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Title: The Art of War
Author: Sunzi, active 6th century B.C.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Sun Tzu


The Art of War


Translated from the Chinese with Introduction and Critical Notes



Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS.
in 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.


 Sun Wu and his Book
 The Text of Sun Tzu
 The Commentators
 Appreciations of Sun Tzu
 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

When Lionel Giles began his translation of Sun Tzu's _Art of War_, the
work was virtually unknown in Europe. Its introduction to Europe began
in 1782 when a French Jesuit Father living in China, Joseph Amiot,
acquired a copy of it, and translated it into French. It was not a good
translation because, according to Dr. Giles, "[I]t contains a great
deal that Sun Tzu did not write, and very little indeed of what he

The first translation into English was published in 1905 in Tokyo by
Capt. E. F. Calthrop, R.F.A. However, this translation is, in the words
of Dr. Giles, "excessively bad." He goes further in this criticism: "It
is not merely a question of downright blunders, from which none can
hope to be wholly exempt. Omissions were frequent; hard passages were
willfully distorted or slurred over. Such offenses are less pardonable.
They would not be tolerated in any edition of a Latin or Greek classic,
and a similar standard of honesty ought to be insisted upon in
translations from Chinese." In 1908 a new edition of Capt. Calthrop's
translation was published in London. It was an improvement on the
first—omissions filled up and numerous mistakes corrected—but new
errors were created in the process. Dr. Giles, in justifying his
translation, wrote: "It was not undertaken out of any inflated estimate
of my own powers; but I could not help feeling that Sun Tzu deserved a
better fate than had befallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I
could hardly fail to improve on the work of my predecessors."

Clearly, Dr. Giles' work established much of the groundwork for the
work of later translators who published their own editions. Of the
later editions of the _Art of War_ I have examined; two feature Giles'
edited translation and notes, the other two present the same basic
information from the ancient Chinese commentators found in the Giles
edition. Of these four, Giles' 1910 edition is the most scholarly and
presents the reader an incredible amount of information concerning Sun
Tzu's text, much more than any other translation.

The Giles' edition of the _Art of War_, as stated above, was a
scholarly work. Dr. Giles was a leading sinologue at the time and an
assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts
in the British Museum. Apparently he wanted to produce a definitive
edition, superior to anything else that existed and perhaps something
that would become a standard translation. It was the best translation
available for 50 years. But apparently there was not much interest in
Sun Tzu in English-speaking countries since it took the start of the
Second World War to renew interest in his work. Several people
published unsatisfactory English translations of Sun Tzu. In 1944, Dr.
Giles' translation was edited and published in the United States in a
series of military science books. But it wasn't until 1963 that a good
English translation (by Samuel B. Griffith and still in print) was
published that was an equal to Giles' translation. While this
translation is more lucid than Dr. Giles' translation, it lacks his
copious notes that make his so interesting.

Dr. Giles produced a work primarily intended for scholars of the
Chinese civilization and language. It contains the Chinese text of Sun
Tzu, the English translation, and voluminous notes along with numerous
footnotes. Unfortunately, some of his notes and footnotes contain
Chinese characters; some are completely Chinese. Thus, a conversion to
a Latin alphabet etext was difficult. I did the conversion in complete
ignorance of Chinese (except for what I learned while doing the
conversion). Thus, I faced the difficult task of paraphrasing it while
retaining as much of the important text as I could. Every paraphrase
represents a loss; thus I did what I could to retain as much of the
text as possible. Because the 1910 text contains a Chinese concordance,
I was able to transliterate proper names, books, and the like at the
risk of making the text more obscure. However, the text, on the whole,
is quite satisfactory for the casual reader, a transformation made
possible by conversion to an etext. However, I come away from this task
with the feeling of loss because I know that someone with a background
in Chinese can do a better job than I did; any such attempt would be

Bob Sutton


Sun Wu and his Book

Ssu-ma Ch‘ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzu: [1]

Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch‘i State. His _Art of War_ brought him
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 of
managing soldiers to a slight test?"—Sun Tzu replied: "You may."—Ho Lu
asked: "May the test be applied to women?"—The answer was again in the
affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the
Palace. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed one of the
King's favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them all
take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: "I presume you
know the difference between front and back, right hand and left
hand?"—The girls replied: Yes.—Sun Tzu went on: "When I say "Eyes
front," you must look straight ahead. When I say "Left turn," you must
face towards your left hand. When I say "Right turn," you must face
towards your right hand. When I say "About turn," you must face right
round towards your back."—Again the girls assented. The words of
command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and
battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums,
he gave the order "Right turn." But the girls only burst out laughing.
Sun Tzu said: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if
orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame."—So
he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order "Left
turn," whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter. Sun
Tzu: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not
thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders _are_
clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of
their officers."—So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies
to be beheaded. Now the king of Wu was watching the scene from the top
of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his favorite concubines were
about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down
the following message: "We are now quite satisfied as to our general's
ability to handle troops. If we are bereft of these two concubines, our
meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall
not be beheaded."—Sun Tzu replied: "Having once received His Majesty's
commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain commands
of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to
accept."—Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway
installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this
had been done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the
girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the
left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with
perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then
Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: "Your soldiers, Sire, are
now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty's
inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire;
bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey."—But the
King replied: "Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As
for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops."—Thereupon
Sun Tzu said: "The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate
them into deeds."—After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew
how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the west,
he defeated the Ch‘u State and forced his way into Ying, the capital;
to the north he put fear into the States of Ch‘i and Chin, and spread
his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the
might of the King.

About Sun Tzu himself this is all that Ssu-ma Ch‘ien has to tell us in
this 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 the outstanding military genius of his time. The historian
speaks of him too as Sun Tzu, and in his preface we read: "Sun Tzu had
his feet cut off and yet continued to discuss the art of war." [3] It
seems likely, then, that "Pin" was a nickname bestowed on him after his
mutilation, unless the story was invented in order to account for the
name. The crowning incident of his career, the crushing defeat of his
treacherous rival P‘ang Chuan, will be found briefly related in Chapter
V. § 19, note.

To return to the elder Sun Tzu. He is mentioned in two other passages
of the _Shih Chi:_—

In the third year of his reign [512 B.C.] Ho Lu, king of Wu, took the
field with Tzu-hsu [i.e. Wu Yuan] and Po P‘ei, and attacked Ch‘u. He
captured the town of Shu and slew the two prince's sons who had
formerly been generals of Wu. He was then meditating a descent on Ying
[the capital]; but the general Sun Wu said: "The army is exhausted. It
is not yet possible. We must wait"…. [After further successful
fighting,] "in the ninth year [506 B.C.], King Ho Lu addressed Wu
Tzu-hsu and Sun Wu, saying: "Formerly, you declared that it was not yet
possible for us to enter Ying. Is the time ripe now?" The two men
replied: "Ch‘u's general Tzu-ch‘ang, [4] is grasping and covetous, and
the princes of T‘ang and Ts‘ai both have a grudge against him. If Your
Majesty has resolved to make a grand attack, you must win over T‘ang
and Ts‘ai, and then you may succeed." Ho Lu followed this 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 not appear to have survived his patron, who died from the effects
of a wound in 496. 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 service of Ch‘i; and Sun Wu, in the service of Wu. These men
developed and threw light upon the principles of war.

It is obvious enough that Ssu-ma Ch‘ien at least had no doubt about the
reality of Sun Wu as an historical personage; and with one exception,
to be noticed presently, he is by far the most important authority on
the period in question. It will not be necessary, therefore, to say
much of such a work as the _Wu Yueh Ch‘un Ch‘iu_, which is supposed to
have been written by Chao Yeh of the 1st century A.D. The attribution
is somewhat doubtful; 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 of Sun Tzu will be found, for what it is
worth, in chapter 2. The only new points in it worth noting are: (1)
Sun Tzu was first recommended to Ho Lu by Wu Tzu-hsu. (2) He is called
a native of Wu. (3) He had previously lived a retired life, and his
contemporaries were unaware of his ability.

The following passage occurs in the Huai-nan Tzu: "When sovereign and
ministers show perversity of mind, it is impossible even for a Sun Tzu
to encounter the foe." Assuming that this work is genuine (and hitherto
no doubt has been cast upon it), we have here the earliest direct
reference for Sun Tzu, for Huai-nan Tzu died in 122 B.C., many years
before the _Shih Chi_ was given to the world.

Liu Hsiang (80-9 B.C.) says: "The reason why Sun Tzu at the head of
30,000 men beat Ch‘u with 200,000 is that the latter were

Teng Ming-shih informs us that the surname "Sun" was bestowed on Sun
Wu's grandfather by Duke Ching of Ch‘i [547-490 B.C.]. Sun Wu's father
Sun P‘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 the rebellion
which was being fomented by the kindred of T‘ien Pao. He had three
sons, of whom the second, named Ming, was the father of Sun Pin.
According to this account then, Pin was the grandson of Wu, which,
considering that Sun Pin's victory over Wei was gained in 341 B.C., may
be dismissed as chronologically impossible. Whence these data were
obtained by Teng Ming-shih I do not know, but of course no reliance
whatever can be placed in them.

An interesting document which has survived from the close of the Han
period is the short preface written by the Great Ts‘ao Ts‘ao, or Wei Wu
Ti, for his edition of Sun Tzu. I shall give it in full:—

I have heard that the ancients used bows and arrows to their advantage.
[10] The _Shu Ching_ mentions "the army" among the "eight objects of
government." The _I Ching_ says: "'army' indicates firmness and
justice; the experienced leader will have good fortune." The _Shih
Ching_ says: "The King rose majestic in his wrath, and he marshaled his
troops." The Yellow Emperor, T‘ang the Completer and Wu Wang all used
spears and battle-axes in order to succor their generation. The _Ssu-ma
Fa_ says: "If one man slay another of set purpose, he himself may
rightfully be slain." He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be
exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.
Instances of this are Fu Ch‘ai [11] on the one hand and Yen Wang on the
other. [12] In military matters, the Sage's rule is normally to keep
the peace, and to move his forces only when occasion requires. He will
not use armed force unless driven to it by necessity.

Many books have I read on the subject of war and fighting; but the work
composed by Sun Wu is the profoundest of them all. [Sun Tzu was a
native of the Ch‘i state, his personal name was Wu. He wrote the _Art
of War_ in 13 chapters for Ho Lu, King of Wu. Its principles were
tested on women, and he was subsequently made a general. He led an army
westwards, crushed the Ch‘u state and entered Ying the capital. In the
north, he kept Ch‘i and Chin in awe. A hundred years and more after his
time, Sun Pin lived. He was a descendant of Wu.] [13] In his treatment
of deliberation and planning, the importance of rapidity in taking the
field, [14] clearness of conception, and depth of design, Sun Tzu
stands beyond the reach of carping criticism. My contemporaries,
however, have failed to grasp the full meaning of his instructions, and
while putting into practice the smaller details in which his work
abounds, they have overlooked its essential purport. That is the motive
which has led me to outline a rough explanation of the whole.

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

In the bibliographic section of the _Han Shu_, there is an entry which
has given rise to much discussion: "The works of Sun Tzu of Wu in 82
_p‘ien_ (or chapters), with diagrams in 9 _chuan_." It is evident that
this cannot be merely the 13 chapters known to Ssu-ma Ch‘ien, or those
we possess today. Chang Shou-chieh refers to an edition of Sun Tzu's
_Art of War_ of which the "13 chapters" formed the first _chuan_,
adding that there were two other _chuan_ besides. This has brought
forth a theory, that the bulk of these 82 chapters consisted of other
writings of Sun Tzu—we should call them apocryphal—similar to the _Wen
Ta_, of which a specimen dealing with the Nine Situations [15] is
preserved in the _T‘ung Tien_, and another in Ho Shin's commentary. It
is suggested that before his interview with Ho Lu, Sun Tzu had only
written the 13 chapters, but afterwards composed a sort of exegesis in
the form of question and answer between himself and the King. Pi
I-hsun, the author of the _Sun Tzu Hsu Lu_, backs this up with a
quotation from the _Wu Yueh Ch‘un Ch‘iu:_ "The King of Wu summoned Sun
Tzu, and asked him questions about the art of war. Each time he set
forth a chapter of his work, the King could not find words enough to
praise him." As he points out, if the whole work was expounded on the
same scale as in the above-mentioned fragments, the total number of
chapters could not fail to be considerable. Then the numerous other
treatises attributed to Sun Tzu might be included. The fact that the
_Han Chih_ mentions no work of Sun Tzu except the 82 _p‘ien_, whereas
the Sui and T‘ang bibliographies give the titles of others in addition
to the "13 chapters," is good proof, Pi I-hsun thinks, that all of
these were contained in the 82 _p‘ien_. Without pinning our faith to
the accuracy of details supplied by the _Wu Yueh Ch‘un Ch‘iu_, or
admitting the genuineness of any of the treatises cited by Pi I-hsun,
we may see in this theory a probable solution of the mystery. Between
Ssu-ma Ch‘ien and Pan Ku there was plenty of time for a luxuriant crop
of forgeries to have grown up under the magic name of Sun Tzu, and the
82 _p‘ien_ may very well represent a collected edition of these lumped
together with the original work. It is also possible, though less
likely, that some of them existed in the time of the earlier historian
and were purposely ignored by him. [16]

Tu Mu's conjecture seems to be based on a passage which states: "Wei Wu
Ti strung together Sun Wu's Art of War," which in turn may have
resulted from a misunderstanding of the final words of Ts‘ao King's
preface. This, as Sun Hsing-yen points out, is only a modest way of
saying that he made an explanatory paraphrase, or in other words, wrote
a commentary on it. On the whole, this theory has met with very little
acceptance. Thus, the SSU K‘U CH‘UAN SHU says: "The mention of the 13
chapters in the _Shih Chi_ shows that they were in existence before the
_Han Chih_, and that latter accretions are not to be considered part of
the original work. Tu Mu's assertion can certainly not be taken as

There is every reason to suppose, then, that the 13 chapters existed in
the time of Ssu-ma Ch‘ien practically as we have them now. That the
work was then well known he tells us in so many words. "Sun Tzu's 13
Chapters and Wu Ch‘i's Art of War are the two books that people
commonly refer to on the subject of military matters. Both of them are
widely distributed, so I will not discuss them here." But as we go
further back, serious difficulties begin to arise. The salient fact
which has to be faced is that the _Tso Chuan_, the greatest
contemporary record, makes no mention whatsoever of Sun Wu, either as a
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 given in the _Shih Chi_, but even show themselves
frankly skeptical as to the existence of the man at all. The most
powerful presentment of this side of the case is to be 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 the
Ch‘i State, and employed by Wu; and that in the reign of Ho Lu he
crushed Ch‘u, entered Ying, and was a great general. But in Tso's
Commentary no Sun Wu appears at all. It is true that Tso's Commentary
need not contain absolutely everything that other histories contain.
But Tso has not omitted to mention vulgar plebeians and hireling
ruffians such as Ying K‘ao-shu, [18] Ts‘ao Kuei, [19], Chu Chih-wu and
Chuan She-chu [20]. In the case of Sun Wu, whose fame and achievements
were so brilliant, the omission is much more glaring. Again, details
are given, in their due order, about his contemporaries Wu Yuan and the
Minister P‘ei. [21] Is it credible that Sun Wu alone should have been
passed over?

In point of literary style, Sun Tzu's work belongs to the same school
as _Kuan Tzu_, [22] _Liu T‘ao_, [23] and the _Yueh Yu_ [24] and may
have been the production of some private scholar living towards the end
of the "Spring and Autumn" or the beginning of the "Warring States"
period. [25] The story that his precepts were actually applied by the
Wu State, is merely the outcome of big talk on the part of his

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 the class of professional generals, for conducting external
campaigns, did not then exist. It was not until the period of the "Six
States" [27] that this custom changed. Now although Wu was an
uncivilized State, it is conceivable that Tso should have left
unrecorded the fact that Sun Wu was a great general and yet held no
civil office? What we are told, therefore, about Jang-chu [28] and Sun
Wu, is not authentic matter, but the reckless fabrication of theorizing
pundits. The story of Ho Lu's experiment on the women, in particular,
is utterly preposterous and incredible.

Yeh Shui-hsin represents Ssu-ma Ch‘ien as having said that Sun Wu
crushed Ch‘u and entered Ying. This is not quite correct. No doubt the
impression left on the reader's mind is that he at least shared in
these exploits. The fact may or may not be significant; but it is
nowhere explicitly stated in the _Shih Chi_ either that Sun Tzu 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 Po P‘ei both took
part in the expedition, and also that its success was largely due to
the dash and enterprise of Fu Kai, Ho Lu's younger brother, it is not
easy to see how yet another general could have played a very prominent
part 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 that he does not appear in the _Tso Chuan_, although he is said to
have served under Ho 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, while
rejecting the personality of Sun Wu as he figures in Ssu-ma Ch‘ien's
history, are inclined to accept the date traditionally assigned to the
work which passes under his name. The author of the _Hsu Lu_ fails to
appreciate this distinction, and consequently his bitter attack on
Ch‘en Chen-sun really misses its mark. He makes one of two points,
however, which certainly tell in favor of the high antiquity of our "13
chapters." "Sun Tzu," he says, "must have lived in the age of Ching
Wang [519-476], because he is frequently plagiarized 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-nan Tzu, both of them
important historical personages in their day. The former lived only a
century after the alleged date of Sun Tzu, and his death is known to
have taken place in 381 B.C. It was to him, according to Liu Hsiang,
that Tseng Shen delivered the _Tso Chuan_, which had been entrusted to
him by its author. [29] Now the fact that quotations from the _Art of
War_, acknowledged or otherwise, are to be found in so many authors of
different epochs, establishes a very strong anterior to them all,—in
other words, that Sun Tzu's treatise was already in existence towards
the end of the 5th century B.C. Further proof of Sun Tzu's antiquity is
furnished by the archaic or wholly obsolete meanings attaching to a
number of the words he uses. A list of these, which might perhaps be
extended, is given in the _Hsu Lu;_ and though some of the
interpretations are doubtful, the main argument is hardly affected
thereby. Again, it must not be forgotten that Yeh Shui-hsin, a scholar
and critic of the first rank, deliberately pronounces the style of the
13 chapters to belong to the early part of the fifth century. Seeing
that he is actually engaged in an attempt to disprove the existence of
Sun Wu himself, we may be sure that he would not have hesitated to
assign the work to a later date had he not honestly believed the
contrary. And it is precisely on such a point that the judgment of an
educated Chinaman will carry most weight. Other internal evidence is
not far to seek. Thus in XIII. § 1, there is an unmistakable allusion
to the ancient system of land-tenure which had already passed away by
the time of Mencius, who was anxious to see it revived in a modified
form. [30] The only warfare Sun Tzu knows is that carried on between
the various feudal princes, in which armored chariots play a large
part. Their use seems to have entirely 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 touch presently.

But once refer the work to the 5th century or earlier, and the chances
of its being other than a _bonâ fide_ production are sensibly
diminished. The great age of forgeries did not come until long after.
That it should have been forged in the period immediately following 473
is particularly unlikely, for no one, as a rule, hastens to identify
himself with a lost cause. As for Yeh Shui-hsin's theory, that the
author was a literary recluse, that seems to me quite untenable. If one
thing is more apparent than another after reading the maxims of Sun
Tzu, it is that their essence has been distilled from a large store of
personal observation and experience. They reflect the mind not only of
a born strategist, gifted with a rare faculty of generalization, but
also of a practical soldier closely acquainted with the military
conditions of his time. To say nothing of the fact that these sayings
have been accepted and endorsed by all the greatest captains of Chinese
history, they offer a combination of freshness and sincerity, acuteness
and common sense, which quite excludes the idea that they were
artificially concocted in the study. If we admit, then, that the 13
chapters were the genuine production of a military man living towards
the end of the "CH‘UN CH‘IU" period, are we not bound, in spite of the
silence of the _Tso Chuan_, to accept Ssu-ma Ch‘ien's account in its
entirety? In view of his high repute as a sober historian, must we not
hesitate to assume that the records he drew upon for Sun Wu's biography
were false and untrustworthy? The answer, I fear, must be in the
negative. There is still one grave, if not fatal, objection to the
chronology involved in the story as told in the _Shih Chi_, which, so
far as I am aware, nobody has yet pointed out. There are two passages
in Sun Tzu in which he alludes to contemporary affairs. The first in in
VI. § 21:—

Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our own in
number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I
say then that victory 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 Yueh are enemies; 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
the right.

