular routine."]

and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utterdisorganisation.

19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an inferiorforce to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerfulone, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result mustbe a rout.

[Chang Yu paraphrases the latter part of the sentence and continues: "Wheneverthere is fighting to be done, the keenest spirits should be appointed to servein the front ranks, both in order to strengthen the resolution of our own menand to demoralize the enemy." Cf. the primi ordines of Caesar ("De BelloGallico," V. 28, 44, et al.).]

20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully noted by thegeneral who has attained a responsible post.

[See supra, § 13.]

21. The natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally;

[Ch’en Hao says: "The advantages of weather and season are not equal tothose connected with ground."]

but a power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory,and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutesthe test of a great general.

22. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge intopractice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practises them, willsurely be defeated.

23. If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even thoughthe ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must notfight even at the ruler’s bidding.

[Cf. VIII. § 3 fin. Huang Shih-kung of the Ch’in dynasty, who is said tohave been the patron of Chang Liang and to have written the San Lueh, has thesewords attributed to him: "The responsibility of setting an army in motion mustdevolve on the general alone; if advance and retreat are controlled from thePalace, brilliant results will hardly be achieved. Hence the god-like ruler andthe enlightened monarch are content to play a humble part in furthering theircountry’s cause [lit., kneel down to push the chariot wheel]." This means that"in matters lying outside the zenana, the decision of the military commandermust be absolute." Chang Yu also quote the saying: "Decrees from the Son ofHeaven do not penetrate the walls of a camp."]

24. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearingdisgrace,

[It was Wellington, I think, who said that the hardest thing of all for asoldier is to retreat.]

whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for hissovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

[A noble presentiment, in few words, of the Chinese "happy warrior." Such aman, says Ho Shih, "even if he had to suffer punishment, would not regret hisconduct."]

25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into thedeepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will standby you even unto death.

[Cf. I. § 6. In this connection, Tu Mu draws for us an engaging picture of thefamous general Wu Ch’i, from whose treatise on war I have frequently hadoccasion to quote: "He wore the same clothes and ate the same food as themeanest of his soldiers, refused to have either a horse to ride or a mat tosleep on, carried his own surplus rations wrapped in a parcel, and shared everyhardship with his men. One of his soldiers was suffering from an abscess, andWu Ch’i himself sucked out the virus. The soldier’s mother, hearing this,began wailing and lamenting. Somebody asked her, saying: ‘Why do you cry? Yourson is only a common soldier, and yet the commander-in-chief himself has suckedthe poison from his sore.’ The woman replied, ‘Many years ago, Lord Wuperformed a similar service for my husband, who never left him afterwards, andfinally met his death at the hands of the enemy. And now that he has done thesame for my son, he too will fall fighting I know not where.’" Li Ch’uanmentions the Viscount of Ch’u, who invaded the small state of Hsiaoduring the winter. The Duke of Shen said to him: "Many of the soldiers aresuffering severely from the cold." So he made a round of the whole army,comforting and encouraging the men; and straightway they felt as if they wereclothed in garments lined with floss silk.]

26. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt;kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, ofquelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; theyare useless for any practical purpose.

[Li Ching once said that if you could make your soldiers afraid of you, theywould not be afraid of the enemy. Tu Mu recalls an instance of stern militarydiscipline which occurred in 219 A.D., when Lu Meng was occupying the town ofChiang-ling. He had given stringent orders to his army not to molest theinhabitants nor take anything from them by force. Nevertheless, a certainofficer serving under his banner, who happened to be a fellow-townsman,ventured to appropriate a bamboo hat belonging to one of the people, in orderto wear it over his regulation helmet as a protection against the rain. Lu Mengconsidered that the fact of his being also a native of Ju-nan should not beallowed to palliate a clear breach of discipline, and accordingly he orderedhis summary execution, the tears rolling down his face, however, as he did so.This act of severity filled the army with wholesome awe, and from that timeforth even articles dropped in the highway were not picked up.]

27. If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unawarethat the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towardsvictory.

[That is, Ts’ao Kung says, "the issue in this case is uncertain."]

28. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our ownmen are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towardsvictory.

[Cf. III. § 13 (1).]

29. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men arein a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makesfighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory.

30. Hence the experienced soldier, once in motion, is never bewildered; once hehas broken camp, he is never at a loss.

[The reason being, according to Tu Mu, that he has taken his measures sothoroughly as to ensure victory beforehand. "He does not move recklessly," saysChang Yu, "so that when he does move, he makes no mistakes."]

31. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victorywill not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make yourvictory complete.

[Li Ch’uan sums up as follows: "Given a knowledge of threethings—the affairs of men, the seasons of heaven and the naturaladvantages of earth—, victory will invariably crown your battles."]

[1] See "Pensees de Napoleon 1er," no. 47.

[2] "The Science of War," chap. 2.

[3] "Aids to Scouting," p. xii.


1. Sun Tzŭ said: The art of war recognises nine varieties of ground: (1)Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4) open ground;(5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground;(8) hemmed-in ground; (9) desperate ground.

2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive ground.

[So called because the soldiers, being near to their homes and anxious to seetheir wives and children, are likely to seize the opportunity afforded by abattle and scatter in every direction. "In their advance," observes Tu Mu,"they will lack the valor of desperation, and when they retreat, they will findharbors of refuge."]

3. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great distance, itis facile ground.

[Li Ch’uan and Ho Shih say "because of the facility for retreating," andthe other commentators give similar explanations. Tu Mu remarks: "When yourarmy has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in orderto make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home."]

4. Ground the possession of which imports great advantage to either side, iscontentious ground.

[Tu Mu defines the ground as ground "to be contended for." Ts’ao Kungsays: "ground on which the few and the weak can defeat the many and thestrong," such as "the neck of a pass," instanced by Li Ch’uan. Thus,Thermopylae was of this classification because the possession of it, even for afew days only, meant holding the entire invading army in check and thus gaininginvaluable time. Cf. Wu Tzŭ, ch. V. ad init.: "For those who have to fight inthe ratio of one to ten, there is nothing better than a narrow pass." When LuKuang was returning from his triumphant expedition to Turkestan in 385 A.D.,and had got as far as I-ho, laden with spoils, Liang Hsi, administrator ofLiang-chou, taking advantage of the death of Fu Chien, King of Ch’in,plotted against him and was for barring his way into the province. Yang Han,governor of Kao-ch’ang, counseled him, saying: "Lu Kuang is fresh fromhis victories in the west, and his soldiers are vigorous and mettlesome. If weoppose him in the shifting sands of the desert, we shall be no match for him,and we must therefore try a different plan. Let us hasten to occupy the defileat the mouth of the Kao-wu pass, thus cutting him off from supplies of water,and when his troops are prostrated with thirst, we can dictate our own termswithout moving. Or if you think that the pass I mention is too far off, wecould make a stand against him at the I-wu pass, which is nearer. The cunningand resource of Tzŭ-fang himself would be expended in vain against the enormousstrength of these two positions." Liang Hsi, refusing to act on this advice,was overwhelmed and swept away by the invader.]

5. Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is open ground.

[There are various interpretations of the Chinese adjective for this type ofground. Ts’ao Kung says it means "ground covered with a network ofroads," like a chessboard. Ho Shih suggested: "ground on whichintercommunication is easy."]

6. Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states,

[Ts’au Kung defines this as: "Our country adjoining the enemy’s and athird country conterminous with both." Meng Shih instances the smallprincipality of Cheng, which was bounded on the north-east by Ch’i, onthe west by Chin, and on the south by Ch’u.]

so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his command,

[The belligerent who holds this dominating position can constrain most of themto become his allies.]

is ground of intersecting highways.

7. When an army has penetrated into the heart of a hostile country, leaving anumber of fortified cities in its rear, it is serious ground.

[Wang Hsi explains the name by saying that "when an army has reached such apoint, its situation is serious."]

8. Mountain forests,

[Or simply "forests."]

rugged steeps, marshes and fens—all country that is hard to traverse:this is difficult ground.

9. Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can onlyretire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy would suffice tocrush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in ground.

10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting withoutdelay, is desperate ground.

[The situation, as pictured by Ts’ao Kung, is very similar to the"hemmed-in ground" except that here escape is no longer possible: "A loftymountain in front, a large river behind, advance impossible, retreat blocked."Ch’en Hao says: "to be on ‘desperate ground’ is like sitting in a leakingboat or crouching in a burning house." Tu Mu quotes from Li Ching a vividdescription of the plight of an army thus entrapped: "Suppose an army invadinghostile territory without the aid of local guides:—it falls into a fatalsnare and is at the enemy’s mercy. A ravine on the left, a mountain on theright, a pathway so perilous that the horses have to be roped together and thechariots carried in slings, no passage open in front, retreat cut off behind,no choice but to proceed in single file. Then, before there is time to rangeour soldiers in order of battle, the enemy is overwhelming strength suddenlyappears on the scene. Advancing, we can nowhere take a breathing-space;retreating, we have no haven of refuge. We seek a pitched battle, but in vain;yet standing on the defensive, none of us has a moment’s respite. If we simplymaintain our ground, whole days and months will crawl by; the moment we make amove, we have to sustain the enemy’s attacks on front and rear. The country iswild, destitute of water and plants; the army is lacking in the necessaries oflife, the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, all the resources of strengthand skill unavailing, the pass so narrow that a single man defending it cancheck the onset of ten thousand; all means of offense in the hands of theenemy, all points of vantage already forfeited by ourselves:—in thisterrible plight, even though we had the most valiant soldiers and the keenestof weapons, how could they be employed with the slightest effect?" Students ofGreek history may be reminded of the awful close to the Sicilian expedition,and the agony of the Athenians under Nicias and Demonsthenes. [See Thucydides,VII. 78 sqq.].]

11. On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. Oncontentious ground, attack not.

[But rather let all your energies be bent on occupying the advantageousposition first. So Ts’ao Kung. Li Ch’uan and others, however,suppose the meaning to be that the enemy has already forestalled us, sot thatit would be sheer madness to attack. In the Sun Tzŭ Hsu Lu, when the King of Wuinquires what should be done in this case, Sun Tzŭ replies: "The rule withregard to contentious ground is that those in possession have the advantageover the other side. If a position of this kind is secured first by the enemy,beware of attacking him. Lure him away by pretending to flee—show yourbanners and sound your drums—make a dash for other places that he cannotafford to lose—trail brushwood and raise a dust—confound his earsand eyes—detach a body of your best troops, and place it secretly inambuscade. Then your opponent will sally forth to the rescue."]

12. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy’s way.

[Because the attempt would be futile, and would expose the blocking forceitself to serious risks. There are two interpretations available here. I followthat of Chang Yu. The other is indicated in Ts’ao Kung’s brief note:"Draw closer together"—i.e., see that a portion of your own army is notcut off.]

On ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies.

[Or perhaps, "form alliances with neighbouring states."]

13. On serious ground, gather in plunder.

[On this, Li Ch’uan has the following delicious note: "When an armypenetrates far into the enemy’s country, care must be taken not to alienate thepeople by unjust treatment. Follow the example of the Han Emperor Kao Tsu,whose march into Ch’in territory was marked by no violation of women orlooting of valuables. [Nota bene: this was in 207 B.C., and may well cause usto blush for the Christian armies that entered Peking in 1900 A.D.] Thus he wonthe hearts of all. In the present passage, then, I think that the true readingmust be, not ‘plunder,’ but ‘do not plunder.’" Alas, I fear that in thisinstance the worthy commentator’s feelings outran his judgment. Tu Mu, atleast, has no such illusions. He says: "When encamped on ‘serious ground,’there being no inducement as yet to advance further, and no possibility ofretreat, one ought to take measures for a protracted resistance by bringing inprovisions from all sides, and keep a close watch on the enemy."]

In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.

[Or, in the words of VIII. § 2, "do not encamp.]

14. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.

[Ts’au Kung says: "Try the effect of some unusual artifice;" and Tu Yuamplifies this by saying: "In such a position, some scheme must be devisedwhich will suit the circumstances, and if we can succeed in deluding the enemy,the peril may be escaped." This is exactly what happened on the famous occasionwhen Hannibal was hemmed in among the mountains on the road to Casilinum, andto all appearances entrapped by the dictator Fabius. The stratagem whichHannibal devised to baffle his foes was remarkably like that which T’ienTan had also employed with success exactly 62 years before. [See IX. § 24,note.] When night came on, bundles of twigs were fastened to the horns of some2000 oxen and set on fire, the terrified animals being then quickly drivenalong the mountain side towards the passes which were beset by the enemy. Thestrange spectacle of these rapidly moving lights so alarmed and discomfited theRomans that they withdrew from their position, and Hannibal’s army passedsafely through the defile. [See Polybius, III. 93, 94; Livy, XXII. 16 17.]

On desperate ground, fight.

[For, as Chia Lin remarks: "if you fight with all your might, there is a chanceof life; where as death is certain if you cling to your corner."]

15. Those who were called skilful leaders of old knew how to drive a wedgebetween the enemy’s front and rear;

[More literally, "cause the front and rear to lose touch with each other."]

to prevent co-operation between his large and small divisions; to hinder thegood troops from rescuing the bad, the officers from rallying their men.

16. When the enemy’s men were scattered, they prevented them fromconcentrating; even when their forces were united, they managed to keep them indisorder.

17. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when otherwise,they stopped still.

[Mei Yao-ch’en connects this with the foregoing: "Having succeeded inthus dislocating the enemy, they would push forward in order to secure anyadvantage to be gained; if there was no advantage to be gained, they wouldremain where they were."]

18. If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly array and onthe point of marching to the attack, I should say: "Begin by seizing somethingwhich your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will."

[Opinions differ as to what Sun Tzŭ had in mind. Ts’ao Kung thinks it is"some strategical advantage on which the enemy is depending." Tu Mu says: "Thethree things which an enemy is anxious to do, and on the accomplishment ofwhich his success depends, are: (1) to capture our favourable positions; (2) toravage our cultivated land; (3) to guard his own communications." Our objectthen must be to thwart his plans in these three directions and thus render himhelpless. [Cf. III. § 3.] By boldly seizing the initiative in this way, you atonce throw the other side on the defensive.]

19. Rapidity is the essence of war:

[According to Tu Mu, "this is a summary of leading principles in warfare," andhe adds: "These are the profoundest truths of military science, and the chiefbusiness of the general." The following anecdotes, told by Ho Shih, shows theimportance attached to speed by two of China’s greatest generals. In 227 A.D.,Meng Ta, governor of Hsin-ch’eng under the Wei Emperor Wen Ti, wasmeditating defection to the House of Shu, and had entered into correspondencewith Chu-ko Liang, Prime Minister of that State. The Wei general Ssu-ma I wasthen military governor of Wan, and getting wind of Meng Ta’s treachery, he atonce set off with an army to anticipate his revolt, having previously cajoledhim by a specious message of friendly import. Ssu-ma’s officers came to him andsaid: "If Meng Ta has leagued himself with Wu and Shu, the matter should bethoroughly investigated before we make a move." Ssu-ma I replied: "Meng Ta isan unprincipled man, and we ought to go and punish him at once, while he isstill wavering and before he has thrown off the mask." Then, by a series offorced marches, be brought his army under the walls of Hsin-ch’eng within a space of eight days. Now Meng Ta had previously said in a letter to Chu-koLiang: "Wan is 1200 li from here. When the news of my revolt reachesSsu-ma I, he will at once inform his imperial master, but it will be a wholemonth before any steps can be taken, and by that time my city will be wellfortified. Besides, Ssu-ma I is sure not to come himself, and the generals thatwill be sent against us are not worth troubling about." The next letter,however, was filled with consternation: "Though only eight days have passedsince I threw off my allegiance, an army is already at the city-gates. Whatmiraculous rapidity is this!" A fortnight later, Hsin- ch’eng had fallenand Meng Ta had lost his head. [See Chin Shu, ch. 1, f. 3.] In 621 A.D., LiChing was sent from K’uei-chou in Ssu-ch’uan to reduce thesuccessful rebel Hsiao Hsien, who had set up as Emperor at the modernChing-chou Fu in Hupeh. It was autumn, and the Yangtsze being then in flood,Hsiao Hsien never dreamt that his adversary would venture to come down throughthe gorges, and consequently made no preparations. But Li Ching embarked hisarmy without loss of time, and was just about to start when the other generalsimplored him to postpone his departure until the river was in a less dangerousstate for navigation. Li Ching replied: "To the soldier, overwhelming speed isof paramount importance, and he must never miss opportunities. Now is the timeto strike, before Hsiao Hsien even knows that we have got an army together. Ifwe seize the present moment when the river is in flood, we shall appear beforehis capital with startling suddenness, like the thunder which is heard beforeyou have time to stop your ears against it. [See VII. § 19, note.] This is thegreat principle in war. Even if he gets to know of our approach, he will haveto levy his soldiers in such a hurry that they will not be fit to oppose us.Thus the full fruits of victory will be ours." All came about as he predicted,and Hsiao Hsien was obliged to surrender, nobly stipulating that his peopleshould be spared and he alone suffer the penalty of death.]

take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes,and attack unguarded spots.

20. The following are the principles to be observed by an invading force: Thefurther you penetrate into a country, the greater will be the solidarity ofyour troops, and thus the defenders will not prevail against you.

21. Make forays in fertile country in order to supply your army with food.

[Cf. supra, § 13. Li Ch’uan does not venture on a note here.]

22. Carefully study the well-being of your men,

[For "well-being", Wang Hsi means, "Pet them, humor them, give them plenty offood and drink, and look after them generally."]

and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength.

[Ch’en recalls the line of action adopted in 224 B.C. by the famousgeneral Wang Chien, whose military genius largely contributed to the success ofthe First Emperor. He had invaded the Ch’u State, where a universal levywas made to oppose him. But, being doubtful of the temper of his troops, hedeclined all invitations to fight and remained strictly on the defensive. Invain did the Ch’u general try to force a battle: day after day Wang Chienkept inside his walls and would not come out, but devoted his whole time andenergy to winning the affection and confidence of his men. He took care thatthey should be well fed, sharing his own meals with them, provided facilitiesfor bathing, and employed every method of judicious indulgence to weld theminto a loyal and homogenous body. After some time had elapsed, he told offcertain persons to find out how the men were amusing themselves. The answerwas, that they were contending with one another in putting the weight andlong-jumping. When Wang Chien heard that they were engaged in these athleticpursuits, he knew that their spirits had been strung up to the required pitchand that they were now ready for fighting. By this time the Ch’u army,after repeating their challenge again and again, had marched away eastwards indisgust. The Ch’in general immediately broke up his camp and followedthem, and in the battle that ensued they were routed with great slaughter.Shortly afterwards, the whole of Ch’u was conquered by Ch’in, andthe king Fu-ch’u led into captivity.]

Keep your army continually on the move,

[In order that the enemy may never know exactly where you are. It has struckme, however, that the true reading might be "link your army together."]

and devise unfathomable plans.

23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they willprefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may notachieve.

[Chang Yu quotes his favourite Wei Liao Tzŭ (ch. 3): "If one man were to runamok with a sword in the market-place, and everybody else tried to get our ofhis way, I should not allow that this man alone had courage and that all therest were contemptible cowards. The truth is, that a desperado and a man whosets some value on his life do not meet on even terms."]

Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.

[Chang Yu says: "If they are in an awkward place together, they will surelyexert their united strength to get out of it."]

24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is noplace of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in the heart of a hostilecountry, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they willfight hard.

25. Thus, without waiting to be marshalled, the soldiers will be constantly onthe qui vive; without waiting to be asked, they will do your will;

[Literally, "without asking, you will get."]

without restrictions, they will be faithful; without giving orders, they can betrusted.

26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then,until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.

[The superstitious, "bound in to saucy doubts and fears," degenerate intocowards and "die many times before their deaths." Tu Mu quotes Huang Shih-kung:"‘Spells and incantations should be strictly forbidden, and no officer allowedto inquire by divination into the fortunes of an army, for fear the soldiers’minds should be seriously perturbed.’ The meaning is," he continues, "that ifall doubts and scruples are discarded, your men will never falter in theirresolution until they die."]

27. If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because theyhave a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is notbecause they are disinclined to longevity.

[Chang Yu has the best note on this passage: "Wealth and long life are thingsfor which all men have a natural inclination. Hence, if they burn or fling awayvaluables, and sacrifice their own lives, it is not that they dislike them, butsimply that they have no choice." Sun Tzŭ is slyly insinuating that, assoldiers are but human, it is for the general to see that temptations to shirkfighting and grow rich are not thrown in their way.]

28. On the day they are ordered out to battle, your soldiers may weep,

[The word in the Chinese is "snivel." This is taken to indicate more genuinegrief than tears alone.]

those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying down letting thetears run down their cheeks.

