The Sun-tzu Art of War
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Translation and Commentary by Lionel Giles
Index to the Translation
01 ~ Laying Plans
02 ~ Waging War
03 ~ Attack by Stratagem
04 ~ Tactical Dispositions
05 ~ Energy
06 ~ Weak Points and Strong
07 ~ Maneuvering
08 ~ Variation in Tactics
09 ~ The Army on the March
10 ~ Terrain
11 ~ The Nine Situations
12 ~ The Attack by Fire
13 ~ The Use of Spies
SUN TZU ON THE ART OF WAR
THE OLDEST MILITARY TREATISE IN THE WORLD
Translated from the Chinese with Introduction
and Critical Notes
LIONEL GILES, M.A.
Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS.
in the British Museum
First Published in 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.
01. LAYING PLANS
[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. ss. 26.]
1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to
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 ss. 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
[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
9. The COMMANDER stands for the virtues of wisdom,
sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.
[The five cardinal virtues of the Chinese are (1) humanity
or benevolence; (2) uprightness of mind; (3) self-respect, self-
control, or "proper feeling;" (4) wisdom; (5) sincerity or good
faith. Here "wisdom" and "sincerity" are put before "humanity or
benevolence," and the two military virtues of "courage" and
"strictness" substituted for "uprightness of mind" and "self-
respect, self-control, or 'proper feeling.'"]
10. By METHOD AND DISCIPLINE are to be understood the
marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the
graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads
by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military
11. These five heads should be familiar to every general:
he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will
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
[I.e., "is in harmony with his subjects." Cf. ss. 5.]
(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and
[See ss. 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
him horse to shy into a field of corn! However, in lieu of
losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice
by cutting off his hair. Ts`ao Ts`ao's own comment on the
present passage is characteristically curt: "when you lay down a
law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed the
offender must be put to death."]
(5) Which army is stronger?
[Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch`en puts it,
freely rendered, "ESPIRIT DE CORPS and 'big battalions.'"]
(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzu as saying: "Without constant
practice, the officers will be nervous and undecided when
mustering for battle; without constant practice, the general will
be wavering and irresolute when the crisis is at hand."]
(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in
reward and 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 dismissed!
[The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzu's
treatise was composed expressly for the benefit of his patron Ho
Lu, king of the Wu State.]
16. While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself
also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary
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?"  ]
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
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
25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be
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.
 "Words on Wellington," by Sir. W. Fraser.
[Go to Index]
02. WAGING WAR
[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
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
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
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
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
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 favor.]
6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from
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
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
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
[The beginning of this sentence does not balance properly
with the next, though obviously intended to do so. The
arrangement, moreover, is so awkward that I cannot help
suspecting some corruption in the text. It never seems to occur
to Chinese commentators that an emendation may be necessary for
the sense, and we get no help from them there. The Chinese words
Sun Tzu used to indicate the cause of the people's impoverishment
clearly have reference to some system by which the husbandmen
sent their contributions of corn to the army direct. But why
should it fall on them to maintain an army in this way, except
because the State or Government is too poor to do so?]
11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes
prices to go up; and high prices cause the people's substance to
be drained away.
[Wang Hsi says high prices occur before the army has left
its own territory. Ts`ao Kung understands it of an army that has
already crossed the frontier.]
12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry
will be afflicted by heavy exactions.
13, 14. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of
strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and
three-tenths of their income will be dissipated;
[Tu Mu and Wang Hsi agree that the people are not mulcted
not of 3/10, but of 7/10, of their income. But this is hardly to
be extracted from our text. Ho Shih has a characteristic tag:
"The PEOPLE being regarded as the essential part of the State,
and FOOD as the people's heaven, is it not right that those in
authority should value and be careful of 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 kilograms).]
16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused
to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy,
they must have their rewards.
[Tu Mu says: "Rewards are necessary in order to make the
soldiers see the advantage of beating the enemy; thus, when you
capture spoils from the enemy, they must be used as rewards, so
that all your men may have a keen desire to fight, each on his
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
[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.
[Go to Index]
03. ATTACK BY STRATAGEM
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 fighting.
[Here again, no modern strategist but will approve the words
of the old Chinese general. Moltke's greatest triumph, the
capitulation of the huge French army at Sedan, was won
practically without bloodshed.]
3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the
[Perhaps the word "balk" falls short of expressing
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
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
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
town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a
[We are reminded of the terrible losses of the Japanese
before Port Arthur, in the most recent siege which history has to
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
[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
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
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
12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring
misfortune upon his army:--
13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat,
being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called
hobbling the army.
[Li Ch`uan adds the comment: "It is like tying together
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
[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
[That is, he is not careful to use the right man in the
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 SS. 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
[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
[This is not merely the general's ability to estimate
numbers correctly, as Li Ch`uan and others make out. Chang Yu
expounds the saying more satisfactorily: "By applying the art of
war, it is possible with a lesser force to defeat a greater, and
vice versa. The secret lies in an eye for locality, and in not
letting the right moment slip. Thus Wu Tzu says: 'With a
superior force, make for easy ground; with an inferior one, make
for difficult ground.'"]
(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit
throughout all its ranks.
(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the
(5) He will win who has military capacity and is not
interfered with by the sovereign.
[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzu as saying: "It is the sovereign's
function to give broad instructions, but to decide on battle it
is the function of the general." It is needless to dilate on the
military disasters which have been caused by undue interference
with operations in the field on the part of the home government.
Napoleon undoubtedly owed much of his extraordinary success to
the fact that he was not hampered by central authority.]
18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know
yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If
you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you
will also suffer a defeat.
[Li Ch`uan cites the case of Fu Chien, prince of Ch`in, who
in 383 A.D. marched with a vast army against the Chin Emperor.
When warned not to despise an enemy who could command the
services of such men as Hsieh An and Huan Ch`ung, he boastfully
replied: "I have the population of eight provinces at my back,
infantry and horsemen to the number of one million; why, they
could dam up the Yangtsze River itself by merely throwing their
whips into the stream. What danger have I to fear?"
Nevertheless, his forces were soon after disastrously routed at
the Fei River, and he was obliged to beat a hasty retreat.]
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb
[Chang Yu said: "Knowing the enemy enables you to take
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.]
[Go to Index]
04. TACTICAL DISPOSITIONS
[Ts`ao Kung explains the Chinese meaning of the words for
the title of this chapter: "marching and countermarching on the
part of the two armies with a view to discovering each other's
condition." Tu Mu says: "It is through the dispositions of an
army that its condition may be discovered. Conceal your
dispositions, and your condition will remain secret, which leads
to victory,; show your dispositions, and your condition will
become patent, which leads to defeat." Wang Hsi remarks that the
good general can "secure success by modifying his tactics to meet
those of the enemy."]