These two paragraphs are extremely valuable as evidence of the date of
composition. They assign the work to the period of the struggle between
Wu and Yueh. So much has been observed by Pi I-hsun. But what has
hitherto escaped notice is that they also seriously impair the
credibility of Ssu-ma Ch‘ien's narrative. As we have seen above, the
first positive date given in connection with Sun Wu is 512 B.C. He is
then spoken of as a general, acting as confidential adviser to Ho Lu,
so that his alleged introduction to that monarch had already taken
place, and of course the 13 chapters must have been written earlier
still. But at that time, and for several years after, down to the
capture of Ying in 506, Ch‘u and not Yueh, was the great hereditary
enemy of Wu. The two states, Ch‘u and Wu, had been constantly at war
for over half a century, [31] whereas the first war between Wu and Yueh
was waged only in 510, [32] and even then was no more than a short
interlude sandwiched in the midst of the fierce struggle with Ch‘u. Now
Ch‘u is not mentioned in the 13 chapters at all. The natural inference
is that they were written at a time when Yueh had become the prime
antagonist of Wu, that is, after Ch‘u had suffered the great
humiliation of 506. At this point, a table of dates may be found

514	Accession of Ho Lu.
512	Ho Lu attacks Ch‘u, but is dissuaded from entering

the capital. _Shih Chi_ mentions Sun Wu as general.
511	Another attack on Ch‘u.
510	Wu makes a successful attack on Yueh. This is the

war between the two states.
509 or 508	Ch‘u invades Wu, but is signally defeated at
506	Ho Lu attacks Ch‘u with the aid of T‘ang and

Decisive battle of Po-chu, and capture of Ying. Last

mention of Sun Wu in _Shih Chi_.
505	Yueh makes a raid on Wu in the absence of its army.

is beaten by Ch‘in and evacuates Ying.
504	Ho Lu sends Fu Ch‘ai to attack Ch‘u.
497	Kou Chien becomes King of Yueh.
496	Wu attacks Yueh, but is defeated by Kou Chien at

Ho Lu is killed.
494	Fu Ch‘ai defeats Kou Chien in the great battle of

chaio, and enters the capital of Yueh.
485 or 484	Kou Chien renders homage to Wu. Death of Wu
482	Kou Chien invades Wu in the absence of Fu
478 to 476	Further attacks by Yueh on Wu.
475	Kou Chien lays siege to the capital of Wu.
473	Final defeat and extinction of Wu.

The sentence quoted above from VI. § 21 hardly strikes me as one that
could have 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 was getting the worst of the struggle. Hence we may
conclude that our treatise was not in existence in 505, before which
date Yueh does not appear to have scored any notable success against
Wu. Ho Lu died in 496, so that if the book was written for him, it must
have been during the period 505-496, when there was a lull in the
hostilities, Wu having presumably exhausted by its supreme effort
against Ch‘u. On the other hand, if we choose to disregard the
tradition connecting Sun Wu's name with Ho Lu, it might equally well
have seen the light between 496 and 494, or possibly in the period
482-473, when Yueh was once again becoming a very serious menace. [33]
We may feel fairly certain that the author, whoever he may have been,
was not a man of any great eminence in his own day. On this point the
negative testimony of the _Tso Chuan_ far outweighs any shred of
authority still attaching to the _Shih Chi_, if once its other facts
are discredited. Sun Hsing-yen, however, makes a feeble attempt to
explain the omission of his name from the great commentary. It was Wu
Tzu-hsu, he says, who got all the credit of Sun Wu's exploits, because
the latter (being an alien) was not rewarded with an office in the

How then did the Sun Tzu legend originate? It may be that the growing
celebrity of the book imparted by degrees a kind of factitious renown
to its author. It was felt to be only right and proper that one so well
versed in the science of war should have solid achievements to his
credit as well. Now the capture of Ying was undoubtedly the greatest
feat of arms in Ho Lu's reign; it made a deep and lasting impression on
all the surrounding states, and raised Wu to the short-lived zenith of
her power. Hence, what more natural, as time went on, than that the
acknowledged master of strategy, Sun Wu, should be popularly identified
with that campaign, at first perhaps only in the sense that his brain
conceived and planned it; afterwards, that it was actually carried out
by him 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
Tzu's life must be based almost wholly on conjecture. With this
necessary proviso, I should say that he probably entered the service of
Wu about the time of Ho Lu's accession, and gathered experience, though
only in the capacity of a subordinate officer, during the intense
military activity which marked the first half of the prince's reign.
[35] If he rose to be a general at all, he certainly was never on an
equal footing with the three above mentioned. He was doubtless present
at the investment and occupation of Ying, and witnessed Wu's sudden
collapse in the following year. Yueh's attack at this critical
juncture, when her rival was embarrassed on every side, seems to have
convinced him that this upstart kingdom was the great enemy against
whom every effort would henceforth have to be directed. Sun Wu was thus
a well-seasoned warrior when he sat down to write his famous book,
which according to my reckoning must have appeared towards the end,
rather than the beginning of Ho Lu's reign. The story of the women may
possibly have grown out of some real incident occurring about the same
time. As we hear no more of Sun Wu after this from any source, he is
hardly likely to have survived his patron or to have taken part in the
death-struggle with Yueh, which began with the disaster at Tsui-li.

If these inferences are approximately correct, there is a certain irony
in the fate which decreed that China's most illustrious man of peace
should be contemporary with her greatest writer on war.

The Text of Sun Tzu

I have found it difficult to glean much about the history of Sun Tzu's
text. The quotations that occur in early authors go to show that the
"13 chapters" of which 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 can only regret that he refrained from
discussing them on that account. Sun Hsing-yen says in his preface:—

During the Ch‘in and Han dynasties Sun Tzu's _Art of War_ was in
general use amongst military commanders, but they seem to have treated
it as a work of mysterious import, and were unwilling to expound it for
the benefit of posterity. Thus it came about that Wei Wu was the first
to write a commentary on it.

As we have already seen, there is no reasonable ground to suppose that
Ts‘ao Kung tampered with the text. But the text itself is often so
obscure, and the number of editions which appeared from that time
onward so great, especially during the T‘ang and Sung dynasties, that
it would be surprising if numerous corruptions had not managed to creep
in. Towards the middle of the Sung period, by which time all the chief
commentaries on Sun Tzu were in existence, a certain Chi T‘ien-pao
published a work in 15 _chuan_ entitled "Sun Tzu with the collected
commentaries of ten writers." There was another text, with variant
readings put forward by Chu Fu of Ta-hsing, which also had supporters
among the scholars of that period; but in the Ming editions, Sun
Hsing-yen tells us, these readings were for some reason or other no
longer put into circulation. Thus, until the end of the 18th century,
the text in sole possession of the field was one derived from Chi
T‘ien-pao's edition, although no actual copy of that important work was
known to have survived. That, therefore, is the text of Sun Tzu which
appears in the War section of the great Imperial encyclopedia printed
in 1726, the KU CHIN T‘U SHU CHI CH‘ENG. Another copy at my disposal of
what is practically the same text, with slight variations, is that
contained in the "Eleven philosophers of the Chou and Ch‘in dynasties"
[1758]. And the Chinese printed in Capt. Calthrop's first edition is
evidently a similar version which has filtered through Japanese
channels. So things remained until Sun Hsing-yen [1752-1818], a
distinguished antiquarian and classical scholar, who claimed to be an
actual descendant of Sun Wu, [36] accidentally discovered a copy of Chi
T‘ien-pao's long-lost work, when on a visit to the library of the
Hua-yin temple. [37] Appended to it was the I SHUO of Cheng Yu-Hsien,
mentioned in the T‘UNG CHIH, and also believed to have perished. This
is what Sun Hsing-yen designates as the "original edition (or text)"—a
rather misleading name, for it cannot by any means claim to set before
us the text of Sun Tzu in its pristine purity. Chi T‘ien-pao was a
careless compiler, and appears to have been content to reproduce the
somewhat debased version current in his day, without troubling to
collate it with the earliest editions then available. Fortunately, two
versions of Sun Tzu, even older than the newly discovered work, were
still extant, one buried in the T‘UNG TIEN, Tu Yu's great treatise on
the Constitution, the other similarly 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 of different sections. Considering that the YU
LAN takes us back to the year 983, and the T‘UNG TIEN about 200 years
further still, to the middle of the T‘ang dynasty, the value of these
early transcripts of Sun Tzu can hardly be overestimated. Yet the idea
of utilizing them does not seem to have occurred to anyone until Sun
Hsing-yen, acting under Government instructions, undertook a thorough
recension of the text. This is his own account:—

Because of the numerous mistakes in the text of Sun Tzu which his
editors had handed down, the Government ordered that the ancient
edition [of Chi T‘ien-pao] should be used, and that the text should be
revised and corrected throughout. It happened that Wu Nien-hu, the
Governor Pi Kua, and Hsi, 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 on blocks as a textbook for
military men.

The three individuals here referred to had evidently been occupied on
the text of Sun Tzu prior to Sun Hsing-yen's commission, but we are
left in doubt as to the work they really accomplished. At any rate, the
new edition, when ultimately produced, appeared in the names of Sun
Hsing-yen and only one co-editor Wu Jen-shi. They took the "original
edition" as their basis, and by careful comparison with older versions,
as well as the extant commentaries and other sources of information
such as the I SHUO, succeeded in restoring a very large number of
doubtful passages, and turned out, on the whole, what must be accepted
as the closest approximation we are ever likely to get to Sun Tzu's
original work. This is what will hereafter be denominated the "standard

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 this introduction), vindicating the traditional view of Sun
Tzu's life and performances, and summing up in remarkably concise
fashion the evidence in its favor. This is followed by Ts‘ao Kung's
preface to his edition, and the biography of Sun Tzu from the _Shih
Chi_, both translated above. Then come, firstly, Cheng Yu-hsien's I
SHUO, [39] with author's preface, and next, a short miscellany of
historical and bibliographical information entitled SUN TZU HSU LU,
compiled by Pi I-hsun. As regards the body of the work, each separate
sentence is followed by a note on the text, if required, and then by
the various commentaries appertaining to it, arranged in chronological
order. These we shall now proceed to discuss briefly, one by one.

The Commentators

Sun Tzu can boast an exceptionally long distinguished roll of
commentators, which would do honor to any classic. Ou-yang Hsiu remarks
on this fact, though he wrote before the tale was complete, and rather
ingeniously explains it by saying that the artifices of war, being
inexhaustible, must therefore be susceptible 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
commentary on Sun Tzu actually came from the pen of this extraordinary
man, whose biography in the SAN KUO CHIH reads like a romance. One of
the greatest military geniuses that the world has seen, and Napoleonic
in the scale of his operations, he was especially famed for the
marvelous rapidity of his marches, which has found expression in the
line "Talk of Ts‘ao Ts‘ao, and Ts‘ao Ts‘ao will appear." Ou-yang Hsiu
says of him that he was a great captain who "measured his strength
against Tung Cho, Lu Pu and the two Yuan, father and son, and
vanquished them all; whereupon he divided the Empire of Han with Wu and
Shu, and made himself king. It is recorded that whenever a council of
war was held by Wei on the eve of a far-reaching campaign, he had all
his calculations ready; those generals who made use of them did not
lose one battle in ten; those who ran counter to them in any particular
saw their armies incontinently beaten and put to flight." Ts‘ao Kung's
notes on Sun Tzu, models of austere brevity, are so thoroughly
characteristic of the stern commander known to history, that it is hard
indeed to conceive of them as the work of a mere LITTERATEUR.
Sometimes, indeed, owing to extreme compression, they are scarcely
intelligible and stand no less in need of a commentary than the text
itself. [40]

2. MENG SHIH. The commentary which has come down to us under this name
is comparatively meager, and nothing about the author is known. Even
his personal name has not been recorded. Chi T‘ien-pao's edition places
him after Chia Lin, 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 of the Liang dynasty [502-557]. Others would
identify him with Meng K‘ang of the 3rd century. He is named in one
work as the last of the "Five Commentators," 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 military
tactics. One of his works has been in constant use down to the present
day. The T‘UNG CHIH mentions "Lives of famous generals from the Chou to
the T‘ang dynasty" as written by him. [42] According to Ch‘ao Kung-wu
and the T‘IEN-I-KO catalogue, he followed a variant of the text of Sun
Tzu which differs considerably from those now extant. His notes are
mostly short and to the point, and he frequently illustrates his
remarks by anecdotes from Chinese history.

4. TU YU (died 812) did not publish a separate commentary on Sun Tzu,
his notes being taken from the T‘UNG TIEN, the encyclopedic treatise on
the Constitution which was his life-work. They are largely repetitions
of Ts‘ao Kung and Meng Shih, besides which it is believed that he drew
on the ancient commentaries of Wang Ling and others. Owing to the
peculiar arrangement 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 with that of Ts‘ao Kung, whom he always quotes first.
Though not strictly to be reckoned as one of the "Ten Commentators," he
was added to their number by Chi 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
even in the glorious galaxy of the T‘ang period. We learn from Ch‘ao
Kung-wu that although he had no practical experience of war, he was
extremely fond of discussing the subject, and was moreover well read in
the military history of the CH‘UN CH‘IU and CHAN KUO eras. His notes,
therefore, are well worth attention. They are very copious, and replete
with historical parallels. The gist of Sun Tzu's work is thus
summarized by him: "Practice benevolence and justice, but on the other
hand make full use of artifice and measures of expediency." He further
declared that all the military triumphs and disasters of the thousand
years which had elapsed since Sun Tzu's death would, upon examination,
be found to uphold and corroborate, in every particular, the maxims
contained in his book. Tu Mu's somewhat spiteful charge against Ts‘ao
Kung has already been considered elsewhere.

6. CH‘EN HAO appears to have been a contemporary of Tu Mu. Ch‘ao
Kung-wu says that he was impelled to write a new commentary on Sun Tzu
because Ts‘ao Kung's on the one hand was too obscure and subtle, and
that of Tu Mu on the other too long-winded and diffuse. Ou-yang Hsiu,
writing in the middle of the 11th century, calls Ts‘ao Kung, Tu Mu and
Ch‘en Hao the three chief commentators on Sun Tzu, and observes that
Ch‘en Hao is continually attacking Tu Mu's shortcomings. His
commentary, though not lacking in merit, must rank below those of his

7. CHIA LIN is known to have lived under the T‘ang dynasty, for his
commentary on Sun Tzu is mentioned in the T‘ang Shu and was afterwards
republished by Chi Hsieh of the same dynasty together with those of
Meng Shih and 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 Mei
Sheng-yu, was, like Tu Mu, a poet of distinction. His commentary was
published with a laudatory preface by the great Ou-yang Hsiu, from
which we may cull the following:—

Later scholars have misread Sun Tzu, distorting his words and trying to
make them square with their own one-sided views. Thus, though
commentators have not been lacking, only a few have proved equal to the
task. My friend Sheng-yu has not fallen into this mistake. In
attempting to provide a critical commentary for Sun Tzu's work, he does
not lose sight of the fact that these sayings were intended for states
engaged in internecine warfare; that the author is not concerned with
the military conditions prevailing under the sovereigns of the three
ancient dynasties, [43] nor with the nine punitive measures prescribed
to the Minister of War. [44] Again, Sun Wu loved brevity of diction,
but his meaning is always deep. Whether the subject be marching an
army, or handling soldiers, or estimating the enemy, or controlling the
forces of victory, it is always systematically treated; the sayings are
bound together in strict logical sequence, though this has been
obscured by commentators who have probably failed to grasp their
meaning. In his own commentary, Mei Sheng-yu has brushed aside all the
obstinate prejudices of these critics, and has tried to bring out the
true meaning of Sun Tzu himself. In this way, the clouds of confusion
have been dispersed and the sayings made clear. I am convinced that the
present work deserves to be handed down side by side with the three
great commentaries; and for a great deal that they find in the sayings,
coming generations will have constant reason to thank my friend

Making some allowance for the exuberance of friendship, I am inclined
to endorse this favorable judgment, and would certainly place him above
Ch‘en Hao in order of merit.

9. WANG HSI, also of the Sung dynasty, is decidedly original in some of
his interpretations, but much less judicious than Mei Yao-ch‘en, and on
the whole not a very trustworthy guide. He is fond of comparing his own
commentary with that of Ts‘ao Kung, but the comparison is not often
flattering to him. We learn from Ch‘ao Kung-wu that Wang Hsi revised
the ancient text of Sun Tzu, filling up lacunae and correcting
mistakes. [45]

10. HO YEN-HSI of the Sung dynasty. The personal name of this
commentator is given as above by Cheng Ch‘iao in the TUNG CHIH, written
about the middle of the twelfth century, but he appears simply as Ho
Shih in the YU HAI, and Ma Tuan-lin quotes Ch‘ao Kung-wu as saying that
his personal name is unknown. 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 with one Ho Ch‘u-fei, the author of a
short treatise on war, who lived in the latter part of the 11th
century. Ho Shih's commentary, in the words of the T‘IEN-I-KO
catalogue, "contains helpful additions" here and there, but is chiefly
remarkable for the copious extracts taken, in adapted form, from the
dynastic histories and other sources.

11. CHANG YU. The list closes with a commentator of no great
originality perhaps, but gifted with admirable powers of lucid
exposition. His commentator is based on that of Ts‘ao Kung, whose terse
sentences he contrives to expand and develop in masterly fashion.
Without Chang Yu, it is safe to say that much of Ts‘ao Kung's
commentary would have remained cloaked in its pristine obscurity and
therefore valueless. His work is not mentioned in the Sung history, the
T‘UNG K‘AO, or the YU HAI, but it finds a niche in the T‘UNG CHIH,
which also names him as the author of the "Lives of Famous Generals."

It is rather remarkable that the last-named four should all have
flourished within 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 of peace, and men ceased to practice the art of
war. but when [Chao] Yuan-hao's rebellion came [1038-42] and the
frontier generals were defeated time after time, the Court made
strenuous inquiry for men skilled in war, and military topics became
the vogue amongst all the high officials. Hence it is that the
commentators of Sun Tzu in our dynasty belong mainly to that period.

Besides these eleven commentators, there are several others whose work
has not come down to us. The SUI SHU mentions four, namely Wang Ling
(often quoted by Tu Yu as Wang Tzu); Chang Tzu-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 the T‘U SHU mentions a Ming commentator, Huang Jun-yu.
It is possible that some of these may have been merely collectors and
editors of other commentaries, like Chi T‘ien-pao and Chi Hsieh,
mentioned above.

Appreciations of Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu has exercised a potent fascination over the minds of some of
China's greatest men. Among the famous generals who are known to have
studied his pages with enthusiasm may be mentioned Han Hsin (d. 196
B.C.), [49] Feng I (d. 34 A.D.), [50] Lu Meng (d. 219), [51] and Yo Fei
(1103-1141). [52] The opinion of Ts‘ao Kung, who disputes with Han Hsin
the highest place in Chinese military annals, has already been
recorded. [53] Still more remarkable, in one way, is the testimony of
purely literary men, such as Su Hsun (the father of Su Tung-p‘o), who
wrote several essays on military topics, all of which owe their chief
inspiration to Sun Tzu. The following short passage by him is preserved
in the _Yu Hai:_ [54]—

Sun Wu's saying, that in war one cannot make certain of conquering,
[55] is very different indeed from what other books tell us. [56] Wu
Ch‘i was a man of the same stamp as Sun Wu: they both wrote books on
war, and they are linked together in popular speech as "Sun and Wu."
But Wu Ch‘i's remarks on war are less weighty, his rules are rougher
and more crudely stated, and there is not the same unity of plan as in
Sun Tzu's work, where the style is terse, but the meaning fully brought

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

Sun Tzu's 13 chapters are not only the staple and base of all military
men's training, but also compel the most careful attention of scholars
and men of letters. His sayings are terse yet elegant, simple yet
profound, perspicuous and eminently practical. Such works as the LUN
YU, the I CHING and the great Commentary, [57] as well as the writings
of Mencius, Hsun K‘uang and Yang Chu, all fall below the level of Sun

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

Apologies for War

Accustomed as we are to think of China as the greatest peace-loving
nation on earth, we are in some danger of forgetting that her
experience of war in all its phases has also been such as no modern
State can parallel. Her long military annals stretch back to a point at
which they are lost in the mists of time. She had built the Great Wall
and was maintaining a huge standing army along her frontier centuries
before the first Roman legionary was seen on the Danube. What with the
perpetual collisions of the ancient feudal States, the grim conflicts
with Huns, Turks and other invaders after the centralization of
government, the terrific upheavals which accompanied the overthrow of
so many dynasties, besides the countless rebellions and minor
disturbances that have flamed up and flickered out again one by one, it
is hardly too much to say that the clash of arms has never ceased to
resound in one portion or another of the Empire.