[Not because they are afraid, but because, as Ts’ao Kung says, "all haveembraced the firm resolution to do or die." We may remember that the heroes ofthe Iliad were equally childlike in showing their emotion. Chang Yu alludes tothe mournful parting at the I River between Ching K’o and his friends,when the former was sent to attempt the life of the King of Ch’in(afterwards First Emperor) in 227 B.C. The tears of all flowed down like rainas he bade them farewell and uttered the following lines: "The shrill blast isblowing, Chilly the burn; Your champion is going—Not to return." [1] ]

But let them once be brought to bay, and they will display the courage of a Chuor a Kuei.

[Chu was the personal name of Chuan Chu, a native of the Wu State andcontemporary with Sun Tzŭ himself, who was employed by Kung-tzu Kuang, betterknown as Ho Lu Wang, to assassinate his sovereign Wang Liao with a dagger whichhe secreted in the belly of a fish served up at a banquet. He succeeded in hisattempt, but was immediately hacked to pieces by the king’s bodyguard. This wasin 515 B.C. The other hero referred to, Ts’ao Kuei (or Ts’ao Mo),performed the exploit which has made his name famous 166 years earlier, in 681B.C. Lu had been thrice defeated by Ch’i, and was just about to concludea treaty surrendering a large slice of territory, when Ts’ao Kueisuddenly seized Huan Kung, the Duke of Ch’i, as he stood on the altarsteps and held a dagger against his chest. None of the duke’s retainers daredto move a muscle, and Ts’ao Kuei proceeded to demand full restitution,declaring the Lu was being unjustly treated because she was a smaller and aweaker state. Huan Kung, in peril of his life, was obliged to consent,whereupon Ts’ao Kuei flung away his dagger and quietly resumed his placeamid the terrified assemblage without having so much as changed color. As wasto be expected, the Duke wanted afterwards to repudiate the bargain, but hiswise old counselor Kuan Chung pointed out to him the impolicy of breaking hisword, and the upshot was that this bold stroke regained for Lu the whole ofwhat she had lost in three pitched battles.]

29. The skilful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-janis a snake that is found in the Ch‘ang mountains.

["Shuai-jan" means "suddenly" or "rapidly," and the snake in question wasdoubtless so called owing to the rapidity of its movements. Through thispassage, the term in the Chinese has now come to be used in the sense of"military manœuvers."]

Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail,and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will beattacked by head and tail both.

30. Asked if an army can be made to imitate the shuai-jan,

[That is, as Mei Yao-ch’en says, "Is it possible to make the front andrear of an army each swiftly responsive to attack on the other, just as thoughthey were part of a single living body?"]

I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yüeh are enemies;

[Cf. VI. § 21.]

yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm,they will come to each other’s assistance just as the left hand helps theright.

[The meaning is: If two enemies will help each other in a time of common peril,how much more should two parts of the same army, bound together as they are byevery tie of interest and fellow-feeling. Yet it is notorious that many acampaign has been ruined through lack of cooperation, especially in the case ofallied armies.]

31. Hence it is not enough to put one’s trust in the tethering of horses, andthe burying of chariot wheels in the ground.

[These quaint devices to prevent one’s army from running away recall theAthenian hero Sophanes, who carried the anchor with him at the battle ofPlataea, by means of which he fastened himself firmly to one spot. [SeeHerodotus, IX. 74.] It is not enough, says Sun Tzŭ, to render flight impossibleby such mechanical means. You will not succeed unless your men have tenacityand unity of purpose, and, above all, a spirit of sympathetic cooperation. Thisis the lesson which can be learned from the shuai-jan.]

32. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard ofcourage which all must reach.

[Literally, "level the courage [of all] as though [it were that of] one." Ifthe ideal army is to form a single organic whole, then it follows that theresolution and spirit of its component parts must be of the same quality, or atany rate must not fall below a certain standard. Wellington’s seeminglyungrateful description of his army at Waterloo as "the worst he had evercommanded" meant no more than that it was deficient in this importantparticular—unity of spirit and courage. Had he not foreseen the Belgiandefections and carefully kept those troops in the background, he would almostcertainly have lost the day.]

33. How to make the best of both strong and weak—that is a questioninvolving the proper use of ground.

[Mei Yao-ch’en’s paraphrase is: "The way to eliminate the differences ofstrong and weak and to make both serviceable is to utilize accidental featuresof the ground." Less reliable troops, if posted in strong positions, will holdout as long as better troops on more exposed terrain. The advantage of positionneutralizes the inferiority in stamina and courage. Col. Henderson says: "Withall respect to the text books, and to the ordinary tactical teaching, I aminclined to think that the study of ground is often overlooked, and that by nomeans sufficient importance is attached to the selection of positions… and tothe immense advantages that are to be derived, whether you are defending orattacking, from the proper utilization of natural features." [2] ]

34. Thus the skilful general conducts his army just as though he were leadinga single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.

[Tu Mu says: "The simile has reference to the ease with which he does it."]

35. It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy;upright and just, and thus maintain order.

36. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports andappearances,

[Literally, "to deceive their eyes and ears."]

and thus keep them in total ignorance.

[Ts’ao Kung gives us one of his excellent apophthegms: "The troops mustnot be allowed to share your schemes in the beginning; they may only rejoicewith you over their happy outcome." "To mystify, mislead, and surprise theenemy," is one of the first principles in war, as had been frequently pointedout. But how about the other process—the mystification of one’s own men?Those who may think that Sun Tzŭ is over-emphatic on this point would do wellto read Col. Henderson’s remarks on Stonewall Jackson’s Valley campaign: "Theinfinite pains," he says, "with which Jackson sought to conceal, even from hismost trusted staff officers, his movements, his intentions, and his thoughts, acommander less thorough would have pronounced useless"—etc. etc. [3] Inthe year 88 A.D., as we read in ch. 47 of the Hou Han Shu, "Pan Ch’aotook the field with 25,000 men from Khotan and other Central Asian states withthe object of crushing Yarkand. The King of Kutcha replied by dispatching hischief commander to succour the place with an army drawn from the kingdoms ofWen-su, Ku-mo, and Wei-t’ou, totaling 50,000 men. Pan Ch’aosummoned his officers and also the King of Khotan to a council of war, andsaid: ‘Our forces are now outnumbered and unable to make head against theenemy. The best plan, then, is for us to separate and disperse, each in adifferent direction. The King of Khotan will march away by the easterly route,and I will then return myself towards the west. Let us wait until the eveningdrum has sounded and then start.’ Pan Ch’ao now secretly released theprisoners whom he had taken alive, and the King of Kutcha was thus informed ofhis plans. Much elated by the news, the latter set off at once at the head of10,000 horsemen to bar Pan Ch’ao’s retreat in the west, while the King ofWen-su rode eastward with 8000 horse in order to intercept the King of Khotan.As soon as Pan Ch’ao knew that the two chieftains had gone, he called hisdivisions together, got them well in hand, and at cock-crow hurled them againstthe army of Yarkand, as it lay encamped. The barbarians, panic-stricken, fledin confusion, and were closely pursued by Pan Ch’ao. Over 5000 heads werebrought back as trophies, besides immense spoils in the shape of horses andcattle and valuables of every description. Yarkand then capitulating, Kutchaand the other kingdoms drew off their respective forces. From that timeforward, Pan Ch’ao’s prestige completely overawed the countries of thewest." In this case, we see that the Chinese general not only kept his ownofficers in ignorance of his real plans, but actually took the bold step ofdividing his army in order to deceive the enemy.]

37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans,

[Wang Hsi thinks that this means not using the same stratagem twice.]

he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge.

[Chang Yu, in a quotation from another work, says: "The axiom, that war isbased on deception, does not apply only to deception of the enemy. You mustdeceive even your own soldiers. Make them follow you, but without letting themknow why."]

By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy fromanticipating his purpose.

38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbedup a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deepinto hostile territory before he shows his hand.

[Literally, "releases the spring" (see V. § 15), that is, takes some decisivestep which makes it impossible for the army to return—like Hsiang Yu, whosunk his ships after crossing a river. Ch’en Hao, followed by Chia Lin,understands the words less well as "puts forth every artifice at his command."]

39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving aflock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and none knows whither heis going.

[Tu Mu says: "The army is only cognizant of orders to advance or retreat; it isignorant of the ulterior ends of attacking and conquering."]

40. To muster his host and bring it into danger:—this may be termed thebusiness of the general.

[Sun Tzŭ means that after mobilization there should be no delay in aiming ablow at the enemy’s heart. Note how he returns again and again to this point.Among the warring states of ancient China, desertion was no doubt a much morepresent fear and serious evil than it is in the armies of today.]

41. The different measures suited to the nine varieties of ground;

[Chang Yu says: "One must not be hide-bound in interpreting the rules for thenine varieties of ground."]

the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics; and the fundamental laws ofhuman nature: these are things that must most certainly be studied.

42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that penetratingdeeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means dispersion.

[Cf. supra, § 20.]

43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your army acrossneighbourhood territory, you find yourself on critical ground.

[This "ground" is curiously mentioned in VIII. § 2, but it does not figureamong the Nine Situations or the Six Calamities in chap. X. One’s first impulsewould be to translate it distant ground," but this, if we can trust thecommentators, is precisely what is not meant here. Mei Yao-ch’en says itis "a position not far enough advanced to be called ‘facile,’ and not nearenough to home to be ‘dispersive,’ but something between the two." Wang Hsisays: "It is ground separated from home by an interjacent state, whoseterritory we have had to cross in order to reach it. Hence, it is incumbent onus to settle our business there quickly." He adds that this position is of rareoccurrence, which is the reason why it is not included among the NineSituations.]

When there are means of communication on all four sides, the ground is one ofintersecting highways.

44. When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground. When youpenetrate but a little way, it is facile ground.

45. When you have the enemy’s strongholds on your rear, and narrow passes infront, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no place of refuge at all, it isdesperate ground.

46. Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men with unity ofpurpose.

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[This end, according to Tu Mu, is best attained by remaining on the defensive,and avoiding battle. Cf. supra, § 11.]

On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection between all partsof my army.

[As Tu Mu says, the object is to guard against two possible contingencies: "(1)the desertion of our own troops; (2) a sudden attack on the part of the enemy."Cf. VII. § 17. Mei Yao-ch’en says: "On the march, the regiments should bein close touch; in an encampment, there should be continuity between thefortifications."]