1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put
themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for
an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own
hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by
the enemy himself.
[That is, of course, by a mistake on the enemy's part.]
3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against
[Chang Yu says this is done, "By concealing the disposition
of his troops, covering up his tracks, and taking unremitting
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 ss. 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
metaphor indicating the utmost secrecy and concealment, so that
the enemy may not know his whereabouts."]
he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost
heights of heaven.
[Another metaphor, implying that he falls on his adversary
like a thunderbolt, against which there is no time to prepare.
This is the opinion of most of the commentators.]
Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves;
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
"the world's coarse thumb
And finger fail to plumb."]
10. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength;
["Autumn" hair" is explained as the fur of a
hare, which is
finest in autumn, when it begins to grow afresh. The phrase is a
very common one in Chinese writers.]
to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the
noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
[Ho Shih gives as real instances of strength, sharp sight
and quick hearing: Wu Huo, who could lift a tripod weighing 250
stone; Li Chu, who at a distance of a hundred paces could see
objects no bigger than a mustard seed; and Shih K`uang, a blind
musician who could hear the footsteps of a mosquito.]
11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who
not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
[The last half is literally "one who, conquering, excels
easy conquering." Mei Yao-ch`en says: "He who only sees the
obvious, wins his battles with difficulty; he who looks below the
surface of things, wins with ease."]
12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for
wisdom nor credit for courage.
[Tu Mu explains this very well: "Inasmuch as his victories
are gained over circumstances that have not come to light, the
world as large knows nothing of them, and he wins no reputation
for wisdom; inasmuch as the hostile state submits before there
has been any bloodshed, he receives no credit for courage."]
13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes.
[Ch`en Hao says: "He plans no superfluous marches, he
devises no futile attacks." The connection of ideas is thus
explained by Chang Yu: "One who seeks to conquer by sheer
strength, clever though he may be at winning pitched battles, is
also liable on occasion to be vanquished; whereas he who can look
into the future and discern conditions that are not yet manifest,
will never make a blunder and therefore invariably win."]
Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory,
for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.
14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position
which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for
defeating the enemy.
[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
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
plans which will ensure victory, and then lead your army to
battle; if you will not begin with stratagem but rely on brute
strength alone, victory will no longer be assured."]
16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and
strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his
power to control 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
[It is not easy to distinguish the four terms very clearly
in the Chinese. The first seems to be surveying and measurement
of the ground, which enable us to form an estimate of the enemy's
strength, and to make calculations based on the data thus
obtained; we are thus led to a general weighing-up, or comparison
of the enemy's chances with our own; if the latter turn the
scale, then victory ensues. The chief difficulty lies in third
term, which in the Chinese some commentators take as a
calculation of NUMBERS, thereby making it nearly synonymous with
the second term. Perhaps the second term should be thought of as
a consideration of the enemy's general position or condition,
while the third term is the estimate of his numerical strength.
On the other hand, Tu Mu says: "The question of relative
strength having been settled, we can bring the varied resources
of cunning into play." Ho Shih seconds this interpretation, but
weakens it. However, it points to the third term as being a
calculation of numbers.]
19. A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a
pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain.
[Literally, "a victorious army is like an I (20 oz.) weighed
against a SHU (1/24 oz.); a routed army is a SHU weighed against
an I." The point is simply the enormous advantage which a
disciplined force, flushed with victory, has over one demoralized
by defeat." Legge, in his note on Mencius, I. 2. ix. 2, makes
the I to be 24 Chinese ounces, and corrects Chu Hsi's statement
that it equaled 20 oz. only. But Li Ch`uan of the T`ang dynasty
here gives the same figure as Chu Hsi.]
20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting
of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.
[Go to Index]
1. Sun Tzu said: The control of a large force is the same
principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question
of dividing up their numbers.
[That is, cutting up the army into regiments, companies,
etc., with subordinate officers in command of each. Tu Mu
reminds us of Han Hsin's famous reply to the first Han Emperor,
who once said to him: "How large an army do you think I could
lead?" "Not more than 100,000 men, your Majesty." "And you?"
asked the Emperor. "Oh!" he answered, "the more the better."]
2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise
different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a
question of instituting signs and signals.
3. To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt
of the enemy's attack and remain unshaken - this is effected by
maneuvers direct and 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 maneuvers must be employed." Mei Yao-ch`en:
"CH`I is active, CHENG is passive; passivity means waiting for an
opportunity, activity beings the victory itself." Ho Shih: "We
must cause the enemy to regard our straightforward attack as one
that is secretly designed, and vice versa; thus CHENG may also be
CH`I, and CH`I may 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 maneuver was CH`I."
Chang Yu gives the following summary of opinions on the words:
"Military writers do not agree with regard to the meaning of CH`I
and CHENG. Wei Liao Tzu [4th cent. B.C.] says: 'Direct warfare
favors frontal attacks, indirect warfare attacks from the rear.'
Ts`ao Kung says: 'Going straight out to join battle is a direct
operation; appearing on the enemy's rear is an indirect
maneuver.' Li 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, ss. 11]. A comment on the T`ang Emperor T`ai
Tsung goes to the root of the matter: 'A CH`I maneuver may be
CHENG, if we make the enemy look upon it as CHENG; then our real
attack will be CH`I, and vice versa. The whole secret lies in
confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.'"
To put it perhaps a little more clearly: any attack or other
operation is CHENG, on which the enemy has had his attention
fixed; whereas that is CH`I," which takes him by surprise or
comes from an unexpected quarter. If the enemy perceives a
movement which is meant to be CH`I," it immediately becomes
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
[Chang Yu says: "Steadily develop indirect tactics, either
by pounding the enemy's flanks or falling on his rear." A
brilliant example of "indirect tactics" which decided the
fortunes of a campaign was Lord Roberts' night march round the
Peiwar Kotal in the second Afghan war. 
6. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhausible
as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams;
like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four
seasons, they pass away to return once more.
[Tu Yu and Chang Yu understand this of the permutations of
CH`I and CHENG." But at present Sun Tzu is not speaking of CHENG
at all, unless, indeed, we suppose with Cheng Yu-hsien that a
clause relating to it has fallen out of the text. Of course, as
has already been pointed out, the two are so inextricably
interwoven in all military operations, that they cannot really be
considered apart. Here we simply have an expression, in
figurative language, of the almost infinite resource of a great
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 maneuvers.
11. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in
turn. It is like moving in a circle - you never come to an end.
Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?
12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which
will even roll stones along in its course.