No less remarkable is the succession of illustrious captains to whom
China can point with pride. As in all countries, the greatest are fond
of emerging at the most fateful crises of her history. Thus, Po Ch‘i
stands out conspicuous in the period when Ch‘in was entering upon her
final struggle with the remaining independent states. The stormy years
which followed the break-up of the 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 baleful figure of Ts‘ao Ts‘ao
dominates the scene. And in the establishment of the T‘ang dynasty, one
of the mightiest tasks achieved by man, the superhuman energy of Li
Shih-min (afterwards the Emperor T‘ai Tsung) was seconded by the
brilliant strategy of Li Ching. None of these generals need fear
comparison with the greatest names in the military history of Europe.

In spite of all this, the great body of Chinese sentiment, from Lao Tzu
downwards, and especially as reflected in the standard literature of
Confucianism, has been consistently pacific and intensely opposed to
militarism in any form. It is such an uncommon thing to find any of the
literati defending warfare on principle, that I have thought it worth
while to collect and translate 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

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 to succor those who are in peril. Every animal with blood
in its veins and horns on its head will fight when it is attacked. How
much more so will man, who carries in his breast the faculties of love
and hatred, joy and anger! When he is pleased, a feeling of affection
springs up within him; when angry, his poisoned sting is brought into
play. That is the natural law which governs his being…. What then shall
be said of those scholars of our time, blind to all great issues, and
without any appreciation of relative values, who can only bark out
their stale formulas about "virtue" and "civilization," condemning the
use of military weapons? They will surely bring our country to
impotence and dishonor and the loss of her rightful heritage; or, at
the very least, they will bring about invasion and rebellion, sacrifice
of territory and general enfeeblement. Yet they obstinately refuse to
modify the position they have taken up. The truth is that, just as in
the family the teacher must not spare the rod, and punishments cannot
be dispensed with in the State, so military chastisement can never be
allowed to fall into abeyance in the Empire. All one can say is that
this power will be exercised wisely by some, foolishly by others, and
that among those who bear arms some will be loyal and others
rebellious. [58]

The next piece is taken from Tu Mu's preface to his commentary on Sun

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 of Confucius. Nowadays, the holding of trials and hearing of
litigation, the imprisonment of offenders and their execution by
flogging in the market-place, are all done by officials. But the
wielding of huge armies, the throwing down of fortified cities, the
hauling of women and children into captivity, and the beheading of
traitors—this is also work which is done by officials. The objects of
the rack and of military weapons are essentially the same. There is no
intrinsic difference between the punishment of flogging and cutting off
heads 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
military weapons and wholesale decapitation. In both cases, however,
the end in view is to 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
aptitude by 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 of Confucius?" "It is a fact," replied Jan Yu;
"I was taught by Confucius. It is fitting 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 very far."

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 in what 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 are quite afraid of enlarging on
military topics, or do so only in a shamefaced manner. If any are bold
enough to discuss the subject, they are at once set down as eccentric
individuals of coarse and brutal propensities. This is an extraordinary
instance in which, through sheer lack of reasoning, men unhappily lose
sight of fundamental principles.

When the Duke of Chou was minister under Ch‘eng Wang, he regulated
ceremonies and made music, and venerated the arts of scholarship and
learning; yet when the barbarians of the River Huai revolted, [60] he
sallied forth and chastised them. When Confucius held office under the
Duke of Lu, and a meeting was convened at Chia-ku, [61] he said: "If
pacific negotiations are in progress, warlike preparations should have
been made beforehand." He rebuked and shamed the Marquis of Ch‘i, who
cowered under him and dared not proceed to violence. How can it be said
that these two great Sages had no knowledge of military matters?

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

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

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

Confucius said: "I am unversed in military matters." [65] He also said:
"If I fight, I conquer." Confucius ordered ceremonies and regulated
music. Now war constitutes one of the five classes of State ceremonial,
[66] and must not be treated 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 does not know. Those who have to
lead an army and devise stratagems, must learn the art of war. But if
one can command the services of a good general like Sun Tzu, who was
employed by Wu Tzu-hsu, there is no need to learn it oneself. Hence the
remark added by Confucius: "If I fight, I conquer."

The men of the present day, however, willfully interpret these words of
Confucius in their narrowest sense, as though he meant that books on
the art of war were not worth reading. With blind persistency, they
adduce the example of Chao Kua, who pored over his father's books to no
purpose, [67] as a proof that all military theory is useless. Again,
seeing that books on war have to do with such 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 ignore the fact that the
studies of our scholars and the civil administration of our officials
also require steady application and practice before efficiency is
reached. The ancients were particularly chary of allowing mere novices
to botch their work. [68] Weapons are baneful [69] and fighting
perilous; and useless unless a general is in constant practice, he
ought not to hazard other men's lives in battle. [70] Hence it is
essential that Sun Tzu's 13 chapters should be studied.

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


The following are the oldest Chinese treatises on war, after Sun Tzu.
The notes on each have been drawn principally from the SSU K‘U CH‘UAN
SHU CHIEN MING MU LU, ch. 9, fol. 22 sqq.

1. WU TZU, in 1 _chuan_ or 6 chapters. By Wu Ch‘i (d. 381 B.C.). A
genuine work. See _Shih Chi_, ch. 65.

2. _Ssu-ma Fa_, in 1 _chuan_ or 5 chapters. Wrongly attributed to
Ssu-ma Jang-chu of the 6th century B.C. Its date, however, must be
early, as the customs of the three ancient dynasties are constantly to
be met within its pages. See _Shih Chi_, ch. 64.

The SSU K‘U CH‘UAN SHU (ch. 99, f. 1) remarks that the oldest three
treatises on war, SUN TZU, WU TZU and _Ssu-ma Fa_, are, generally
speaking, only concerned with things strictly military—the art of
producing, collecting, training and drilling troops, and the correct
theory with regard to measures of expediency, laying plans, transport
of goods and the handling of soldiers—in strong contrast to later
works, in which the science of war is 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
Lu Shang, also known as T‘ai Kung) of the 12th century B.C. [74] But
its style does not belong to the era of the Three Dynasties. Lu Te-ming
(550-625 A.D.) mentions the work, and enumerates the headings of the
six sections so that the forgery cannot have been later than Sui

4. WEI LIAO TZU, in 5 _chuan_. Attributed to Wei Liao (4th cent. B.C.),
who studied under the famous Kuei-ku Tzu. The work appears to have been
originally in 31 chapters, whereas the text we possess contains only
24. Its matter is sound enough in the main, though the strategical
devices differ considerably from those of the Warring States period. It
is been furnished with a commentary by the well-known Sung philosopher
Chang Tsai.

5. SAN LUEH, in 3 _chuan_. Attributed to Huang-shih Kung, a legendary
personage who is said to have bestowed it on Chang Liang (d. 187 B.C.)
in an interview on a bridge. But here again, the style is not that of
works dating from the Ch‘in or Han period. The Han Emperor Kuang Wu
[25-57 A.D.] apparently quotes from it in one of his proclamations; but
the passage in question may have been inserted later on, in order to
prove the genuineness of the work. We shall 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
dialogue between T‘ai Tsung and his great general Li Ching, it is
usually ascribed to the latter. Competent authorities consider it a
forgery, though the author was evidently well versed in the art of war.

7. LI CHING PING FA (not to be confounded with the foregoing) is a
short treatise in 8 chapters, preserved in the T‘ung Tien, but not
published separately. This fact explains its omission from the SSU K‘U

8. WU CH‘I CHING, in 1 _chuan_. Attributed to the legendary minister
Feng Hou, 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. 300 A.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 been held, it is not surprising to find more than one work on
war ascribed to his pen. Such are (1) the SHIH LIU TS‘E (1 _chuan_),
preserved in the YUNG LO TA TIEN; (2) CHIANG YUAN (1 _chuan_); and (3)
HSIN SHU (1 _chuan_), which steals wholesale from Sun Tzu. None of
these has the slightest claim to be considered genuine.

Most of the large Chinese encyclopedias contain extensive sections
devoted to the literature of war. The following references may be found

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 deserve

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 Imperial

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
Han dynasty, which says: "Ten _li_ outside the WU gate [of the city of
Wu, now Soochow in Kiangsu] there is a great mound, raised to
commemorate the entertainment of Sun Wu of Ch‘i, who excelled in the
art of war, by the King of Wu."

10. "They attached strings to wood to make bows, and sharpened wood to
make arrows. 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 by Kou chien, King of Yueh, in 473 B.C. See post.

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

13. The passage I have put in brackets is omitted in the T‘U SHU, and
may be an interpolation. It was known, however to Chang Shou-chieh of
the T‘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 TZU, which is not in 6
chapters, has 48 assigned to it in the _Han Chih_. Likewise, the CHUNG
YUNG is credited with 49 chapters, though now only in one only. In the
case of very short 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

21. I.e. Po P‘ei. See ante.

22. The nucleus of this work is probably genuine, though large
additions have been 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
another work. Why that chapter should be singled out, however, is not

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 latter
half of the 6th century B.C., and is also believed to have written a
work on war. See _Shih Chi_, ch. 64, and infra at the beginning of the

29. See Legge's Classics, vol. V, Prolegomena p. 27. Legge thinks that
the TSO 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 already at
variance with its powerful neighbor. The CH‘UN CH‘IU first mentions
Yueh 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 to grow more bitter after each encounter, and thus more fully
justify the language used in XI. § 30.

34. With Wu Yuan himself the case is just the reverse:—a spurious
treatise 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 no year in which Ch‘u was not attacked by Wu."

36. Preface ad fin: "My family comes from Lo-an, and we are really
descended from Sun Tzu. I am ashamed to say that I only read my
ancestor's work from a literary point of view, without comprehending
the military technique. So long have we been enjoying the blessings of

37. Hoa-yin is about 14 miles from T‘ung-kuan on the eastern border of
Shensi. The temple in question is still visited by those about the
ascent of the Western Sacred Mountain. It is mentioned in a text as
being "situated five _li_ east of the district city of Hua-yin. The
temple contains the Hua-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 Tzu.

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

41. WEN HSIEN T‘UNG K‘AO, ch. 221.

42. It is interesting to note that M. Pelliot has recently discovered
chapters 1, 4 and 5 of this lost work in the "Grottos of the Thousand
Buddhas." See B.E.F.E.O., t. VIII, nos. 3-4, p. 525.

43. The Hsia, the Shang and the Chou. Although the last-named was
nominally existent in Sun Tzu's day, it retained hardly a vestige of
power, and the old military organization had practically gone by the
board. I can suggest no other explanation 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

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
themselves with Sun Tzu are not behindhand in their praise. In this
connection, I may perhaps be excused for quoting from a letter from
Lord Roberts, to whom the sheets of the present work were submitted
previous to publication: "Many of Sun Wu's maxims are perfectly
applicable to the present day, and no. 11 [in Chapter VIII] 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,
and festive rites. See SHU CHING, ii. 1. III. 8, and CHOU LI, IX. fol.

67. See XIII. § 11, note.

68. This is a rather obscure allusion to the _Tso Chuan_, where
Tzu-ch‘an says: "If you have a piece of beautiful brocade, you will not
employ a mere learner 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 in
the _Shih Chi_, ch. 32 ad init. Besides the tradition which makes him a
former minister of Chou Hsin, two other accounts of him are there
given, according to which he would appear to have been first raised
from a humble private station by Wen Wang.


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

1. Sun Tzu 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. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be
taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine
the conditions obtaining 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 Tzu means by "Moral Law" a
principle of harmony, not unlike the Tao of Lao Tzu in its moral
aspect. One might be tempted to render it by "morale," were it not
considered as an attribute of the ruler in § 13.]

5, 6. The _Moral Law_ causes the people to be in complete accord with
their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives,
undismayed by any danger.

[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzu as saying: "Without constant practice, the
officers will be 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. Meng Shih 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 of Heaven," including the five elements, the four
seasons, wind and clouds, and other phenomena.]

8. _Earth_ comprises distances, great and small; danger and security;
open ground and 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 put before "humanity or benevolence," and
the two military virtues of "courage" and "strictness" substituted for
"uprightness of mind" and "self-respect, self-control, or 'proper

10. By _Method and discipline_ are to be understood the marshaling of
the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the
officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the
army, and the control of military expenditure.

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

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the
military conditions, 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 with his
own severe regulations against injury to standing crops, he condemned
himself 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 of justice by cutting off his hair. Ts‘ao Ts‘ao's own comment
on the present passage is characteristically curt: "when you lay down a
law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed the offender must
be put to death."]

(5) Which army is stronger?

[Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch‘en puts it, freely
rendered, "_esprit de corps_ and 'big battalions.'"]

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

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

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

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

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

15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will
conquer:—let such a one be retained in command! The general that
hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:—let
such a one be dismissed!

[The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzu's treatise was
composed expressly for the benefit of his patron Ho Lu, king of the Wu

16. While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any
helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.

17. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's

[Sun Tzu, as a practical soldier, will have none of the "bookish
theoric." He cautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract
principles; "for," as Chang Yu puts it, "while the main laws of
strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of all and
sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to
secure a favorable position in actual warfare." On the eve of the
battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, commanding the cavalry, went to the
Duke of Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations
were for the morrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find
himself Commander-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 first tomorrow—I or Bonaparte?" "Bonaparte," replied Lord
Uxbridge. "Well," continued the Duke, "Bonaparte has not given me any
idea of his projects; and as my plans will depend upon his, how can you
expect me to tell you what mine are?" [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 he concealed his movements and deceived both friend
and foe."]

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

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 Tzu is still illustrating
the uses of deception in war.]

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

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

[Wang Tzu, quoted by Tu Yu, says that the good tactician plays with his
adversary 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: "while
we 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 favored by most of the
commentators: "If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division
between them."]

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

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

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

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

The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.
Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to
defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this
point that I can foresee who 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 the
cost," which prepares us for the discovery that the subject of the
chapter is not what we might expect from the title, but is primarily a
consideration of ways and means.]

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

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

with provisions enough to carry them a thousand _li_,

[2.78 modern _li_ go to a mile. The length may have varied slightly
since Sun Tzu'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 armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day.
Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.

2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming,
then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If
you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

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

4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength
exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to
take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be
able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

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

[This concise and difficult sentence is not well explained by any of
the commentators. Ts‘ao Kung, Li Ch‘uan, Meng Shih, Tu Yu, Tu Mu and
Mei Yao-ch‘en have notes to the effect that a general, though naturally
stupid, may nevertheless conquer through sheer force of rapidity. Ho
Shih says: "Haste may be stupid, but at any rate it saves expenditure
of energy and treasure; protracted operations may be very clever, but
they bring calamity in their train." Wang Hsi evades the difficulty by
remarking: "Lengthy operations mean an army growing old, wealth being
expended, an empty exchequer and distress among the people; true
cleverness insures against the occurrence of such calamities." Chang Yu
says: "So long as victory can be attained, stupid haste is preferable
to clever dilatoriness." Now Sun Tzu says nothing whatever, except
possibly by implication, about ill-considered haste being better than
ingenious but lengthy operations. What he does say is something much
more guarded, namely that, while speed may sometimes be injudicious,
tardiness can never be anything but foolish—if only because it means
impoverishment to the nation. In considering the point raised here by
Sun Tzu, the classic example of Fabius Cunctator will inevitably occur
to the mind. That general deliberately measured the endurance of Rome
against that of Hannibals's isolated army, because it seemed to him
that the latter was more likely to suffer from a long campaign in a
strange country. But it is quite a moot question whether his tactics
would have proved successful in the long run. Their reversal it is
true, led to Cannae; but this only establishes a negative presumption
in their favour.]

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

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

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

8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his
supply-wagons loaded more than twice.

[Once war is declared, he will not waste precious time in waiting for
reinforcements, nor will he return his army back for fresh supplies,
but crosses the enemy's frontier without delay. This may seem an
audacious policy to recommend, but with all great strategists, from
Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte, the value of time—that is, being a
little ahead of your opponent—has counted for more than either
numerical superiority or the nicest calculations with regard to

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

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

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

[The beginning of this sentence does not balance properly with the
next, though obviously intended to do so. The arrangement, moreover, is
so awkward that I cannot help suspecting some corruption in the text.
It never seems to occur to Chinese commentators that an emendation may
be necessary for the sense, and we get no help from them there. The
Chinese words Sun Tzu used to indicate the cause of the people's
impoverishment clearly have reference to some system by which the
husbandmen sent their contributions of corn to the army direct. But why
should it fall on them to maintain an army in this way, except because
the State or Government is too poor to do so?]

11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up;
and high 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 the frontier.]

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

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

[Tu Mu and Wang Hsi agree that the people are not mulcted not of 3/10,
but of 7/10, of their income. But this is hardly to be extracted from
our text. Ho Shih has a characteristic tag: "The PEOPLE being regarded
as the essential part of the State, and FOOD as the people's heaven, is
it not right that those in authority should value and be careful of

while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses,
breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields,
protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to
four-tenths of its total revenue.

15. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One
cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's
own, and likewise a single PICUL of his provender is equivalent to
twenty from one's own store.

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

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

[Tu Mu says: "Rewards are necessary in order to make the soldiers see
the advantage 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 to fight, 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 be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled
and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be
kindly treated and kept.

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

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

[As Ho Shih remarks: "War is not a thing to be trifled with." Sun Tzu
here reiterates the main lesson which this chapter is intended to

20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of
the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall
be in peace or in peril.


1. 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.

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

2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme
excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's
resistance without fighting.

[Here again, no modern strategist but will approve the words of the old
Chinese general. Moltke's greatest triumph, the capitulation of the
huge French army at Sedan, was won practically without bloodshed.]

3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans;

[Perhaps the word "balk" falls short of expressing the full force of
the Chinese word, which implies not an attitude of defense, whereby one
might be content to foil the enemy's stratagems one after another, but
an active policy of counter-attack. Ho Shih puts this very clearly in
his note: "When the enemy has made a plan of attack against us, we must
anticipate him by delivering our own 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 Tzu, in
speaking of hostilities, always has in mind the numerous states or
principalities into which 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

[Another sound piece of military theory. Had the Boers acted upon it in
1899, and refrained from dissipating their strength before Kimberley,
Mafeking, or even Ladysmith, it is more than probable that they would
have been masters of the 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 get a better idea of them from Li Ch‘uan, who says
they were to protect the heads of those who were assaulting the city
walls at close quarters. This seems to suggest a sort of Roman TESTUDO,
ready made. Tu Mu says they were wheeled vehicles used in repelling
attacks, but this is denied by Ch‘en Hao. See _supra_ 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 from within,
covered over with raw hides, and used in sieges to convey parties of
men to and from the walls, for the purpose of filling up the encircling
moat with 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
the enemy's walls in order to discover the weak points in the defense,
and also to destroy the fortified turrets mentioned in the preceding

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

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

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

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

6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any
fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he
overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

[Chia Lin notes that he only overthrows the Government, but does no
harm to individuals. The classical instance is Wu Wang, who after
having put an end to the 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
the sentence is susceptible of quite a different meaning: "And thus,
the weapon not being 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
surround him; 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 to violate a fundamental principle of war. Ts'ao Kung, however,
gives a clue to Sun Tzu's meaning: "Being two to the enemy's one, we
may use one part of our army in the regular way, and the other for some
special diversion." Chang Yu thus further elucidates the point: "If our
force is twice as numerous as that of the enemy, it should be split up
into two divisions, one to meet the enemy in 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 in front."
This is what is meant by saying that 'one part may be used in the
regular way, and the other for some special diversion.' Tu Mu does not
understand that dividing one's army is simply an irregular, just as
concentrating it is the regular, strategical method, and he is too
hasty in calling this a mistake."]

9. If equally matched, we can offer battle;

[Li Ch‘uan, followed by Ho Shih, gives the following paraphrase: "If
attackers and attacked are equally matched in strength, only the able
general will fight."]

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

[The meaning, "we can _watch_ the enemy," is certainly a great
improvement on the above; but unfortunately there appears to be no very
good authority for the variant. Chang Yu reminds us that the saying
only applies if the other factors are equal; a small difference in
numbers is often more than counterbalanced by superior energy and

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 end it must be captured by the larger force.

11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is
complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is
defective, the State will be weak.