47. On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.

[This is Ts’ao Kung’s interpretation. Chang Yu adopts it, saying: "Wemust quickly bring up our rear, so that head and tail may both reach the goal."That is, they must not be allowed to straggle up a long way apart. MeiYao-ch’en offers another equally plausible explanation: "Supposing theenemy has not yet reached the coveted position, and we are behind him, weshould advance with all speed in order to dispute its possession." Ch’enHao, on the other hand, assuming that the enemy has had time to select his ownground, quotes VI. § 1, where Sun Tzŭ warns us against coming exhausted to theattack. His own idea of the situation is rather vaguely expressed: "If there isa favourable position lying in front of you, detach a picked body of troops tooccupy it, then if the enemy, relying on their numbers, come up to make a fightfor it, you may fall quickly on their rear with your main body, and victorywill be assured." It was thus, he adds, that Chao She beat the army ofCh’in. (See p. 57.)]

48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defences. On ground ofintersecting highways, I would consolidate my alliances.

49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of supplies.

[The commentators take this as referring to forage and plunder, not, as onemight expect, to an unbroken communication with a home base.]

On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road.

50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat.

[Meng Shih says: "To make it seem that I meant to defend the position, whereasmy real intention is to burst suddenly through the enemy’s lines." MeiYao-ch’en says: "in order to make my soldiers fight with desperation."Wang Hsi says, "fearing lest my men be tempted to run away." Tu Mu points outthat this is the converse of VII. § 36, where it is the enemy who issurrounded. In 532 A.D., Kao Huan, afterwards Emperor and canonized as Shen-wu,was surrounded by a great army under Erh-chu Chao and others. His own force wascomparatively small, consisting only of 2000 horse and something under 30,000foot. The lines of investment had not been drawn very closely together, gapsbeing left at certain points. But Kao Huan, instead of trying to escape,actually made a shift to block all the remaining outlets himself by drivinginto them a number of oxen and donkeys roped together. As soon as his officersand men saw that there was nothing for it but to conquer or die, their spiritsrose to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation, and they charged with suchdesperate ferocity that the opposing ranks broke and crumbled under theironslaught.]

On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness of savingtheir lives.

Tu Yu says: "Burn your baggage and impedimenta, throw away your stores andprovisions, choke up the wells, destroy your cooking-stoves, and make it plainto your men that they cannot survive, but must fight to the death." MeiYao-ch’en says: "The only chance of life lies in giving up all hope ofit." This concludes what Sun Tzŭ has to say about "grounds" and the"variations" corresponding to them. Reviewing the passages which bear on thisimportant subject, we cannot fail to be struck by the desultory andunmethodical fashion in which it is treated. Sun Tzŭ begins abruptly in VIII. §2 to enumerate "variations" before touching on "grounds" at all, but onlymentions five, namely nos. 7, 5, 8 and 9 of the subsequent list, and one thatis not included in it. A few varieties of ground are dealt with in the earlierportion of chap. IX, and then chap. X sets forth six new grounds, with sixvariations of plan to match. None of these is mentioned again, though the firstis hardly to be distinguished from ground no. 4 in the next chapter. At last,in chap. XI, we come to the Nine Grounds par excellence, immediately followedby the variations. This takes us down to § 14. In §§ 43-45, fresh definitionsare provided for nos. 5, 6, 2, 8 and 9 (in the order given), as well as for thetenth ground noticed in chap. VIII; and finally, the nine variations areenumerated once more from beginning to end, all, with the exception of 5, 6 and7, being different from those previously given. Though it is impossible toaccount for the present state of Sun Tzŭ’s text, a few suggestive facts maybebrought into prominence: (1) Chap. VIII, according to the title, should dealwith nine variations, whereas only five appear. (2) It is an abnormally shortchapter. (3) Chap. XI is entitled The Nine Grounds. Several of these aredefined twice over, besides which there are two distinct lists of thecorresponding variations. (4) The length of the chapter is disproportionate,being double that of any other except IX. I do not propose to draw anyinferences from these facts, beyond the general conclusion that Sun Tzŭ’s workcannot have come down to us in the shape in which it left his hands: chap. VIIIis obviously defective and probably out of place, while XI seems to containmatter that has either been added by a later hand or ought to appearelsewhere.]

51. For it is the soldier’s disposition to offer an obstinate resistance whensurrounded, to fight hard when he cannot help himself, and to obey promptlywhen he has fallen into danger.

[Chang Yu alludes to the conduct of Pan Ch’ao’s devoted followers in 73A.D. The story runs thus in the Hou Han Shu, ch. 47: "When Pan Ch’aoarrived at Shan-shan, Kuang, the King of the country, received him at firstwith great politeness and respect; but shortly afterwards his behaviorunderwent a sudden change, and he became remiss and negligent. Pan Ch’aospoke about this to the officers of his suite: ‘Have you noticed,’ he said,‘that Kuang’s polite intentions are on the wane? This must signify that envoyshave come from the Northern barbarians, and that consequently he is in a stateof indecision, not knowing with which side to throw in his lot. That surely isthe reason. The truly wise man, we are told, can perceive things before theyhave come to pass; how much more, then, those that are already manifest!’Thereupon he called one of the natives who had been assigned to his service,and set a trap for him, saying: ‘Where are those envoys from the Hsiung-nu whoarrived some day ago?’ The man was so taken aback that between surprise andfear he presently blurted out the whole truth. Pan Ch’ao, keeping hisinformant carefully under lock and key, then summoned a general gathering ofhis officers, thirty-six in all, and began drinking with them. When the winehad mounted into their heads a little, he tried to rouse their spirit stillfurther by addressing them thus: ‘Gentlemen, here we are in the heart of anisolated region, anxious to achieve riches and honour by some great exploit. Nowit happens that an ambassador from the Hsiung-no arrived in this kingdom only afew days ago, and the result is that the respectful courtesy extended towardsus by our royal host has disappeared. Should this envoy prevail upon him toseize our party and hand us over to the Hsiung-no, our bones will become foodfor the wolves of the desert. What are we to do?’ With one accord, the officersreplied: ‘Standing as we do in peril of our lives, we will follow our commanderthrough life and death.’ For the sequel of this adventure, see chap. XII. § 1,note.]

52. We cannot enter into alliance with neighbouring princes until we areacquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the marchunless we are familiar with the face of the country—its mountains andforests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall beunable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of localguides.

[These three sentences are repeated from VII. §§ 12-14—in order toemphasize their importance, the commentators seem to think. I prefer to regardthem as interpolated here in order to form an antecedent to the followingwords. With regard to local guides, Sun Tzŭ might have added that there isalways the risk of going wrong, either through their treachery or somemisunderstanding such as Livy records (XXII. 13): Hannibal, we are told,ordered a guide to lead him into the neighbourhood of Casinum, where there wasan important pass to be occupied; but his Carthaginian accent, unsuited to thepronunciation of Latin names, caused the guide to understand Casilinum insteadof Casinum, and turning from his proper route, he took the army in thatdirection, the mistake not being discovered until they had almost arrived.]

53. To be ignorant of any one of the following four or five principles does notbefit a warlike prince.

54. When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship showsitself in preventing the concentration of the enemy’s forces. He overawes hisopponents, and their allies are prevented from joining against him.

[Mei Tao-ch’en constructs one of the chains of reasoning that are so muchaffected by the Chinese: "In attacking a powerful state, if you can divide herforces, you will have a superiority in strength; if you have a superiority instrength, you will overawe the enemy; if you overawe the enemy, the neighbouringstates will be frightened; and if the neighbouring states are frightened, theenemy’s allies will be prevented from joining her." The following gives astronger meaning: "If the great state has once been defeated (before she hashad time to summon her allies), then the lesser states will hold aloof andrefrain from massing their forces." Ch’en Hao and Chang Yu take thesentence in quite another way. The former says: "Powerful though a prince maybe, if he attacks a large state, he will be unable to raise enough troops, andmust rely to some extent on external aid; if he dispenses with this, and withoverweening confidence in his own strength, simply tries to intimidate theenemy, he will surely be defeated." Chang Yu puts his view thus: "If werecklessly attack a large state, our own people will be discontented and hangback. But if (as will then be the case) our display of military force isinferior by half to that of the enemy, the other chieftains will take frightand refuse to join us."]

55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor does hefoster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret designs,keeping his antagonists in awe.

[The train of thought, as said by Li Ch’uan, appears to be this: Secureagainst a combination of his enemies, "he can afford to reject entanglingalliances and simply pursue his own secret designs, his prestige enable him todispense with external friendships."]

Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms.

[This paragraph, though written many years before the Ch’in State becamea serious menace, is not a bad summary of the policy by which the famous SixChancellors gradually paved the way for her final triumph under Shih Huang Ti.Chang Yu, following up his previous note, thinks that Sun Tzŭ is condemningthis attitude of cold-blooded selfishness and haughty isolation.]

56. Bestow rewards without regard to rule,

[Wu Tzŭ (ch. 3) less wisely says: "Let advance be richly rewarded and retreatbe heavily punished."]

issue orders

[Literally, "hang" or post up."]

without regard to previous arrangements;

["In order to prevent treachery," says Wang Hsi. The general meaning is madeclear by Ts’ao Kung’s quotation from the Ssu-ma Fa: "Give instructionsonly on sighting the enemy; give rewards when you see deserving deeds."Ts’ao Kung’s paraphrase: "The final instructions you give to your armyshould not correspond with those that have been previously posted up." Chang Yusimplifies this into "your arrangements should not be divulged beforehand." AndChia Lin says: "there should be no fixity in your rules and arrangements." Notonly is there danger in letting your plans be known, but war often necessitatesthe entire reversal of them at the last moment.]

and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but asingle man.

[Cf. supra, § 34.]

57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know yourdesign.

[Literally, "do not tell them words;" i.e. do not give your reasons for anyorder. Lord Mansfield once told a junior colleague to "give no reasons" for hisdecisions, and the maxim is even more applicable to a general than to a judge.]

When the outlook is bright, bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothingwhen the situation is gloomy.

58. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it intodesperate straits, and it will come off in safety.

