Sun Tzu on The Art of War. This book is a Public Domain publication.

THE OLDEST MILITARY TREATISE IN THE WORLD. Translated from the Chinese with Introduction and Critical Notes



Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. in the British Museum 1910

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


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

When Lionel Giles began his translation of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the work was virtually unknown in Europe.

Its introduction to Europe began in 1782 when a French Jesuit Father living in China, Joseph Amiot, acquired a copy of it, and translated it into French. It was not a good translation because, according to Dr. Giles, “[I]t contains a great deal that Sun Tzu did not write, and very little indeed of what he did.”

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

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

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

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

Bob Sutton

Preface by Lionel Giles

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

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

Throughout the nineteenth century, which saw a wonderful development in the
study of Chinese literature, no translator ventured to tackle Sun Tzu, although
his work was known to be highly valued in China as by far the oldest and best
compendium of military science. It was not until the year 1905 that the first
English translation, by Capt. E.F. Calthrop. R.F.A., appeared at Tokyo under
the title “Sonshi”(the Japanese form of Sun Tzu). Unfortunately, it
was evident that the translator’s knowledge of Chinese was far too scanty
to fit him to grapple with the manifold difficulties of Sun Tzu. He himself
plainly acknowledges that without the aid of two Japanese gentlemen “the
accompanying translation would have been impossible.” We can only wonder,
then, that with their help it should have been so excessively bad. It is not
merely a question of downright blunders, from which none can hope to be wholly
exempt. Omissions were frequent; hard passages were wilfully distorted or
slurred over. Such offences are less pardonable. They would not be tolerated in
any edition of a Greek or Latin classic, and a similar standard of honesty
ought to be insisted upon in translations from Chinese.

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

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

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


Sun Wu and his Book

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

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

“I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory of
managing soldiers to a slight test?”

Sun Tzu replied: “You may.”

Ho Lu asked: “May the test be applied to women?”

The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180
ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed
one of the King’s favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them
all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: “I presume you know
the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?”

The girls replied: Yes.

Sun Tzu went on: “When I say “Eyes front,” you must look straight ahead. When I
say “Left turn,” you must face towards your left hand. When I say “Right turn,”
you must face towards your right hand. When I say “About turn,” you must face
right round towards your back.”

Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he
set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the
sound of drums, he gave the order “Right turn.” But the girls only burst out
laughing. Sun Tzu said: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if
orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”

So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order “Left turn,”
whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter. Sun Tzu: “If words
of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood,
the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear, and the soldiers
nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.”

So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now the
king of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when
he saw that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly
alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: “We are now quite
satisfied as to our general’s ability to handle troops. If we are bereft of
these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish
that they shall not be beheaded.”

Sun Tzu replied: “Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be the
general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting
in that capacity, I am unable to accept.”

Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed the
pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drum
was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the
evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling
back, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing
to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: “Your
soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your
majesty’s inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may
desire; bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey.”

But the King replied: “Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As
for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops.”

Thereupon Sun Tzu said: “The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate
them into deeds.”

After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was
one who knew how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the
west, he defeated the Ch’u State and forced his way into Ying, the
capital; to the north he put fear into the States of Ch’i and Chin, and
spread his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the
might of the King.

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

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

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

This is the latest date at which anything is recorded of Sun Wu. He does not
appear to have survived his patron, who died from the effects of a wound in
496. In another chapter there occurs this passage:[6]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tu Mu’s conjecture seems to be based on a passage which states: “Wei Wu Ti
strung together Sun Wu’s Art of War,” which in turn may have resulted from a
misunderstanding of the final words of Ts’ao King’s preface. This, as Sun
Hsing-yen points out, is only a modest way of saying that he made an
explanatory paraphrase, or in other words, wrote a commentary on it. On the
whole, this theory has met with very little acceptance. Thus, the Ssu K’u
Ch’uan Shu
says: “The mention of the 13 chapters in the Shih Chi shows
that they were in existence before the Han Chih, and that latter accretions are
not to be considered part of the original work. Tu Mu’s assertion can certainly
not be taken as proof.”

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

It is stated in Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s history that Sun Wu was a native of the
Ch’i State, and employed by Wu; and that in the reign of Ho Lu he crushed
Ch’u, entered Ying, and was a great general. But in Tso’s Commentary no
Sun Wu appears at all. It is true that Tso’s Commentary need not contain
absolutely everything that other histories contain. But Tso has not omitted to
mention vulgar plebeians and hireling ruffians such as Ying K’ao-shu,
[18] Ts’ao Kuei, [19], Chu Chih-wu and Chuan She-chu [20]. In the case of
Sun Wu, whose fame and achievements were so brilliant, the omission is much
more glaring. Again, details are given, in their due order, about his
contemporaries Wu Yuan and the Minister P’ei. [21] Is it credible that
Sun Wu alone should have been passed over?

In point of literary style, Sun Tzu’s work belongs to the same school as Kuan
, [22] Liu T’ao, [23] and the Yueh Yu [24] and may have been the
production of some private scholar living towards the end of the “Spring and
Autumn” or the beginning of the “Warring States” period. [25] The story that
his precepts were actually applied by the Wu State, is merely the outcome of
big talk on the part of his followers.

From the flourishing period of the Chou dynasty [26] down to the time of the
“Spring and Autumn,” all military commanders were statesmen as well, and the
class of professional generals, for conducting external campaigns, did not then
exist. It was not until the period of the “Six States” [27] that this custom
changed. Now although Wu was an uncivilized State, it is conceivable that Tso
should have left unrecorded the fact that Sun Wu was a great general and yet
held no civil office? What we are told, therefore, about Jang-chu [28] and Sun
Wu, is not authentic matter, but the reckless fabrication of theorizing
pundits. The story of Ho Lu’s experiment on the women, in particular, is
utterly preposterous and incredible.

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

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

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

He also says:—

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

It is noticeable that both Yeh Shui-hsin and Ch’en Chen-sun, while
rejecting the personality of Sun Wu as he figures in Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s
history, are inclined to accept the date traditionally assigned to the work
which passes under his name. The author of the Hsu Lu fails to appreciate this
distinction, and consequently his bitter attack on Ch’en Chen-sun really
misses its mark. He makes one of two points, however, which certainly tell in
favor of the high antiquity of our “13 chapters.” “Sun Tzu,” he says, “must
have lived in the age of Ching Wang [519-476], because he is frequently
plagiarized in subsequent works of the Chou, Ch’in and Han dynasties.”
The two most shameless offenders in this respect are Wu Ch’i and Huai-nan
Tzu, both of them important historical personages in their day. The former
lived only a century after the alleged date of Sun Tzu, and his death is known
to have taken place in 381 B.C. It was to him, according to Liu Hsiang, that
Tseng Shen delivered the Tso Chuan, which had been entrusted to him by its
author. [29] Now the fact that quotations from the Art of War,
acknowledged or otherwise, are to be found in so many authors of different
epochs, establishes a very strong anterior to them all,—in other words,
that Sun Tzu’s treatise was already in existence towards the end of the 5th
century B.C. Further proof of Sun Tzu’s antiquity is furnished by the archaic
or wholly obsolete meanings attaching to a number of the words he uses. A list
of these, which might perhaps be extended, is given in the Hsu Lu; and though
some of the interpretations are doubtful, the main argument is hardly affected
thereby. Again, it must not be forgotten that Yeh Shui-hsin, a scholar and
critic of the first rank, deliberately pronounces the style of the 13 chapters
to belong to the early part of the fifth century. Seeing that he is actually
engaged in an attempt to disprove the existence of Sun Wu himself, we may be
sure that he would not have hesitated to assign the work to a later date had he
not honestly believed the contrary. And it is precisely on such a point that
the judgment of an educated Chinaman will carry most weight. Other internal
evidence is not far to seek. Thus in XIII. § 1, there is an unmistakable
allusion to the ancient system of land-tenure which had already passed away by
the time of Mencius, who was anxious to see it revived in a modified form. [30]
The only warfare Sun Tzu knows is that carried on between the various feudal
princes, in which armored chariots play a large part. Their use seems to have
entirely died out before the end of the Chou dynasty. He speaks as a man of Wu,
a state which ceased to exist as early as 473 B.C. On this I shall touch

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

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

The other is in XI. § 30:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Text of Sun Tzu

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

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

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

Because of the numerous mistakes in the text of Sun Tzu which his editors had
handed down, the Government ordered that the ancient edition [of Chi
T’ien-pao] should be used, and that the text should be revised and
corrected throughout. It happened that Wu Nien-hu, the Governor Pi Kua, and
Hsi, a graduate of the second degree, had all devoted themselves to this study,
probably surpassing me therein. Accordingly, I have had the whole work cut on
blocks as a textbook for military men.