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

12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his

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

[Li Ch‘uan adds the comment: "It is like tying together the legs of a
thoroughbred, 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 the movements of his army from a distance. But the commentators
understand just the reverse, and quote the saying of T‘ai Kung: "A
kingdom should not be governed from without, and army should not be
directed from within." Of course it 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 distance apart. Otherwise, he
will be liable to misjudge the position as a whole, and give wrong

14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he
administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in
an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds.

[Ts‘ao Kung's note is, freely translated: "The military sphere and the
civil sphere are wholly distinct; you can't handle an army in kid
gloves." And Chang Yu says: "Humanity and justice are the principles on
which to govern a state, but not an army; opportunism and flexibility,
on the other hand, are military rather than civil virtues to assimilate
the governing of an army"—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 the
ruler, as in §§ 13, 14, but to the officers he employs. Thus Tu Yu
says: "If a general is ignorant of the principle of adaptability, he
must not be entrusted with a position of authority." Tu Mu quotes: "The
skillful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the
covetous man, and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in
establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in
action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid
man has no fear of death."]

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

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

[Chang Yu says: If he can fight, he advances and takes the offensive;
if he cannot fight, he retreats and remains on the defensive. He will
invariably conquer 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

[This is not merely the general's ability to estimate numbers
correctly, as Li Ch‘uan and others make out. Chang Yu expounds the
saying more satisfactorily: "By applying the art of war, it is possible
with a lesser force to defeat a greater, and _vice versa_. The secret
lies in an eye for locality, and in not letting the right moment slip.
Thus Wu Tzu says: 'With a superior force, make for easy ground; with an
inferior one, make for difficult ground.'"]

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

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

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

[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzu as saying: "It is the sovereign's function to
give broad instructions, but to decide on battle it is the function of
the general." It is needless to dilate on the military disasters which
have been caused by undue interference with operations in the field on
the part of the home government. Napoleon undoubtedly owed much of his
extraordinary success to the fact that he was not hampered by central

18. Hence the saying: 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.

[Li Ch‘uan cites the case of Fu Chien, prince of Ch‘in, who in 383 A.D.
marched with a vast army against the Chin Emperor. When warned not to
despise an enemy who could command the services of such men as Hsieh An
and Huan Ch‘ung, he boastfully replied: "I have the population of eight
provinces 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 into the stream. What danger have I to fear?"
Nevertheless, his forces were soon after disastrously routed at the Fei
River, and he was obliged to beat a hasty retreat.]

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

[Chang Yu said: "Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive,
knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive." He adds:
"Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an
attack." It would be hard to find a better epitome of the
root-principle of war.]


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

1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond
the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of
defeating the enemy.

2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the
opportunity 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
to _do_ it.

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

[I retain the sense found in a similar passage in § 1-3, in spite of
the fact that the commentators are all against me. The meaning they
give, "He who cannot conquer takes the defensive," is plausible

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

7. The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret
recesses of the earth;

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

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

[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 the commentators.]

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

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

[As Ts‘ao Kung remarks, "the thing is to see the plant before it has
germinated," to foresee the event before the action has begun. Li
Ch‘uan alludes to the story of Han Hsin who, when about to attack the
vastly superior army 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, and shall meet again at dinner." The officers
hardly took his words seriously, and gave a very dubious assent. But
Han Hsin had already worked out in his mind the details of a clever
stratagem, whereby, as he foresaw, he was able to capture the city and
inflict a crushing defeat on his adversary."]

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

[True excellence being, as Tu Mu says: "To plan secretly, to move
surreptitiously, to foil the enemy's intentions and balk his schemes,
so that at last the day may be won without shedding a drop of blood."
Sun Tzu reserves his 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 Chinese writers.]

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

[Ho Shih gives as real instances of strength, sharp sight and quick
hearing: Wu Huo, who could lift a tripod weighing 250 stone; Li Chu,
who at a distance of a hundred paces could see objects no bigger than a
mustard seed; and Shih K‘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,
but excels 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 with difficulty; he who looks below the surface of things,
wins with ease."]

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

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

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes.

[Ch‘en Hao says: "He plans no superfluous marches, he devises no futile
attacks." The connection of ideas is thus explained by Chang Yu: "One
who seeks to conquer by sheer strength, clever though he may be at
winning pitched battles, is also liable on occasion to be vanquished;
whereas he who can look into the future and discern conditions that are
not yet manifest, will never make a blunder and therefore invariably

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

14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes
defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the

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

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

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

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

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 to
Measurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of
chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances.

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

19. A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound's weight
placed in the 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 simply the enormous advantage which a disciplined force, flushed
with victory, has over 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 it equaled 20 oz. only. But Li Ch‘uan of the
T‘ang dynasty here gives the same figure as Chu Hsi.]

20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up
waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.

Chapter V. ENERGY

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

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

2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different
from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting
signs and signals.

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

[We now come to one of the most interesting parts of Sun Tzu's
treatise, the discussion of the CHENG and the CH‘I." As it is by no
means easy to grasp the full significance of these two terms, or to
render them consistently by good English equivalents; it may be as well
to tabulate some of the commentators' remarks on the subject before
proceeding further. Li Ch‘uan: "Facing the enemy is CHENG, making
lateral diversion is CH‘I. Chia Lin: "In presence of the enemy, your
troops should be arrayed in normal fashion, but in order to secure
victory abnormal manœuvers must be employed." Mei Yao-ch‘en: "CH‘I is
active, CHENG is passive; passivity means waiting for an opportunity,
activity brings the victory itself." Ho Shih: "We must cause the enemy
to regard our straightforward attack as one that is secretly designed,
and vice versa; thus CHENG may also be CH‘I, and CH‘I may also be
CHENG." He instances the famous exploit of Han Hsin, who when marching
ostensibly against Lin-chin (now Chao-i in Shensi), suddenly threw a
large force across the Yellow River in wooden tubs, utterly
disconcerting his opponent. [Ch‘ien Han Shu, ch. 3.] Here, we are told,
the march on Lin-chin was CHENG, and the surprise manœuver was CH‘I."
Chang Yu gives the following summary of opinions on the words:
"Military writers do not agree with regard to the meaning of CH‘I and
CHENG. Wei Liao Tzu [4th cent. B.C.] says: 'Direct warfare favors
frontal attacks, indirect warfare attacks from the rear.' Ts‘ao Kung
says: 'Going straight out to join battle is a direct operation;
appearing on the 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, on the other hand, are CH‘I.' These writers
simply regard CHENG as CHENG, and CH‘I as CH‘I; they do not note that
the two are mutually interchangeable and run into each other like the
two sides of a circle [see infra, § 11]. A comment on the T‘ang Emperor
T‘ai Tsung goes to the root of the matter: 'A CH‘I manœuver may be
CHENG, if we make the enemy look upon it as CHENG; 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 real intent.'" To put it perhaps a
little more clearly: any attack or other operation is CHENG, on which
the enemy has had his attention fixed; whereas that is CH‘I," which
takes him by surprise or comes from an unexpected quarter. If the enemy
perceives a movement which is meant to be CH‘I," it immediately becomes

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

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

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

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 but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away
to return once more.

[Tu Yu and Chang Yu understand this of the permutations of CH‘I and
CHENG." But at present Sun Tzu is not speaking of CHENG at all, unless,
indeed, we suppose with Cheng Yu-hsien that a clause relating to it has
fallen out of the text. Of course, as has already been pointed out, the
two are so inextricably interwoven in all military operations, that
they cannot really be considered apart. Here we simply have an
expression, in figurative language, of the almost infinite resource of
a great leader.]

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

8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red,
white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can
ever been seen.

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

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

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

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

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

[The Chinese here is tricky and a certain key word in the context it is
used defies the best efforts of the translator. Tu Mu defines this word
as "the measurement or estimation of distance." But this meaning does
not quite fit the illustrative simile in §. 15. Applying this
definition to the falcon, it seems to me to denote that instinct of
_self-restraint_ which keeps the bird from swooping on its quarry until
the right moment, together with the power of judging when the right
moment has arrived. The analogous quality in soldiers is the highly
important one of being able to reserve their fire until the very
instant at which it will be most effective. When the "Victory" went
into action at Trafalgar at hardly more than drifting pace, she was for
several minutes exposed to a storm of shot and shell before replying
with a single gun. Nelson coolly waited until he was within close
range, when the broadside he brought to bear worked fearful havoc on
the enemy's nearest ships.]

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

[The word "decision" would have reference to the measurement of
distance mentioned above, letting the enemy get near before striking.
But I cannot help thinking that Sun Tzu meant to use the word in a
figurative sense comparable to our own idiom "short and sharp." Cf.
Wang Hsi's note, which after describing the falcon's mode of attack,
proceeds: "This is just how the 'psychological moment' should be seized
in war."]

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

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

16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming
disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos,
your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against

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

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

[In order to make the translation intelligible, it is necessary to tone
down the sharply paradoxical form of the original. Ts‘ao Kung throws
out a hint of the meaning in his brief note: "These things all serve to
destroy formation and conceal one's condition." But Tu Mu is the first
to put it quite plainly: "If you wish to feign confusion in order to
lure the enemy on, you must first have perfect discipline; if you wish
to display timidity in order to entrap the enemy, you must have extreme
courage; if you wish to parade your weakness in order to make the enemy
over-confident, you must have exceeding strength."]

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

[See _supra_, § 1.]

concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of
latent energy;

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

masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical

[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 their condition. But the Hsiung-nu, forewarned, carefully concealed
all their able-bodied men and well-fed horses, and only allowed infirm
soldiers and emaciated cattle to be seen. The result was that spies one
and all recommended the Emperor to deliver his attack. Lou Ching alone
opposed them, saying: ‘When two countries go to war, they are naturally
inclined to make an ostentatious display of their strength. Yet our
spies have seen nothing but old age and infirmity. This is surely some
ruse on the part of the enemy, and it would be unwise for us to
attack.’ The Emperor, however, disregarding this advice, fell into the
trap and found himself surrounded at Po-teng.”]

19. Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains
deceitful 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 simulated in order to lure him on; but if inferior, he must be led
to believe that we are strong, in order that he may keep off. In fact,
all the enemy's movements should be determined by the signs that we
choose to give him." Note the following anecdote of Sun Pin, a
descendent of Sun Wu: In 341 B.C., the Ch‘i State being at war with
Wei, sent T‘ien Chi and Sun Pin against the general P‘ang Chuan, who
happened to be a deadly personal enemy of the later. Sun Pin said: "The
Ch‘i State has a reputation for cowardice, and therefore our adversary
despises us. Let us turn this circumstance to account." Accordingly,
when the army had crossed the border into 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 pursued them 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, Sun Pin came to
a narrow defile, which he calculated that his pursuers would reach
after dark. Here he had a tree stripped of its bark, and inscribed upon
it the words: "Under this tree shall P‘ang Chuan die." Then, as night
began to fall, he placed a strong body of archers in ambush near by,
with orders to shoot directly if they saw a light. Later on, P‘ang
Chuan arrived at the spot, and noticing the tree, struck a light in
order to read what was written on it. His body was immediately riddled
by a volley of arrows, and his whole army thrown into confusion. [The
above is Tu Mu's version of the story; the _Shih Chi_, less
dramatically but probably with more historical truth, makes P‘ang Chuan
cut his own throat with an exclamation of despair, after the rout 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 picked men he lies in wait for him.

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

21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and
does not require 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 according to his capabilities. He does not demand perfection from
the untalented."]

Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined

22. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men become as it
were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or
stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a
slope; if four-cornered, to come 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 a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So
much on the subject of energy.

[The chief lesson of this chapter, in Tu Mu's opinion, is the paramount
importance in war of rapid evolutions and sudden rushes. "Great
results," he adds, "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; chapter V, on Energy, dealt with direct and indirect
methods. The good general acquaints himself first with the theory of
attack and defense, and then turns his attention to direct and indirect
methods. He studies the art of varying and combining these two methods
before proceeding to the subject of weak and strong points. For the use
of direct or indirect methods arises out of attack and defense, and the
perception of weak and strong points depends again on the above
methods. Hence the present chapter comes immediately after the chapter
on Energy."]

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

2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but
does not allow 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 at all. [1] ]

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

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

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

[This passage may be cited as evidence against Mei Yao- Ch‘en's
interpretation of I. § 23.]

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

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

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

[Ts‘ao Kung sums up very well: "Emerge from the void [q.d. like "a bolt
from 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
places which are undefended.

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

You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions
that cannot be attacked.

[_I.e._, where there are none of the weak points mentioned above. There
is rather 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 to make your defense quite safe, you must defend EVEN those
places that are not likely to be attacked;" and Tu Mu adds: "How much
more, then, those that will be attacked." Taken thus, however, the
clause balances less well with the preceding—always a consideration in
the highly antithetical style which is natural to the Chinese. Chang
Yu, therefore, seems to come nearer the mark in saying: "He who is
skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven [see
IV. § 7], making it impossible for the enemy to guard against him. This
being so, the places that I shall attack are precisely those that the
enemy cannot defend…. He who is skilled in defense hides in the most
secret recesses of the earth, making it impossible for the enemy to
estimate his whereabouts. This being so, the places that I shall hold
are precisely those that the enemy cannot attack."]

8. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not
know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does
not know what to attack.

[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 to the 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's weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your
movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.

11. If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even
though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we
need do is attack 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
of communications and occupy the roads by which he will have to return;
if we are the invaders, we may direct our attack against the sovereign
himself." It is clear that Sun Tzu, unlike certain generals in the late
Boer war, was no believer in frontal attacks.]

12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging
us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the
ground. All we need 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 clinches the meaning by three illustrative anecdotes—one
of Chu-ko Liang, who when occupying Yang-p‘ing and about to be attacked
by Ssu-ma I, suddenly struck his colors, stopped the beating of the
drums, and flung open the city gates, showing only a few men engaged in
sweeping and sprinkling the ground. This unexpected proceeding had the
intended effect; for Ssu-ma I, suspecting an ambush, actually drew off
his army and retreated. What Sun Tzu is advocating here, 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 Mei
Yao-ch‘en) rightly explains it thus: "If the enemy's dispositions are
visible, we can make for him in one body; whereas, our own dispositions
being kept secret, the enemy will be obliged to divide his forces in
order to guard against attack from every quarter."]

14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up
into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate
parts of a whole, 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
the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several
different points;

[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 to do, HE was thinking most of what he was going to
do himself."]

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

17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear;
should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he
strengthen his left, he will 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: "A
defensive war is apt to betray us into too frequent detachment. Those
generals who have had but little experience attempt to protect every
point, while those who are better acquainted with their profession,
having only the capital object in view, guard against a decisive blow,
and acquiesce in small misfortunes to avoid greater."]

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

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

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

[What Sun Tzu evidently has in mind is that nice calculation of
distances and that masterly employment of strategy which enable a
general to divide his army for the purpose of a long and rapid march,
and afterwards to effect a junction at precisely the right spot and the
right hour in order to confront the enemy in overwhelming strength.
Among many such successful junctions which military history records,
one of the most dramatic and decisive was the appearance of Blucher
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
impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to succor the
left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the
van. How much more so if the 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 the mental picture we are required to draw is probably that of an
army advancing towards a given rendezvous in separate columns, each of
which has orders to be there on a fixed date. If the general allows the
various detachments to proceed at 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 be worth
quoting here: "If we do not know the place where our opponents mean to
concentrate or the day on which they will join battle, our unity will
be forfeited through our preparations for defense, and the positions we
hold will be insecure. Suddenly happening upon a powerful foe, we shall
be brought to battle in a flurried condition, and no mutual support
will be possible between wings, vanguard or rear, especially if there
is any great distance between the foremost and hindmost divisions of
the army."]

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

[Alas for these brave words! The long feud between the two states ended
in 473 B.C. with the total defeat of Wu by Kou Chien and its
incorporation in Yueh. This was doubtless long after Sun Tzu's death.
With his present assertion compare 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 it is said, 'One may KNOW how
to conquer without being able to DO it,' whereas here we have the
statement that 'victory' can be achieved.' The explanation is, that in
the former chapter, where the offensive and defensive are under
discussion, it is said that if the enemy is fully prepared, one cannot
make certain of beating him. But the present passage refers
particularly to the soldiers of Yueh who, according to Sun Tzu's
calculations, will be kept in ignorance of the time and place of the
impending struggle. That is why he says here that victory can be

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
plans conducive 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 being thus disturbed, we shall be able to conclude whether his
policy is to lie low or the reverse. He instances the action of Cho-ku
Liang, who sent the scornful present of a woman's head-dress to Ssu-ma
I, in order to goad him out of his Fabian 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
know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

[Cf. IV. § 6.]

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

[The piquancy of the paradox evaporates in translation. Concealment is
perhaps not so much actual invisibility (see _supra_ § 9) as "showing
no sign" of what you mean to do, of the plans that are formed in your

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

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

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

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

[_I.e._, everybody can see superficially how a battle is won; what they
cannot see is the long series of plans and combinations which has
preceded the battle.]

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

[As Wang Hsi sagely remarks: "There is but one root-principle
underlying victory, but the tactics which lead up to it are infinite in
number." With this compare Col. Henderson: "The rules of strategy are
few and simple. They may be learned in a week. They may be taught by
familiar illustrations or a dozen diagrams. But such knowledge will no
more teach a man to lead an army like Napoleon 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 runs away from high places and hastens downwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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

[Cf. V. § 6. The purport of the passage is simply to illustrate the
want of fixity in war by the changes constantly taking place in Nature.
The comparison is not very happy, however, because the regularity of
the phenomena which Sun Tzu 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 Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the

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

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

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

[I have departed slightly from the traditional interpretation of Ts‘ao
Kung, who says: "From the time of receiving the sovereign's
instructions until our encampment over against the enemy, the tactics
to be pursued are most difficult." It seems to me that the tactics or
manœuvers can hardly be said to begin until the army has sallied forth
and encamped, and Ch‘ien Hao's note gives color to this view: "For
levying, concentrating, harmonizing and entrenching an army, there are
plenty of old rules which will serve. The real difficulty comes when we
engage in tactical operations." Tu Yu also observes that "the great
difficulty is to be beforehand with the enemy in seizing favorable

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

[This sentence contains one of those highly condensed and somewhat
enigmatical expressions of which Sun Tzu is so fond. This is how it is
explained by Ts‘ao Kung: "Make it appear that you are a long way off,
then cover the distance 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 are dashing along with utmost speed." Ho Shih
gives a slightly different turn: "Although you may have difficult
ground to traverse and natural obstacles to encounter this is a
drawback which can be turned into actual advantage by celerity of
movement." Signal examples of this saying are afforded by the two
famous passages across the Alps—that of Hannibal, which laid Italy at
his mercy, and that of Napoleon two thousand years later, which
resulted in the great victory of Marengo.]

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

[Tu Mu cites the famous march of Chao She in 270 B.C. to relieve the
town of O-yu, which was closely invested by a Ch‘in army. The King of
Chao first consulted Lien P‘o on the advisability of attempting a
relief, but the latter thought the distance too great, and the
intervening country too rugged and difficult. His Majesty then turned
to Chao She, who fully admitted the hazardous nature of the march, but
finally said: "We shall be like two rats fighting in a whole—and the
pluckier one will win!" So he left the capital with his army, but had
only gone a distance of 30 _li_ when he stopped and began throwing up
entrenchments. For 28 days he continued strengthening his
fortifications, and took care that spies should carry the intelligence
to the enemy. The Ch‘in general was overjoyed, and attributed his
adversary's tardiness to the fact that the beleaguered city was in the
Han State, and thus not actually part of Chao territory. But the spies
had no sooner departed than Chao She began a forced march lasting for
two days and one night, and arrive on the scene of action with such
astonishing rapidity that he was able to occupy a commanding position
on the "North hill" before the enemy had got wind of his movements. A
crushing defeat followed for the Ch‘in forces, who were obliged to
raise the siege of O-yu in all haste and 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‘U SHU,
since they appear to apply the exact nuance required in order to make
sense. The commentators using the standard text take this line to mean
that manœuvers may be profitable, or they may be dangerous: it all
depends on the ability 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 a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice
of its baggage and stores.

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

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

[The ordinary day's march, according to Tu Mu, was 30 _li_; but on one
occasion, when pursuing Liu Pei, Ts‘ao Ts‘ao is said to have covered
the incredible distance of 300 _li_ within twenty-four hours.]

doing a hundred _li_ in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all
your 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 on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its

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

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

[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
army will arrive.