[These words of Sun Tzŭ were once quoted by Han Hsin in explanation of thetactics he employed in one of his most brilliant battles, already alluded to onp. 28. In 204 B.C., he was sent against the army of Chao, and halted ten milesfrom the mouth of the Ching-hsing pass, where the enemy had mustered in fullforce. Here, at midnight, he detached a body of 2000 light cavalry, every manof which was furnished with a red flag. Their instructions were to make theirway through narrow defiles and keep a secret watch on the enemy. "When the menof Chao see me in full flight," Han Hsin said, "they will abandon theirfortifications and give chase. This must be the sign for you to rush in, pluckdown the Chao standards and set up the red banners of Han in their stead."Turning then to his other officers, he remarked: "Our adversary holds a strongposition, and is not likely to come out and attack us until he sees thestandard and drums of the commander-in-chief, for fear I should turn back andescape through the mountains." So saying, he first of all sent out a divisionconsisting of 10,000 men, and ordered them to form in line of battle with theirbacks to the River Ti. Seeing this manœuver, the whole army of Chao broke intoloud laughter. By this time it was broad daylight, and Han Hsin, displaying thegeneralissimo’s flag, marched out of the pass with drums beating, and wasimmediately engaged by the enemy. A great battle followed, lasting for sometime; until at length Han Hsin and his colleague Chang Ni, leaving drums andbanner on the field, fled to the division on the river bank, where anotherfierce battle was raging. The enemy rushed out to pursue them and to secure thetrophies, thus denuding their ramparts of men; but the two generals succeededin joining the other army, which was fighting with the utmost desperation. Thetime had now come for the 2000 horsemen to play their part. As soon as they sawthe men of Chao following up their advantage, they galloped behind the desertedwalls, tore up the enemy’s flags and replaced them by those of Han. When theChao army looked back from the pursuit, the sight of these red flags struckthem with terror. Convinced that the Hans had got in and overpowered theirking, they broke up in wild disorder, every effort of their leader to stay thepanic being in vain. Then the Han army fell on them from both sides andcompleted the rout, killing a number and capturing the rest, amongst whom wasKing Ya himself…. After the battle, some of Han Hsin’s officers came to him andsaid: "In the Art of War we are told to have a hill or tumulus on theright rear, and a river or marsh on the left front. [This appears to be a blendof Sun Tzŭ and T’ai Kung. See IX § 9, and note.] You, on the contrary,ordered us to draw up our troops with the river at our back. Under theseconditions, how did you manage to gain the victory?" The general replied: "Ifear you gentlemen have not studied the Art of War with sufficient care. Is itnot written there: ‘Plunge your army into desperate straits and it will comeoff in safety; place it in deadly peril and it will survive’? Had I taken theusual course, I should never have been able to bring my colleague round. Whatsays the Military Classic—‘Swoop down on the market-place and drive themen off to fight.’ [This passage does not occur in the present text of SunTzŭ.] If I had not placed my troops in a position where they were obliged tofight for their lives, but had allowed each man to follow his own discretion,there would have been a general débandade, and it would have beenimpossible to do anything with them." The officers admitted the force of hisargument, and said: "These are higher tactics than we should have been capableof." [See Ch’ien Han Shu, ch. 34, ff. 4, 5.] ]

59. For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm’s way that is capableof striking a blow for victory.

[Danger has a bracing effect.]

60. Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to theenemy’s purpose.

[Ts’ao Kung says: "Feign stupidity"—by an appearance of yieldingand falling in with the enemy’s wishes. Chang Yu’s note makes the meaningclear: "If the enemy shows an inclination to advance, lure him on to do so; ifhe is anxious to retreat, delay on purpose that he may carry out hisintention." The object is to make him remiss and contemptuous before we deliverour attack.]

61. By persistently hanging on the enemy’s flank,

[I understand the first four words to mean "accompanying the enemy in onedirection." Ts’ao Kung says: "unite the soldiers and make for the enemy."But such a violent displacement of characters is quite indefensible.]

we shall succeed in the long run

[Literally, "after a thousand li."]

in killing the commander-in-chief.

[Always a great point with the Chinese.]

62. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning.

63. On the day that you take up your command, block the frontier passes,destroy the official tallies,

[These were tablets of bamboo or wood, one half of which was issued as a permitor passport by the official in charge of a gate. Cf. the "border-warden" of LunYu III. 24, who may have had similar duties. When this half was returned tohim, within a fixed period, he was authorized to open the gate and let thetraveler through.]

and stop the passage of all emissaries.

[Either to or from the enemy’s country.]

64. Be stern in the council-chamber,

[Show no weakness, and insist on your plans being ratified by the sovereign.]

so that you may control the situation.

[Mei Yao-ch’en understands the whole sentence to mean: Take the strictestprecautions to ensure secrecy in your deliberations.]

65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.

66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear,

[Cf. supra, § 18.]

and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.

[Ch’en Hao’s explanation: "If I manage to seize a favourableposition, but the enemy does not appear on the scene, the advantage thusobtained cannot be turned to any practical account. He who intends therefore,to occupy a position of importance to the enemy, must begin by making an artfulappointment, so to speak, with his antagonist, and cajole him into going thereas well." Mei Yao-ch’en explains that this "artful appointment" is to bemade through the medium of the enemy’s own spies, who will carry back just theamount of information that we choose to give them. Then, having cunninglydisclosed our intentions, "we must manage, though starting after the enemy, toarrive before him (VII. § 4). We must start after him in order to ensure hismarching thither; we must arrive before him in order to capture the placewithout trouble. Taken thus, the present passage lends some support to MeiYao-ch’en’s interpretation of § 47.]

67. Walk in the path defined by rule,

[Chia Lin says: "Victory is the only thing that matters, and this cannot beachieved by adhering to conventional canons." It is unfortunate that thisvariant rests on very slight authority, for the sense yielded is certainly muchmore satisfactory. Napoleon, as we know, according to the veterans of the oldschool whom he defeated, won his battles by violating every accepted canon ofwarfare.]

and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle.

[Tu Mu says: "Conform to the enemy’s tactics until a favourable opportunityoffers; then come forth and engage in a battle that shall prove decisive."]

68. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives youan opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will betoo late for the enemy to oppose you.

[As the hare is noted for its extreme timidity, the comparison hardly appearsfelicitous. But of course Sun Tzŭ was thinking only of its speed. The wordshave been taken to mean: You must flee from the enemy as quickly as an escapinghare; but this is rightly rejected by Tu Mu.]

[1] Giles’ Biographical Dictionary, no. 399.

[2] "The Science of War," p. 333.

[3] "Stonewall Jackson," vol. I, p. 421.


[Rather more than half the chapter (§§ 1-13) is devoted to the subject of fire,after which the author branches off into other topics.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: There are five ways of attacking with fire. The first is toburn soldiers in their camp;

[So Tu Mu. Li Ch’uan says: "Set fire to the camp, and kill the soldiers"(when they try to escape from the flames). Pan Ch’ao, sent on adiplomatic mission to the King of Shan-shan [see XI. § 51, note], found himselfplaced in extreme peril by the unexpected arrival of an envoy from theHsiung-nu [the mortal enemies of the Chinese]. In consultation with hisofficers, he exclaimed: "Never venture, never win! [1] The only course open tous now is to make an assault by fire on the barbarians under cover of night,when they will not be able to discern our numbers. Profiting by their panic, weshall exterminate them completely; this will cool the King’s courage and coverus with glory, besides ensuring the success of our mission.’ The officers allreplied that it would be necessary to discuss the matter first with theIntendant. Pan Ch’ao then fell into a passion: ‘It is today,’ he cried,‘that our fortunes must be decided! The Intendant is only a humdrum civilian,who on hearing of our project will certainly be afraid, and everything will bebrought to light. An inglorious death is no worthy fate for valiant warriors.’All then agreed to do as he wished. Accordingly, as soon as night came on, heand his little band quickly made their way to the barbarian camp. A strong galewas blowing at the time. Pan Ch’ao ordered ten of the party to take drumsand hide behind the enemy’s barracks, it being arranged that when they sawflames shoot up, they should begin drumming and yelling with all their might.The rest of his men, armed with bows and crossbows, he posted in ambuscade atthe gate of the camp. He then set fire to the place from the windward side,whereupon a deafening noise of drums and shouting arose on the front and rearof the Hsiung-nu, who rushed out pell-mell in frantic disorder. Pan Ch’aoslew three of them with his own hand, while his companions cut off the heads ofthe envoy and thirty of his suite. The remainder, more than a hundred in all,perished in the flames. On the following day, Pan Ch’ao, divining histhoughts, said with uplifted hand: ‘Although you did not go with us last night,I should not think, Sir, of taking sole credit for our exploit.’ This satisfiedKuo Hsun, and Pan Ch’ao, having sent for Kuang, King of Shan-shan, showedhim the head of the barbarian envoy. The whole kingdom was seized with fear andtrembling, which Pan Ch’ao took steps to allay by issuing a publicproclamation. Then, taking the king’s sons as hostage, he returned to make hisreport to Tou Ku." Hou Han Shu, ch. 47, ff. 1, 2.] ]

the second is to burn stores;

[Tu Mu says: "Provisions, fuel and fodder." In order to subdue the rebelliouspopulation of Kiangnan, Kao Keng recommended Wen Ti of the Sui dynasty to makeperiodical raids and burn their stores of grain, a policy which in the long runproved entirely successful.]

the third is to burn baggage-trains;

[An example given is the destruction of Yuan Shao’s wagons andimpedimenta by Ts’ao Ts’ao in 200 A.D.]

the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;

[Tu Mu says that the things contained in "arsenals" and "magazines" are thesame. He specifies weapons and other implements, bullion and clothing. Cf. VII.§ 11.]

the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.

[Tu Yu says in the T’ung Tien: "To drop fire into the enemy’s camp. Themethod by which this may be done is to set the tips of arrows alight by dippingthem into a brazier, and then shoot them from powerful crossbows into theenemy’s lines."]

2. In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available.

[T’sao Kung thinks that "traitors in the enemy’s camp" are referred to.But Ch’en Hao is more likely to be right in saying: "We must havefavourable circumstances in general, not merely traitors to help us." Chia Linsays: "We must avail ourselves of wind and dry weather."]

the material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.

[Tu Mu suggests as material for making fire: "dry vegetable matter, reeds,brushwood, straw, grease, oil, etc." Here we have the material cause. Chang Yusays: "vessels for hoarding fire, stuff for lighting fires."]

3. There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, and special days forstarting a conflagration.

4. The proper season is when the weather is very dry; the special days arethose when the moon is in the constellations of the Sieve, the Wall, the Wingor the Cross-bar;

[These are, respectively, the 7th, 14th, 27th, and 28th of the Twenty-eightStellar Mansions, corresponding roughly to Sagittarius, Pegasus, Crater andCorvus.]

for these four are all days of rising wind.