13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of
a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
[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 ss. 15. Applying this definition to the falcon, it
seems to me to denote that instinct of SELF RESTRAINT which keeps
the bird from swooping on its quarry until the right moment,
together with the power of judging when the right moment has
arrived. The analogous quality in soldiers is the highly
important one of being able to reserve their fire until the very
instant at which it will be most effective. When the "Victory"
went into action at Trafalgar at hardly more than drifting pace,
she was for several minutes exposed to a storm of shot and shell
before replying with a single gun. Nelson coolly waited until he
was within close range, when the broadside he brought to bear
worked fearful havoc on the enemy's nearest ships.]
14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his
onset, and prompt in his decision.
[The word "decision" would have reference to the
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
[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 subdivision;
[See supra, ss. 1.]
concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund
[The commentators strongly understand a certain Chinese word
here differently than anywhere else in this chapter. Thus Tu Mu
says: "seeing that we are favorably circumstanced and yet make
no move, the enemy will believe that we are really afraid."]
masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical
[Chang Yu relates the following anecdote of Kao Tsu, the
first Han Emperor: "Wishing to crush the Hsiung-nu, he sent out
spies to report on their condition. But the Hsiung-nu,
forewarned, carefully concealed all their able-bodied men and
well-fed horses, and only allowed infirm soldiers and emaciated
cattle to be seen. The result was that spies one and all
recommended the Emperor to deliver his attack. Lou Ching alone
opposed them, saying: "When two countries go to war, they are
naturally inclined to make an ostentatious display of their
strength. Yet our spies have seen nothing but old age and
infirmity. This is surely some ruse on the part of the enemy,
and it would be unwise for us to attack." The Emperor, however,
disregarding this advice, fell into the trap and found himself
surrounded at Po-teng."]
19. Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the
move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the
enemy will act.
[Ts`ao Kung's note is "Make a display of weakness and
Tu Mu says: "If our force happens to be superior to the enemy's,
weakness may be simulated in order to lure him on; but if
inferior, he must be led to believe that we are strong, in order
that he may keep off. In fact, all the enemy's movements should
be determined by the signs that we choose to give him." Note the
following anecdote of Sun Pin, a descendent of Sun Wu: In 341
B.C., the Ch`i State being at war with Wei, sent T`ien Chi and
Sun Pin against the general P`ang Chuan, who happened to be a
deadly personal enemy of the later. Sun Pin said: "The Ch`i
State has a reputation for cowardice, and therefore our adversary
despises us. Let us turn this circumstance to account."
Accordingly, when the army had crossed the border into Wei
territory, he gave orders to show 100,000 fires on the first
night, 50,000 on the next, and the night after only 20,000.
P`ang Chuan pursued them hotly, saying to himself: "I knew these
men of Ch`i were cowards: their numbers have already fallen away
by more than half." In his retreat, Sun Pin came to a narrow
defile, with he calculated that his pursuers would reach after
dark. Here he had a tree stripped of its bark, and inscribed
upon it the words: "Under this tree shall P`ang Chuan die."
Then, as night began to fall, he placed a strong body of archers
in ambush near by, with orders to shoot directly they saw a
light. Later on, P`ang Chuan arrived at the spot, and noticing
the tree, struck a light in order to read what was written on it.
His body was immediately riddled by a volley of arrows, and
whole army thrown into confusion. [The above is Tu Mu's version
of the story; the SHIH CHI, less dramatically but probably with
more historical truth, makes P`ang Chuan cut his own throat with
an exclamation of despair, after the rout of his army.] ]
He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.
20. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then
with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.
[With an emendation suggested by Li Ching, this then reads,
"He lies in wait with the main body of his troops."]
21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined
energy, and does not require too much from individuals.
[Tu Mu says: "He first of all considers the power of his
army in the bulk; afterwards he takes individual talent into
account, and uses each men according to his capabilities. He
does not demand perfection from the untalented."]
Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined
22. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men
become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is
the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level
ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to
a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.
[Ts`au Kung calls this "the use of natural or inherent
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
 "Forty-one Years in India," chapter 46.
[Go to Index]
06. WEAK POINTS AND STRONG
[Chang Yu attempts to explain the sequence of chapters as
follows: "Chapter IV, on Tactical Dispositions, treated of the
offensive and the defensive; chapter V, on Energy, dealt with
direct and indirect methods. The good general acquaints himself
first with the theory of attack and defense, and then turns his
attention to direct and indirect methods. He studies the art of
varying and combining these two methods before proceeding to the
subject of weak and strong points. For the use of direct or
indirect methods arises out of attack and defense, and the
perception of weak and strong points depends again on the above
methods. Hence the present chapter comes immediately after the
chapter on Energy."]
1. Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits
the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is
second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive
2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the
enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.
[One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own
terms or fights not at all.  ]
3. By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy
to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can
make it impossible for the enemy to draw near.
[In the first case, he will entice him with a bait; in the
second, he will strike at some important point which the enemy
will have to defend.]
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. ss. 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
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. ss. 7], making it
impossible for the enemy to guard against him. This being so,
the places that I shall attack are precisely those that the enemy
cannot defend.... He who is skilled in defense hides in the most
secret recesses of the earth, making it impossible for the enemy
to estimate his whereabouts. This being so, the places that I
shall hold are precisely those that the enemy cannot attack."]
8. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent
does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose
opponent does not know what to attack.
[An aphorism which puts the whole art of war in a nutshell.]
9. O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we
learn to be invisible, through you inaudible;
[Literally, "without form or sound," but it is said of
course with reference to the enemy.]
and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands.
10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you
make for the enemy's weak points; you may retire and be safe from
pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.
11. If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an
engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and
a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he
will be obliged to relieve.
[Tu Mu says: "If the enemy is the invading party, we can
cut his line of communications and occupy the roads by which he
will have to return; if we are the invaders, we may direct our
attack against the sovereign himself." It is clear that Sun Tzu,
unlike certain generals in the late Boer war, was no believer in
12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy
from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be
merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw
something odd and unaccountable in his way.
[This extremely concise expression is intelligibly
paraphrased by Chia Lin: "even though we have constructed
neither wall nor ditch." Li Ch`uan says: "we puzzle him by
strange and unusual dispositions;" and Tu Mu finally clinches the
meaning by three illustrative anecdotes--one of Chu-ko Liang, who
when occupying Yang-p`ing and about to be attacked by Ssu-ma I,
suddenly struck his colors, stopped the beating of the drums, and
flung open the city gates, showing only a few men engaged in
sweeping and sprinkling the ground. This unexpected proceeding
had the intended effect; for Ssu-ma I, suspecting an ambush,
actually drew off his army and retreated. What Sun Tzu is
advocating here, therefore, is nothing more nor less than the
timely use of "bluff."]
13. By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining
invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while
the enemy's must be divided.