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

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

The Commentators

Sun Tzu can boast an exceptionally long distinguished roll of commentators,
which would do honor to any classic. Ou-yang Hsiu remarks on this fact, though
he wrote before the tale was complete, and rather ingeniously explains it by
saying that the artifices of war, being inexhaustible, must therefore be
susceptible of treatment in a great variety of ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. MEI YAO-CH’EN (1002-1060), commonly known by his “style” as Mei
Sheng-yu, was, like Tu Mu, a poet of distinction. His commentary was published
with a laudatory preface by the great Ou-yang Hsiu, from which we may cull the

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

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

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

10. HO YEN-HSI of the Sung dynasty. The personal name of this commentator is
given as above by Cheng Ch’iao in the Tung Chih, written about the middle
of the twelfth century, but he appears simply as Ho Shih in the Yu Hai, and Ma
Tuan-lin quotes Ch’ao Kung-wu as saying that his personal name is
unknown. There seems to be no reason to doubt Cheng Ch’iao’s statement,
otherwise I should have been inclined to hazard a guess and identify him with
one Ho Ch’u-fei, the author of a short treatise on war, who lived in the
latter part of the 11th century. Ho Shih’s commentary, in the words of the
T’ien-i-ko catalogue, “contains helpful additions” here and there, but is
chiefly remarkable for the copious extracts taken, in adapted form, from the
dynastic histories and other sources.

11. CHANG YU. The list closes with a commentator of no great originality
perhaps, but gifted with admirable powers of lucid exposition. His commentator
is based on that of Ts’ao Kung, whose terse sentences he contrives to
expand and develop in masterly fashion. Without Chang Yu, it is safe to say
that much of Ts’ao Kung’s commentary would have remained cloaked in its
pristine obscurity and therefore valueless. His work is not mentioned in the
Sung history, the T’ung K’ao, or the Yu Hai, but it finds a niche
in the T’ung Chih, which also names him as the author of the “Lives of
Famous Generals.” [46]

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

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

Appreciations of Sun Tzu

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

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

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

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

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

Apologies for War

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

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

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

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

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

War may be defined as punishment, which is one of the functions of government.
It was the profession of Chung Yu and Jan Ch’iu, both disciples of
Confucius. Nowadays, the holding of trials and hearing of litigation, the
imprisonment of offenders and their execution by flogging in the market-place,
are all done by officials. But the wielding of huge armies, the throwing down
of fortified cities, the hauling of women and children into captivity, and the
beheading of traitors—this is also work which is done by officials. The
objects of the rack and of military weapons are essentially the same. There is
no intrinsic difference between the punishment of flogging and cutting off
heads in war. For the lesser infractions of law, which are easily dealt with,
only a small amount of force need be employed: hence the use of military
weapons and wholesale decapitation. In both cases, however, the end in view is
to get rid of wicked people, and to give comfort and relief to the good….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering the high popular estimation in which Chu-ko Liang has always been
held, it is not surprising to find more than one work on war ascribed to his
pen. Such are (1) the Shih Liu Ts’e (1 chuan), preserved in the Yung Lo
Ta Tien;
(2) Chiang Yuan (1 chuan); and (3) Hsin Shu (1 chuan), which steals
wholesale from Sun Tzu. None of these has the slightest claim to be considered

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

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

The bibliographical sections of certain historical works also deserve

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

To these of course must be added the great Catalogue of the Imperial

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


1. Shih Chi, ch. 65.

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

3. Shih Chi, ch. 130.

4. The appellation of Nang Wa.

5. Shih Chi, ch. 31.

6. Shih Chi, ch. 25.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. See chap. XI.

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

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

18. He hardly deserves to be bracketed with assassins.

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

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

21. I.e. Po P’ei. See ante.

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

23. See infra, beginning of INTRODUCTION.

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

25. About 480 B.C.

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

27. In the 3rd century B.C.

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

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

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

31. When Wu first appears in the Ch’un Ch’iu in 584, it is already
at variance with its powerful neighbor. The Ch’un Ch’iu first
mentions Yueh in 537, the Tso Chuan in 601.

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

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

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

35. From Tso Chuan: “From the date of King Chao’s accession [515] there was no
year in which Ch’u was not attacked by Wu.”

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

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

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

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

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

41. Wen Hsien T’ung K’ao, ch. 221.

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

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

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

45. T’ung K’ao, ch. 221.

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

47. T’ung K’ao, loc. cit.

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

49. See XI. § 58, note.

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

51. San Kuo Chih, ch. 54.

52. Sung Shih, ch. 365 ad init.

53. The few Europeans who have yet had an opportunity of acquainting themselves
with Sun Tzu are not behindhand in their praise. In this connection, I may
perhaps be excused for quoting from a letter from Lord Roberts, to whom the
sheets of the present work were submitted previous to publication: “Many of Sun
Wu’s maxims are perfectly applicable to the present day, and no. 11 [in Chapter
VIII] is one that the people of this country would do well to take to heart.”

54. Ch. 140.

55. See IV. § 3.

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

57. The Tso Chuan.

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

59. Cf. Shih Chi, ch 47.

60. See Shu Ching, preface § 55.

61. See Shih Chi, ch. 47.

62. Lun Yu, XV. 1.

63. I failed to trace this utterance.

64. Supra.

65. Supra.

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

67. See XIII. § 11, note.

68. This is a rather obscure allusion to the Tso Chuan, where Tzu-ch’an
says: “If you have a piece of beautiful brocade, you will not employ a mere
learner to make it up.”

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

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

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

72. Shih Chi, ch. 47.

73. Shih Chi, ch. 38.

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


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

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

2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence
it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be 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 in § 13.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[See §§ 7, 8]

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

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

(5) Which army is stronger?

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

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

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

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

[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

[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 State.]

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 plans.

[Sun Tzu, as a practical soldier, will have none of the “bookish theoric.” He
cautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract principles; “for,” as Chang
Yu puts it, “while the main laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough for
the benefit of all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy
in attempting to secure a favorable position in actual warfare.” On the eve of
the battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, commanding the cavalry, went to the Duke
of Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations were for the
morrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find himself
Commander-in-chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment.
The Duke listened quietly and then said: “Who will attack the first
tomorrow—I or Bonaparte?” “Bonaparte,” replied Lord Uxbridge. “Well,”
continued the Duke, “Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects; and
as my plans will depend upon his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine
are?” [1] ]

18. All warfare is based on deception.

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

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

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

[All commentators, except Chang Yu, say, “When he is in disorder, crush him.”
It is more natural to suppose that Sun Tzu is still illustrating the uses of
deception in war.]

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

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

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

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

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

If his forces are united, separate them.

[Less plausible is the interpretation favored by most of the commentators: “If
sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them.”]

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Ts’ao Kung has the note: “He who wishes to fight must first count the
cost,” which prepares us for the discovery that the subject of the chapter is
not what we might expect from the title, but is primarily a consideration of
ways and means.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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, breast-plates
and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles,
draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[Perhaps the word “balk” falls short of expressing the full force of the
Chinese word, which implies not an attitude of defense, whereby one might be
content to foil the enemy’s stratagems one after another, but an active policy
of counter-attack. Ho Shih puts this very clearly in his note: “When the enemy
has made a plan of attack against us, we must anticipate him by delivering our
own attack first.”]

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

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

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

[When he is already at full strength.]

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

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

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

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

[These were great mounds or ramparts of earth heaped up to the level of the
enemy’s walls in order to discover the weak points in the defense, and also to
destroy the fortified turrets mentioned in the preceding 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.

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

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

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

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

[Owing to the double meanings in the Chinese text, the latter part of the
sentence is susceptible of quite a different meaning: “And thus, the weapon not
being blunted by use, its keenness remains perfect.”]

This is the method of attacking by stratagem.

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

[Straightway, without waiting for any further advantage.]

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

[Tu Mu takes exception to the saying; and at first sight, indeed, it appears to
violate a fundamental principle of war. Ts’ao Kung, however, gives a clue to
Sun Tzu’s meaning: “Being two to the enemy’s one, we may use one part of our
army in the regular way, and the other for some special diversion.” Chang Yu
thus further elucidates the point: “If our force is twice as numerous as that
of the enemy, it should be split up into two divisions, one to meet the enemy
in front, and one to fall upon his rear; if he replies to the frontal attack,
he may be crushed from behind; if to the rearward attack, he may be crushed in
front.” This is what is meant by saying that ‘one part may be used in the
regular way, and the other for some special diversion.’ Tu Mu does not
understand that dividing one’s army is simply an irregular, just as
concentrating it is the regular, strategical method, and he is too hasty in
calling this a mistake.”]

9. If equally matched, we can offer battle;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[I follow Mei Yao-ch’en here. The other commentators refer not to the
ruler, as in §§ 13, 14, but to the officers he employs. Thus Tu Yu says: “If a
general is ignorant of the principle of adaptability, he must not be entrusted
with a position of authority.” Tu Mu quotes: “The skillful employer of men will
employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man. For
the wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show
his courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the
stupid man has no fear of death.”]

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

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

[Chang Yu says: If he can fight, he advances and takes the offensive; if he
cannot fight, he retreats and remains on the defensive. He will invariably
conquer who knows whether it is right to take the offensive or the defensive.]

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

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

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

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

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

[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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[True excellence being, as Tu Mu says: “To plan secretly, to move
surreptitiously, to foil the enemy’s intentions and balk his schemes, so that
at last the day may be won without shedding a drop of blood.” Sun Tzu reserves
his approbation for things that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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

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.