5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possibledevelopments:

6. (1) When fire breaks out inside the enemy’s camp, respond at once with anattack from without.

7. (2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy’s soldiers remain quiet,bide your time and do not attack.

[The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the enemy into confusion.If this effect is not produced, it means that the enemy is ready to receive us.Hence the necessity for caution.]

8. (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it up withan attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay where you are.

[Ts’ao Kung says: "If you see a possible way, advance; but if you findthe difficulties too great, retire."]

9. (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do not waitfor it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a favourable moment.

[Tu Mu says that the previous paragraphs had reference to the fire breaking out(either accidentally, we may suppose, or by the agency of incendiaries) insidethe enemy’s camp. "But," he continues, "if the enemy is settled in a wasteplace littered with quantities of grass, or if he has pitched his camp in aposition which can be burnt out, we must carry our fire against him at anyseasonable opportunity, and not await on in hopes of an outbreak occurringwithin, for fear our opponents should themselves burn up the surroundingvegetation, and thus render our own attempts fruitless." The famous Li Lingonce baffled the leader of the Hsiung-nu in this way. The latter, takingadvantage of a favourable wind, tried to set fire to the Chinese general’s camp,but found that every scrap of combustible vegetation in the neighbourhood hadalready been burnt down. On the other hand, Po-ts’ai, a general of theYellow Turban rebels, was badly defeated in 184 A.D. through his neglect ofthis simple precaution. "At the head of a large army he was besiegingCh’ang-she, which was held by Huang-fu Sung. The garrison was very small,and a general feeling of nervousness pervaded the ranks; so Huang-fu Sungcalled his officers together and said: "In war, there are various indirectmethods of attack, and numbers do not count for everything. [The commentatorhere quotes Sun Tzŭ, V. §§ 5, 6 and 10.] Now the rebels have pitched their campin the midst of thick grass which will easily burn when the wind blows. If weset fire to it at night, they will be thrown into a panic, and we can make asortie and attack them on all sides at once, thus emulating the achievement ofT’ien Tan.’ [See p. 90.] That same evening, a strong breeze sprang up; soHuang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind reeds together into torches andmount guard on the city walls, after which he sent out a band of daring men,who stealthily made their way through the lines and started the fire with loudshouts and yells. Simultaneously, a glare of light shot up from the city walls,and Huang-fu Sung, sounding his drums, led a rapid charge, which threw therebels into confusion and put them to headlong flight." [Hou Han Shu, ch. 71.]]

10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack from theleeward.

[Chang Yu, following Tu Yu, says: "When you make a fire, the enemy will retreataway from it; if you oppose his retreat and attack him then, he will fightdesperately, which will not conduce to your success." A rather more obviousexplanation is given by Tu Mu: "If the wind is in the east, begin burning tothe east of the enemy, and follow up the attack yourself from that side. If youstart the fire on the east side, and then attack from the west, you will sufferin the same way as your enemy."]

11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze soon falls.

[Cf. Lao Tzŭ’s saying: "A violent wind does not last the space of a morning."(Tao Te Ching, chap. 23.) Mei Yao-ch’en and Wang Hsi say: "A day breezedies down at nightfall, and a night breeze at daybreak. This is what happens asa general rule." The phenomenon observed may be correct enough, but how thissense is to be obtained is not apparent.]

12. In every army, the five developments connected with fire must be known, themovements of the stars calculated, and a watch kept for the proper days.

[Tu Mu says: "We must make calculations as to the paths of the stars, and watchfor the days on which wind will rise, before making our attack with fire."Chang Yu seems to interpret the text differently: "We must not only know how toassail our opponents with fire, but also be on our guard against similarattacks from them."]

13. Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show intelligence; thosewho use water as an aid to the attack gain an accession of strength.

14. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not robbed of all hisbelongings.

[Ts’ao Kung’s note is: "We can merely obstruct the enemy’s road or dividehis army, but not sweep away all his accumulated stores." Water can do usefulservice, but it lacks the terrible destructive power of fire. This is thereason, Chang Yu concludes, why the former is dismissed in a couple ofsentences, whereas the attack by fire is discussed in detail. Wu Tzŭ (ch. 4)speaks thus of the two elements: "If an army is encamped on low-lying marshyground, from which the water cannot run off, and where the rainfall is heavy,it may be submerged by a flood. If an army is encamped in wild marsh landsthickly overgrown with weeds and brambles, and visited by frequent gales, itmay be exterminated by fire."]

15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in hisattacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is wasteof time and general stagnation.

[This is one of the most perplexing passages in Sun Tzŭ. Ts’ao Kung says:"Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day." And Tu Mu: "Ifyou do not take opportunity to advance and reward the deserving, yoursubordinates will not carry out your commands, and disaster will ensue." Forseveral reasons, however, and in spite of the formidable array of scholars onthe other side, I prefer the interpretation suggested by Mei Yao-ch’enalone, whose words I will quote: "Those who want to make sure of succeeding intheir battles and assaults must seize the favourable moments when they come andnot shrink on occasion from heroic measures: that is to say, they must resortto such means of attack of fire, water and the like. What they must not do, andwhat will prove fatal, is to sit still and simply hold to the advantages theyhave got."]

16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the goodgeneral cultivates his resources.

[Tu Mu quotes the following from the San Lueh, ch. 2: "The warlike princecontrols his soldiers by his authority, kits them together by good faith, andby rewards makes them serviceable. If faith decays, there will be disruption;if rewards are deficient, commands will not be respected."]

17. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there issomething to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.

[Sun Tzŭ may at times appear to be over-cautious, but he never goes so far inthat direction as the remarkable passage in the Tao Te Ching, ch. 69. "I darenot take the initiative, but prefer to act on the defensive; I dare not advancean inch, but prefer to retreat a foot."]

18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen;no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.

19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where youare.

[This is repeated from XI. § 17. Here I feel convinced that it is aninterpolation, for it is evident that § 20 ought to follow immediately on §18.]

20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content.

21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being;

[The Wu State was destined to be a melancholy example of this saying.]

nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.

22. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full ofcaution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact.

[1] "Unless you enter the tiger’s lair, you cannot get hold of the tiger’scubs."


1. Sun Tzŭ said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching themgreat distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resourcesof the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver.

[Cf. II. §§ 1, 13, 14.]

There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted onthe highways.

[Cf. Tao Te Ching, ch. 30: "Where troops have been quartered, brambles andthorns spring up. Chang Yu has the note: "We may be reminded of the saying: ‘Onserious ground, gather in plunder.’ Why then should carriage and transportationcause exhaustion on the highways?—The answer is, that not victuals alone,but all sorts of munitions of war have to be conveyed to the army. Besides, theinjunction to ‘forage on the enemy’ only means that when an army is deeplyengaged in hostile territory, scarcity of food must be provided against. Hence,without being solely dependent on the enemy for corn, we must forage in orderthat there may be an uninterrupted flow of supplies. Then, again, there areplaces like salt deserts where provisions being unobtainable, supplies fromhome cannot be dispensed with."]

As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labor.

[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "Men will be lacking at the plough-tail." Theallusion is to the system of dividing land into nine parts, each consisting ofabout 15 acres, the plot in the center being cultivated on behalf of the Stateby the tenants of the other eight. It was here also, so Tu Mu tells us, thattheir cottages were built and a well sunk, to be used by all in common. [SeeII. § 12, note.] In time of war, one of the families had to serve in the army,while the other seven contributed to its support. Thus, by a levy of 100,000men (reckoning one able-bodied soldier to each family) the husbandry of 700,000families would be affected.]

2. Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory whichis decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of theenemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces ofsilver in honours and emoluments,

["For spies" is of course the meaning, though it would spoil the effect of thiscuriously elaborate exordium if spies were actually mentioned at this point.]

is the height of inhumanity.

[Sun Tzŭ’s agreement is certainly ingenious. He begins by adverting to thefrightful misery and vast expenditure of blood and treasure which war alwaysbrings in its train. Now, unless you are kept informed of the enemy’scondition, and are ready to strike at the right moment, a war may drag on foryears. The only way to get this information is to employ spies, and it isimpossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless they are properly paid for theirservices. But it is surely false economy to grudge a comparatively triflingamount for this purpose, when every day that the war lasts eats up anincalculably greater sum. This grievous burden falls on the shoulders of thepoor, and hence Sun Tzŭ concludes that to neglect the use of spies is nothingless than a crime against humanity.]

3. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, nomaster of victory.

[This idea, that the true object of war is peace, has its root in the nationaltemperament of the Chinese. Even so far back as 597 B.C., these memorable wordswere uttered by Prince Chuang of the Ch’u State: "The [Chinese] characterfor ‘prowess’ is made up of [the characters for] ‘to stay’ and ‘a spear’(cessation of hostilities). Military prowess is seen in the repression ofcruelty, the calling in of weapons, the preservation of the appointment ofHeaven, the firm establishment of merit, the bestowal of happiness on thepeople, putting harmony between the princes, the diffusion of wealth."]

4. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike andconquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

[That is, knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions, and what he means to do.]

5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot beobtained inductively from experience,

[Tu Mu’s note is: "[knowledge of the enemy] cannot be gained by reasoning fromother analogous cases."]

nor by any deductive calculation.

[Li Ch’uan says: "Quantities like length, breadth, distance andmagnitude, are susceptible of exact mathematical determination; human actionscannot be so calculated."]

6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

[Mei Yao-ch’en has rather an interesting note: "Knowledge of thespirit-world is to be obtained by divination; information in natural sciencemay be sought by inductive reasoning; the laws of the universe can be verifiedby mathematical calculation: but the dispositions of an enemy are ascertainablethrough spies and spies alone."]

7. Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2)inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.

8. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secretsystem. This is called "divine manipulation of the threads." It is thesovereign’s most precious faculty.

[Cromwell, one of the greatest and most practical of all cavalry leaders, hadofficers styled ‘scout masters,’ whose business it was to collect all possibleinformation regarding the enemy, through scouts and spies, etc., and much ofhis success in war was traceable to the previous knowledge of the enemy’s movesthus gained." [1] ]

9. Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of adistrict.

[Tu Mu says: "In the enemy’s country, win people over by kind treatment, anduse them as spies."]

10. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy.