[In the T‘UNG TIEN is added: "From this we may know the difficulty of

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

[I think Sun Tzu meant "stores accumulated in depots." But Tu Yu says
"fodder and 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 of our neighbors.

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

14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we
make use of local guides.

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

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

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

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

17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind,

[The simile is doubly appropriate, because the wind is not only swift
but, as Mei 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,
order and ranks must be preserved"—so as to guard against surprise
attacks. But natural forest do not grow in rows, whereas they do
generally possess the quality 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 man
can check."]

in immovability like a mountain.

[That is, when holding a position from which the enemy is trying to
dislodge you, 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, fall like a thunderbolt.

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

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

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

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

[Ch‘en Hao says "quarter your soldiers on the land, and let them sow
and plant it." It is by acting on this principle, and harvesting the
lands they invaded, that the Chinese have succeeded in carrying out
some of their most memorable and triumphant expeditions, such as that
of Pan Ch‘ao who penetrated to the Caspian, and in more recent years,
those of Fu-k‘ang-an and Tso Tsung-t‘ang.]

21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.

[Chang Yu quotes Wei Liao Tzu as saying that we must not break camp
until we have gained the resisting power of the enemy and the
cleverness of the opposing general. Cf. the "seven comparisons" in I. §

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 now follows 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 Tzu wrote. The style of this fragment is not noticeably different
from that of Sun Tzu himself, but no commentator 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 any information about this work. Mei Yao- Ch‘en calls it "an ancient
military classic," and Wang Hsi, "an old book on war." Considering the
enormous amount of fighting that had gone on for centuries before Sun
Tzu's time between the various kingdoms and principalities of China, it
is not in itself improbable that a collection of military maxims should
have been made and written down at some 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 and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence
the institution of banners and flags.

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

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

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

[Chuang Yu quotes a saying: "Equally guilty are those who advance
against orders and those who retreat against orders." Tu Mu tells a
story in this connection of Wu Ch‘i, when he was fighting against the
Ch‘in State. Before the battle had begun, one of his soldiers, a man of
matchless daring, sallied forth by himself, captured two heads from the
enemy, and returned to camp. Wu Ch‘i had the man instantly executed,
whereupon an officer ventured to remonstrate, saying: "This man was a
good soldier, and ought not to have been beheaded." Wu Ch‘i replied: "I
fully believe he was 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 in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing
the ears and eyes of your army.

[Ch‘en Hao alludes to Li Kuang-pi's night ride to Ho-yang at the head
of 500 mounted men; they made such an imposing display with torches,
that though the rebel leader Shih Ssu-ming had a large army, he did not
dare to dispute their 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
all ranks of an army at one and the same time, its onset will be
irresistible. Now the spirit of the enemy's soldiers will be keenest
when they have newly arrived on the scene, and it is therefore our cue
not to fight at once, but to wait until their ardor and enthusiasm have
worn off, and then strike. It is in this way that they may be robbed of
their keen spirit." Li Ch‘uan and others tell an anecdote (to be found
in the _Tso Chuan_, year 10, § 1) of Ts‘ao Kuei, a protege of Duke
Chuang of Lu. The latter State was attacked by Ch‘i, and the duke was
about to join battle at Ch‘ang-cho, after the 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 for attack. 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‘ao Kuei
replied: "In battle, a courageous spirit is everything. Now the first
roll of the drum tends to create this spirit, but with the second it is
already on the wane, and after the third it is gone altogether. I
attacked when their spirit was gone and ours was at its height. Hence
our victory." Wu Tzu (chap. 4) puts "spirit" first among the "four
important influences" in war, and continues: "The value of a whole
army—a mighty host of a million men—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 is the quality which enables him to discipline disorder and
to inspire courage into the panic-stricken." The great general Li Ching
(A.D. 571-649) has a saying: "Attacking does not merely consist in
assaulting walled cities or striking at an army in battle array; it
must include the art of assailing the enemy'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 the Trebia, the Romans were foolishly allowed to fight fasting,
whereas Hannibal's men 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 on returning to camp.

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

30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and
hubbub amongst 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 ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while
the enemy is famished:—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 confident
array:—this is the art of studying circumstances.

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

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

35. Do not swallow 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 by the enemy. Ch‘en Hao and Chang Yu carefully point out that
the saying has a wider application.]

Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.

[The commentators explain this rather singular piece of advice by
saying that a man whose heart is set on returning home will fight to
the death against any attempt to bar his way, and is therefore too
dangerous an opponent to be tackled. Chang Yu quotes the words of Han
Hsin: "Invincible is the soldier who hath his desire and returneth
homewards." A marvelous tale is told of Ts‘ao Ts‘ao's courage and
resource in ch. 1 of the SAN KUO CHI: In 198 A.D., he was besieging
Chang Hsiu in Jang, when Liu Piao sent reinforcements with a view to
cutting off Ts‘ao's retreat. The latter was obliged to draw off his
troops, only to find himself hemmed in between two enemies, who were
guarding each outlet of a narrow pass in which he had engaged himself.
In this desperate plight Ts‘ao waited until nightfall, when he bored a
tunnel into the mountain side and laid an ambush in it. As soon as the
whole army had passed by, the hidden troops fell on his rear, while
Ts‘ao himself turned and met his pursuers in front, so that they were
thrown into confusion and annihilated. Ts‘ao Ts‘ao said afterwards:
"The brigands tried to check my army in its retreat and brought me to
battle in a desperate 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, as Tu Mu puts it, is "to make him believe that there is a road
to safety, and thus prevent 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
will use their claws and teeth." Chang Yu says: "If your adversary has
burned his boats and destroyed his cooking-pots, and is ready to stake
all on the issue of a battle, he must not be pushed to extremities." Ho
Shih illustrates the meaning 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 superior army of Khitans in the year 945 A.D.
The country was bare and desert-like, and the little Chinese force was
soon in dire straits for want of water. The wells they bored ran dry,
and the men were reduced to squeezing lumps of mud and sucking out the
moisture. Their ranks thinned rapidly, until at last Fu Yen-ch‘ing
exclaimed: "We are desperate men. Far better to die for our country
than to go with fettered hands into captivity!" A strong gale happened
to be blowing from the northeast and darkening the air with dense
clouds of sandy dust. To Chung-wei was for waiting until this had
abated before deciding on a final attack; but luckily another officer,
Li Shou-cheng by name, was quicker to see an opportunity, and said:
"They are many and we are few, but in the midst of this sandstorm our
numbers will not be discernible; victory will go 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 his
cavalry, routed the barbarians and succeeded in breaking through to

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 Tzu does
not appear to enumerate these, and as, indeed, he has already told us
(V § 6-11) that such deflections from the ordinary course are
practically innumerable, we have little option but to follow Wang Hsi,
who says that "Nine" stands for an indefinitely large number. "All it
means is that in warfare we ought to vary our tactics to the utmost
degree…. I do not know what Ts‘ao Kung makes these Nine Variations out
to be, but it has been suggested that they are connected with the Nine
Situations" - of chapt. XI. This is the view adopted by Chang Yu. The
only other alternative is to suppose that something has been lost—a
supposition to which the unusual shortness of the chapter lends some

1. Sun Tzu 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 been interpolated here merely in order to supply a beginning to
the chapter.]

2. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high
roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in
dangerously isolated positions.

[The last situation is not one of the Nine Situations as given in the
beginning of chap. XI, but occurs later on (ibid. § 43. q.v.). Chang Yu
defines this situation as being situated across the frontier, in
hostile territory. Li Ch‘uan says it is "country in which there are no
springs or wells, flocks or herds, vegetables or firewood;" Chia Lin,
"one of gorges, chasms and precipices, without a road by which to

In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In 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, but are powerless to inflict a real defeat, refrain from
attacking, for fear of overtaxing your men's strength."]

towns which must not be besieged,

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

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

[This is a hard saying for the Chinese, with their reverence for
authority, and Wei Liao Tzu (quoted by Tu Mu) is moved to exclaim:
"Weapons are baleful instruments, strife is antagonistic to virtue, a
military commander is the negation of civil order!" The unpalatable
fact remains, however, that even Imperial wishes must be subordinated
to military necessity.]

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

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

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

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

[Chia Lin tells us that these imply five obvious and generally
advantageous lines of action, namely: "if a certain road is short, it
must be followed; if an 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 if consistent with military
operations, the ruler's commands must be obeyed." But there are
circumstances which sometimes forbid a general to use these advantages.
For instance, "a certain road may be the shortest way for him, but if
he knows that it abounds in natural obstacles, or that the enemy has
laid an ambush on it, he will not follow that road. A hostile force may
be open to attack, but if he knows that it is hard-pressed and likely
to fight with desperation, he will refrain from striking," and so on.]

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

["Whether in an advantageous position or a disadvantageous one," says
Ts‘ao Kung, "the opposite state should be always present to your

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

[Tu Mu says: "If we wish to wrest an advantage from the enemy, we must
not fix our minds on that alone, but allow for the possibility of the
enemy also doing some 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 to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from

[Tu Mu says: "If I wish to extricate myself from a dangerous position,
I must consider not only the enemy's ability to injure me, but also my
own ability to gain an advantage over the enemy. If in my counsels
these two considerations are properly blended, I shall succeed in
liberating myself…. For instance; if I am surrounded by the enemy and
only think of effecting an escape, the nervelessness of my policy will
incite my adversary to pursue and crush me; it would be far better to
encourage my men to deliver a bold counter-attack, and use the
advantage thus gained to free myself from the enemy's toils." See the
story 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
which would only occur to the Oriental mind:—"Entice away the enemy's
best and wisest men, so that he may be left without counselors.
Introduce traitors into his country, that the government policy may be
rendered futile. Foment intrigue and deceit, and thus sow dissension
between the ruler and his ministers. By means of every artful
contrivance, cause deterioration amongst his men and waste of his
treasure. Corrupt his morals by insidious gifts leading him into
excess. Disturb and unsettle his mind by presenting him with lovely
women." Chang Yu (after Wang Hsi) makes a different interpretation of
Sun Tzu here: "Get the enemy into a position where he must suffer
injury, and he will submit of his own accord."]

and make trouble for them,

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

and keep them constantly engaged;

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

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: "cause them to forget PIEN (the reasons for acting otherwise than
on their first impulse), and hasten in our direction."]

11. 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.

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
a man to fight blindly and desperately like a mad bull. Such an
opponent, says Chang Yu, "must not be encountered with brute force, but
may be lured into an ambush and slain." Cf. Wu Tzu, chap. IV. ad init.:
"In estimating the character of a general, men are wont to pay
exclusive attention to his courage, forgetting that courage is only one
out of many qualities which a general should possess. The merely brave
man is prone to fight recklessly; and he who fights recklessly, without
any perception of what is expedient, must be condemned." Ssu-ma Fa,
too, makes the incisive remark: "Simply going to one's death does not
bring about victory."]

(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;

[Ts‘ao Kung defines the Chinese word translated here as "cowardice" as
being 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 Shih gives the closer paraphrase "he who is bent on
returning alive," this is, the man who will never take a risk. But, as
Sun Tzu knew, nothing is to be achieved in war unless you are willing
to take risks. T‘ai Kung said: "He who lets an advantage slip will
subsequently bring upon himself real disaster." In 404 A.D., Liu Yu
pursued the rebel Huan Hsuan up the Yangtsze and fought a naval battle
with him at the island of Ch‘eng-hung. The loyal troops numbered only a
few thousands, while their opponents were in great force. But Huan
Hsuan, fearing the fate which was in store for him should be be
overcome, had a light boat made fast to the side of his war-junk, so
that he might escape, if necessary, at a moment's notice. The natural
result was that the fighting spirit of his soldiers was utterly
quenched, and when the loyalists made an attack from windward with
fireships, all striving with the utmost ardor to be first in the fray,
Huan Hsuan's forces were routed, had to burn all their baggage and fled
for two days and nights without stopping. Chang Yu tells a somewhat
similar story of Chao Ying-ch‘i, a general of the Chin State who during
a battle with the army of Ch‘u in 597 B.C. had a boat kept in readiness
for him on the river, wishing in case of defeat to be the first to get

(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,
Teng Ch‘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
easily provoked; let us make constant sallies and break down his walls,
then he will grow angry and come out. Once we can bring his force to
battle, it is doomed to be our prey." This plan was acted upon, Yao
Hsiang came out to fight, was lured as far as San-yuan by the enemy's
pretended flight, and finally attacked and slain.]

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

This need not be taken to mean that a sense of honor is really a defect
in a general. What Sun Tzu condemns is rather an exaggerated
sensitiveness to slanderous reports, the thin-skinned man who is stung
by opprobrium, however undeserved. 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

[Here again, Sun Tzu does not mean that the general is to be careless
of the welfare of his troops. All he wishes to emphasize is the danger
of sacrificing any important military advantage to the immediate
comfort of his men. This is a shortsighted policy, because in the long
run the troops will suffer more from the defeat, or, at best, the
prolongation of the war, which will be the consequence. A mistaken
feeling of pity will often induce a general to relieve a beleaguered
city, or to reinforce a hard-pressed detachment, contrary to his
military instincts. It is now generally admitted that our repeated
efforts to relieve Ladysmith in the South African War were so many
strategical blunders which defeated their own purpose. And in the end,
relief came through the very man who started out with the distinct
resolve no longer to subordinate the interests of the whole to
sentiment in favor of a part. An old soldier of one of our generals who
failed most conspicuously in this war, tried once, I remember, to
defend him to me on the ground that he was always "so good to his men."
By this plea, had he but known it, he was only condemning him out of
Sun Tzu's mouth.]

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

14. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will
surely be found 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 by this heading.]

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

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

2. Camp in high places,

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

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‘ao
Kung, 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 of the next sentence, this is almost certainly an

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

[Li Ch‘uan alludes to the great victory won by Han Hsin over Lung Chu
at the Wei River. Turning to the CH‘IEN HAN SHU, ch. 34, fol. 6 verso,
we find the battle described as follows: "The two armies were drawn up
on opposite sides of the river. In the night, Han Hsin ordered his men
to take some ten thousand sacks filled with sand and construct a dam
higher up. Then, leading half his army across, he attacked Lung Chu;
but after a time, pretending to have failed in his attempt, he hastily
withdrew to the other bank. Lung Chu was much elated by this
unlooked-for success, and exclaiming: "I felt sure that Han Hsin was
really a coward!" he pursued him and began crossing the river in his
turn. Han Hsin now sent a party to cut open the sandbags, thus
releasing a great volume of water, which swept down and prevented the
greater portion of Lung Chu's army from getting across. He then turned
upon the force which had been cut off, and annihilated it, Lung Chu
himself being amongst the slain. The rest of the army, on the further
bank, also scattered and fled in all directions.]

5. If you are anxious to fight, you should not go to meet the invader
near a river 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 very awkward. Chang Yu has the note: "Said either of troops
marshaled on the river-bank, or of boats anchored in the stream itself;
in either case it is essential to be higher than the enemy and facing
the sun." The other commentators 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 lower reaches of a river, for fear the enemy should open the
sluices and sweep us away in a flood. Chu-ko Wu-hou has remarked that
'in river warfare we must not advance against the stream,' which is as
much as to say that our fleet must not be anchored below that of the
enemy, for then they would be able to take advantage 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 be
carried down to us.]

So much for river warfare.

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

[Because of the lack of fresh water, the poor quality of the herbage,
and last but not least, because they are low, flat, and exposed to

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

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

So much for operations in salt-marches.

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

[Tu Mu quotes T‘ai Kung as saying: "An army should have a stream or a
marsh 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 for
campaigning 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 some
plausibility, whether there is an error in the text as nothing is known
of Huang 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
LIU T‘AO it is mentioned that he "fought seventy battles and pacified
the Empire." Ts‘ao Kung's explanation is, that the Yellow Emperor was
the first to institute the feudal system of vassals princes, each of
whom (to the number of four) originally bore the title of Emperor. Li
Ch‘uan tells us that the art of war originated under Huang Ti, who
received it from his Minister Feng Hou.]

11. All armies prefer high ground to low.

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

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 turn
out your animals to graze."]

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

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

and this will spell victory.

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

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

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

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

confined places,

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

tangled thickets,

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


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

and crevasses,

[Defined by Mei Yao-ch‘en as "a narrow difficult way between beetling
cliffs." Tu Mu's note is "ground covered with trees and rocks, and
intersected by numerous ravines and pitfalls." This is very vague, but
Chia Lin explains it clearly enough as a defile or narrow pass, and
Chang Yu takes much the same view. On the whole, the weight of the
commentators certainly inclines to the rendering "defile." But the
ordinary meaning of the Chinese in one place is "a crack or fissure"
and the fact that the meaning of the Chinese elsewhere in the sentence
indicates something in the nature of a defile, make me think that Sun
Tzu 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
approach them; while we face them, we should let the enemy have them on
his rear.

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

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

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

[Here begin Sun Tzu's remarks on the reading of signs, much of which is
so good that 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 the other side to advance.

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

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

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

[Ts‘ao Kung explains this as "felling trees to clear a passage," and
Chang Yu says: "Every man sends out scouts to climb high places and
observe the enemy. If a scout sees that the trees of a forest are
moving and shaking, he may know that they are being cut down to clear a
passage for the enemy's march."]

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

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

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
along in a straight line suddenly shoot upwards, it means that soldiers
are in ambush at 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
chariots advancing; when the dust is low, but spread over a wide area,
it betokens the approach of infantry.

["High and sharp," or rising to a peak, is of course somewhat
exaggerated as applied to dust. The commentators explain the phenomenon
by saying that horses and chariots, being heavier than men, raise more
dust, and also follow one another in the same wheel-track, whereas
foot-soldiers would be marching in ranks, many abreast. According to
Chang Yu, "every army on the march must have scouts some way in
advance, who on sighting dust raised by the enemy, will gallop 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 afar
for 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 been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and
fro signify that the army is encamping.

[Chang Yu says: "In apportioning the defenses for a cantonment, light
horse will be sent out to survey the position and ascertain the weak
and strong points all along its circumference. Hence the small quantity
of dust and its motion."]

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

["As though they stood in great fear of us," says Tu Mu. "Their object
is to make us contemptuous and careless, after which they will attack
us." Chang Yu alludes to the story of T‘ien Tan of the Ch‘i-mo against
the Yen forces, 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 off
the noses of their Ch‘i prisoners and place them in the front rank to
fight against us; that would be the undoing of our city.' The other
side being informed of this speech, at once acted on the suggestion;
but those within the city were enraged at seeing their
fellow-countrymen thus mutilated, and fearing only lest they should
fall into the enemy's hands, were nerved to defend themselves more
obstinately than ever. Once again T‘ien Tan sent back converted spies
who reported these words to the enemy: "What I dread most is that the
men of Yen may dig up the ancestral tombs outside the town, and by
inflicting this indignity on our forefathers cause us to become
faint-hearted.' Forthwith the besiegers dug up all the graves and
burned the corpses lying in them. And the inhabitants of Chi-mo,
witnessing the outrage from the city-walls, wept passionately and were
all impatient to go out and fight, their fury being increased tenfold.
T‘ien Tan knew then that his soldiers were ready for any enterprise.
But instead of a sword, he himself took a mattock in his hands, and
ordered others to be distributed amongst his best warriors, while the
ranks were filled up with their wives and concubines. He then served
out all the remaining rations and bade his men eat their fill. The
regular soldiers were told to keep out of sight, and the walls were
manned with the old and weaker men and with women. This done, envoys
were dispatched to the enemy's camp to arrange terms of surrender,
whereupon the Yen army began shouting for joy. 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 the prayer that, when the
town capitulated, he would not allow their homes to be plundered or
their women to be maltreated. Ch‘i Chieh, in high good humor, granted
their prayer; but his army now became increasingly slack and careless.
Meanwhile, T‘ien Tan got together a thousand oxen, decked them with
pieces of red silk, painted their bodies, dragon-like, with colored
stripes, and fastened sharp blades on their horns and well-greased
rushes on their tails. When night came on, he lighted the ends of the
rushes, and drove the oxen through a number of holes which he had
pierced in the walls, backing them 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 confusion and dismay; for
their tails acted as torches, showing up the hideous pattern on their
bodies, and the weapons on their horns killed or wounded any with whom
they came into contact. In the meantime, the band of 5000 had crept up
with gags in their mouths, and now threw themselves on the enemy. At
the same moment a frightful din arose in the city itself, all those
that remained behind making as much noise as possible by banging drums
and hammering on bronze vessels, until heaven and earth were convulsed
by the uproar. Terror-stricken, the Yen army fled in disorder, hotly
pursued by the men of Ch‘i, who succeeded in slaying their general Ch‘i
Chien…. The result of the battle was the ultimate recovery of some
seventy cities which had belonged to the Ch‘i State."]