[The conclusion is perhaps not very obvious, but Chang Yu
(after Mei Yao-ch`en) rightly explains it thus: "If the enemy's
dispositions are visible, we can make for him in one body;
whereas, our own dispositions being kept secret, the enemy will
be obliged to divide his forces in order to guard against attack
from every quarter."]
14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must
split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted
against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be
many to the enemy's few.
15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force
with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.
16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made
known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible
attack at several different points;
[Sheridan once explained the reason of General Grant's
victories by saying that "while his opponents were kept fully
employed wondering what he was going to do, HE was thinking most
of what he was going to do himself."]
and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the
numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be
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. ss. 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
23. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or
[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
Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable
24. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so
that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is
[Cf. IV. ss. 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
ss. 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
[Tu Mu explains: "Though the enemy may have clever and
capable officers, they will not be able to lay any plans against
26. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's
own tactics--that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.
27. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what
none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
[I.e., everybody can see superficially how a battle is won;
what they cannot see is the long series of plans and combinations
which has preceded the battle.]
28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one
victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite
variety of circumstances.
[As Wang Hsi sagely remarks: "There is but one root-
principle underlying victory, but the tactics which lead up to it
are infinite in number." With this compare Col. Henderson: "The
rules of strategy are few and simple. They may be learned in a
week. They may be taught by familiar illustrations or a dozen
diagrams. But such knowledge will no more teach a man to lead an
army like Napoleon than a knowledge of grammar will teach him to
write like Gibbon."]
29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its
natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.
30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to
strike at what is weak.
[Like water, taking the line of least resistance.]
31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the
ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in
relation to the foe whom he is facing.
32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so
in warfare there are no constant conditions.
33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his
opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-
34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are
not always equally predominant;
[That is, as Wang Hsi says: "they predominate
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
[Cf. V. ss. 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.]
 See Col. Henderson's biography of Stonewall Jackson, 1902
ed., vol. II, p. 490.
[Go to Index]
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 maneuvering, than which there
is nothing more difficult.
[I have departed slightly from the traditional
interpretation of Ts`ao Kung, who says: "From the time of
receiving the sovereign's instructions until our encampment over
against the enemy, the tactics to be pursued are most difficult."
It seems to me that the tactics or maneuvers can hardly be
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 maneuvering consists in turning
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. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an
undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.
[I adopt the reading of the T`UNG TIEN, Cheng Yu-hsien and
the T`U SHU, since they appear to apply the exact nuance required
in order to make sense. The commentators using the standard text
take this line to mean that maneuvers may be profitable, or they
may be dangerous: it all depends on the ability of the general.]
6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to
snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late.
On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose
involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores.
[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, ss. 11.]
7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats,
and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering
double the usual distance at a stretch,
[The ordinary day's march, according to Tu Mu, was 30 LI;
but on one occasion, when pursuing Liu Pei, Ts`ao Ts`ao is said
to have covered the incredible distance of 300 _li_ within
doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders
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. Maneuvers of this description should be
confined to short distances. Stonewall Jackson said: "The
hardships of forced marches are often more painful than the
dangers of battle." He did not often call upon his troops for
extraordinary exertions. It was only when he intended a
surprise, or when a rapid retreat was imperative, that he
sacrificed everything for speed.  ]
9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver the enemy,
you will lose the leader of your first division, and only half
your force will reach the goal.
[Literally, "the leader of the first division will be
10. If you march thirty LI with the same object, two-thirds
of your army will arrive.
[In the T`UNG TIEN is added: "From this we may know the
difficulty of maneuvering."]
11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-
train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of
supply it is lost.
[I think Sun Tzu meant "stores accumulated in depots."
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.
[ss. 12-14 are repeated in chap. XI. ss. 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.  ]
16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must
be decided by circumstances.
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
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."]
is 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
when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for
benefit of the soldiery.
[Ch`en Hao says "quarter your soldiers on the land, and
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. ss. 13.]
22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of
[See supra, SS. 3, 4.]
Such is the art of maneuvering.
[With these words, the chapter would naturally come to an
end. But there now follows a long appendix in the shape of an
extract from an earlier book on War, now lost, but apparently
extant at the time when Sun Tzu wrote. The style of this
fragment is not noticeable different from that of Sun Tzu
himself, but no commentator raises a doubt as to its
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
[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
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, ss. 1) of Ts`ao Kuei, a protege of Duke
Chuang of Lu. The latter State was attacked by Ch`i, and the
duke was about to join battle at Ch`ang-cho, after the first roll
of the enemy's drums, when Ts`ao said: "Not just yet." Only
after their drums had beaten for the third time, did he give the
word for attack. Then they fought, and the men of Ch`i were
utterly defeated. Questioned afterwards by the Duke as to the
meaning of his delay, Ts`ao Kuei replied: "In battle, a
courageous spirit is everything. Now the first roll of the drum
tends to create this spirit, but with the second it is already on
the wane, and after the third it is gone altogether. I attacked
when their spirit was gone and ours was at its height. Hence our
victory." Wu Tzu (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 solider'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
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
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
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 obligbed to draw off his troops, only to
find himself hemmed in between two enemies, who were guarding
each outlet of a narrow pass in which he had engaged himself. In
this desperate plight Ts`ao waited until nightfall, when he bored
a tunnel into the mountain side and laid an ambush in it. As
soon as the whole army had passed by, the hidden troops fell on
his rear, while Ts`ao himself turned and met his pursuers in
front, so that they were thrown into confusion and annihilated.
Ts`ao Ts`ao said afterwards: "The brigands tried to check my
army in its retreat and brought me to battle in a desperate
position: hence I knew how to overcome them."]
36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.
[This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to
escape. The object, as Tu Mu puts it, is "to make him believe
that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting
with the courage of despair." Tu Mu adds pleasantly: "After
that, you may crush him."]
Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
[Ch`en Hao quotes the saying: "Birds and beasts when
brought to bay will use their claws and teeth." Chang Yu says:
"If your adversary has burned his boats and destroyed his
cooking-pots, and is ready to stake all on the issue of a battle,
he must not be pushed to extremities." Ho Shih illustrates the
meaning by a story taken from the life of Yen-ch`ing. That
general, together with his colleague Tu Chung-wei was surrounded
by a vastly superior army of Khitans in the year 945 A.D. The
country was bare 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.
 See Col. Henderson, op. cit. vol. I. p. 426.
 For a number of maxims on this head, see "Marshal
(Longmans, 1907), p. 29.