[Tu Mu enumerates the following classes as likely to do good service in thisrespect: "Worthy men who have been degraded from office, criminals who haveundergone punishment; also, favourite concubines who are greedy for gold, menwho are aggrieved at being in subordinate positions, or who have been passedover in the distribution of posts, others who are anxious that their sideshould be defeated in order that they may have a chance of displaying theirability and talents, fickle turncoats who always want to have a foot in eachboat. Officials of these several kinds," he continues, "should be secretlyapproached and bound to one’s interests by means of rich presents. In this wayyou will be able to find out the state of affairs in the enemy’s country,ascertain the plans that are being formed against you, and moreover disturb theharmony and create a breach between the sovereign and his ministers." Thenecessity for extreme caution, however, in dealing with "inward spies," appearsfrom an historical incident related by Ho Shih: "Lo Shang, Governor of I-Chou,sent his general Wei Po to attack the rebel Li Hsiung of Shu in his strongholdat P’i. After each side had experienced a number of victories anddefeats, Li Hsiung had recourse to the services of a certainP’o-t’ai, a native of Wu-tu. He began to have him whipped until theblood came, and then sent him off to Lo Shang, whom he was to delude byoffering to cooperate with him from inside the city, and to give a fire signalat the right moment for making a general assault. Lo Shang, confiding in thesepromises, march out all his best troops, and placed Wei Po and others at theirhead with orders to attack at P’o-t’ai’s bidding. Meanwhile, LiHsiung’s general, Li Hsiang, had prepared an ambuscade on their line of march;and P’o-t’ai, having reared long scaling-ladders against the citywalls, now lighted the beacon-fire. Wei Po’s men raced up on seeing the signaland began climbing the ladders as fast as they could, while others were drawnup by ropes lowered from above. More than a hundred of Lo Shang’s soldiersentered the city in this way, every one of whom was forthwith beheaded. LiHsiung then charged with all his forces, both inside and outside the city, androuted the enemy completely." [This happened in 303 A.D. I do not know where HoShih got the story from. It is not given in the biography of Li Hsiung or thatof his father Li T’e, Chin Shu, ch. 120, 121.]

11. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using themfor our own purposes.

[By means of heavy bribes and liberal promises detaching them from the enemy’sservice, and inducing them to carry back false information as well as to spy inturn on their own countrymen. On the other hand, Hsiao Shih-hsien says that wepretend not to have detected him, but contrive to let him carry away a falseimpression of what is going on. Several of the commentators accept this as analternative definition; but that it is not what Sun Tzŭ meant is conclusivelyproved by his subsequent remarks about treating the converted spy generously (§21 sqq.). Ho Shih notes three occasions on which converted spies were used withconspicuous success: (1) by T’ien Tan in his defence of Chi-mo (seesupra, p. 90); (2) by Chao She on his march to O-yu (see p. 57); and by thewily Fan Chu in 260 B.C., when Lien P’o was conducting a defensivecampaign against Ch’in. The King of Chao strongly disapproved of LienP’o’s cautious and dilatory methods, which had been unable to avert aseries of minor disasters, and therefore lent a ready ear to the reports of hisspies, who had secretly gone over to the enemy and were already in Fan Chu’spay. They said: "The only thing which causes Ch’in anxiety is lest ChaoKua should be made general. Lien P’o they consider an easy opponent, whois sure to be vanquished in the long run." Now this Chao Kua was a son of thefamous Chao She. From his boyhood, he had been wholly engrossed in the study ofwar and military matters, until at last he came to believe that there was nocommander in the whole Empire who could stand against him. His father was muchdisquieted by this overweening conceit, and the flippancy with which he spokeof such a serious thing as war, and solemnly declared that if ever Kua wasappointed general, he would bring ruin on the armies of Chao. This was the manwho, in spite of earnest protests from his own mother and the veteran statesmanLin Hsiang-ju, was now sent to succeed Lien P’o. Needless to say, heproved no match for the redoubtable Po Ch’i and the great military powerof Ch’in. He fell into a trap by which his army was divided into two andhis communications cut; and after a desperate resistance lasting 46 days,during which the famished soldiers devoured one another, he was himself killedby an arrow, and his whole force, amounting, it is said, to 400,000 men,ruthlessly put to the sword.]

12. Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes ofdeception, and allowing our own spies to know of them and report them to theenemy.

[Tu Yu gives the best exposition of the meaning: "We ostentatiously do thingscalculated to deceive our own spies, who must be led to believe that they havebeen unwittingly disclosed. Then, when these spies are captured in the enemy’slines, they will make an entirely false report, and the enemy will takemeasures accordingly, only to find that we do something quite different. Thespies will thereupon be put to death." As an example of doomed spies, Ho Shihmentions the prisoners released by Pan Ch’ao in his campaign againstYarkand. (See p. 132.) He also refers to T’ang Chien, who in 630 A.D. wassent by T’ai Tsung to lull the Turkish Kahn Chieh-li into fanciedsecurity, until Li Ching was able to deliver a crushing blow against him. ChangYu says that the Turks revenged themselves by killing T’ang Chien, butthis is a mistake, for we read in both the old and the New T’ang History(ch. 58, fol. 2 and ch. 89, fol. 8 respectively) that he escaped and lived onuntil 656. Li I-chi played a somewhat similar part in 203 B.C., when sent bythe King of Han to open peaceful negotiations with Ch’i. He has certainlymore claim to be described a "doomed spy", for the king of Ch’i, beingsubsequently attacked without warning by Han Hsin, and infuriated by what heconsidered the treachery of Li I-chi, ordered the unfortunate envoy to beboiled alive.]

13. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from theenemy’s camp.

[This is the ordinary class of spies, properly so called, forming a regularpart of the army. Tu Mu says: "Your surviving spy must be a man of keenintellect, though in outward appearance a fool; of shabby exterior, but with awill of iron. He must be active, robust, endowed with physical strength andcourage; thoroughly accustomed to all sorts of dirty work, able to endurehunger and cold, and to put up with shame and ignominy." Ho Shih tells thefollowing story of Ta’hsi Wu of the Sui dynasty: "When he was governor ofEastern Ch’in, Shen-wu of Ch’i made a hostile movement uponSha-yuan. The Emperor T’ai Tsu [? Kao Tsu] sent Ta-hsi Wu to spy upon theenemy. He was accompanied by two other men. All three were on horseback andwore the enemy’s uniform. When it was dark, they dismounted a few hundred feetaway from the enemy’s camp and stealthily crept up to listen, until theysucceeded in catching the passwords used in the army. Then they got on theirhorses again and boldly passed through the camp under the guise ofnight-watchmen; and more than once, happening to come across a soldier who wascommitting some breach of discipline, they actually stopped to give the culprita sound cudgeling! Thus they managed to return with the fullest possibleinformation about the enemy’s dispositions, and received warm commendation fromthe Emperor, who in consequence of their report was able to inflict a severedefeat on his adversary."]

14. Hence it is that with none in the whole army are more intimate relationsto be maintained than with spies.

[Tu Mu and Mei Yao-ch’en point out that the spy is privileged to entereven the general’s private sleeping-tent.]

None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greatersecrecy be preserved.

[Tu Mu gives a graphic touch: all communication with spies should be carried"mouth-to-ear." The following remarks on spies may be quoted from Turenne, whomade perhaps larger use of them than any previous commander: "Spies areattached to those who give them most, he who pays them ill is never served.They should never be known to anybody; nor should they know one another. Whenthey propose anything very material, secure their persons, or have in yourpossession their wives and children as hostages for their fidelity. Nevercommunicate anything to them but what is absolutely necessary that they shouldknow. [2] ]

15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.

[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "In order to use them, one must know fact fromfalsehood, and be able to discriminate between honesty and double-dealing."Wang Hsi in a different interpretation thinks more along the lines of"intuitive perception" and "practical intelligence." Tu Mu strangely refersthese attributes to the spies themselves: "Before using spies we must assureourselves as to their integrity of character and the extent of their experienceand skill." But he continues: "A brazen face and a crafty disposition are moredangerous than mountains or rivers; it takes a man of genius to penetratesuch." So that we are left in some doubt as to his real opinion on thepassage."]

16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence andstraightforwardness.

[Chang Yu says: "When you have attracted them by substantial offers, you musttreat them with absolute sincerity; then they will work for you with all theirmight."]

17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth oftheir reports.

[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "Be on your guard against the possibility of spiesgoing over to the service of the enemy."]

18. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business.

[Cf. VI. § 9.]

19. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, hemust be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told.

[Word for word, the translation here is: "If spy matters are heard before [ourplans] are carried out," etc. Sun Tzŭ’s main point in this passage is: Whereasyou kill the spy himself "as a punishment for letting out the secret," theobject of killing the other man is only, as Ch’en Hao puts it, "to stophis mouth" and prevent news leaking any further. If it had already beenrepeated to others, this object would not be gained. Either way, Sun Tzŭ layshimself open to the charge of inhumanity, though Tu Mu tries to defend him bysaying that the man deserves to be put to death, for the spy would certainlynot have told the secret unless the other had been at pains to worm it out ofhim."]

20. Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to assassinatean individual, it is always necessary to begin by finding out the names of theattendants, the aides-de- camp,

[Literally "visitors", is equivalent, as Tu Yu says, to "those whose duty it isto keep the general supplied with information," which naturally necessitatesfrequent interviews with him.]

the door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must becommissioned to ascertain these.

[As the first step, no doubt towards finding out if any of these importantfunctionaries can be won over by bribery.]

21. The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, temptedwith bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become convertedspies and available for our service.

22. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we are ableto acquire and employ local and inward spies.

[Tu Yu says: "through conversion of the enemy’s spies we learn the enemy’scondition." And Chang Yu says: "We must tempt the converted spy into ourservice, because it is he that knows which of the local inhabitants are greedyof gain, and which of the officials are open to corruption."]

23. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy tocarry false tidings to the enemy.

[Chang Yu says, "because the converted spy knows how the enemy can best bedeceived."]

24. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used onappointed occasions.

25. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of theenemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from theconverted spy.

[As explained in §§ 22-24. He not only brings information himself, but makes itpossible to use the other kinds of spy to advantage.]

Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmostliberality.

26. Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty

[Sun Tzŭ means the Shang dynasty, founded in 1766 B.C. Its name was changed toYin by P’an Keng in 1401.

was due to I Chih

[Better known as I Yin, the famous general and statesman who took part inCh’eng T’ang’s campaign against Chieh Kuei.]

who had served under the Hsia. Likewise, the rise of the Chou dynasty was dueto Lü Ya

[Lu Shang rose to high office under the tyrant Chou Hsin, whom he afterwardshelped to overthrow. Popularly known as T’ai Kung, a title bestowed onhim by Wen Wang, he is said to have composed a treatise on war, erroneouslyidentified with the Liu T’ao.]

who had served under the Yin.

