• 1

• 1
• 1
Sun Wu and his Book
Ssu-ma Ch`ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzu: 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
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
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."
• 3
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." 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. ss. 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
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.romantic details.
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 undisciplined."
I have heard that the ancients used bows and arrows to their advantage.
The SHU CHU mentions "the army" among the "eight objects of
government." The I CHING says: "'army' indicates firmness and justice;
the experienced leader will have good fortune." The SHIH CHING says:
"The King rose majestic in his wrath, and he marshaled his troops." The
Yellow Emperor, T`ang the Completer and Wu Wang all used spears and
battle-axes in order to succor their generation. The SSU-MA FA says: "If
one man slay another of set purpose, he himself may rightfully be slain." He
who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies
solely on peaceful measures shall perish. Instances of this are Fu Ch`ai on
the one hand and Yen Wang on the other. In military matters, the Sage's rule
is normally to keep the peace, and to move his forces only when occasion
requires. He will not use armed force unless driven to it by necessity.
• 5
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 neglected.
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.]
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, sincerely,
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 feeling.'"]
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.".]
(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
• 7
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
(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 him 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,
"ESPIRIT 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 defeat.
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?" ]
18. All warfare is based on deception.
• 9
[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."]
10 ••
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.
• 11
[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 men.]
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.]
12 ••
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 illconsidered 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
• 13
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 favor.]
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 supplywagons 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 commissariat.]
9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy.
Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.
14 ••
[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
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
• 15
[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 both?"]
while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breastplates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles,
draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total
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
[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
16 ••
18. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one's own strength.
19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
[As Ho Shih remarks: "War is not a thing to be trifled with." Sun Tzu
here reiterates the main lesson which this chapter is intended to enforce."]
20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the
people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in
peace or in peril.
• 17
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
18 ••
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 avoided.
[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;
• 19
[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.
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
[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 note.]
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.
20 ••
[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
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
• 21
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 discipline.]
if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in
the 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.
22 ••
[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
army:-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 orders.]
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,
• 23
[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, 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
(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
24 ••
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
(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 authority.]
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.]
• 25
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.]
26 ••
[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
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.
• 27
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 spite of the fact that the
commentators are all against me. The meaning they give, "He who cannot
conquer takes the defensive," is plausible enough.]
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
he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven.
[Another metaphor, implying that he falls on his adversary like a
thunderbolt, against which there is no time to prepare. This is the opinion of
most of 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
28 ••
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
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
• 29
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 win."]
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 enemy.
30 ••
[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
16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres
to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.
17. In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement;
secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly,
Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory.
18. Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity 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
• 31
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.
32 ••
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 numbers.
[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 maneuvers direct and
[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 maneuvers must be employed." Mei
Yao-ch`en: "CH`I is active, CHENG is passive; passivity means waiting for
an opportunity, activity beings 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
• 33
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. Here, we are told, the march on Lin-chin was
CHENG, and the surprise maneuver 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 maneuver.' Li Weikung [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 . A comment on the T`ang Emperor T`ai Tsung goes to the
root of the matter: 'A CH`I maneuver 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 CHENG."]
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.
34 ••
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
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 maneuvers.
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.
• 35
[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." ]
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.]
36 ••
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 defeat.
[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
subdivision; 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."]
• 37
masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.
[Chang Yu relates the following anecdote of Kao Tsu, the first Han
Emperor: "Wishing to crush the Hsiung-nu, he sent out spies to report on
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
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, with he calculated that his pursuers
would reach after dark. Here he had a tree stripped of its bark, and inscribed
38 ••
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 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
Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.
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 fourcornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.
• 39
[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."]
40 ••
[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. ]
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 defend.]
• 41
4. If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; 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
42 ••
topmost heights of heaven, 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.]
• 43
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
[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 Chuko Liang, who when occupying Yang-p`ing and about to be attacked by Ssuma 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
[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.
44 ••
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
[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
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."]
• 45
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."]
46 ••
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. 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 achieved."]
22. Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from
fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their
[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.]
• 47
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.
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 as "showing no sign" of what you
mean to do, of the plans that are formed in your brain.]
conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the
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.
48 ••
[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
[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."]
• 49
There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and
[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.]
50 ••
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 : "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 maneuvering, 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 maneuvers 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 position."]
• 51
The difficulty of tactical maneuvering 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
52 ••
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. Maneuvering 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
maneuvers 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.
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 destination.
• 53
[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.
Maneuvers 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.]
9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver 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 maneuvering."]
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.
54 ••
14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we
make use of local guides.
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.]
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,
["Fierce as a blazing fire which no man can check."]
is immovability like a mountain.
• 55
[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.
56 ••
[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.]
22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation. Such is the
art of maneuvering.
[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 noticeable 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.
• 57
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;
58 ••
["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, ss. 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 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. 571649) 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 solider's spirit is keenest in the morning;
• 59
[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.]
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.
60 ••
[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 obligbed 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
• 61
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 safety.]
37. Such is the art of warfare.
62 ••
[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 SS.
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 very 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". 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 weight.]
1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the
sovereign, collects his army and concentrates his forces.
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
[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 advance."]
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."]
• 63
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 be besieged,
[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 maneuvers. He said: "It is a great mistake to waste
men in taking a town when the same expenditure of soldiers will gain a
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.]
64 ••
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
7. Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of advantage and of
disadvantage will be blended together.