[Go to Index]
08. VARIATION IN TACTICS
[The heading means literally "The Nine Variations,"
Sun Tzu does not appear to enumerate these, and as, indeed, he
has already told us (V SS. 6-11) that such deflections from the
ordinary course are practically innumerable, we have little
option but to follow Wang Hsi, who says that "Nine" stands for an
indefinitely large number. "All it means is that in warfare we
ought to very our tactics to the utmost degree.... I do not know
what Ts`ao Kung makes these Nine Variations out to be, but it has
been suggested that they are connected with the Nine Situations"
- 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
1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his
commands from the sovereign, collects his army and concentrates
[Repeated from VII. ss. 1, where it is certainly more in
place. It may have been interpolated here merely in order to
supply a beginning to the chapter.]
2. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country
where high roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not
linger in dangerously isolated positions.
[The last situation is not one of the Nine Situations as
given in the beginning of chap. XI, but occurs later on (ibid.
ss. 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,"
Ch`uan, "where an ambush is to be feared."]
armies which must be not attacked,
[More correctly, perhaps, "there are times when an army
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
towns which must be besieged,
[Cf. III. ss. 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
maneuvers. He said: "It is a great mistake to waste men in
taking a town when the same expenditure of soldiers will gain a
province."  ]
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
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
not only securing good positions, but availing oneself of natural
advantages in every possible way. Chang Yu says: "Every kind of
ground is characterized by certain natural features, and also
gives scope for a certain variability of plan. How it is
possible to turn these natural features to account unless
topographical knowledge is supplemented by versatility of mind?"]
6. So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war
of varying his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five
Advantages, will fail to make the best use of his men.
[Chia Lin tells us that these imply five obvious and
generally advantageous lines of action, namely: "if a certain
road is short, it must be followed; if an army is isolated, it
must be attacked; if a town is in a parlous condition, it must be
besieged; if a position can be stormed, it must be attempted; and
if consistent with military operations, the ruler's commands must
be obeyed." But there are circumstances which sometimes forbid a
general to use these advantages. For instance, "a certain road
may be the shortest way for him, but if he knows that it abounds
in natural obstacles, or that the enemy has laid an ambush on it,
he will not follow that road. A hostile force may be open to
attack, but if he knows that it is hard-pressed and likely to
fight with desperation, he will refrain from striking," and so
7. Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of
advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together.
["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
[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. ss. 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 make for the enemy affecting their
"possessions," or, as we might say, "assets," which he considers
to be "a large army, a rich exchequer, harmony amongst the
soldiers, punctual fulfillment of commands." These give us a
whip-hand over the enemy.]
and keep them constantly engaged;
[Literally, "make servants of them." Tu Yu says "prevent
the from having any rest."]
hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given
[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
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
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, make 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 slain.]
(4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
[This need not be taken to mean that a sense of honor is
really a defect in a general. What Sun Tzu condemns is rather an
exaggerated sensitiveness to slanderous reports, the thin-skinned
man who is stung by opprobrium, however undeserved. Mei Yao-
ch`en truly observes, though somewhat paradoxically: "The seek
after glory should be careless of public opinion."]
(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry
[Here again, Sun Tzu does not mean that the general is to be
careless of the welfare of his troops. All he wishes to
emphasize is the danger of sacrificing any important military
advantage to the immediate comfort of his men. This is a
shortsighted policy, because in the long run the troops will
suffer more from the defeat, or, at best, the prolongation of the
war, which will be the consequence. A mistaken feeling of pity
will often induce a general to relieve a beleaguered city, or to
reinforce a hard-pressed detachment, contrary to his military
instincts. It is now generally admitted that our repeated
efforts to relieve Ladysmith in the South African War were so
many strategical blunders which defeated their own purpose. And
in the end, relief came through the very man who started out with
the distinct resolve no longer to subordinate the interests of
the whole to sentiment in favor of a part. An old soldier of one
of our generals who failed most conspicuously in this war, tried
once, I remember, to defend him to me on the ground that he was
always "so good to his men." By this plea, had he but known it,
he was only condemning him out of Sun Tzu's mouth.]
13. These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous
to the conduct of war.
14. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the
cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults.
Let them be a subject of meditation.
 "Marshal Turenne," p. 50.
[Go to Index]
09. THE ARMY ON THE MARCH
[The contents of this interesting chapter are better
indicated in ss. 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
2. Camp in high places,
[Not on high hills, but on knolls or hillocks elevated above
the surrounding country.]
facing the sun.
[Tu Mu takes this to mean "facing south," and Ch`en
"facing east." Cf. infra, SS. 11, 13.
Do not climb heights in order to fight. So much for mountain
3. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it.
["In order to tempt the enemy to cross after you,"
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
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
[See supra, ss. 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
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
stream or a marsh on its left, and a hill or tumulus on its
so that the danger may be in front, and safety lie behind.
much for campaigning in flat country.
10. These are the four useful branches of military
[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
[Regarding the "Yellow Emperor": Mei Yao-ch`en asks,
some plausibility, whether there is an error in the text as
nothing is known of Huang Ti having conquered four other
Emperors. The SHIH CHI (ch. 1 ad init.) speaks only of his
victories over Yen Ti and Ch`ih Yu. In the LIU T`AO it is
mentioned that he "fought seventy battles and pacified the
Empire." Ts`ao Kung's explanation is, that the Yellow Emperor
was the first to institute the feudal system of vassals princes,
each of whom (to the number of four) originally bore the title of
Emperor. Li Ch`uan tells us that the art of war originated under
Huang Ti, who received it from his Minister Feng Hou.]
11. All armies prefer high ground to low.
["High Ground," says Mei Yao-ch`en, "is not
agreement and salubrious, but more convenient from a military
point of view; low ground is not only damp and unhealthy, but
also disadvantageous for fighting."]
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
[Chang Yu says: "The dryness of the climate will prevent
the outbreak of illness."]
and this will spell victory.
13. When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the sunny
side, with the slope on your right rear. Thus you will at once
act for the benefit of your soldiers and utilize the natural
advantages of the ground.
14. When, in consequence of heavy rains up-country, a river
which you wish to ford is swollen and flecked with foam, you must
wait until it 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
steep banks, with pools of water at the bottom.]
[Defined as "natural pens or prisons" or "places
by precipices on three sides--easy to get into, but hard to get
[Defined as "places covered with such dense undergrowth
spears cannot be used."]
[Defined as "low-lying places, so heavy with mud as to
impassable for chariots and horsemen."]
[Defined by Mei Yao-ch`en as "a narrow difficult way between
beetling cliffs." Tu Mu's note is "ground covered with trees and
rocks, and intersected by numerous ravines and pitfalls." This
is very vague, but Chia Lin explains it clearly enough as a
defile or narrow pass, and Chang Yu takes much the same view. On
the whole, the weight of the commentators certainly inclines to
the rendering "defile." But the ordinary meaning of the Chinese
in one place is "a crack or fissure" and the fact that the
meaning of the Chinese elsewhere in the sentence indicates
something in the nature of a defile, make me think that Sun Tzu
is here speaking of crevasses.]
should be left with all possible speed and not approached.