[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 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

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

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

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

Chapter V. ENERGY

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

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

[We now come to one of the most interesting parts of Sun Tzu’s treatise, the
discussion of the cheng and the ch’i.” As it is by no means
easy to grasp the full significance of these two terms, or to render them
consistently by good English equivalents; it may be as well to tabulate some of
the commentators’ remarks on the subject before proceeding further. Li
Ch’uan: “Facing the enemy is cheng, making lateral diversion is
ch’i. Chia Lin: “In presence of the enemy, your troops should be
arrayed in normal fashion, but in order to secure victory abnormal manœuvers
must be employed.” Mei Yao-ch’en: “Ch’i is active,
cheng is passive; passivity means waiting for an opportunity, activity
brings the victory itself.” Ho Shih: “We must cause the enemy to regard our
straightforward attack as one that is secretly designed, and vice versa; thus
cheng may also be ch’i, and ch’i may also be
cheng.” He instances the famous exploit of Han Hsin, who when marching
ostensibly against Lin-chin (now Chao-i in Shensi), suddenly threw a large
force across the Yellow River in wooden tubs, utterly disconcerting his
opponent. [Ch’ien Han Shu, ch. 3.] Here, we are told, the march on
Lin-chin was cheng, and the surprise manœuver was ch’i.”
Chang Yu gives the following summary of opinions on the words: “Military
writers do not agree with regard to the meaning of ch’i and
cheng. Wei Liao Tzu [4th cent. B.C.] says: ‘Direct warfare favors
frontal attacks, indirect warfare attacks from the rear.’ Ts’ao Kung
says: ‘Going straight out to join battle is a direct operation; appearing on
the enemy’s rear is an indirect manœuver.’ Li Wei-kung [6th and 7th cent. A.D.]
says: ‘In war, to march straight ahead is cheng; turning movements, on
the other hand, are ch’i.’ These writers simply regard
cheng as cheng, and ch’i as ch’i; they
do not note that the two are mutually interchangeable and run into each other
like the two sides of a circle [see infra, § 11]. A comment on the T’ang
Emperor T’ai Tsung goes to the root of the matter: ‘A ch’i
manœuver may be cheng, if we make the enemy look upon it as
cheng; then our real attack will be ch’i, and vice versa.
The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real
intent.’” To put it perhaps a little more clearly: any attack or other
operation is cheng, on which the enemy has had his attention fixed;
whereas that is ch’i,” which takes him by surprise or comes from
an unexpected quarter. If the enemy perceives a movement which is meant to be
ch’i,” it immediately becomes 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. [1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[See supra, § 1.]

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

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

masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical 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, which he calculated that his pursuers would reach
after dark. Here he had a tree stripped of its bark, and inscribed upon it the
words: “Under this tree shall P’ang Chuan die.” Then, as night began to
fall, he placed a strong body of archers in ambush near by, with orders to
shoot directly if they saw a light. Later on, P’ang Chuan arrived at the
spot, and noticing the tree, struck a light in order to read what was written
on it. His body was immediately riddled by a volley of arrows, and his whole
army thrown into confusion. [The above is Tu Mu’s version of the story; the
Shih Chi, less dramatically but probably with more historical truth, makes
P’ang Chuan cut his own throat with an exclamation of despair, after the
rout of his army.] ]

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

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

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

21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not
require too much from individuals.

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

Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined 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 four-cornered, to
come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.

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

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

[The chief lesson of this chapter, in Tu Mu’s opinion, is the paramount
importance in war of rapid evolutions and sudden rushes. “Great results,” he
adds, “can thus be achieved with small forces.”]

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


[Chang Yu attempts to explain the sequence of chapters as follows: “Chapter IV,
on Tactical Dispositions, treated of the offensive and the defensive; chapter
V, on Energy, dealt with direct and indirect methods. The good general
acquaints himself first with the theory of attack and defense, and then turns
his attention to direct and indirect methods. He studies the art of varying and
combining these two methods before proceeding to the subject of weak and strong
points. For the use of direct or indirect methods arises out of attack and
defense, and the perception of weak and strong points depends again on the
above methods. Hence the present chapter comes immediately after the chapter on

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

2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not
allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Literally, “without form or sound,” but it is said of course with reference to
the enemy.]

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

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

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

[Tu Mu says: “If the enemy is the invading party, we can cut his line of
communications and occupy the roads by which he will have to return; if we are
the invaders, we may direct our attack against the sovereign himself.” It is
clear that Sun Tzu, unlike certain generals in the late Boer war, was no
believer in frontal attacks.]

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

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

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

[The conclusion is perhaps not very obvious, but Chang Yu (after Mei
Yao-ch’en) rightly explains it thus: “If the enemy’s dispositions are
visible, we can make for him in one body; whereas, our own dispositions being
kept secret, the enemy will be obliged to divide his forces in order to guard
against attack from every quarter.”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[In Frederick the Great’s Instructions to his Generals we read: “A
defensive war is apt to betray us into too frequent detachment. Those generals
who have had but little experience attempt to protect every point, while those
who are better acquainted with their profession, having only the capital object
in view, guard against a decisive blow, and acquiesce in small misfortunes to
avoid greater.”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting.
Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success.

[An alternative reading offered by Chia Lin is: “Know beforehand all plans
conducive to our success and to the enemy’s failure.”

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

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

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

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

[Cf. IV. § 6.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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

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

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

the four seasons make way for each other in turn.

[Literally, “have no invariable seat.”]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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.

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

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

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

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

[In the T’ung Tien is added: “From this we may know the difficulty of

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

[I think Sun Tzu meant “stores accumulated in depots.” But Tu Yu says “fodder
and the like,” Chang Yu says “Goods in general,” and Wang Hsi says “fuel, salt,
foodstuffs, etc.”]

12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of
our neighbors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind,

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

your compactness that of the forest.

[Meng Shih comes nearer to the mark in his note: “When slowly marching, order
and ranks must be preserved”—so as to guard against surprise attacks. But
natural forest do not grow in rows, whereas they do generally possess the
quality of density or compactness.]

18. In raiding and plundering be like fire,

[Cf. Shih Ching, IV. 3. iv. 6: “Fierce as a blazing fire which no man
can check.”]

in immovability like a mountain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Ch’en Hao says “quarter your soldiers on the land, and let them sow and
plant it.” It is by acting on this principle, and harvesting the lands they
invaded, that the Chinese have succeeded in carrying out some of their most
memorable and triumphant expeditions, such as that of Pan Ch’ao who
penetrated to the Caspian, and in more recent years, those of Fu-k’ang-an
and Tso Tsung-t’ang.]

21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.

[Chang Yu quotes Wei Liao Tzu as saying that we must not break camp until we
have gained the resisting power of the enemy and the cleverness of the opposing
general. Cf. the “seven comparisons” in I. § 13.]

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

[See supra, §§ 3, 4.]

Such is the art of manœuvering.

[With these words, the chapter would naturally come to an end. But there now
follows a long appendix in the shape of an extract from an earlier book on War,
now lost, but apparently extant at the time when Sun Tzu wrote. The style of
this fragment is not noticeably different from that of Sun Tzu himself, but no
commentator raises a doubt as to its genuineness.]

23. The Book of Army Management says:

[It is perhaps significant that none of the earlier commentators give us any
information about this work. Mei Yao- Ch’en calls it “an ancient military
classic,” and Wang Hsi, “an old book on war.” Considering the enormous amount
of fighting that had gone on for centuries before Sun Tzu’s time between the
various kingdoms and principalities of China, it is not in itself improbable
that a collection of military maxims should have been made and written down at
some earlier period.]

On the field of battle,

[Implied, though not actually in the Chinese.]

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

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

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

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

[Chuang Yu quotes a saying: “Equally guilty are those who advance against
orders and those who retreat against orders.” Tu Mu tells a story in this
connection of Wu Ch’i, when he was fighting against the Ch’in
State. Before the battle had begun, one of his soldiers, a man of matchless
daring, sallied forth by himself, captured two heads from the enemy, and
returned to camp. Wu Ch’i had the man instantly executed, whereupon an
officer ventured to remonstrate, saying: “This man was a good soldier, and
ought not to have been beheaded.” Wu Ch’i replied: “I fully believe he
was a good soldier, but I had him beheaded because he acted without orders.”]

This is the art of handling large masses of men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

35. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy.

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

Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.

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

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

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

Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

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

37. Such is the art of warfare.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

armies which must be not attacked,

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

towns which must not be besieged,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[“Whether in an advantageous position or a disadvantageous one,” says
Ts’ao Kung, “the opposite state should be always present to your 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 calculations.”]

9. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to
seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from 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.” See the
story of Ts’ao Ts’ao, VII. § 35, note.]

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

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

and make trouble for them,

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

and keep them constantly engaged;

[Literally, “make servants of them.” Tu Yu says “prevent them from having any

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

[Meng Shih’s note contains an excellent example of the idiomatic use of: “cause
them to forget pien (the reasons for acting otherwise than on their first
impulse), and hasten in our direction.”]