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

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 confirmed
by 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

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

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 want of food.

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

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

31. If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes no effort to
secure it, 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,
the enemy has secretly abandoned his camp.]

Clamor by night betokens nervousness.

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

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

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

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

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

[I may quote here the illustrative passage from the HOU HAN SHU, ch.
71, given in abbreviated form by the P‘EI WEN YUN FU: "The rebel Wang
Kuo of Liang was besieging the town of Ch‘en- ts‘ang, and Huang-fu
Sung, who was in supreme command, and Tung Cho were sent out against
him. The latter pressed for hasty measures, but Sung turned a deaf ear
to his counsel. At last the rebels were utterly worn out, and began to
throw down their weapons of their own accord. Sung was not advancing to
the attack, but Cho said: 'It is a principle of war not to pursue
desperate men and not to press a retreating host.' Sung answered: 'That
does not apply here. What I am about to attack is a jaded army, not a
retreating host; with disciplined troops I am falling on a disorganized
multitude, not a band of desperate men.' Thereupon he advances to the
attack unsupported by his colleague, and routed the enemy, Wang Kuo
being slain."]

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

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

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

too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress.

[Because in such case discipline becomes relaxed, and unwonted severity
is necessary 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 Li Ch‘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 first
tyrannical towards his men, and then in terror lest they should mutiny,
etc." This would connect the sentence with what went before about
rewards and punishments.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Ch‘en Hao, quoting from the _Tso Chuan_, says: "If bees and scorpions
carry 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 will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be
practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you,
punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless.

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

[Yen Tzu [B.C. 493] said of Ssu-ma Jang-chu: "His civil virtues
endeared him to the people; his martial prowess kept his enemies in
awe." Cf. Wu Tzu, ch. 4 init.: "The ideal commander unites culture with
a warlike temper; the profession 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 be well-disciplined; if not, its discipline will be bad.

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

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

the gain will be mutual.

[Chang Yu says: "The general has confidence in the men under his
command, and the men are docile, having confidence in him. Thus the
gain is mutual." He quotes a pregnant sentence from Wei Liao Tzu, ch.
4: "The art of giving orders is 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 an army.]

[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" are discussed in §§ 14-20, and the rest of the chapter is
again a mere string of desultory remarks, though not less interesting,
perhaps, on that account.]

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

[Mei Yao-ch‘en says: "plentifully provided with roads and means of

(2) entangling ground;

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

(3) temporizing ground;

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

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

[It is hardly necessary to point out the faultiness of this
classification. A strange lack of logical perception is shown in the
Chinaman's unquestioning acceptance of glaring cross-divisions such as
the above.]

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

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

[The general meaning of the last phrase is doubtlessly, as Tu Yu says,
"not to allow the enemy to cut your communications." In view of
Napoleon's dictum, "the secret of war lies in the communications," [1]
we could wish that Sun Tzu had done 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 vital to the existence of an
army as the heart to the life of a human being. Just as the 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
whose communications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false
position, and he will be fortunate if he has not to change all his
plans, to split up his force into more or less isolated detachments,
and to fight with inferior numbers on ground which he has not had time
to prepare, and where defeat will not be an ordinary failure, but will
entail the ruin or surrender of his whole army." [2]

Then you will be able to fight with advantage.

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

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

6. When the position is such that neither side will gain by making the
first move, it is called TEMPORIZING ground.

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

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

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

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

8. With regard to NARROW PASSES, if you can occupy them first, let them
be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy.

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

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

10. With regard to PRECIPITOUS HEIGHTS, if you are beforehand with your
adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait
for him to come up.

[Ts‘ao Kung says: "The particular advantage of securing heights and
defiles is that your actions cannot then be dictated by the enemy."
[For the enunciation of the grand principle alluded to, see VI. § 2].
Chang Yu tells the following anecdote of P‘ei Hsing-chien (A.D.
619-682), who was sent on a punitive expedition against the Turkic
tribes. "At night he pitched his camp as usual, and it had already been
completely fortified by wall and ditch, when suddenly he gave orders
that the army should shift its quarters to a hill near by. This was
highly displeasing to his officers, who protested loudly against the
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
quickly as possible. The same night, a terrific storm came on, which
flooded their former place of encampment to the depth of over twelve
feet. The recalcitrant officers 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-chien replied: 'From this time forward
be content to obey orders without asking unnecessary questions.' From
this it may be seen," Chang Yu continues, "that high and sunny places
are advantageous not only for fighting, but also because they are
immune from disastrous floods."]

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

[The turning point of Li Shih-min's campaign in 621 A.D. against the
two rebels, Tou Chien-te, King of Hsia, and Wang Shih-ch‘ung, Prince of
Cheng, was his seizure of the heights of Wu-lao, in spite of which Tou
Chien-te persisted in his attempt to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was
defeated and taken prisoner. See CHIU T‘ANG, ch. 2, fol. 5 verso, and
also ch. 54.]

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

[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 adversary fresh 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. §

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
natural causes, but from faults for which the general is responsible.
These are: (1) Flight; (2) insubordination; (3) collapse; (4) ruin; (5)
disorganization; (6) rout.

15. Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against
another ten times its size, the result will be the FLIGHT of the

16. When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too
weak, the result 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
Wang T‘ing-ts‘ou. But the whole time he was in command, his soldiers
treated him with the utmost contempt, and openly flouted his authority
by riding about the camp on donkeys, several thousands at a time. T‘ien
Pu was powerless to put a stop to this conduct, and when, after some
months had passed, he made an attempt to engage the enemy, his troops
turned tail and dispersed in every direction. After that, the
unfortunate man committed suicide by cutting his throat.]

When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the
result is _collapse_.

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

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

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

18. When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are
not clear and distinct;

[Wei Liao Tzu (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 without vacillation, the soldiers will not be in two minds
about doing their duty." General Baden-Powell says, italicizing the
words: "The secret of getting successful work out of your trained men
lies in one nutshell—in the clearness of the instructions they
receive." [3] Cf. also Wu Tzu ch. 3: "the most fatal defect in a
military leader is difference; the worst calamities that befall an army
arise from hesitation."]

when there are no fixes 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
utter _disorganization_.

19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an
inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment
against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the
front rank, the result must be ROUT.

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

20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully
noted by the general 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 to
those connected with ground."]

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

22. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into
practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices
them, will surely be defeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you
into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and
they will stand by you even unto death.

[Cf. I. § 6. In this connection, Tu Mu draws for us an engaging picture
of the famous general Wu Ch‘i, from whose treatise on war I have
frequently had occasion to quote: "He wore the same clothes and ate the
same food as the meanest of his soldiers, refused to have either a
horse to ride or a mat to sleep on, carried his own surplus rations
wrapped in a parcel, and shared every hardship with his men. One of his
soldiers was suffering from an abscess, and Wu 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? Your son is
only a common soldier, and yet the commander-in-chief himself has
sucked the poison from his sore.' The woman replied, 'Many years ago,
Lord Wu performed a similar service for my husband, who never left him
afterwards, and finally met his death at the hands of the enemy. And
now that he has done the same for my son, he too will fall fighting I
know not where.'" Li Ch‘uan mentions the Viscount of Ch‘u, who invaded
the small state of Hsiao during the winter. The Duke of Shen said to
him: "Many of the soldiers are suffering 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 were clothed 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, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to
spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.

[Li Ching once said that if you could make your soldiers afraid of you,
they would not be afraid of the enemy. Tu Mu recalls an instance of
stern military discipline which occurred in 219 A.D., when Lu Meng was
occupying the town of Chiang-ling. He had given stringent orders to his
army not to molest the inhabitants nor take anything from them by
force. Nevertheless, a certain officer serving under his banner, who
happened to be a fellow-townsman, ventured to appropriate a bamboo hat
belonging to one of the people, in order to wear it over his regulation
helmet as a protection against the rain. Lu Meng considered that the
fact of his being also a native of Ju-nan should not be allowed to
palliate a clear breach of discipline, and accordingly he ordered his
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 time forth even articles dropped in the highway were not picked

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

[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 own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway
towards victory.

[Cf. III. § 13 (1).]

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

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

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

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

[Li Ch‘uan sums up as follows: "Given a knowledge of three things—the
affairs of men, the seasons of heaven and the natural advantages 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 Tzu said: The art of war recognizes 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

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

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

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

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

[Tu Mu defines the ground as ground "to be contended for." Ts‘ao Kung
says: "ground on which the few and the weak can defeat the many and the
strong," 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 a few days only, meant holding the entire invading army in
check and thus gaining invaluable time. Cf. Wu Tzu, ch. V. ad init.:
"For those who have to fight in the ratio of one to ten, there is
nothing better than a narrow pass." When Lu Kuang 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 of Liang-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 from
his victories in the west, and his soldiers are vigorous and
mettlesome. If we oppose 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 defile at 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 terms without moving. Or
if you think that the pass I mention is too far off, we could make a
stand against him at the I-wu pass, which is nearer. The cunning and
resource of Tzu-fang himself would be expended in vain against the
enormous strength 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 of ground. Ts‘ao Kung says it means "ground covered with a network
of roads," like a chessboard. Ho Shih suggested: "ground on which
intercommunication 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 a
third country conterminous with both." Meng Shih instances the small
principality of Cheng, which was bounded on the north-east by Ch‘i, on
the 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 them to become his allies.]

is a ground of intersecting highways.

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

[Wang Hsi explains the name by saying that "when an army has reached
such a point, 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
only retire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy
would suffice to crush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in

10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting
without delay, 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
lofty mountain in front, a large river behind, advance impossible,
retreat blocked." Ch‘en Hao says: "to be on 'desperate ground' is like
sitting in a leaking boat or crouching in a burning house." Tu Mu
quotes from Li Ching a vivid description of the plight of an army thus
entrapped: "Suppose an army invading hostile territory without the aid
of local guides:—it falls into a fatal snare and is at the enemy's
mercy. A ravine on the left, a mountain on the right, a pathway so
perilous that the horses have to be roped together and the chariots
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
range our soldiers in order of battle, the enemy is overwhelming
strength suddenly appears 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 simply maintain our ground, whole days
and months will crawl by; the moment we make a move, we have to sustain
the enemy's attacks on front and rear. The country is wild, destitute
of water and plants; the army is lacking in the necessaries of life,
the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, all the resources of
strength and skill unavailing, the pass so narrow that a single man
defending it can check the onset of ten thousand; all means of offense
in the hands of the enemy, all points of vantage already forfeited by
ourselves:—in this terrible plight, even though we had the most valiant
soldiers and the keenest of weapons, how could they be employed with
the slightest effect?" Students of Greek 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. On contentious ground, attack not.

[But rather let all your energies be bent on occupying the advantageous
position first. So Ts‘ao Kung. Li Ch‘uan and others, however, suppose
the meaning to be that the enemy has already forestalled us, sot that
it would be sheer madness to attack. In the _Sun Tzu Hsu Lu_, when the
King of Wu inquires what should be done in this case, Sun Tzu replies:
"The rule with regard to contentious ground is that those in possession
have the advantage over 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 your banners and sound your drums—make a dash
for other places that he cannot afford to lose—trail brushwood and
raise a dust—confound his ears and eyes—detach a body of your best
troops, and place it secretly in ambuscade. 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
force itself to serious risks. There are two interpretations available
here. I follow that 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 not cut off.]

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

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

13. On serious ground, gather in plunder.

[On this, Li Ch‘uan has the following delicious note: "When an army
penetrates far into the enemy's country, care must be taken not to
alienate the people 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 or looting of valuables. [Nota bene: this was in 207
B.C., and may well cause us to blush for the Christian armies that
entered Peking in 1900 A.D.] Thus he won the hearts of all. In the
present passage, then, I think that the true reading must be, not
'plunder,' but 'do not plunder.'" Alas, I fear that in this instance
the worthy commentator's feelings outran his judgment. Tu Mu, at least,
has no such illusions. He says: "When encamped on 'serious ground,'
there being no inducement as yet to advance further, and no possibility
of retreat, one ought to take measures for a protracted resistance by
bringing in provisions from all sides, and keep a close watch on the

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 Yu
amplifies this by saying: "In such a position, some scheme must be
devised which 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 occasion when Hannibal was hemmed in among the
mountains on the road to Casilinum, and to all appearances entrapped by
the dictator Fabius. The stratagem which Hannibal devised to baffle his
foes was remarkably like that which T‘ien Tan 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 some 2000 oxen and
set on fire, the terrified animals being then quickly driven along the
mountain side towards the passes which were beset by the enemy. The
strange spectacle of these rapidly moving lights so alarmed and
discomfited the Romans that they withdrew from their position, and
Hannibal's army passed safely 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 chance of life; where as death is certain if you cling to your

15. Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how to drive a
wedge between the enemy's front and rear;

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

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

16. When the enemy's men were united, they managed to keep them in

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 in
thus dislocating the enemy, they would push forward in order to secure
any advantage to be gained; if there was no advantage to be gained,
they would remain where they were."]

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

[Opinions differ as to what Sun Tzu had in mind. Ts‘ao Kung thinks it
is "some strategical advantage on which the enemy is depending." Tu Mu
says: "The three things which an enemy is anxious to do, and on the
accomplishment of which his success depends, are: (1) to capture our
favorable positions; (2) to ravage our cultivated land; (3) to guard
his own communications." Our object then must be to thwart his plans in
these three directions and thus render him helpless. [Cf. III. § 3.] By
boldly seizing the initiative in this way, you at once 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," and he adds: "These are the profoundest truths of military
science, and the chief business of the general." The following
anecdotes, told by Ho Shih, shows the importance 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, was meditating defection to
the House of Shu, and had entered into correspondence with Chu-ko
Liang, Prime Minister of that State. The Wei general Ssu-ma I was then
military governor of Wan, and getting wind of Meng Ta's treachery, he
at once set off with an army to anticipate his revolt, having
previously cajoled him by a specious message of friendly import.
Ssu-ma's officers came to him and said: "If Meng Ta has leagued himself
with Wu and Shu, the matter should be thoroughly investigated before we
make a move." Ssu-ma I replied: "Meng Ta is an unprincipled man, and we
ought to go and punish him at once, while he is still wavering and
before he has thrown off the mask." Then, by a series of forced
marches, be brought his army under the walls of Hsin-ch‘eng with in a
space of eight days. Now Meng Ta had previously said in a letter to
Chu-ko Liang: "Wan is 1200 _li_ from here. When the news of my revolt
reaches Ssu-ma I, he will at once inform his imperial master, but it
will be a whole month before any steps can be taken, and by that time
my city will be well fortified. Besides, Ssu-ma I is sure not to come
himself, and the generals that will be sent against us are not worth
troubling about." The next letter, however, was filled with
consternation: "Though only eight days have passed since I threw off my
allegiance, an army is already at the city-gates. What miraculous
rapidity is this!" A fortnight later, Hsin- ch‘eng had fallen and Meng
Ta had lost his head. [See CHIN SHU, ch. 1, f. 3.] In 621 A.D., Li
Ching was sent from K‘uei-chou in Ssu-ch‘uan to reduce the successful
rebel Hsiao Hsien, who had set up as Emperor at the modern Ching-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
through the gorges, and consequently made no preparations. But Li Ching
embarked his army without loss of time, and was just about to start
when the other generals implored him to postpone his departure until
the river was in a less dangerous state for navigation. Li Ching
replied: "To the soldier, overwhelming speed is of paramount
importance, and he must never miss opportunities. Now is the time to
strike, before Hsiao Hsien even knows that we have got an army
together. If we seize the present moment when the river is in flood, we
shall appear before his capital with startling suddenness, like the
thunder which is heard before you have time to stop your ears against
it. [See VII. § 19, note.] This is the great principle in war. Even if
he gets to know of our approach, he will have to 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 people
should 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: The further you penetrate into a country, the greater will be
the solidarity of your troops, and thus the defenders will not prevail
against you.

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

[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 of food and drink, and look after them generally."]

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

[Ch‘en recalls the line of action adopted in 224 B.C. by the famous
general Wang Chien, whose military genius largely contributed to the
success of the First Emperor. He had invaded the Ch‘u State, where a
universal levy was made to oppose him. But, being doubtful of the
temper of his troops, he declined all invitations to fight and remained
strictly on the defensive. In vain did the Ch‘u general try to force a
battle: day after day Wang Chien kept inside his walls and would not
come out, but devoted his whole time and energy to winning the
affection and confidence of his men. He took care that they should be
well fed, sharing his own meals with them, provided facilities for
bathing, and employed every method of judicious indulgence to weld them
into a loyal and homogenous body. After some time had elapsed, he told
off certain persons to find out how the men were amusing themselves.
The answer was, that they were contending with one another in putting
the weight and long-jumping. When Wang Chien heard that they were
engaged in these athletic pursuits, he knew that their spirits had been
strung up to the required pitch and 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 in disgust. The Ch‘in
general immediately broke up his camp and followed them, and in the
battle that ensued they were routed with great slaughter. Shortly
afterwards, the whole of Ch‘u was conquered by Ch‘in, and the 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
struck me, however, that the true reading might be "link your army

and devise unfathomable plans.

23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and
they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is
nothing they may not achieve.

[Chang Yu quotes his favorite Wei Liao Tzu (ch. 3): "If one man were to
run amok with a sword in the market-place, and everybody else tried to
get our of his way, I should not allow that this man alone had courage
and that all the rest were contemptible cowards. The truth is, that a
desperado and a man who sets some value on his life do not meet on even

Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.

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

24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there
is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile
country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it,
they will fight hard.

25. Thus, without waiting to be marshaled, the soldiers will be
constantly on the _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 be trusted.

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
into cowards and "die many times before their deaths." Tu Mu quotes
Huang Shih-kung: "'Spells and incantations should be strictly
forbidden, and no officer allowed to inquire by divination into the
fortunes of an army, for fear the soldiers' minds should be seriously
perturbed.' The meaning is," he continues, "that if all doubts and
scruples are discarded, your men will never falter in their resolution
until they die."]

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

[Chang Yu has the best note on this passage: "Wealth and long life are
things for which all men have a natural inclination. Hence, if they
burn or fling away valuables, and sacrifice their own lives, it is not
that they dislike them, but simply that they have no choice." Sun Tzu
is slyly insinuating that, as soldiers are but human, it is for the
general to see that temptations to shirk fighting 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
genuine grief than tears alone.]

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

[Not because they are afraid, but because, as Ts‘ao Kung says, "all
have embraced the firm resolution to do or die." We may remember that
the heroes of the Iliad were equally childlike in showing their
emotion. Chang Yu alludes to the 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 rain as he bade them farewell and
uttered the following lines: "The shrill blast is blowing, 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 Chu or a Kuei.

[Chu was the personal name of Chuan Chu, a native of the Wu State and
contemporary with Sun Tzu himself, who was employed by Kung-tzu Kuang,
better known as Ho Lu Wang, to assassinate his sovereign Wang Liao with
a dagger which he secreted in the belly of a fish served up at a
banquet. He succeeded in his attempt, but was immediately hacked to
pieces by the king's bodyguard. This was in 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 681 B.C. Lu had been thrice
defeated by Ch‘i, and was just about to conclude a treaty surrendering
a large slice of territory, when Ts‘ao Kuei suddenly seized Huan Kung,
the Duke of Ch‘i, as he stood on the altar steps and held a dagger
against his chest. None of the duke's retainers dared to 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 a weaker
state. Huan Kung, in peril of his life, was obliged to consent,
whereupon Ts‘ao Kuei flung away his dagger and quietly resumed his
place amid the terrified assemblage without having so much as changed
color. As was to be expected, the Duke wanted afterwards to repudiate
the bargain, but his wise old counselor Kuan Chung pointed out to him
the impolicy of breaking his word, and the upshot was that this bold
stroke regained for Lu the whole of what she had lost in three pitched

29. The skillful tactician may be likened to the SHUAI-JAN. Now the
SHUAI-JAN is a snake that is found in the Ch‘ang mountains.

["Shuai-jan" means "suddenly" or "rapidly," and the snake in question
was doubtless so called owing to the rapidity of its movements. Through
this passage, 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 be attacked 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 and
rear of an army each swiftly responsive to attack on the other, just as
though they were part of a single living body?"]