16. While we keep away from such places, we should get the
enemy to approach them; while we face them, we should let the
enemy have them on his rear.
17. If in the neighborhood of your camp there should be any
hilly country, ponds surrounded by aquatic grass, hollow basins
filled with reeds, or woods with thick undergrowth, they must be
carefully routed out and searched; for these are places where men
in ambush or insidious spies are likely to be lurking.
[Chang Yu has the note: "We must also be on our guard
against traitors who may lie in close covert, secretly spying out
our weaknesses and overhearing our instructions."]
18. When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he
is relying on the natural strength of his position.
[Here begin Sun Tzu's remarks on the reading of signs, much
of which is so good that it could almost be included in a modern
manual like Gen. Baden-Powell's "Aids to Scouting."]
19. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he
is anxious for the other side to advance.
[Probably because we are in a strong position from which he
wishes to dislodge us. "If he came close up to us, says Tu Mu,
"and tried to force a battle, he would seem to despise us, and
there would be less probability of our responding to the
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
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
[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."  ]
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
"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 too a
mattock in his hands, and ordered others to be distributed
amongst his best warriors, while the ranks were filled up with
their wives and concubines. He then served out all the remaining
rations and bade his men eat their fill. The regular soldiers
were told to keep out of sight, and the walls were manned with
the old and weaker men and with women. This done, envoys were
dispatched to the enemy's camp to arrange terms of surrender,
whereupon the Yen army began shouting for joy. T`ien Tan also
collected 20,000 ounces of silver from the people, and got the
wealthy citizens of Chi-mo to send it to the Yen general with the
prayer that, when the town capitulated, he would allow their
homes to be plundered or their women to be maltreated. Ch`i
Chieh, in high good humor, granted their prayer; but his army now
became increasingly slack and careless. Meanwhile, T`ien Tan got
together a thousand oxen, decked them with pieces of red silk,
painted their bodies, dragon-like, with colored stripes, and
fastened sharp blades on their horns and well-greased rushes on
their tails. When night came on, he lighted the ends of the
rushes, and drove the oxen through a number of holes which he had
pierced in the walls, backing them up with a force of 5000 picked
warriors. The animals, maddened with pain, dashed furiously
into the enemy's camp where they caused the utmost confusion and
dismay; for their tails acted as torches, 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 retreat.
25. When the light chariots come out first and take up a
position on the wings, it is a sign that the enemy is forming for
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
27. When there is much running about
[Every man hastening to his proper place under his own
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
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 slain."]
35. The sight of men whispering together in small knots or
speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank
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 punishments.]
38. When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths,
it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.
[Tu Mu says: "If the enemy open friendly relations be
sending hostages, it is a sign that they are anxious for an
armistice, either because their strength is exhausted or for some
other reason." But it hardly needs a Sun Tzu to draw such an
39. If the enemy's troops march up angrily and remain
facing ours for a long time without either joining battle or
taking themselves off again, the situation is one that demands
great vigilance and circumspection.
[Ts`ao Kung says a maneuver of this sort may be only a ruse
to gain time for an unexpected flank attack or the laying of an
40. If our troops are no more in number than the enemy,
that is amply sufficient; it only means that no direct attack can
[Literally, "no martial advance." That is to say,
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
[This is an obscure sentence, and none of the commentators
succeed in squeezing very good sense out of it. I follow Li
Ch`uan, who appears to offer the simplest explanation: "Only the
side that gets more men will win." Fortunately we have Chang Yu
to expound its meaning to us in language which is lucidity
itself: "When the numbers are even, and no favorable opening
presents itself, although we may not be strong enough to deliver
a sustained attack, we can find additional recruits amongst our
sutlers and camp-followers, and then, concentrating our forces
and keeping a close watch on the enemy, contrive to snatch the
victory. But we must avoid borrowing foreign soldiers to help
us." He then quotes from Wei Liao Tzu, ch. 3: "The nominal
strength of mercenary troops may be 100,000, but their real value
will be not more than half that figure."]
41. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his
opponents is sure to be captured by them.
[Ch`en Hao, quoting from the TSO CHUAN, says: "If bees
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 unless.
43. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first
instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron
[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 ss. 44, however, would
lead one rather to expect something like this: "If a general is
always confident that his orders will be carried out," etc."]
the gain will be mutual.
[Chang Yu says: "The general has confidence in the men
under his command, and the men are docile, having confidence in
him. Thus the gain is mutual" He quotes a pregnant sentence
from Wei Liao Tzu, ch. 4: "The art of giving orders is not to
try to rectify minor blunders and not to be swayed by petty
doubts." Vacillation and fussiness are the surest means of
sapping the confidence of an army.]
 "Aids to Scouting," p. 26.
[Go to Index]
[Only about a third of the chapter, comprising ss. ss. 1-13,
deals with "terrain," the subject being more fully treated in ch.
XI. The "six calamities" are discussed in SS. 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
means of communications."]
(2) entangling ground;
[The same commentator says: "Net-like country, venturing
into which you become entangled."]
(3) temporizing ground;
[Ground which allows you to "stave off" or "delay."]
(4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at
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
3. With regard to ground of this nature, be before the
enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots, and carefully
guard your line of supplies.
[The general meaning of the last phrase is doubtlessly, as
Tu Yu says, "not to allow the enemy to cut your communications."
In view of Napoleon's dictum, "the secret of war lies in the
communications,"  we could wish that Sun Tzu had done more
than skirt the edge of this important subject here and in I. ss.
10, VII. ss. 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." 
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,
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
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
[Because then, as Tu Yu observes, "the initiative will
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. ss. 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 spike of which Tou Chien-te persisted in his attempt
to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was defeated and taken prisoner.
See CHIU T`ANG, ch. 2, fol. 5 verso, and also ch. 54.]
12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy,
and the strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to
provoke a 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."
however, I. ss. 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
press on, the common soldiers are feeble and suddenly collapse."]
17. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate,
and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a
feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell
whether or no he is in a position to fight, the result is RUIN.
[Wang Hsi`s note is: "This means, the general is angry
without cause, and at the same time does not appreciate the
ability of his subordinate officers; thus he arouses fierce
resentment and brings an avalanche of ruin upon his head."]