[There is less precision in the Chinese than I have thought it well tointroduce into my translation, and the commentaries on the passage are by nomeans explicit. But, having regard to the context, we can hardly doubt that SunTzŭ is holding up I Chih and Lu Ya as illustrious examples of the convertedspy, or something closely analogous. His suggestion is, that the Hsia and Yindynasties were upset owing to the intimate knowledge of their weaknesses andshortcoming which these former ministers were able to impart to the other side.Mei Yao-ch’en appears to resent any such aspersion on these historicnames: "I Yin and Lu Ya," he says, "were not rebels against the Government.Hsia could not employ the former, hence Yin employed him. Yin could not employthe latter, hence Hou employed him. Their great achievements were all for thegood of the people." Ho Shih is also indignant: "How should two divinelyinspired men such as I and Lu have acted as common spies? Sun Tzŭ’s mention ofthem simply means that the proper use of the five classes of spies is a matterwhich requires men of the highest mental caliber like I and Lu, whose wisdomand capacity qualified them for the task. The above words only emphasize thispoint." Ho Shih believes then that the two heroes are mentioned on account oftheir supposed skill in the use of spies. But this is very weak.]

27. Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will usethe highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby theyachieve great results.

[Tu Mu closes with a note of warning: "Just as water, which carries a boat frombank to bank, may also be the means of sinking it, so reliance on spies, whileproduction of great results, is oft-times the cause of utter destruction."]

Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’sability to move.

[Chia Lin says that an army without spies is like a man with ears or eyes.]

[1] "Aids to Scouting," p. 2.

[2] "Marshal Turenne," p. 311.


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(Video) Read The Art of War Sun Tzu in under 24 hours is it possible?


Is The Art of War Sun Tzu a good book? ›

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is the best known and most highly regarded book on military strategy ever written. Although its wisdom is from ancient China, its principles and advice are timeless--as applicable in the boardroom as they are on the battlefield.

Is the book Art of War worth reading? ›

Unlike most of the 'classics', this is one that can be read in less than half an hour, it's a quick and easy piece to tick off the list and can easily fit in your bag for a quick journey read. But don't let the flimsy size fool you, this book is a powerful monograph.

What is the main message of The Art of War? ›

The premise of The Art of War is that war should be avoided with diplomacy. If it cannot be avoided, it should be fought strategically and psychologically to minimize damage and the wasting of resources. Warfare should only be a last resort and heading into battle is already admitting a kind of defeat.

What is the point of Sun Tzu Art of War? ›

Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

Can a 14 year old read The Art of War? ›

It's recommended for kids 6 years old and older.

What age should I read Art of War? ›

Product information
Publisher‎Basic Books (February 11, 1994)
Reading age13 years and up
Lexile measure‎1550L
Grade level‎11 and up
9 more rows

Is The Art of War a difficult read? ›

It is actually the easiest war book to read in many ways. Simple wording, simple concepts, and it's not overly technical (if at all) regarding weaponry and tactics. It is also a short book, much more so than Clausewitz on War (which is still a great book) or other behemoths.

What is the most accurate translation of The Art of War? ›

This month, Professor Michael Nylan's translation of Sun Tzu's The Art of War was released by W.W. Norton. Nylan is the first female scholar to translate this 2500-year-old classic text into any language.

How long does it take to read The Art of War? ›

It is a thin book that reads in about one hour, composed of small numbered paragraphs, divided into 13 chapters.

What is the most famous quote from The Art of War? ›

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

Who defeated Sun Tzu? ›

Sun Tzu
ActivitiesBrilliant General Author of the Art of War
Service544-496 BC
Battle StatusDefeated by Vlad the Impaler
ExpertsJohnny Yang (Chinese Martial Arts Champ) Tommy Leng (Ancient Chinese Weapons Expert)
4 more rows

What are the 5 types of spies? ›

There are five kinds of spy: The local spy, the inside spy, the reverse spy, the dead spy, and the living spy. When the five kinds of spies are all active, no one knows their routes - this is called organizational genius, and is valuable to the leadership.

Was Sun Tzu a real person? ›

Scholars have long believed that The Art of War's author was a Chinese military leader named Sun Tzu, or Sunzi. Today, however, many people think that there was no Sun Tzu: Instead, they argue, the book is a compilation of generations of Chinese theories and teachings on military strategy.

How does The Art of War relate to life? ›

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. A leader leads by example, not by force.

Which is best book for 18 year old? ›

Maya shows us that it's possible to nurture something inside that can glow brightly, even in the darkest night.
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. ...
  • Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris. ...
  • Boundaries by Dr. ...
  • Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. ...
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Can a child read The Art of War? ›

The Art of War is now available for babies! You can now take your child on a journey with Sun Tzu as he imparts his wisdom to a young child. By reading this book to your child you can begin teaching the valuable lessons taught in The Art of War at a very early age.

How many books should a 12 year old read in a year? ›

A Frequent reader, age 6-11, reads about 44 books per year, while an Infrequent reader reads only around 22. And that difference increases substantially as kids get older. Infrequent readers, age 12-17, only read 4.7 books a year.

How many The Art of War books are there? ›

Book details

Full content visible, double tap to read brief content. This luxurious 7-volume boxset contains the most famous military texts of Ancient China, bound in high-quality cloth and presented in a decorative slipcase.

Who reads The Art of War? ›

It is recommended reading for all United States Military Intelligence personnel. The Art of War is used as instructional material at the US Military Academy at West Point, in the course Military Strategy (470), and it is also recommended reading for Officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

What should I read after art of war? ›

The Book of Five Rings
  • Self Realization.
  • Leadership.
  • Conduct Of Life.

How do you understand The Art of War? ›

Know your enemy as you know yourself.In war, let your objective be victory and not lengthy campaign. Avoid prolonged warfare. Invade your enemy's resources, for 1 quota of his provisions is equivalent to 20 of our own. Use your enemy's strength to augment your own.

Are there different versions of The Art of War? ›

There have been many translations of “The Art of War,” and a new one, by Michael Nylan, will not be the last. It's a book that seems perpetually useful because it's a work of philosophy as much as tactics.

How long is The Art of War Sun Tzu? ›

Book details

This collectible edition of "The Art of War by Sun Tzu" presents these timeless instructions regarding military strategy and managing conflict in two complete versions, with over 260 pages of content.

Which version of Art of war should I read? ›

"The definitive version of The Art of War for those English speakers who truly want to understand it..." Wisconsin Bookwatch"The Best... internally consistent between the translated concepts and so shows a level of knowledge and detail that is not present in some other translations.

Which Sun Tzu book is best? ›

Sun Tzu

How many translations of The Art of War are there? ›

Currently, there exist at least 40 English translations of the text, and bookstore shelves groan under the weight of even more numerous volumes offering to instruct Western audiences in how to harness the power of Sun Tzu's philosophy to be all conquering in war, business, love, life and golf course maintenance.

What is the first rule of war? ›

“This is the law: The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense.

What are the 9 principles of war? ›

The author specifies that there are nine principles of war—an objective, mass, offensive, unity of command, simplicity, the economy of force, maneuver, security, and surprise.

What are the 3 levels of war? ›

The three levels of warfare—strategic, operational, and tactical—link tactical actions to achievement of national objectives. There are no finite limits or boundaries between these levels, but they help commanders design and synchronize operations, allocate resources, and assign tasks to the appropriate command.

Is The Art of War a difficult read? ›

It is actually the easiest war book to read in many ways. Simple wording, simple concepts, and it's not overly technical (if at all) regarding weaponry and tactics. It is also a short book, much more so than Clausewitz on War (which is still a great book) or other behemoths.

How long does it take to read The Art of War? ›

It is a thin book that reads in about one hour, composed of small numbered paragraphs, divided into 13 chapters.

Who reads The Art of War? ›

It is recommended reading for all United States Military Intelligence personnel. The Art of War is used as instructional material at the US Military Academy at West Point, in the course Military Strategy (470), and it is also recommended reading for Officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

What is the most accurate translation of The Art of War? ›

This month, Professor Michael Nylan's translation of Sun Tzu's The Art of War was released by W.W. Norton. Nylan is the first female scholar to translate this 2500-year-old classic text into any language.

How do you understand The Art of War? ›

Know your enemy as you know yourself.In war, let your objective be victory and not lengthy campaign. Avoid prolonged warfare. Invade your enemy's resources, for 1 quota of his provisions is equivalent to 20 of our own. Use your enemy's strength to augment your own.

Are there different versions of The Art of War? ›

There have been many translations of “The Art of War,” and a new one, by Michael Nylan, will not be the last. It's a book that seems perpetually useful because it's a work of philosophy as much as tactics.

Who defeated Sun Tzu? ›

Sun Tzu
ActivitiesBrilliant General Author of the Art of War
Service544-496 BC
Battle StatusDefeated by Vlad the Impaler
ExpertsJohnny Yang (Chinese Martial Arts Champ) Tommy Leng (Ancient Chinese Weapons Expert)
4 more rows

What is the most famous quote from The Art of War? ›

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

What is the first rule of war? ›

“This is the law: The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense.

What are the 9 principles of war? ›

The author specifies that there are nine principles of war—an objective, mass, offensive, unity of command, simplicity, the economy of force, maneuver, security, and surprise.

What are the 3 levels of war? ›

The three levels of warfare—strategic, operational, and tactical—link tactical actions to achievement of national objectives. There are no finite limits or boundaries between these levels, but they help commanders design and synchronize operations, allocate resources, and assign tasks to the appropriate command.

Was Sun Tzu a real person? ›

Scholars have long believed that The Art of War's author was a Chinese military leader named Sun Tzu, or Sunzi. Today, however, many people think that there was no Sun Tzu: Instead, they argue, the book is a compilation of generations of Chinese theories and teachings on military strategy.

Did Sun Tzu win a battle? ›

He also said Sun Tzu was both flexible and had unlimited surprises for his enemies. Sima Qian wrote that in his nearly 40-years as a general, Sun Tzu never lost a battle, a campaign or a war.

How many levels are in art of war? ›

As of today, Progress Rewards Schedule has max level 100.


1. The Art of War by Sun Tzu | Full Length Audiobook
(The Listening Lines)
2. Free YouTube Audiobook: The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Parts 1 & 2 — 'Laying Plans' and 'Waging War'
(SuperUtils Software)
3. Readers thoughts on The Art of War Sun Tzu...
4. Lost History-Sun Tzu & The Art of War
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