I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh are

[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 the right.

[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 by every tie of interest and fellow-feeling. Yet
it is notorious that many a campaign has been ruined through lack of
cooperation, especially in the case of allied armies.]

31. Hence it is not enough to put one's trust in the tethering of
horses, and the burying of chariot wheels in the ground.

[These quaint devices to prevent one's army from running away recall
the Athenian hero Sophanes, who carried the anchor with him at the
battle of Plataea, by means of which he fastened himself firmly to one
spot. [See Herodotus, IX. 74.] It is not enough, says Sun Tzu, to
render flight impossible by such mechanical means. You will not succeed
unless your men have tenacity and unity of purpose, and, above all, a
spirit of sympathetic cooperation. This is 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
of courage which all must reach.

[Literally, "level the courage [of all] as though [it were that of]
one." If the ideal army is to form a single organic whole, then it
follows that the resolution and spirit of its component parts must be
of the same quality, or at any rate must not fall below a certain
standard. Wellington's seemingly ungrateful description of his army at
Waterloo as "the worst he had ever commanded" meant no more than that
it was deficient in this important particular—unity of spirit and
courage. Had he not foreseen the Belgian defections and carefully kept
those troops in the background, he would almost certainly have lost the

33. How to make the best of both strong and weak—that is a question
involving the proper use of ground.

[Mei Yao-ch‘en's paraphrase is: "The way to eliminate the differences
of strong and weak and to make both serviceable is to utilize
accidental features of the ground." Less reliable troops, if posted in
strong positions, will hold out as long as better troops on more
exposed terrain. The advantage of position neutralizes the inferiority
in stamina and courage. Col. Henderson says: "With all respect to the
text books, and to the ordinary tactical teaching, I am inclined to
think that the study of ground is often overlooked, and that by no
means sufficient importance is attached to the selection of positions…
and to the immense advantages that are to be derived, whether you are
defending or attacking, from the proper utilization of natural
features." [2] ]

34. Thus the skillful general conducts his army just as though he were
leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.

[Tu Mu says: "The simile has reference to the ease with which he does

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
and appearances,

[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 must
not be allowed to share your schemes in the beginning; they may only
rejoice with you over their happy outcome." "To mystify, mislead, and
surprise the enemy," is one of the first principles in war, as had been
frequently pointed out. But how about the other process—the
mystification of one's own men? Those who may think that Sun Tzu is
over-emphatic on this point would do well to read Col. Henderson's
remarks on Stonewall Jackson's Valley campaign: "The infinite pains,"
he says, "with which Jackson sought to conceal, even from his most
trusted staff officers, his movements, his intentions, and his
thoughts, a commander less thorough would have pronounced useless"—etc.
etc. [3] In the year 88 A.D., as we read in ch. 47 of the HOU HAN SHU,
"Pan Ch‘ao took the field with 25,000 men from Khotan and other Central
Asian states with the object of crushing Yarkand. The King of Kutcha
replied by dispatching his chief commander to succor the place with an
army drawn from the kingdoms of Wen-su, Ku-mo, and Wei-t‘ou, totaling
50,000 men. Pan Ch‘ao summoned his officers and also the King of Khotan
to a council of war, and said: 'Our forces are now outnumbered and
unable to make head against the enemy. The best plan, then, is for us
to separate and disperse, each in a different 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 evening drum has sounded
and then start.' Pan Ch‘ao now secretly released the prisoners whom he
had taken alive, and the King of Kutcha was thus informed of his plans.
Much elated by the news, the latter set off at once at the head of
10,000 horsemen to bar Pan Ch‘ao's retreat in the west, while the King
of Wen-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 his divisions together, got them well in hand, and at
cock-crow hurled them against the army of Yarkand, as it lay encamped.
The barbarians, panic-stricken, fled in confusion, and were closely
pursued by Pan Ch‘ao. Over 5000 heads were brought back as trophies,
besides immense spoils in the shape of horses and cattle and valuables
of every description. Yarkand then capitulating, Kutcha and the other
kingdoms drew off their respective forces. From that time forward, Pan
Ch‘ao's prestige completely overawed the countries of the west." In
this case, we see that the Chinese general not only kept his own
officers in ignorance of his real plans, but actually took the bold
step of dividing 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
is based on deception, does not apply only to deception of the enemy.
You must deceive even your own soldiers. Make them follow you, but
without letting them know why."]

By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the
enemy from anticipating his purpose.

38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has
climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He
carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.

[Literally, "releases the spring" (see V. § 15), that is, takes some
decisive step which makes it impossible for the army to return—like
Hsiang Yu, who sunk 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 a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and
nothing knows whither he is going.

[Tu Mu says: "The army is only cognizant of orders to advance or
retreat; it is ignorant of the ulterior ends of attacking and

40. To muster his host and bring it into danger:—this may be termed the
business of the general.

[Sun Tzu means that after mobilization there should be no delay in
aiming a blow 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 more present 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 the nine varieties of ground."]

the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics; and the fundamental
laws of human nature: these are things that must most certainly be

42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that
penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means

[Cf. _supra_, § 20.]

43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your army across
neighborhood territory, you find yourself on critical ground.

[This "ground" is curiously mentioned in VIII. § 2, but it does not
figure among the Nine Situations or the Six Calamities in chap. X.
One's first impulse would be to translate it distant ground," but this,
if we can trust the commentators, is precisely what is not meant here.
Mei Yao-ch‘en says it is "a position not far enough advanced to be
called 'facile,' and not near enough to home to be 'dispersive,' but
something between the two." Wang Hsi says: "It is ground separated from
home by an interjacent state, whose territory we have had to cross in
order to reach it. Hence, it is incumbent on us to settle our business
there quickly." He adds that this position is of rare occurrence, which
is the reason why it is not included among the Nine Situations.]

When there are means of communication on all four sides, the ground is
one of intersecting highways.

44. When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground.
When you penetrate but a little way, it is facile ground.

45. When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear, and narrow
passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no place of
refuge at all, it is desperate ground.

46. Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men with unity
of purpose.

[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 parts of 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 be in close touch; in an
encampment, there should be continuity between the fortifications."]

47. On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.

[This is Ts‘ao Kung's interpretation. Chang Yu adopts it, saying: "We
must 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. Mei Yao-ch‘en offers another equally plausible explanation:
"Supposing the enemy has not yet reached the coveted position, and we
are behind him, we should advance with all speed in order to dispute
its possession." Ch‘en Hao, on the other hand, assuming that the enemy
has had time to select his own ground, quotes VI. § 1, where Sun Tzu
warns us against coming exhausted to the attack. His own idea of the
situation is rather vaguely expressed: "If there is a favorable
position lying in front of you, detach a picked body of troops to
occupy it, then if the enemy, relying on their numbers, come up to make
a fight for it, you may fall quickly on their rear with your main body,
and victory will be assured." It was thus, he adds, that Chao She beat
the army of Ch‘in. (See p. 57.)]

48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defenses. On
ground of intersecting highways, I would consolidate my alliances.

49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of

[The commentators take this as referring to forage and plunder, not, as
one might 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,
whereas my real intention is to burst suddenly through the enemy's
lines." Mei Yao-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 out that this is the converse of VII. § 36, where
it is the enemy who is surrounded. 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 was comparatively small,
consisting only of 2000 horse and something under 30,000 foot. The
lines of investment had not been drawn very closely together, gaps
being left at certain points. But Kao Huan, instead of trying to
escape, actually made a shift to block all the remaining outlets
himself by driving into them a number of oxen and donkeys roped
together. As soon as his officers and men saw that there was nothing
for it but to conquer or die, their spirits rose to an extraordinary
pitch of exaltation, and they charged with such desperate ferocity that
the opposing ranks broke and crumbled under their onslaught.]

On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness
of saving their lives.

Tu Yu says: "Burn your baggage and impedimenta, throw away your stores
and provisions, choke up the wells, destroy your cooking-stoves, and
make it plain to your men that they cannot survive, but must fight to
the death." Mei Yao-ch‘en says: "The only chance of life lies in giving
up all hope of it." This concludes what Sun Tzu has to say about
"grounds" and the "variations" corresponding to them. Reviewing the
passages which bear on this important subject, we cannot fail to be
struck by the desultory and unmethodical fashion in which it is
treated. Sun Tzu begins abruptly in VIII. § 2 to enumerate "variations"
before touching on "grounds" at all, but only mentions five, namely
nos. 7, 5, 8 and 9 of the subsequent list, and one that is not included
in it. A few varieties of ground are dealt with in the earlier portion
of chap. IX, and then chap. X sets forth six new grounds, with six
variations of plan to match. None of these is mentioned again, though
the first is 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 followed by the variations. This takes us down
to § 14. In § 43-45, fresh definitions are provided for nos. 5, 6, 2, 8
and 9 (in the order given), as well as for the tenth ground noticed in
chap. VIII; and finally, the nine variations are enumerated once more
from beginning to end, all, with the exception of 5, 6 and 7, being
different from those previously given. Though it is impossible to
account for the present state of Sun Tzu's text, a few suggestive facts
maybe brought into prominence: (1) Chap. VIII, according to the title,
should deal with nine variations, whereas only five appear. (2) It is
an abnormally short chapter. (3) Chap. XI is entitled The Nine Grounds.
Several of these are defined twice over, besides which there are two
distinct lists of the corresponding variations. (4) The length of the
chapter is disproportionate, being double that of any other except IX.
I do not propose to draw any inferences from these facts, beyond the
general conclusion that Sun Tzu's work cannot have come down to us in
the shape in which it left his hands: chap. VIII is obviously defective
and probably out of place, while XI seems to contain matter that has
either been added by a later hand or ought to appear elsewhere.]

51. For it is the soldier's disposition to offer an obstinate
resistance when surrounded, to fight hard when he cannot help himself,
and to obey promptly when he has fallen into danger.

[Chang Yu alludes to the conduct of Pan Ch‘ao's devoted followers in 73
A.D. The story runs thus in the HOU HAN SHU, ch. 47: "When Pan Ch‘ao
arrived at Shan-shan, Kuang, the King of the country, received him at
first with great politeness and respect; but shortly afterwards his
behavior underwent a sudden change, and he became remiss and negligent.
Pan Ch‘ao spoke 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 envoys have come from the Northern barbarians,
and that consequently he is in a state of indecision, not knowing with
which side to throw in his lot. That surely is the reason. The truly
wise man, we are told, can perceive things before they have 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
who arrived some day ago?' The man was so taken aback that between
surprise and fear he presently blurted out the whole truth. Pan Ch‘ao,
keeping his informant carefully under lock and key, then summoned a
general gathering of his officers, thirty-six in all, and began
drinking with them. When the wine had mounted into their heads a
little, he tried to rouse their spirit still further by addressing them
thus: 'Gentlemen, here we are in the heart of an isolated region,
anxious to achieve riches and honor by some great exploit. Now it
happens that an ambassador from the Hsiung-no arrived in this kingdom
only a few days ago, and the result is that the respectful courtesy
extended towards us by our royal host has disappeared. Should this
envoy prevail upon him to seize our party and hand us over to the
Hsiung-no, our bones will become food for the wolves of the desert.
What are we to do?' With one accord, the officers replied: 'Standing as
we do in peril of our lives, we will follow our commander through life
and death.' For the sequel of this adventure, see chap. XII. § 1,

52. We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes until we are
acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the
march unless we are familiar with the face of the country—its mountains
and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We
shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make
use of local guides.

[These three sentences are repeated from VII. § 12-14—in order to
emphasize their importance, the commentators seem to think. I prefer to
regard them as interpolated here in order to form an antecedent to the
following words. With regard to local guides, Sun Tzu might have added
that there is always the risk of going wrong, either through their
treachery or some misunderstanding such as Livy records (XXII. 13):
Hannibal, we are told, ordered a guide to lead him into the
neighborhood of Casinum, where there was an important pass to be
occupied; but his Carthaginian accent, unsuited to the pronunciation of
Latin names, caused the guide to understand Casilinum instead of
Casinum, and turning from his proper route, he took the army in that
direction, the mistake not being discovered until they had almost

53. To be ignored of any one of the following four or five principles
does not befit a warlike prince.

54. When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship
shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy's forces. He
overawes his opponents, and their allies are prevented from joining
against him.

[Mei Tao-ch‘en constructs one of the chains of reasoning that are so
much affected by the Chinese: "In attacking a powerful state, if you
can divide her forces, you will have a superiority in strength; if you
have a superiority in strength, you will overawe the enemy; if you
overawe the enemy, the neighboring states will be frightened; and if
the neighboring states are frightened, the enemy's allies will be
prevented from joining her." The following gives a stronger meaning:
"If the great state has once been defeated (before she has had time to
summon her allies), then the lesser states will hold aloof and refrain
from massing their forces." Ch‘en Hao and Chang Yu take the sentence in
quite another way. The former says: "Powerful though a prince may be,
if he attacks a large state, he will be unable to raise enough troops,
and must rely to some extent on external aid; if he dispenses with
this, and with overweening confidence in his own strength, simply tries
to intimidate the enemy, he will surely be defeated." Chang Yu puts his
view thus: "If we recklessly attack a large state, our own people will
be discontented and hang back. But if (as will then be the case) our
display of military force is inferior by half to that of the enemy, the
other chieftains will take fright and refuse to join us."]

55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor
does he foster 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: Secure
against a combination of his enemies, "he can afford to reject
entangling alliances and simply pursue his own secret designs, his
prestige enable him to dispense 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
became a serious menace, is not a bad summary of the policy by which
the famous Six Chancellors gradually paved the way for her final
triumph under Shih Huang Ti. Chang Yu, following up his previous note,
thinks that Sun Tzu is condemning this attitude of cold-blooded
selfishness and haughty isolation.]

56. Bestow rewards without regard to rule,

[Wu Tzu (ch. 3) less wisely says: "Let advance be richly rewarded and
retreat be 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
made clear by Ts‘ao Kung's quotation from the _Ssu-ma Fa:_ "Give
instructions only on sighting the enemy; give rewards when you see
deserving deeds." Ts‘ao Kung's paraphrase: "The final instructions you
give to your army should not correspond with those that have been
previously posted up." Chang Yu simplifies this into "your arrangements
should not be divulged beforehand." And Chia Lin says: "there should be
no fixity in your rules and arrangements." Not only is there danger in
letting your plans be known, but war often necessitates the 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 a single man.

[Cf. _supra_, § 34.]

57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know
your design.

[Literally, "do not tell them words;" i.e. do not give your reasons for
any order. Lord Mansfield once told a junior colleague to "give no
reasons" for his decisions, 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
nothing when the situation is gloomy.

58. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it
into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety.

[These words of Sun Tzu were once quoted by Han Hsin in explanation of
the tactics he employed in one of his most brilliant battles, already
alluded to on p. 28. In 204 B.C., he was sent against the army of Chao,
and halted ten miles from the mouth of the Ching-hsing pass, where the
enemy had mustered in full force. Here, at midnight, he detached a body
of 2000 light cavalry, every man of which was furnished with a red
flag. Their instructions were to make their way through narrow defiles
and keep a secret watch on the enemy. "When the men of Chao see me in
full flight," Han Hsin said, "they will abandon their fortifications
and give chase. This must be the sign for you to rush in, pluck down
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
strong position, and is not likely to come out and attack us until he
sees the standard and drums of the commander-in-chief, for fear I
should turn back and escape through the mountains." So saying, he first
of all sent out a division consisting of 10,000 men, and ordered them
to form in line of battle with their backs to the River Ti. Seeing this
manœuver, the whole army of Chao broke into loud laughter. By this time
it was broad daylight, and Han Hsin, displaying the generalissimo's
flag, marched out of the pass with drums beating, and was immediately
engaged by the enemy. A great battle followed, lasting for some time;
until at length Han Hsin and his colleague Chang Ni, leaving drums and
banner on the field, fled to the division on the river bank, where
another fierce battle was raging. The enemy rushed out to pursue them
and to secure the trophies, thus denuding their ramparts of men; but
the two generals succeeded in joining the other army, which was
fighting with the utmost desperation. The time had now come for the
2000 horsemen to play their part. As soon as they saw the men of Chao
following up their advantage, they galloped behind the deserted walls,
tore up the enemy's flags and replaced them by those of Han. When the
Chao army looked back from the pursuit, the sight of these red flags
struck them with terror. Convinced that the Hans had got in and
overpowered their king, they broke up in wild disorder, every effort of
their leader to stay the panic being in vain. Then the Han army fell on
them from both sides and completed the rout, killing a number and
capturing the rest, amongst whom was King Ya himself…. After the
battle, some of Han Hsin's officers came to him and said: "In the _Art
of War_ we are told to have a hill or tumulus on the right rear, and a
river or marsh on the left front. [This appears to be a blend of Sun
Tzu 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 these
conditions, how did you manage to gain the victory?" The general
replied: "I fear you gentlemen have not studied the Art of War with
sufficient care. Is it not written there: 'Plunge your army into
desperate straits and it will come off in safety; place it in deadly
peril and it will survive'? Had I taken the usual course, I should
never have been able to bring my colleague round. What says the
Military Classic—'Swoop down on the market-place and drive the men off
to fight.' [This passage does not occur in the present text of Sun
Tzu.] If I had not placed my troops in a position where they were
obliged to fight for their lives, but had allowed each man to follow
his own discretion, there would have been a general _débandade_, and it
would have been impossible to do anything with them." The officers
admitted the force of his argument, and said: "These are higher tactics
than we should have been capable of." [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
capable of striking a blow for victory.

[Danger has a bracing effect.]

60. Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves
to the enemy's purpose.

[Ts‘ao Kung says: "Feign stupidity"—by an appearance of yielding and
falling in with the enemy's wishes. Chang Yu's note makes the meaning
clear: "If the enemy shows an inclination to advance, lure him on to do
so; if he is anxious to retreat, delay on purpose that he may carry out
his intention." The object is to make him remiss and contemptuous
before we deliver our attack.]

61. By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank,

[I understand the first four words to mean "accompanying the enemy in
one direction." Ts‘ao Kung says: "unite the soldiers and make for the
enemy." But such a violent displacement of characters is quite

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 permit or passport by the official in charge of a gate. Cf. the
"border-warden" of LUN YU III. 24, who may have had similar duties.
When this half was returned to him, within a fixed period, he was
authorized to open the gate and let the traveler 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

so that you may control the situation.

[Mei Yao-ch‘en understands the whole sentence to mean: Take the
strictest precautions 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 favorable position,
but the enemy does not appear on the scene, the advantage thus obtained
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
artful appointment, so to speak, with his antagonist, and cajole him
into going there as well." Mei Yao-ch‘en explains that this "artful
appointment" is to be made through the medium of the enemy's own spies,
who will carry back just the amount of information that we choose to
give them. Then, having cunningly disclosed our intentions, "we must
manage, though starting after the enemy, to arrive before him (VII. §
4). We must start after him in order to ensure his marching thither; we
must arrive before him in order to capture the place without trouble.
Taken thus, the present passage lends some support to Mei Yao-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 be achieved by adhering to conventional canons." It is
unfortunate that this variant rests on very slight authority, for the
sense yielded is certainly much more satisfactory. Napoleon, as we
know, according to the veterans of the old school whom he defeated, won
his battles by violating every accepted canon of warfare.]

and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive

[Tu Mu says: "Conform to the enemy's tactics until a favorable
opportunity offers; 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 you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running
hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.