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

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

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

(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;

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

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

[Tu Mu tells us that Yao Hsing, when opposed in 357 A.D. by Huang Mei, 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

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

This need not be taken to mean that a sense of honor is really a defect in a
general. What Sun Tzu condemns is rather an exaggerated sensitiveness to
slanderous reports, the thin-skinned man who is stung by opprobrium, however
undeserved. Mei Yao-ch’en truly observes, though somewhat paradoxically:
“The seeker after glory should be careless of public opinion.”]

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

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

[1] “Marshal Turenne,” p. 50.


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

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

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

2. Camp in high places,

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

facing the sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[For fear of preventing his crossing.]

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

[See supra, § 2. The repetition of these words in connection with water is very
awkward. Chang Yu has the note: “Said either of troops marshaled on the
river-bank, or of boats anchored in the stream itself; in either case it is
essential to be higher than the enemy and facing the sun.” The other
commentators are not at all explicit.]

Do not move up-stream to meet the enemy.

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

So much for river warfare.

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

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

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
it is mentioned that he “fought seventy battles and pacified the
Empire.” Ts’ao Kung’s explanation is, that the Yellow Emperor was the
first to institute the feudal system of vassals princes, each of whom (to the
number of four) originally bore the title of Emperor. Li Ch’uan tells us
that the art of war originated under Huang Ti, who received it from his
Minister Feng Hou.]

11. All armies prefer high ground to low.

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

and sunny places to dark.

12. If you are careful of your men,

[Ts’ao Kung says: “Make for fresh water and pasture, where you can 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

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 subsides.

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

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

confined places,

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

tangled thickets,

[Defined as “places covered with such dense undergrowth that spears cannot be


[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

[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

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 advancing.

[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.

[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-in-chief.” Cf. Gen. Baden-Powell:
“As you move along, say, in a hostile country, your eyes should be looking afar
for the enemy or any signs of him: figures, dust rising, birds getting up,
glitter of arms, etc.” [1] ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clamor by night betokens nervousness.

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

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

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

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 resources;

[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 temper.]

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 manœuver of this sort may be only a ruse to gain time
for an unexpected flank attack or the laying of an ambush.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

42. If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will
not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless.
If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not
enforced, they will still be useless.

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

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

This is a certain road to victory.

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

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

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

the gain will be mutual.

[Chang Yu says: “The general has confidence in the men under his command, and
the men are docile, having confidence in him. Thus the gain is mutual.” He
quotes a pregnant sentence from Wei Liao Tzu, ch. 4: “The art of giving orders
is not to try to rectify minor blunders and not to be swayed by petty doubts.”
Vacillation and fussiness are the surest means of sapping the confidence of an

[1] “Aids to Scouting,” p. 26.

Chapter X. TERRAIN

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

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

[Mei Yao-ch’en says: “plentifully provided with roads and means of

(2) entangling ground;

[The same commentator says: “Net-like country, venturing into which you become

(3) temporizing ground;

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

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

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

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

3. With regard to ground of this nature, be before the enemy in occupying the
raised and sunny spots, and carefully guard your line of 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,” [1] we could wish that Sun Tzu had
done more than skirt the edge of this important subject here and in I. § 10,
VII. § 11. Col. Henderson says: “The line of supply may be said to be as vital
to the existence of an army as the heart to the life of a human being. Just as
the duelist who finds his adversary’s point menacing him with certain death,
and his own guard astray, is compelled to conform to his adversary’s movements,
and to content himself with warding off his thrusts, so the commander whose
communications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false position, and
he will be fortunate if he has not to change all his plans, to split up his
force into more or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferior
numbers on ground which he has not had time to prepare, and where defeat will
not be an ordinary failure, but will entail the ruin or surrender of his whole
army.” [2]

Then you will be able to fight with advantage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.” [For the
enunciation of the grand principle alluded to, see VI. § 2]. Chang Yu tells the
following anecdote of P’ei Hsing-chien (A.D. 619-682), who was sent on a
punitive expedition against the Turkic tribes. “At night he pitched his camp as
usual, and it had already been completely fortified by wall and ditch, when
suddenly he gave orders that the army should shift its quarters to a hill near
by. This was highly displeasing to his officers, who protested loudly against
the extra fatigue which it would entail on the men. P’ei Hsing-chien,
however, paid no heed to their remonstrances and had the camp moved as quickly
as possible. The same night, a terrific storm came on, which flooded their
former place of encampment to the depth of over twelve feet. The recalcitrant
officers were amazed at the sight, and owned that they had been in the wrong.
‘How did you know what was going to happen?’ they asked. P’ei Hsing-chien
replied: ‘From this time forward be content to obey orders without asking
unnecessary questions.’ From this it may be seen,” Chang Yu continues, “that
high and sunny places are advantageous not only for fighting, but also because
they are immune from disastrous floods.”]

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

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

12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength 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.

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

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

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

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.

[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

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

[Wei Liao Tzu (ch. 4) says: “If the commander gives his orders with decision,
the soldiers will not wait to hear them twice; if his moves are made without
vacillation, the soldiers will not be in two minds about doing their duty.”
General Baden-Powell says, italicizing the words: “The secret of getting
successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell—in the
clearness of the instructions they receive.” [3] Cf. also Wu Tzu ch. 3: “the
most fatal defect in a military leader is difference; the worst calamities that
befall an army arise from hesitation.”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[See supra, § 13.]

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

[Ch’en Hao says: “The advantages of weather and season are not equal to
those connected with ground.”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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

[Cf. III. § 13 (1).]

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

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

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

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

[Li Ch’uan sums up as follows: “Given a knowledge of three
things—the affairs of men, the seasons of heaven and the natural
advantages of earth—, victory will invariably crown your battles.”]

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

[2] “The Science of War,” chap. 2.

[3] “Aids to Scouting,” p. xii.


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

2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive 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 home.”]

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

[Tu Mu defines the ground as ground “to be contended for.” Ts’ao Kung
says: “ground on which the few and the weak can defeat the many and the
strong,” such as “the neck of a pass,” instanced by Li Ch’uan. Thus,
Thermopylae was of this classification because the possession of it, even for a
few days only, meant holding the entire invading army in check and thus gaining
invaluable time. Cf. Wu Tzu, ch. V. ad init.: “For those who have to fight in
the ratio of one to ten, there is nothing better than a narrow pass.” When Lu
Kuang was returning from his triumphant expedition to Turkestan in 385 A.D.,
and had got as far as I-ho, laden with spoils, Liang Hsi, administrator of
Liang-chou, taking advantage of the death of Fu Chien, King of Ch’in,
plotted against him and was for barring his way into the province. Yang Han,
governor of Kao-ch’ang, counseled him, saying: “Lu Kuang is fresh from
his victories in the west, and his soldiers are vigorous and mettlesome. If we
oppose him in the shifting sands of the desert, we shall be no match for him,
and we must therefore try a different plan. Let us hasten to occupy the defile
at the mouth of the Kao-wu pass, thus cutting him off from supplies of water,
and when his troops are prostrated with thirst, we can dictate our own terms
without moving. Or if you think that the pass I mention is too far off, we
could make a stand against him at the I-wu pass, which is nearer. The cunning
and resource of Tzu-fang himself would be expended in vain against the enormous
strength of these two positions.” Liang Hsi, refusing to act on this advice,
was overwhelmed and swept away by the invader.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

is a ground of intersecting highways.

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

[Wang Hsi explains the name by saying that “when an army has reached such a
point, its situation is serious.”]

8. Mountain forests,

[Or simply “forests.”]

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

9. Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can only
retire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy would suffice to
crush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in 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
“hemmed-in ground” except that here escape is no longer possible: “A lofty
mountain in front, a large river behind, advance impossible, retreat blocked.”
Ch’en Hao says: “to be on ‘desperate ground’ is like sitting in a leaking
boat or crouching in a burning house.” Tu Mu quotes from Li Ching a vivid
description of the plight of an army thus entrapped: “Suppose an army invading
hostile territory without the aid of local guides:—it falls into a fatal
snare and is at the enemy’s mercy. A ravine on the left, a mountain on the
right, a pathway so perilous that the horses have to be roped together and the
chariots carried in slings, no passage open in front, retreat cut off behind,
no choice but to proceed in single file. Then, before there is time to range
our soldiers in order of battle, the enemy is overwhelming strength suddenly
appears on the scene. Advancing, we can nowhere take a breathing-space;
retreating, we have no haven of refuge. We seek a pitched battle, but in vain;
yet standing on the defensive, none of us has a moment’s respite. If we simply
maintain our ground, whole days and months will crawl by; the moment we make a
move, we have to sustain the enemy’s attacks on front and rear. The country is
wild, destitute of water and plants; the army is lacking in the necessaries of
life, the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, all the resources of strength
and skill unavailing, the pass so narrow that a single man defending it can
check the onset of ten thousand; all means of offense in the hands of the
enemy, all points of vantage already forfeited by ourselves:—in this
terrible plight, even though we had the most valiant soldiers and the keenest
of weapons, how could they be employed with the slightest effect?” Students of
Greek history may be reminded of the awful close to the Sicilian expedition,
and the agony of the Athenians under Nicias and Demonsthenes. [See Thucydides,
VII. 78 sqq.].]