18. When the general is weak and without authority; when
his orders are not clear and distinct;
[Wei Liao Tzu (ch. 4) says: "If the commander gives his
orders with decision, the soldiers will not wait to hear them
twice; if his moves are made without vacillation, the soldiers
will not be in two minds about doing their duty." General Baden-
Powell says, italicizing the words: "The secret of getting
successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell--in
the clearness of the instructions they receive."  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
when there are no fixes duties assigned to officers and men,
[Tu Mu says: "Neither officers nor men have any regular
and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the
result is utter DISORGANIZATION.
19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's
strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or
hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to
place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be ROUT.
[Chang Yu paraphrases the latter part of the sentence and
continues: "Whenever there is fighting to be done, the keenest
spirits should be appointed to serve in the front ranks, both in
order to strengthen the resolution of our own men and to
demoralize the enemy." Cf. the primi ordines of Caesar ("De
Bello Gallico," V. 28, 44, et al.).]
20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be
carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible
[See supra, ss. 13.]
21. The natural formation of the country is the soldier's
[Ch`en Hao says: "The advantages of weather and season
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
[Cf. VIII. ss. 3 fin. Huang Shih-kung of the Ch`in dynasty,
who is said to have been the patron of Chang Liang and to have
written the SAN LUEH, has these words attributed to him: "The
responsibility of setting an army in motion must devolve on the
general alone; if advance and retreat are controlled from the
Palace, brilliant results will hardly be achieved. Hence the
god-like ruler and the enlightened monarch are content to play a
humble part in furthering their country's cause [lit., kneel down
to push the chariot wheel]." This means that "in matters lying
outside the zenana, the decision of the military commander must
be absolute." Chang Yu also quote the saying: "Decrees from the
Son of Heaven do not penetrate the walls of a camp."]
24. The general who advances without coveting fame and
retreats without fearing disgrace,
[It was Wellington, I think, who said that the hardest thing
of all for a soldier is to retreat.]
whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service
for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
[A noble presentiment, in few words, of the Chinese "happy
warrior." Such a man, says Ho Shih, "even if he had to suffer
punishment, would not regret his conduct."]
25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will
follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own
beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
[Cf. I. ss. 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 victory.
[That is, Ts`ao Kung says, "the issue in this case is
28. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are
unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we
have gone only halfway towards victory.
[Cf. III. ss. 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
 See "Pensees de Napoleon 1er," no. 47.
 "The Science of War," chap. 2.
 "Aids to Scouting," p. xii.
[Go to Index]
11. THE NINE SITUATIONS
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
[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
[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
so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at
[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
[Wang Hsi explains the name by saying that "when an army
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,
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.
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
On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your
[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. ss. 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. ss. 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;
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. ss. 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. ss. 19, note.] This is the great principle in war. Even if
he gets to know of our approach, he will have to levy his
soldiers in such a hurry that they will not be fit to oppose us.
Thus the full fruits of victory will be ours." All came about as
he predicted, and Hsiao Hsien was obliged to surrender, nobly
stipulating that his people should be spared and he alone suffer
the penalty of death.]
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, ss. 13. Li Ch`uan does not venture on a note
22. Carefully study the well-being of your men,
[For "well-being", Wang Hsi means, "Pet them,
give them plenty of food and drink, and look after them
and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard
[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 achieve.
[Chang Yu quotes his favorite Wei Liao Tzu (ch. 3): "If
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 trusted.
26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with
superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no
calamity need be feared.
[The superstitious, "bound in to saucy doubts and fears,"
degenerate into cowards and "die many times before their deaths."
Tu Mu quotes Huang Shih-kung: "'Spells and incantations
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
[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
indicate more genuine grief than tears alone.]
those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying down
letting the tears run down their cheeks.
[Not because they are afraid, but because, as Ts`ao Kung
says, "all have embraced the firm resolution to do or die." We
may remember that the heroes of the Iliad were equally childlike
in showing their emotion. Chang Yu alludes to the mournful
parting at the I River between Ching K`o and his friends, when
the former was sent to attempt the life of the King of Ch`in
(afterwards First Emperor) in 227 B.C. The tears of all flowed
down like rain as he bade them farewell and uttered the following
lines: "The shrill blast is blowing, Chilly the burn; Your
champion is going--Not to return."  ]
But let them once be brought to bay, and they will display
courage of a Chu or a Kuei.
[Chu was the personal name of Chuan Chu, a native of the Wu
State and contemporary with Sun Tzu himself, who was employed by
Kung-tzu Kuang, better known as Ho Lu Wang, to assassinate his
sovereign Wang Liao with a dagger which he secreted in the belly
of a fish served up at a banquet. He succeeded in his attempt,
but was immediately hacked to pieced by the king's bodyguard.
This was in 515 B.C. The other hero referred to, Ts`ao Kuei (or
Ts`ao Mo), performed the exploit which has made his name famous
166 years earlier, in 681 B.C. Lu had been thrice defeated by
Ch`i, and was just about to conclude a treaty surrendering a
large slice of territory, when Ts`ao Kuei suddenly seized Huan
Kung, the Duke of Ch`i, as he stood on the altar steps and held a
dagger against his chest. None of the duke's retainers dared to
move a muscle, and Ts`ao Kuei proceeded to demand full
restitution, declaring the Lu was being unjustly treated because
she was a smaller and a weaker state. Huan Kung, in peril of his
life, was obliged to consent, whereupon Ts`ao Kuei flung away his
dagger and quietly resumed his place amid the terrified
assemblage without having so much as changed color. As was to be
expected, the Duke wanted afterwards to repudiate the bargain,
but his wise old counselor Kuan Chung pointed out to him the
impolicy of breaking his word, and the upshot was that this bold
stroke regained for Lu the whole of what she had lost in three
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
["Shuai-jan" means "suddenly" or "rapidly,"
and the snake in
question was doubtless so called owing to the rapidity of its
movements. Through this passage, the term in the Chinese has now
come to be used in the sense of "military maneuvers."]
Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike
at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its
middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.
30. Asked if an army can be made to imitate the SHUAI-JAN,
[That is, as Mei Yao-ch`en says, "Is it possible to make
front and rear of an army each swiftly responsive to attack on
the other, just as though they were part of a single living
I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh
[Cf. VI. ss. 21.]
yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught
by a storm, they will come to each other's assistance just as the
left hand helps the right.
[The meaning is: If two enemies will help each other in a
time of common peril, how much more should two parts of the same
army, bound together as they are by every tie of interest and
fellow-feeling. Yet it is notorious that many a campaign has
been ruined through lack of cooperation, especially in the case
of allied armies.]
31. Hence it is not enough to put one's trust in the
tethering of horses, and the burying of chariot wheels in the
[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
that of] one." If the ideal army is to form a single organic
whole, then it follows that the resolution and spirit of its
component parts must be of the same quality, or at any rate must
not fall below a certain standard. Wellington's seemingly
ungrateful description of his army at Waterloo as "the worst he
had ever commanded" meant no more than that it was deficient in
this important particular--unity of spirit and courage. Had he
not foreseen the Belgian defections and carefully kept those
troops in the background, he would almost certainly have lost the
33. How to make the best of both strong and weak--that is a
question involving the proper use of ground.