[As the hare is noted for its extreme timidity, the comparison hardly
appears felicitous. But of course Sun Tzu was thinking only of its
speed. The words have been taken to mean: You must flee from the enemy
as quickly as an escaping hare; 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 Tzu said: There are five ways of attacking with fire. The first
is to burn 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
a diplomatic mission to the King of Shan-shan [see XI. § 51, note],
found himself placed in extreme peril by the unexpected arrival of an
envoy from the Hsiung-nu [the mortal enemies of the Chinese]. In
consultation with his officers, he exclaimed: "Never venture, never
win! [1] The only course open to us 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, we shall exterminate
them completely; this will cool the King's courage and cover us with
glory, besides ensuring the success of our mission.' The officers all
replied that it would be necessary to discuss the matter first with the
Intendant. 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 be brought 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, he and his little band quickly
made their way to the barbarian camp. A strong gale was blowing at the
time. Pan Ch‘ao ordered ten of the party to take drums and hide behind
the enemy's barracks, it being arranged that when they saw flames 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
at the 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 rear of the Hsiung-nu, who rushed out pell-mell in
frantic disorder. Pan Ch‘ao slew three of them with his own hand, while
his companions cut off the heads of the 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 his thoughts, 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 satisfied Kuo Hsun,
and Pan Ch‘ao, having sent for Kuang, King of Shan-shan, showed him the
head of the barbarian envoy. The whole kingdom was seized with fear and
trembling, which Pan Ch‘ao took steps to allay by issuing a public
proclamation. Then, taking the king's sons as hostage, he returned to
make his report 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
rebellious population of Kiangnan, Kao Keng recommended Wen Ti of the
Sui dynasty to make periodical raids and burn their stores of grain, a
policy which in the long run proved entirely successful.]

the third is to burn baggage trains;

[An example given is the destruction of Yuan Shao‘s wagons and
impedimenta 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
the same. 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. The
method by which this may be done is to set the tips of arrows alight by
dipping them into a brazier, and then shoot them from powerful
crossbows into the enemy'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 have
favorable circumstances in general, not merely traitors to help us."
Chia Lin says: "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 Yu says: "vessels for hoarding fire, stuff for lighting

3. There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, and special
days for starting a conflagration.

4. The proper season is when the weather is very dry; the special days
are those when the moon is in the constellations of the Sieve, the
Wall, the Wing or the Cross-bar;

[These are, respectively, the 7th, 14th, 27th, and 28th of the
Twenty-eight Stellar Mansions, corresponding roughly to Sagittarius,
Pegasus, Crater and Corvus.]

for these four are all days of rising wind.

5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possible

6. (1) When fire breaks out inside to enemy's camp, respond at once
with an attack 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 with an 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 find
the difficulties too great, retire."]

9. (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do
not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a
favorable 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) inside the enemy's camp. "But," he continues, "if the
enemy is settled in a waste place littered with quantities of grass, or
if he has pitched his camp in a position which can be burnt out, we
must carry our fire against him at any seasonable opportunity, and not
await on in hopes of an outbreak occurring within, for fear our
opponents should themselves burn up the surrounding vegetation, and
thus render our own attempts fruitless." The famous Li Ling once
baffled the leader of the Hsiung-nu in this way. The latter, taking
advantage of a favorable wind, tried to set fire to the Chinese
general's camp, but found that every scrap of combustible vegetation in
the neighborhood had already been burnt down. On the other hand,
Po-ts‘ai, a general of the Yellow Turban rebels, was badly defeated in
184 A.D. through his neglect of this simple precaution. "At the head of
a large army he was besieging Ch‘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 Sung called his officers together and
said: "In war, there are various indirect methods of attack, and
numbers do not count for everything. [The commentator here quotes Sun
Tzu, V. § 5, 6 and 10.] Now the rebels have pitched their camp in the
midst of thick grass which will easily burn when the wind blows. If we
set fire to it at night, they will be thrown into a panic, and we can
make a sortie and attack them on all sides at once, thus emulating the
achievement of T‘ien Tan.' [See p. 90.] That same evening, a strong
breeze sprang up; so Huang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind
reeds together into torches and mount 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 loud shouts 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 the
rebels 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
the leeward.

[Chang Yu, following Tu Yu, says: "When you make a fire, the enemy will
retreat away from it; if you oppose his retreat and attack him then, he
will fight desperately, which will not conduce to your success." A
rather more obvious explanation is given by Tu Mu: "If the wind is in
the east, begin burning to the east of the enemy, and follow up the
attack yourself from that side. If you start the fire on the east side,
and then attack from the west, you will suffer in the same way as your

11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze
soon falls.

[Cf. Lao Tzu'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 breeze dies down at nightfall, and a night breeze at daybreak. This
is what happens as a general rule." The phenomenon observed may be
correct enough, but how this sense is to be obtained is not apparent.]

12. In every army, the five developments connected with fire must be
known, the movements 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 watch for 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 to assail our opponents with fire, but also
be on our guard against similar attacks from them."]

13. Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show intelligence;
those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an accession of

14. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not robbed of
all his belongings.

[Ts‘ao Kung's note is: "We can merely obstruct the enemy's road or
divide his army, but not sweep away all his accumulated stores." Water
can do useful service, but it lacks the terrible destructive power of
fire. This is the reason, Chang Yu concludes, why the former is
dismissed in a couple of sentences, whereas the attack by fire is
discussed in detail. Wu Tzu (ch. 4) speaks thus of the two elements:
"If an army is encamped on low-lying marshy ground, 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 lands
thickly overgrown with weeds and brambles, and visited by frequent
gales, it may be exterminated by fire."]

15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed
in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the
result is waste of time and general stagnation.

[This is one of the most perplexing passages in Sun Tzu. Ts‘ao Kung
says: "Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day."
And Tu Mu: "If you do not take opportunity to advance and reward the
deserving, your subordinates will not carry out your commands, and
disaster will ensue." For several reasons, however, and in spite of the
formidable array of scholars on the other side, I prefer the
interpretation suggested by Mei Yao-ch‘en alone, whose words I will
quote: "Those who want to make sure of succeeding in their battles and
assaults must seize the favorable moments when they come and not shrink
on occasion from heroic measures: that is to say, they must resort to
such means of attack of fire, water and the like. What they must not
do, and what will prove fatal, is to sit still and simply hold to the
advantages they have got."]

16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead;
the good general cultivates his resources.

[Tu Mu quotes the following from the SAN LUEH, ch. 2: "The warlike
prince controls his soldiers by his authority, kits them together by
good faith, and by 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 is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is

[Sun Tzu may at times appear to be over-cautious, but he never goes so
far in that direction as the remarkable passage in the TAO TE CHING,
ch. 69. "I dare not take the initiative, but prefer to act on the
defensive; I dare not advance an 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
you are.

[This is repeated from XI. § 17. Here I feel convinced that it is an
interpolation, 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

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
of caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army

[1] "Unless you enter the tiger's lair, you cannot get hold of the
tiger's cubs."


1. Sun Tzu said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching
them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on
the resources of 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 on the highways.

[Cf. TAO TE CHING, ch. 30: "Where troops have been quartered, brambles
and thorns spring up. Chang Yu has the note: "We may be reminded of the
saying: 'On serious ground, gather in plunder.' Why then should
carriage and transportation cause 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, the injunction to 'forage on
the enemy' only means that when an army is deeply engaged in hostile
territory, scarcity of food must be provided against. Hence, without
being solely dependent on the enemy for corn, we must forage in order
that there may be an uninterrupted flow of supplies. Then, again, there
are places like salt deserts where provisions being unobtainable,
supplies from home cannot be dispensed with."]

As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their

[Mei Yao-ch‘en says: "Men will be lacking at the plough-tail." The
allusion is to the system of dividing land into nine parts, each
consisting of about 15 acres, the plot in the center being cultivated
on behalf of the State by the tenants of the other eight. It was here
also, so Tu Mu tells us, that their cottages were built and a well
sunk, to be used by all in common. [See II. § 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 100,000 men
(reckoning one able-bodied soldier to each family) the husbandry of
700,000 families would be affected.]

2. Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the
victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in
ignorance of the enemy's condition simply because one grudges the
outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments,

["For spies" is of course the meaning, though it would spoil the effect
of this curiously elaborate exordium if spies were actually mentioned
at this point.]

is the height of inhumanity.

[Sun Tzu's agreement is certainly ingenious. He begins by adverting to
the frightful misery and vast expenditure of blood and treasure which
war always brings in its train. Now, unless you are kept informed of
the enemy's condition, and are ready to strike at the right moment, a
war may drag on for years. The only way to get this information is to
employ spies, and it is impossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless
they are properly paid for their services. But it is surely false
economy to grudge a comparatively trifling amount for this purpose,
when every day that the war lasts eats up an incalculably greater sum.
This grievous burden falls on the shoulders of the poor, and hence Sun
Tzu concludes that to neglect the use of spies is nothing less than a
crime against humanity.]

3. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his
sovereign, no master of victory.

[This idea, that the true object of war is peace, has its root in the
national temperament of the Chinese. Even so far back as 597 B.C.,
these memorable words were uttered by Prince Chuang of the Ch‘u State:
"The [Chinese] character for 'prowess' is made up of [the characters
for] 'to stay' and 'a spear' (cessation of hostilities). Military
prowess is seen in the repression of cruelty, the calling in of
weapons, the preservation of the appointment of Heaven, the firm
establishment of merit, the bestowal of happiness on the people,
putting harmony between the princes, the diffusion of wealth."]

4. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike
and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is

[That is, knowledge of the enemy's dispositions, and what he means to

5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be
obtained inductively from experience,

[Tu Mu's note is: "[knowledge of the enemy] cannot be gained by
reasoning from other analogous cases."]

nor by any deductive calculation.

[Li Ch‘uan says: "Quantities like length, breadth, distance and
magnitude, are susceptible of exact mathematical determination; human
actions cannot 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 the
spirit-world is to be obtained by divination; information in natural
science may be sought by inductive reasoning; the laws of the universe
can be verified by mathematical calculation: but the dispositions of an
enemy are ascertainable through 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
secret system. This is called "divine manipulation of the threads." It
is the sovereign's most precious faculty.

[Cromwell, one of the greatest and most practical of all cavalry
leaders, had officers styled 'scout masters,' whose business it was to
collect all possible information regarding the enemy, through scouts
and spies, etc., and much of his success in war was traceable to the
previous knowledge of the enemy's moves thus gained." [1] ]

9. Having _local spies_ means employing the services of the inhabitants
of a district.

[Tu Mu says: "In the enemy's country, win people over by kind
treatment, and use 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
this respect: "Worthy men who have been degraded from office, criminals
who have undergone punishment; also, favorite concubines who are greedy
for gold, men who are aggrieved at being in subordinate positions, or
who have been passed over in the distribution of posts, others who are
anxious that their side should be defeated in order that they may have
a chance of displaying their ability and talents, fickle turncoats who
always want to have a foot in each boat. Officials of these several
kinds," he continues, "should be secretly approached and bound to one's
interests by means of rich presents. In this way you 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 the
harmony and create a breach between the sovereign and his ministers."
The necessity for extreme caution, however, in dealing with "inward
spies," appears from 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 stronghold at P‘i. After each side had
experienced a number of victories and defeats, Li Hsiung had recourse
to the services of a certain P‘o-t‘ai, a native of Wu-tu. He began to
have him whipped until the blood came, and then sent him off to Lo
Shang, whom he was to delude by offering to cooperate with him from
inside the city, and to give a fire signal at the right moment for
making a general assault. Lo Shang, confiding in these promises, march
out all his best troops, and placed Wei Po and others at their head
with orders to attack at P‘o-t‘ai's bidding. Meanwhile, Li Hsiung'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 city
walls, now lighted the beacon-fire. Wei Po's men raced up on seeing the
signal and began climbing the ladders as fast as they could, while
others were drawn up by ropes lowered from above. More than a hundred
of Lo Shang's soldiers entered the city in this way, every one of whom
was forthwith beheaded. Li Hsiung then charged with all his forces,
both inside and outside the city, and routed the enemy completely."
[This happened in 303 A.D. I do not know where Ho Shih got the story
from. It is not given in the biography of Li Hsiung or that of his
father Li T‘e, CHIN SHU, ch. 120, 121.]

11. Having _converted spies_, getting hold of the enemy's spies and
using them for our own purposes.

[By means of heavy bribes and liberal promises detaching them from the
enemy's service, and inducing them to carry back false information as
well as to spy in turn on their own countrymen. On the other hand,
Hsiao Shih-hsien says that we pretend not to have detected him, but
contrive to let him carry away a false impression of what is going on.
Several of the commentators accept this as an alternative definition;
but that it is not what Sun Tzu meant is conclusively proved by his
subsequent remarks about treating the converted spy generously (§ 21
sqq.). Ho Shih notes three occasions on which converted spies were used
with conspicuous success: (1) by T‘ien Tan in his defense of Chi-mo
(see _supra_, p. 90); (2) by Chao She on his march to O-yu (see p. 57);
and by the wily Fan Chu in 260 B.C., when Lien P‘o was conducting a
defensive campaign against Ch‘in. The King of Chao strongly disapproved
of Lien P‘o's cautious and dilatory methods, which had been unable to
avert a series of minor disasters, and therefore lent a ready ear to
the reports of his spies, who had secretly gone over to the enemy and
were already in Fan Chu's pay. They said: "The only thing which causes
Ch‘in anxiety is lest Chao Kua should be made general. Lien P‘o they
consider an easy opponent, who is sure to be vanquished in the long
run." Now this Chao Kua was a son of the famous Chao She. From his
boyhood, he had been wholly engrossed in the study of war and military
matters, until at last he came to believe that there was no commander
in the whole Empire who could stand against him. His father was much
disquieted by this overweening conceit, and the flippancy with which he
spoke of such a serious thing as war, and solemnly declared that if
ever Kua was appointed general, he would bring ruin on the armies of
Chao. This was the man who, in spite of earnest protests from his own
mother and the veteran statesman Lin Hsiang-ju, was now sent to succeed
Lien P‘o. Needless to say, he proved no match for the redoubtable Po
Ch‘i and the great military power of Ch‘in. He fell into a trap by
which his army was divided into two and his communications cut; and
after a desperate resistance lasting 46 days, during which the famished
soldiers devoured one another, he was himself killed by 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 of
deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to
the enemy.

[Tu Yu gives the best exposition of the meaning: "We ostentatiously do
things calculated to deceive our own spies, who must be led to believe
that they have been unwittingly disclosed. Then, when these spies are
captured in the enemy's lines, they will make an entirely false report,
and the enemy will take measures accordingly, only to find that we do
something quite different. The spies will thereupon be put to death."
As an example of doomed spies, Ho Shih mentions the prisoners released
by Pan Ch‘ao in his campaign against Yarkand. (See p. 132.) He also
refers to T‘ang Chien, who in 630 A.D. was sent by T‘ai Tsung to lull
the Turkish Kahn Chieh-li into fancied security, until Li Ching was
able to deliver a crushing blow against him. Chang Yu says that the
Turks revenged themselves by killing T‘ang Chien, but this 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 on
until 656. Li I-chi played a somewhat similar part in 203 B.C., when
sent by the King of Han to open peaceful negotiations with Ch‘i. He has
certainly more claim to be described a "doomed spy", for the king of
Ch‘i, being subsequently attacked without warning by Han Hsin, and
infuriated by what he considered the treachery of Li I-chi, ordered the
unfortunate envoy to be boiled alive.]

13. _Surviving spies_, finally, are those who bring back news from the
enemy's camp.

[This is the ordinary class of spies, properly so called, forming a
regular part of the army. Tu Mu says: "Your surviving spy must be a man
of keen intellect, though in outward appearance a fool; of shabby
exterior, but with a will of iron. He must be active, robust, endowed
with physical strength and courage; thoroughly accustomed to all sorts
of dirty work, able to endure hunger and cold, and to put up with shame
and ignominy." Ho Shih tells the following story of Ta‘hsi Wu of the
Sui dynasty: "When he was governor of Eastern Ch‘in, Shen-wu of Ch‘i
made a hostile movement upon Sha-yuan. The Emperor T‘ai Tsu [? Kao Tsu]
sent Ta-hsi Wu to spy upon the enemy. He was accompanied by two other
men. All three were on horseback and wore the enemy's uniform. When it
was dark, they dismounted a few hundred feet away from the enemy's camp
and stealthily crept up to listen, until they succeeded in catching the
passwords used in the army. Then they got on their horses again and
boldly passed through the camp under the guise of night-watchmen; and
more than once, happening to come across a soldier who was committing
some breach of discipline, they actually stopped to give the culprit a
sound cudgeling! Thus they managed to return with the fullest possible
information about the enemy's dispositions, and received warm
commendation from the Emperor, who in consequence of their report was
able to inflict a severe defeat on his adversary."]

14. Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more intimate
relations to be maintained than with spies.

[Tu Mu and Mei Yao-ch‘en point out that the spy is privileged to enter
even the general's private sleeping-tent.]

None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should
greater secrecy 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, who made perhaps larger use of them than any previous
commander: "Spies are attached 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. When they propose anything very material,
secure their persons, or have in your possession their wives and
children as hostages for their fidelity. Never communicate anything to
them but what is absolutely necessary that they should know. [2] ]

15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive

[Mei Yao-ch‘en says: "In order to use them, one must know fact from
falsehood, 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 refers these attributes to the spies themselves:
"Before using spies we must assure ourselves as to their integrity of
character and the extent of their experience and skill." But he
continues: "A brazen face and a crafty disposition are more dangerous
than mountains or rivers; it takes a man of genius to penetrate such."
So that we are left in some doubt as to his real opinion on the

16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and

[Chang Yu says: "When you have attracted them by substantial offers,
you must treat them with absolute sincerity; then they will work for
you with all their might."]

17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the
truth of their reports.

[Mei Yao-ch‘en says: "Be on your guard against the possibility of spies
going over to the service of the enemy."]

18. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of

[Cf. VI. § 9.]

19. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is
ripe, he must 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 [our plans] are carried out," etc. Sun Tzu's main point in this
passage is: Whereas you kill the spy himself "as a punishment for
letting out the secret," the object of killing the other man is only,
as Ch‘en Hao puts it, "to stop his mouth" and prevent news leaking any
further. If it had already been repeated to others, this object would
not be gained. Either way, Sun Tzu lays himself open to the charge of
inhumanity, though Tu Mu tries to defend him by saying that the man
deserves to be put to death, for the spy would certainly not have told
the secret unless the other had been at pains to worm it out of him."]

20. Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to
assassinate an individual, it is always necessary to begin by finding
out the names of the attendants, the aides-de- camp,

[Literally "visitors", is equivalent, as Tu Yu says, to "those whose
duty it is to keep the general supplied with information," which
naturally necessitates frequent interviews with him.]

and door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must
be commissioned to ascertain these.

[As the first step, no doubt towards finding out if any of these
important functionaries can be won over by bribery.]

21. The enemy's spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out,
tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will
become converted spies and available for our service.

22. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we
are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies.

[Tu Yu says: "through conversion of the enemy's spies we learn the
enemy's condition." And Chang Yu says: "We must tempt the converted spy
into our service, because it is he that knows which of the local
inhabitants are greedy of gain, and which of the officials are open to

23. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed
spy to carry false tidings to the enemy.

[Chang Yu says, "because the converted spy knows how the enemy can best
be deceived."]

24. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used
on appointed occasions.

25. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of
the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first
instance, from the converted spy.

[As explained in § 22-24. He not only brings information himself, but
makes it possible to use the other kinds of spy to advantage.]

Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost

26. Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty

[Sun Tzu means the Shang dynasty, founded in 1766 B.C. Its name was
changed to Yin by P‘an Keng in 1401.

was due to I Chih

[Better known as I Yin, the famous general and statesman who took part
in Ch‘eng T‘ang's campaign against Chieh Kuei.]

who had served under the Hsia. Likewise, the rise of the Chou dynasty
was due to Lu Ya

[Lu Shang rose to high office under the tyrant Chou Hsin, whom he
afterwards helped to overthrow. Popularly known as T‘ai Kung, a title
bestowed on him by Wen Wang, he is said to have composed a treatise on
war, erroneously identified with the _Liu T‘ao_.]

who had served under the Yin.

[There is less precision in the Chinese than I have thought it well to
introduce into my translation, and the commentaries on the passage are
by no means explicit. But, having regard to the context, we can hardly
doubt that Sun Tzu is holding up I Chih and Lu Ya as illustrious
examples of the converted spy, or something closely analogous. His
suggestion is, that the Hsia and Yin dynasties were upset owing to the
intimate knowledge of their weaknesses and shortcoming which these
former ministers were able to impart to the other side. Mei Yao-ch‘en
appears to resent any such aspersion on these historic names: "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
employ the latter, hence Hou employed him. Their great achievements
were all for the good of the people." Ho Shih is also indignant: "How
should two divinely inspired men such as I and Lu have acted as common
spies? Sun Tzu's mention of them simply means that the proper use of
the five classes of spies is a matter which requires men of the highest
mental caliber like I and Lu, whose wisdom and capacity qualified them
for the task. The above words only emphasize this point." Ho Shih
believes then that the two heroes are mentioned on account of their
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 use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying
and thereby they achieve great results.

[Tu Mu closes with a note of warning: "Just as water, which carries a
boat from bank to bank, may also be the means of sinking it, so
reliance on spies, while production 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's ability to move.

[Chia Lin says that an army without spies is like a man with ears or

[1] "Aids to Scouting," p. 2.

[2] "Marshal Turenne," p. 311.

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