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

[But rather let all your energies be bent on occupying the advantageous
position first. So Ts’ao Kung. Li Ch’uan and others, however,
suppose the meaning to be that the enemy has already forestalled us, sot that
it would be sheer madness to attack. In the Sun Tzu Hsu Lu, when the King of Wu
inquires what should be done in this case, Sun Tzu replies: “The rule with
regard to contentious ground is that those in possession have the advantage
over the other side. If a position of this kind is secured first by the enemy,
beware of attacking him. Lure him away by pretending to flee—show your
banners and sound your drums—make a dash for other places that he cannot
afford to lose—trail brushwood and raise a dust—confound his ears
and eyes—detach a body of your best troops, and place it secretly in
ambuscade. Then your opponent will sally forth to the rescue.”]

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

[Because the attempt would be futile, and would expose the blocking force
itself to serious risks. There are two interpretations available here. I follow
that of Chang Yu. The other is indicated in Ts’ao Kung’s brief note:
“Draw closer together”—i.e., see that a portion of your own army is not
cut off.]

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

[Or perhaps, “form alliances with neighboring states.”]

13. On serious ground, gather in plunder.

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

In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.

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

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

[Ts’au Kung says: “Try the effect of some unusual artifice;” and Tu Yu
amplifies this by saying: “In such a position, some scheme must be devised
which will suit the circumstances, and if we can succeed in deluding the enemy,
the peril may be escaped.” This is exactly what happened on the famous occasion
when Hannibal was hemmed in among the mountains on the road to Casilinum, and
to all appearances entrapped by the dictator Fabius. The stratagem which
Hannibal devised to baffle his foes was remarkably like that which T’ien
Tan had also employed with success exactly 62 years before. [See IX. § 24,
note.] When night came on, bundles of twigs were fastened to the horns of some
2000 oxen and set on fire, the terrified animals being then quickly driven
along the mountain side towards the passes which were beset by the enemy. The
strange spectacle of these rapidly moving lights so alarmed and discomfited the
Romans that they withdrew from their position, and Hannibal’s army passed
safely through the defile. [See Polybius, III. 93, 94; Livy, XXII. 16 17.]

On desperate ground, fight.

[For, as Chia Lin remarks: “if you fight with all your might, there is a chance
of life; where as death is certain if you cling to your 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.

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

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

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

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

[Opinions differ as to what Sun Tzu had in mind. Ts’ao Kung thinks it is
“some strategical advantage on which the enemy is depending.” Tu Mu says: “The
three things which an enemy is anxious to do, and on the accomplishment of
which his success depends, are: (1) to capture our favorable positions; (2) to
ravage our cultivated land; (3) to guard his own communications.” Our object
then must be to thwart his plans in these three directions and thus render him
helpless. [Cf. III. § 3.] By boldly seizing the initiative in this way, you at
once throw the other side on the defensive.]

19. Rapidity is the essence of war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[For “well-being”, Wang Hsi means, “Pet them, humor them, give them plenty 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 together.”]

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

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

[Literally, “without asking, you will get.”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The word in the Chinese is “snivel.” This is taken to indicate more genuine
grief than tears alone.]

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

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

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

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

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

[“Shuai-jan” means “suddenly” or “rapidly,” and the snake in question was
doubtless so called owing to the rapidity of its movements. Through this
passage, the term in the Chinese has now come to be used in the sense of
“military manœuvers.”]

Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail,
and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be
attacked by head and tail both.

30. Asked if an army can be made to imitate the shuai-jan,

[That is, as Mei Yao-ch’en says, “Is it possible to make the front and
rear of an army each swiftly responsive to attack on the other, just as though
they were part of a single living body?”]

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

[Cf. VI. § 21.]

yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm,
they will come to each other’s assistance just as the left hand helps the

[The meaning is: If two enemies will help each other in a time of common peril,
how much more should two parts of the same army, bound together as they are by
every tie of interest and fellow-feeling. Yet it is notorious that many a
campaign has been ruined through lack of cooperation, especially in the case of
allied armies.]

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

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

32. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of
courage which all must reach.

[Literally, “level the courage [of all] as though [it were that of] one.” If
the ideal army is to form a single organic whole, then it follows that the
resolution and spirit of its component parts must be of the same quality, or at
any rate must not fall below a certain standard. Wellington’s seemingly
ungrateful description of his army at Waterloo as “the worst he had ever
commanded” meant no more than that it was deficient in this important
particular—unity of spirit and courage. Had he not foreseen the Belgian
defections and carefully kept those troops in the background, he would almost
certainly have lost the 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 selection of positions… and to
the immense advantages that are to be derived, whether you are defending or
attacking, from the proper utilization of natural features.” [2] ]

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

[Tu Mu says: “The simile has reference to the ease with which he does it.”]

35. It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy;
upright and just, and thus maintain order.

36. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports 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. [3] In
the year 88 A.D., as we read in ch. 47 of the Hou Han Shu, “Pan Ch’ao
took the field with 25,000 men from Khotan and other Central Asian states with
the object of crushing Yarkand. The King of Kutcha replied by dispatching his
chief commander to succor the place with an army drawn from the kingdoms of
Wen-su, Ku-mo, and Wei-t’ou, totaling 50,000 men. Pan Ch’ao
summoned his officers and also the King of Khotan to a council of war, and
said: ‘Our forces are now outnumbered and unable to make head against the
enemy. The best plan, then, is for us to separate and disperse, each in a
different direction. The King of Khotan will march away by the easterly route,
and I will then return myself towards the west. Let us wait until the evening
drum has sounded and then start.’ Pan Ch’ao now secretly released the
prisoners whom he had taken alive, and the King of Kutcha was thus informed of
his plans. Much elated by the news, the latter set off at once at the head of
10,000 horsemen to bar Pan Ch’ao’s retreat in the west, while the King of
Wen-su rode eastward with 8000 horse in order to intercept the King of Khotan.
As soon as Pan Ch’ao knew that the two chieftains had gone, he called his
divisions together, got them well in hand, and at cock-crow hurled them against
the army of Yarkand, as it lay encamped. The barbarians, panic-stricken, fled
in confusion, and were closely pursued by Pan Ch’ao. Over 5000 heads were
brought back as trophies, besides immense spoils in the shape of horses and
cattle and valuables of every description. Yarkand then capitulating, Kutcha
and the other kingdoms drew off their respective forces. From that time
forward, Pan Ch’ao’s prestige completely overawed the countries of the
west.” In this case, we see that the Chinese general not only kept his own
officers in ignorance of his real plans, but actually took the bold step of
dividing his army in order to deceive the enemy.]

37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans,

[Wang Hsi thinks that this means not using the same stratagem twice.]

he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge.

[Chang Yu, in a quotation from another work, says: “The axiom, that war is
based on deception, does not apply only to deception of the enemy. You must
deceive even your own soldiers. Make them follow you, but without letting them
know why.”]

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

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

[Literally, “releases the spring” (see V. § 15), that is, takes some decisive
step which makes it impossible for the army to return—like Hsiang Yu, who
sunk his ships after crossing a river. Ch’en Hao, followed by Chia Lin,
understands the words less well as “puts forth every artifice at his command.”]

39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving a
flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither
he is going.

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

[Cf. supra, § 20.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[This end, according to Tu Mu, is best attained by remaining on the defensive,
and avoiding battle. Cf. supra, § 11.]

On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection between all parts
of my army.

[As Tu Mu says, the object is to guard against two possible contingencies: “(1)
the desertion of our own troops; (2) a sudden attack on the part of the enemy.”
Cf. VII. § 17. Mei Yao-ch’en says: “On the march, the regiments should be
in close touch; in an encampment, there should be continuity between the

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

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

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

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

[The commentators take this as referring to forage and plunder, not, as one
might expect, to an unbroken communication with a home base.]

On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road.

50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat.