• 65
["Whether in an advantageous position or a disadvantageous one," says
Ts`ao Kung, "the opposite state should be always present to your mind."]
8. If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may
succeed 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
9. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready
to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.
[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."]
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
66 ••
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 make 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 the 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
12. There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:
Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
• 67
["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. 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,
make the incisive remark: "Simply going to one's death does not bring about
(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 warjunk, 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 across.]
68 ••
(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 seek after glory should be careless of public opinion."]
(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.
[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
• 69
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
70 ••
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. "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."
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.
• 71
["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, 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.
72 ••
[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 attack.]
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.
• 73
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 agreement and
salubrious, but more convenient from a military point of view; low ground
is not only damp and unhealthy, but also disadvantageous for fighting."]
74 ••
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 kind,
[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."]
• 75
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.
76 ••
[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 bait.
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
The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of thick grass means that
the enemy wants to make us suspicious.
• 77
[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 across.]
22. The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an ambuscade.
[Chang Yu's explanation is doubtless right: "When birds that are flying
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-inchief." 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."]
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.
78 ••
[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 fainthearted.' 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 too 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
• 79
the town capitulated, he would 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, shoing 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
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
80 ••
[Every man hastening to his proper place under his own regimental
and the soldiers fall into rank, it means that the critical moment has come.
28. When some are seen advancing and some retreating, it is a lure.
29. When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears, they are faint from
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.]
• 81
34. When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food,
[In the ordinary course of things, the men would be fed on grain and the
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
82 ••
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
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 maneuver of this sort may be only a ruse to gain time
for an unexpected flank attack or the laying of an ambush.]
• 83
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 figure."]
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."]
84 ••
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 unless.
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
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, 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.
• 85
[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: "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.]
86 ••
[Only about a third of the chapter deals with "terrain".The "six calamities"
are discussed , 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.
• 87
[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 supplies.
[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," we could wish that
Sun Tzu had done more than skirt the edge of this important subject here.
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
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."
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.
88 ••
[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 position.]
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 garrisoned.
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." 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
• 89
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 spike of which Tou
Chien-te persisted in his attempt to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was defeated
and taken prisoner.]
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 battle,
[The point is that we must not think of undertaking a long and wearisome
march, at the end of which, as Tu Yu says, "we should be exhausted and our
adversary fresh and keen."]
and fighting will be to your disadvantage.
13. These six are the principles connected with Earth. The general who
has attained a responsible post must be careful to study them.
90 ••
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
(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 former.
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.
• 91
[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." 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
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."]
92 ••
20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully noted
by the general who has attained a responsible post.
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.
[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.]
• 93
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.
[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-inchief 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
94 ••
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 up.]
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.
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.
• 95
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."]
96 ••
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 ground.
[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
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,
• 97
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 Tzufang 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.]
98 ••
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 ground.
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 "hemmedin 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
• 99
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.]
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
100 ••
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
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 enemy."]
In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.
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. 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.]
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 corner."]
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 other."]
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.
102 ••
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. 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 Chuko 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. In 621 A.D., Li Ching was sent from K`ueichou 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. ss. 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.]
104 ••
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 food.
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 strength.
[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.
["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 terms."]
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
[Literally, "without asking, you will get."]
106 ••
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."]
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
pieced 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 battles.]
108 ••
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 maneuvers."]
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
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.
[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
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 day.]
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
110 ••
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."]
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
[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. 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, Kumo, 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.
112 ••
[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", 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 conquering."]
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 studied.
42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that
penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means
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, but it does not figure among the
Nine Situations or the Six Calamities. 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.
114 ••
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.]
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." Mei Yao-ch`en says: "On the march, the regiments should be in
close touch; in an encampment, there should be continuity between the
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. ss. 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.]
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. ss. 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.
116 ••
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.]
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.']
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
[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 arrived.]
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:
118 ••
"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
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
and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with
but a single man.
57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know your
[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
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.
120 ••
[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-inchief, 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 maneuver, 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.] 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 debandade, 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."]
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,
122 ••
[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. 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, 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. 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.]
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
124 ••
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 battle.
[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
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.]
[Rather more than half the chapter 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, 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! 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
126 ••
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."]
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. e specifies weapons and other implements, bullion and clothing. ]
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 fires."]
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
for these four are all days of rising wind.
5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possible
128 ••
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 here 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.] 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.']
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.”]
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 enemy."]
11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze soon
["A violent wind does not last the space of a morning." 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
130 ••
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 strength.
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 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.
["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 critical.
[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. "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.
132 ••
20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded
by content.
21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again
into being;
[The Wu State was destined to be a melancholy example of this saying.]
nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.
22. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of
caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact.
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. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will
drop down exhausted on the highways.
["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 labor.
[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. ss. 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.]
134 ••
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
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.
136 ••
[Mei Yao-ch`en has rather an interesting note: "Knowledge of the spiritworld 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."]
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 scalingladders 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
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 Shihhsien says that we pretend not to have detected him, but contrive to let him
138 ••
carry away a false impression of what is going on. 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 sun 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
[Tu Yu gives the best exposition of the meaning: "We ostentatiously do
thing 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. 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
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
140 ••
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.]
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 doubledealing." 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 passage."]
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 business.
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,
142 ••
[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.
[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.
144 ••
[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
Spies are a most important element in water, 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 eyes.]
146 ••
Was this manual useful for you? yes no
Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the work of artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Download PDF