[Meng Shih says: “To make it seem that I meant to defend the position, whereas
my real intention is to burst suddenly through the enemy’s lines.” Mei
Yao-ch’en says: “in order to make my soldiers fight with desperation.”
Wang Hsi says, “fearing lest my men be tempted to run away.” Tu Mu points out
that this is the converse of VII. § 36, where it is the enemy who is
surrounded. In 532 A.D., Kao Huan, afterwards Emperor and canonized as Shen-wu,
was surrounded by a great army under Erh-chu Chao and others. His own force was
comparatively small, consisting only of 2000 horse and something under 30,000
foot. The lines of investment had not been drawn very closely together, gaps
being left at certain points. But Kao Huan, instead of trying to escape,
actually made a shift to block all the remaining outlets himself by driving
into them a number of oxen and donkeys roped together. As soon as his officers
and men saw that there was nothing for it but to conquer or die, their spirits
rose to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation, and they charged with such
desperate ferocity that the opposing ranks broke and crumbled under their

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

Tu Yu says: “Burn your baggage and impedimenta, throw away your stores and
provisions, choke up the wells, destroy your cooking-stoves, and make it plain
to your men that they cannot survive, but must fight to the death.” Mei
Yao-ch’en says: “The only chance of life lies in giving up all hope of
it.” This concludes what Sun Tzu has to say about “grounds” and the
“variations” corresponding to them. Reviewing the passages which bear on this
important subject, we cannot fail to be struck by the desultory and
unmethodical fashion in which it is treated. Sun Tzu begins abruptly in VIII. §
2 to enumerate “variations” before touching on “grounds” at all, but only
mentions five, namely nos. 7, 5, 8 and 9 of the subsequent list, and one that
is not included in it. A few varieties of ground are dealt with in the earlier
portion of chap. IX, and then chap. X sets forth six new grounds, with six
variations of plan to match. None of these is mentioned again, though the first
is hardly to be distinguished from ground no. 4 in the next chapter. At last,
in chap. XI, we come to the Nine Grounds par excellence, immediately followed
by the variations. This takes us down to § 14. In §§ 43-45, fresh definitions
are provided for nos. 5, 6, 2, 8 and 9 (in the order given), as well as for the
tenth ground noticed in chap. VIII; and finally, the nine variations are
enumerated once more from beginning to end, all, with the exception of 5, 6 and
7, being different from those previously given. Though it is impossible to
account for the present state of Sun Tzu’s text, a few suggestive facts maybe
brought into prominence: (1) Chap. VIII, according to the title, should deal
with nine variations, whereas only five appear. (2) It is an abnormally short
chapter. (3) Chap. XI is entitled The Nine Grounds. Several of these are
defined twice over, besides which there are two distinct lists of the
corresponding variations. (4) The length of the chapter is disproportionate,
being double that of any other except IX. I do not propose to draw any
inferences from these facts, beyond the general conclusion that Sun Tzu’s work
cannot have come down to us in the shape in which it left his hands: chap. VIII
is obviously defective and probably out of place, while XI seems to contain
matter that has either been added by a later hand or ought to appear

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

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

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

[These three sentences are repeated from VII. §§ 12-14—in order to
emphasize their importance, the commentators seem to think. I prefer to regard
them as interpolated here in order to form an antecedent to the following
words. With regard to local guides, Sun Tzu might have added that there is
always the risk of going wrong, either through their treachery or some
misunderstanding such as Livy records (XXII. 13): Hannibal, we are told,
ordered a guide to lead him into the neighborhood of Casinum, where there was
an important pass to be occupied; but his Carthaginian accent, unsuited to the
pronunciation of Latin names, caused the guide to understand Casilinum instead
of Casinum, and turning from his proper route, he took the army in that
direction, the mistake not being discovered until they had almost 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: “Powerful though a prince may
be, if he attacks a large state, he will be unable to raise enough troops, and
must rely to some extent on external aid; if he dispenses with this, and with
overweening confidence in his own strength, simply tries to intimidate the
enemy, he will surely be defeated.” Chang Yu puts his view thus: “If we
recklessly attack a large state, our own people will be discontented and hang
back. But if (as will then be the case) our display of military force is
inferior by half to that of the enemy, the other chieftains will take fright
and refuse to join us.”]

55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor does he
foster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret designs,
keeping his antagonists in awe.

[The train of thought, as said by Li Ch’uan, appears to be this: Secure
against a combination of his enemies, “he can afford to reject entangling
alliances and simply pursue his own secret designs, his prestige enable him to
dispense with external friendships.”]

Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms.

[This paragraph, though written many years before the Ch’in State became
a serious menace, is not a bad summary of the policy by which the famous Six
Chancellors gradually paved the way for her final triumph under Shih Huang Ti.
Chang Yu, following up his previous note, thinks that Sun Tzu is condemning
this attitude of cold-blooded selfishness and haughty isolation.]

56. Bestow rewards without regard to rule,

[Wu Tzu (ch. 3) less wisely says: “Let advance be richly rewarded and retreat
be heavily punished.”]

issue orders

[Literally, “hang” or post up.”]

without regard to previous arrangements;

[“In order to prevent treachery,” says Wang Hsi. The general meaning is made
clear by Ts’ao Kung’s quotation from the Ssu-ma Fa: “Give instructions
only on sighting the enemy; give rewards when you see deserving deeds.”
Ts’ao Kung’s paraphrase: “The final instructions you give to your army
should not correspond with those that have been previously posted up.” Chang Yu
simplifies this into “your arrangements should not be divulged beforehand.” And
Chia Lin says: “there should be no fixity in your rules and arrangements.” Not
only is there danger in letting your plans be known, but war often necessitates
the entire reversal of them at the last moment.]

and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but a
single man.

[Cf. supra, § 34.]

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

[Literally, “do not tell them words;” i.e. do not give your reasons for any
order. Lord Mansfield once told a junior colleague to “give no reasons” for his
decisions, and the maxim is even more applicable to a general than to a judge.]

When the outlook is bright, bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothing
when the situation is gloomy.

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

[These words of Sun Tzu were once quoted by Han Hsin in explanation of the
tactics he employed in one of his most brilliant battles, already alluded to on
p. 28. In 204 B.C., he was sent against the army of Chao, and halted ten miles
from the mouth of the Ching-hsing pass, where the enemy had mustered in full
force. Here, at midnight, he detached a body of 2000 light cavalry, every man
of which was furnished with a red flag. Their instructions were to make their
way through narrow defiles and keep a secret watch on the enemy. “When the men
of Chao see me in full flight,” Han Hsin said, “they will abandon their
fortifications and give chase. This must be the sign for you to rush in, pluck
down the Chao standards and set up the red banners of Han in their stead.”
Turning then to his other officers, he remarked: “Our adversary holds a strong
position, and is not likely to come out and attack us until he sees the
standard and drums of the commander-in-chief, for fear I should turn back and
escape through the mountains.” So saying, he first of all sent out a division
consisting of 10,000 men, and ordered them to form in line of battle with their
backs to the River Ti. Seeing this manœuver, the whole army of Chao broke into
loud laughter. By this time it was broad daylight, and Han Hsin, displaying the
generalissimo’s flag, marched out of the pass with drums beating, and was
immediately engaged by the enemy. A great battle followed, lasting for some
time; until at length Han Hsin and his colleague Chang Ni, leaving drums and
banner on the field, fled to the division on the river bank, where another
fierce battle was raging. The enemy rushed out to pursue them and to secure the
trophies, thus denuding their ramparts of men; but the two generals succeeded
in joining the other army, which was fighting with the utmost desperation. The
time had now come for the 2000 horsemen to play their part. As soon as they saw
the men of Chao following up their advantage, they galloped behind the deserted
walls, tore up the enemy’s flags and replaced them by those of Han. When the
Chao army looked back from the pursuit, the sight of these red flags struck
them with terror. Convinced that the Hans had got in and overpowered their
king, they broke up in wild disorder, every effort of their leader to stay the
panic being in vain. Then the Han army fell on them from both sides and
completed the rout, killing a number and capturing the rest, amongst whom was
King Ya himself…. After the battle, some of Han Hsin’s officers came to him and
said: “In the Art of War we are told to have a hill or tumulus on the
right rear, and a river or marsh on the left front. [This appears to be a blend
of Sun Tzu and T’ai Kung. See IX § 9, and note.] You, on the contrary,
ordered us to draw up our troops with the river at our back. Under these
conditions, how did you manage to gain the victory?” The general replied: “I
fear you gentlemen have not studied the Art of War with sufficient care. Is it
not written there: ‘Plunge your army into desperate straits and it will come
off in safety; place it in deadly peril and it will survive’? Had I taken the
usual course, I should never have been able to bring my colleague round. What
says the Military Classic—’Swoop down on the market-place and drive the
men off to fight.’ [This passage does not occur in the present text of Sun
Tzu.] If I had not placed my troops in a position where they were obliged to
fight for their lives, but had allowed each man to follow his own discretion,
there would have been a general débandade, and it would have been
impossible to do anything with them.” The officers admitted the force of his
argument, and said: “These are higher tactics than we should have been capable
of.” [See Ch’ien Han Shu, ch. 34, ff. 4, 5.] ]

59. For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm’s way that is capable
of striking a blow for victory.

[Danger has a bracing effect.]

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

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

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

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

we shall succeed in the long run

[Literally, “after a thousand li.”]

in killing the commander-in-chief.

[Always a great point with the Chinese.]

62. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning.

63. On the day that you take up your command, block the frontier passes,
destroy the official tallies,

[These were tablets of bamboo or wood, one half of which was issued as a permit
or passport by the official in charge of a gate. Cf. the “border-warden” of Lun
III. 24, who may have had similar duties. When this half was returned to
him, within a fixed period, he was authorized to open the gate and let the
traveler through.]

and stop the passage of all emissaries.

[Either to or from the enemy’s country.]

64. Be stern in the council-chamber,

[Show no weakness, and insist on your plans being ratified by the sovereign.]

so that you may control the situation.

[Mei Yao-ch’en understands the whole sentence to mean: Take the strictest
precautions to ensure secrecy in your deliberations.]

65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.

66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear,

[Cf. supra, § 18.]

and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.

[Ch’en Hao’s explanation: “If I manage to seize a favorable
position, but the enemy does not appear on the scene, the advantage thus
obtained cannot be turned to any practical account. He who intends therefore,
to occupy a position of importance to the enemy, must begin by making an artful
appointment, so to speak, with his antagonist, and cajole him into going there
as well.” Mei Yao-ch’en explains that this “artful appointment” is to be
made through the medium of the enemy’s own spies, who will carry back just the
amount of information that we choose to give them. Then, having cunningly
disclosed our intentions, “we must manage, though starting after the enemy, to
arrive before him (VII. § 4). We must start after him in order to ensure his
marching thither; we must arrive before him in order to capture the place
without trouble. Taken thus, the present passage lends some support to Mei
Yao-ch’en’s interpretation of § 47.]

67. Walk in the path defined by rule,

[Chia Lin says: “Victory is the only thing that matters, and this cannot be
achieved by adhering to conventional canons.” It is unfortunate that this
variant rests on very slight authority, for the sense yielded is certainly much
more satisfactory. Napoleon, as we know, according to the veterans of the old
school whom he defeated, won his battles by violating every accepted canon of

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 decisive.”]

68. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you
an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be
too late for the enemy to oppose you.

[As the hare is noted for its extreme timidity, the comparison hardly appears
felicitous. But of course Sun Tzu was thinking only of its speed. The words
have been taken to mean: You must flee from the enemy as quickly as an escaping
hare; but this is rightly rejected by Tu Mu.]

[1] Giles’ Biographical Dictionary, no. 399.

[2] “The Science of War,” p. 333.

[3] “Stonewall Jackson,” vol. I, p. 421.


[Rather more than half the chapter (§§ 1-13) is devoted to the subject of fire,
after which the author branches off into other topics.]

1. Sun Tzu said: There are five ways of attacking with fire. The first is to
burn soldiers in their camp;

[So Tu Mu. Li Ch’uan says: “Set fire to the camp, and kill the soldiers”
(when they try to escape from the flames). Pan Ch’ao, sent on a
diplomatic mission to the King of Shan-shan [see XI. § 51, note], found himself
placed in extreme peril by the unexpected arrival of an envoy from the
Hsiung-nu [the mortal enemies of the Chinese]. In consultation with his
officers, he exclaimed: “Never venture, never win! [1] The only course open to
us now is to make an assault by fire on the barbarians under cover of night,
when they will not be able to discern our numbers. Profiting by their panic, we
shall exterminate them completely; this will cool the King’s courage and cover
us with glory, besides ensuring the success of our mission.’ The officers all
replied that it would be necessary to discuss the matter first with the
Intendant. Pan Ch’ao then fell into a passion: ‘It is today,’ he cried,
‘that our fortunes must be decided! The Intendant is only a humdrum civilian,
who on hearing of our project will certainly be afraid, and everything will be
brought to light. An inglorious death is no worthy fate for valiant warriors.’
All then agreed to do as he wished. Accordingly, as soon as night came on, he
and his little band quickly made their way to the barbarian camp. A strong gale
was blowing at the time. Pan Ch’ao ordered ten of the party to take drums
and hide behind the enemy’s barracks, it being arranged that when they saw
flames shoot up, they should begin drumming and yelling with all their might.
The rest of his men, armed with bows and crossbows, he posted in ambuscade at
the gate of the camp. He then set fire to the place from the windward side,
whereupon a deafening noise of drums and shouting arose on the front and rear
of the Hsiung-nu, who rushed out pell-mell in frantic disorder. Pan Ch’ao
slew three of them with his own hand, while his companions cut off the heads of
the envoy and thirty of his suite. The remainder, more than a hundred in all,
perished in the flames. On the following day, Pan Ch’ao, divining his
thoughts, said with uplifted hand: ‘Although you did not go with us last night,
I should not think, Sir, of taking sole credit for our exploit.’ This satisfied
Kuo Hsun, and Pan Ch’ao, having sent for Kuang, King of Shan-shan, showed
him the head of the barbarian envoy. The whole kingdom was seized with fear and
trembling, which Pan Ch’ao took steps to allay by issuing a public
proclamation. Then, taking the king’s sons as hostage, he returned to make his
report to Tou Ku.” Hou Han Shu, ch. 47, ff. 1, 2.] ]

the second is to burn stores;

[Tu Mu says: “Provisions, fuel and fodder.” In order to subdue the rebellious
population of Kiangnan, Kao Keng recommended Wen Ti of the Sui dynasty to make
periodical raids and burn their stores of grain, a policy which in the long run
proved entirely successful.]

the third is to burn baggage trains;

[An example given is the destruction of Yuan Shao’s wagons and
impedimenta by Ts’ao Ts’ao in 200 A.D.]

the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;

[Tu Mu says that the things contained in “arsenals” and “magazines” are the
same. He specifies weapons and other implements, bullion and clothing. Cf. VII.
§ 11.]

the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.

[Tu Yu says in the T’ung Tien: “To drop fire into the enemy’s camp. The
method by which this may be done is to set the tips of arrows alight by dipping
them into a brazier, and then shoot them from powerful crossbows into the
enemy’s lines.”]

2. In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available.

[T’sao Kung thinks that “traitors in the enemy’s camp” are referred to.
But Ch’en Hao is more likely to be right in saying: “We must have
favorable circumstances in general, not merely traitors to help us.” Chia Lin
says: “We must avail ourselves of wind and dry weather.”]

the material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.

[Tu Mu suggests as material for making fire: “dry vegetable matter, reeds,
brushwood, straw, grease, oil, etc.” Here we have the material cause. Chang Yu
says: “vessels for hoarding fire, stuff for lighting 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

6. (1) When fire breaks out inside to enemy’s camp, respond at once with an
attack from without.

7. (2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy’s soldiers remain quiet,
bide your time and do not attack.

[The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the enemy into confusion.
If this effect is not produced, it means that the enemy is ready to receive us.
Hence the necessity for caution.]

8. (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it up with
an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay where you are.

[Ts’ao Kung says: “If you see a possible way, advance; but if you find
the difficulties too great, retire.”]

9. (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do not wait
for it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a favorable moment.

[Tu Mu says that the previous paragraphs had reference to the fire breaking out
(either accidentally, we may suppose, or by the agency of incendiaries) inside
the enemy’s camp. “But,” he continues, “if the enemy is settled in a waste
place littered with quantities of grass, or if he has pitched his camp in a
position which can be burnt out, we must carry our fire against him at any
seasonable opportunity, and not await on in hopes of an outbreak occurring
within, for fear our opponents should themselves burn up the surrounding
vegetation, and thus render our own attempts fruitless.” The famous Li Ling
once baffled the leader of the Hsiung-nu in this way. The latter, taking
advantage of a favorable wind, tried to set fire to the Chinese general’s camp,
but found that every scrap of combustible vegetation in the neighborhood had
already been burnt down. On the other hand, Po-ts’ai, a general of the
Yellow Turban rebels, was badly defeated in 184 A.D. through his neglect of
this simple precaution. “At the head of a large army he was besieging
Ch’ang-she, which was held by Huang-fu Sung. The garrison was very small,
and a general feeling of nervousness pervaded the ranks; so Huang-fu Sung
called his officers together and said: “In war, there are various indirect
methods of attack, and numbers do not count for everything. [The commentator
here quotes Sun Tzu, V. §§ 5, 6 and 10.] Now the rebels have pitched their camp
in the midst of thick grass which will easily burn when the wind blows. If we
set fire to it at night, they will be thrown into a panic, and we can make a
sortie and attack them on all sides at once, thus emulating the achievement of
T’ien Tan.’ [See p. 90.] That same evening, a strong breeze sprang up; so
Huang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind reeds together into torches and
mount guard on the city walls, after which he sent out a band of daring men,
who stealthily made their way through the lines and started the fire with loud
shouts and yells. Simultaneously, a glare of light shot up from the city walls,
and Huang-fu Sung, sounding his drums, led a rapid charge, which threw the
rebels into confusion and put them to headlong flight.” [Hou Han Shu, ch. 71.]

10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack from the

[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 falls.

[Cf. Lao Tzu’s saying: “A violent wind does not last the space of a morning.”
(Tao Te Ching, chap. 23.) Mei Yao-ch’en and Wang Hsi say: “A day breeze
dies down at nightfall, and a night breeze at daybreak. This is what happens as
a general rule.” The phenomenon observed may be correct enough, but how this
sense is to be obtained is not apparent.]

12. In every army, the five developments connected with fire must be known, the
movements of the stars calculated, and a watch kept for the proper days.

[Tu Mu says: “We must make calculations as to the paths of the stars, and watch
for the days on which wind will rise, before making our attack with fire.”
Chang Yu seems to interpret the text differently: “We must not only know how to
assail our opponents with fire, but also be on our guard against similar
attacks from them.”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Tu Mu quotes the following from the San Lueh, ch. 2: “The warlike prince
controls his soldiers by his authority, kits them together by good faith, and
by rewards makes them serviceable. If faith decays, there will be disruption;
if rewards are deficient, commands will not be respected.”]

17. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is
something to be gained; fight not unless the position is 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, ch. 69. “I dare
not take the initiative, but prefer to act on the defensive; I dare not advance
an inch, but prefer to retreat a foot.”]

18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen;
no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.

19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you

[This is repeated from XI. § 17. Here I feel convinced that it is an
interpolation, for it is evident that § 20 ought to follow immediately on §

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] “Unless you enter the tiger’s lair, you cannot get hold of the tiger’s


1. Sun Tzu said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them
great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources
of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver.

[Cf. II. §§ 1, 13, 14.]

There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on
the highways.

[Cf. Tao Te Ching, ch. 30: “Where troops have been quartered, brambles and
thorns spring up. Chang Yu has the note: “We may be reminded of the saying: ‘On
serious ground, gather in plunder.’ Why then should carriage and transportation
cause exhaustion on the highways?—The answer is, that not victuals alone,
but all sorts of munitions of war have to be conveyed to the army. Besides, the
injunction to ‘forage on the enemy’ only means that when an army is deeply
engaged in hostile territory, scarcity of food must be provided against. Hence,
without being solely dependent on the enemy for corn, we must forage in order
that there may be an uninterrupted flow of supplies. Then, again, there are
places like salt deserts where provisions being unobtainable, supplies from
home cannot be dispensed with.”]

As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their 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. § 12, note.] In time of war, one of the families had to serve in the army,
while the other seven contributed to its support. Thus, by a levy of 100,000
men (reckoning one able-bodied soldier to each family) the husbandry of 700,000
families would be affected.]

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

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

is the height of inhumanity.

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

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

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

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

[That is, knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions, and what he means to do.]

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

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

nor by any deductive calculation.

[Li Ch’uan says: “Quantities like length, breadth, distance and
magnitude, are susceptible of exact mathematical determination; human actions
cannot be so calculated.”]

6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

[Mei Yao-ch’en has rather an interesting note: “Knowledge of the
spirit-world is to be obtained by divination; information in natural science
may be sought by inductive reasoning; the laws of the universe can be verified
by mathematical calculation: but the dispositions of an enemy are ascertainable
through spies and spies alone.”]

7. Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2)
inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.

8. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret
system. This is called “divine manipulation of the threads.” It is the
sovereign’s most precious faculty.

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

9. Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of a

[Tu Mu says: “In the enemy’s country, win people over by kind treatment, and
use them as spies.”]

10. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy.

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

11. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them
for our own purposes.

[By means of heavy bribes and liberal promises detaching them from the enemy’s
service, and inducing them to carry back false information as well as to spy in
turn on their own countrymen. On the other hand, Hsiao Shih-hsien says that we
pretend not to have detected him, but contrive to let him carry away a false
impression of what is going on. Several of the commentators accept this as an
alternative definition; but that it is not what Sun Tzu meant is conclusively
proved by his subsequent remarks about treating the converted spy generously (§
21 sqq.). Ho Shih notes three occasions on which converted spies were used with
conspicuous success: (1) by T’ien Tan in his defense of Chi-mo (see
supra, p. 90); (2) by Chao She on his march to O-yu (see p. 57); and by the
wily Fan Chu in 260 B.C., when Lien P’o was conducting a defensive
campaign against Ch’in. The King of Chao strongly disapproved of Lien
P’o’s cautious and dilatory methods, which had been unable to avert a
series of minor disasters, and therefore lent a ready ear to the reports of his
spies, who had secretly gone over to the enemy and were already in Fan Chu’s
pay. They said: “The only thing which causes Ch’in anxiety is lest Chao
Kua should be made general. Lien P’o they consider an easy opponent, who
is sure to be vanquished in the long run.” Now this Chao Kua was a son of the
famous Chao She. From his boyhood, he had been wholly engrossed in the study of
war and military matters, until at last he came to believe that there was no
commander in the whole Empire who could stand against him. His father was much
disquieted by this overweening conceit, and the flippancy with which he spoke
of such a serious thing as war, and solemnly declared that if ever Kua was
appointed general, he would bring ruin on the armies of Chao. This was the man
who, in spite of earnest protests from his own mother and the veteran statesman
Lin Hsiang-ju, was now sent to succeed Lien P’o. Needless to say, he
proved no match for the redoubtable Po Ch’i and the great military power
of Ch’in. He fell into a trap by which his army was divided into two and
his communications cut; and after a desperate resistance lasting 46 days,
during which the famished soldiers devoured one another, he was himself killed
by an arrow, and his whole force, amounting, it is said, to 400,000 men,
ruthlessly put to the sword.]

12. Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of
deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy.

[Tu Yu gives the best exposition of the meaning: “We ostentatiously do things
calculated to deceive our own spies, who must be led to believe that they have
been unwittingly disclosed. Then, when these spies are captured in the enemy’s
lines, they will make an entirely false report, and the enemy will take
measures accordingly, only to find that we do something quite different. The
spies will thereupon be put to death.” As an example of doomed spies, Ho Shih
mentions the prisoners released by Pan Ch’ao in his campaign against
Yarkand. (See p. 132.) He also refers to T’ang Chien, who in 630 A.D. was
sent by T’ai Tsung to lull the Turkish Kahn Chieh-li into fancied
security, until Li Ching was able to deliver a crushing blow against him. Chang
Yu says that the Turks revenged themselves by killing T’ang Chien, but
this is a mistake, for we read in both the old and the New T’ang History
(ch. 58, fol. 2 and ch. 89, fol. 8 respectively) that he escaped and lived on
until 656. Li I-chi played a somewhat similar part in 203 B.C., when sent by
the King of Han to open peaceful negotiations with Ch’i. He has certainly
more claim to be described a “doomed spy”, for the king of Ch’i, being
subsequently attacked without warning by Han Hsin, and infuriated by what he
considered the treachery of Li I-chi, ordered the unfortunate envoy to be
boiled alive.]

13. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from the
enemy’s camp.

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

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

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

None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater
secrecy be preserved.

[Tu Mu gives a graphic touch: all communication with spies should be carried
“mouth-to-ear.” The following remarks on spies may be quoted from Turenne, who
made perhaps larger use of them than any previous commander: “Spies are
attached to those who give them most, he who pays them ill is never served.
They should never be known to anybody; nor should they know one another. When
they propose anything very material, secure their persons, or have in your
possession their wives and children as hostages for their fidelity. Never
communicate anything to them but what is absolutely necessary that they should
know. [2] ]

15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.

[Mei Yao-ch’en says: “In order to use them, one must know fact from
falsehood, and be able to discriminate between honesty and double-dealing.”
Wang Hsi in a different interpretation thinks more along the lines of
“intuitive perception” and “practical intelligence.” Tu Mu strangely refers
these attributes to the spies themselves: “Before using spies we must assure
ourselves as to their integrity of character and the extent of their experience
and skill.” But he continues: “A brazen face and a crafty disposition are more
dangerous than mountains or rivers; it takes a man of genius to penetrate
such.” So that we are left in some doubt as to his real opinion on the

16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and

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

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.

[Cf. VI. § 9.]

19. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he
must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty

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

was due to I Chih

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

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

[Lu Shang rose to high office under the tyrant Chou Hsin, whom he afterwards
helped to overthrow. Popularly known as T’ai Kung, a title bestowed on
him by Wen Wang, he is said to have composed a treatise on war, erroneously
identified with the Liu T’ao.]

who had served under the Yin.

[There is less precision in the Chinese than I have thought it well to
introduce into my translation, and the commentaries on the passage are by no
means explicit. But, having regard to the context, we can hardly doubt that Sun
Tzu is holding up I Chih and Lu Ya as illustrious examples of the converted
spy, or something closely analogous. His suggestion is, that the Hsia and Yin
dynasties were upset owing to the intimate knowledge of their weaknesses and
shortcoming which these former ministers were able to impart to the other side.
Mei Yao-ch’en appears to resent any such aspersion on these historic
names: “I Yin and Lu Ya,” he says, “were not rebels against the Government.
Hsia could not employ the former, hence Yin employed him. Yin could not employ
the latter, hence Hou employed him. Their great achievements were all for the
good of the people.” Ho Shih is also indignant: “How should two divinely
inspired men such as I and Lu have acted as common spies? Sun Tzu’s mention of
them simply means that the proper use of the five classes of spies is a matter
which requires men of the highest mental caliber like I and Lu, whose wisdom
and capacity qualified them for the task. The above words only emphasize this
point.” Ho Shih believes then that the two heroes are mentioned on account of
their supposed skill in the use of spies. But this is very weak.]

27. Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use
the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they
achieve great results.

[Tu Mu closes with a note of warning: “Just as water, which carries a boat from
bank to bank, may also be the means of sinking it, so reliance on spies, while
production of great results, is oft-times the cause of utter destruction.”]

Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s
ability to move.

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

[1] “Aids to Scouting,” p. 2.

[2] “Marshal Turenne,” p. 311.