[Mei Yao-ch`en's paraphrase is: "The way to eliminate
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."  ]
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 appearances,
[Literally, "to deceive their eyes and ears."]
and thus keep them in total ignorance.
[Ts`ao Kung gives us one of his excellent apophthegms: "The
troops must not be allowed to share your schemes in the
beginning; they may only rejoice with you over their happy
outcome." "To mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy," is one
of the first principles in war, as had been frequently pointed
out. But how about the other process--the mystification of one's
own men? Those who may think that Sun Tzu is over-emphatic on
this point would do well to read Col. Henderson's remarks on
Stonewall Jackson's Valley campaign: "The infinite pains," he
says, "with which Jackson sought to conceal, even from his most
trusted staff officers, his movements, his intentions, and his
thoughts, a commander less thorough would have pronounced
useless"--etc. etc.  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
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. ss. 15),
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
[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, ss. 20.]
43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your
army across neighborhood territory, you find yourself on critical
[This "ground" is curiously mentioned in VIII. ss.
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
45. When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear, and
narrow passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no
place of refuge at all, it is desperate ground.
46. Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men
with unity of purpose.
[This end, according to Tu Mu, is best attained by remaining
on the defensive, and avoiding battle. Cf. supra, ss. 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. ss. 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. ss. 1, where Sun Tzu
warns us against coming exhausted to the attack. His own idea of
the situation is rather vaguely expressed: "If there is a
favorable position lying in front of you, detach a picked body of
troops to occupy it, then if the enemy, relying on their numbers,
come up to make a fight for it, you may fall quickly on their
rear with your main body, and victory will be assured." It was
thus, he adds, that Chao She beat the army of Ch`in. (See p.
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. ss. 36, where it is the enemy
who is surrounded. In 532 A.D., Kao Huan, afterwards Emperor and
canonized as Shen-wu, was surrounded by a great army under Erh-
chu Chao and others. His own force was comparatively small,
consisting only of 2000 horse and something under 30,000 foot.
The lines of investment had not been drawn very closely together,
gaps being left at certain points. But Kao Huan, instead of
trying to escape, actually made a shift to block all the
remaining outlets himself by driving into them a number of oxen
and donkeys roped together. As soon as his officers and men saw
that there was nothing for it but to conquer or die, their
spirits rose to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation, and they
charged with such desperate ferocity that the opposing ranks
broke and crumbled under their onslaught.]
On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the
hopelessness of saving their lives.
Tu Yu says: "Burn your baggage and impedimenta, throw
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. ss. 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 ss. 14. In
SS. 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
defined twice over, besides which there are two distinct lists of
the corresponding variations. (4) The length of the chapter is
disproportionate, being double that of any other except IX. I do
not propose to draw any inferences from these facts, beyond the
general conclusion that Sun Tzu's work cannot have come down to
us in the shape in which it left his hands: chap. VIII is
obviously defective and probably out of place, while XI seems to
contain matter that has either been added by a later hand or
ought to appear elsewhere.]
51. For it is the soldier's disposition to offer an
obstinate resistance when surrounded, to fight hard when he
cannot help himself, and to obey promptly when he has fallen into
[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. ss. 1,
52. We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes
until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to
lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of
the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and
precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn
natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.
[These three sentences are repeated from VII. SS. 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
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
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
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
Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their
[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."]
[Literally, "hang" or post up."]
without regard to previous arrangements;
["In order to prevent treachery," says Wang Hsi.
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
do with but a single man.
[Cf. supra, ss. 34.]
57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let
them know your design.
[Literally, "do not tell them words;" i.e. do not
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
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
maneuver, the whole army of Chao broke into loud laughter. By
this time it was broad daylight, and Han Hsin, displaying the
generalissimo's flag, marched out of the pass with drums beating,
and was immediately engaged by the enemy. A great battle
followed, lasting for some time; until at length Han Hsin and his
colleague Chang Ni, leaving drums and banner on the field, fled
to the division on the river bank, where another fierce battle
was raging. The enemy rushed out to pursue them and to secure
the trophies, thus denuding their ramparts of men; but the two
generals succeeded in joining the other army, which was fighting
with the utmost desperation. The time had now come for the 2000
horsemen to play their part. As soon as they saw the men of Chao
following up their advantage, they galloped behind the deserted
walls, tore up the enemy's flags and replaced them by those of
Han. When the Chao army looked back from the pursuit, the sight
of these red flags struck them with terror. Convinced that the
Hans had got in and overpowered their king, they broke up in wild
disorder, every effort of their leader to stay the panic being in
vain. Then the Han army fell on them from both sides and
completed the rout, killing a number and capturing the rest,
amongst whom was King Ya himself.... After the battle, some of
Han Hsin's officers came to him and said: "In the ART OF WAR we
are told to have a hill or tumulus on the right rear, and a river
or marsh on the left front. [This appears to be a blend of Sun
Tzu and T`ai Kung. See IX ss. 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 debandade, and it
would have been impossible to do anything with them." The
officers admitted the force of his argument, and said: "These
are higher tactics than we should have been capable of." [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
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
61. By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank,
[I understand the first four words to mean "accompanying
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
63. On the day that you take up your command, block the
frontier passes, destroy the official tallies,
[These were tablets of bamboo or wood, one half of which was
issued as a permit or passport by the official in charge of a
gate. Cf. the "border-warden" of LUN YU III. 24, who may have
had similar duties. When this half was returned to him, within a
fixed period, he was authorized to open the gate and let the
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
65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear,
[Cf. supra, ss. 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. ss. 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 ss. 47.]
67. Walk in the path defined by rule,
[Chia Lin says: "Victory is the only thing that matters,
and this cannot be achieved by adhering to conventional canons."
It is unfortunate that this variant rests on very slight
authority, for the sense yielded is certainly much more
satisfactory. Napoleon, as we know, according to the veterans of
the old school whom he defeated, won his battles by violating
every accepted canon of warfare.]
and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a
[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
[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.]
 Giles' Biographical Dictionary, no. 399.
 "The Science of War," p. 333.
 "Stonewall Jackson," vol. I, p. 421.
[Go to Index]
12. THE ATTACK BY FIRE
[Rather more than half the chapter (SS. 1-13) is devoted to
the subject of fire, after which the author branches off into
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
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. ss. 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!  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
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"
"magazines" are the same. He specifies weapons and other
implements, bullion and clothing. Cf. VII. ss. 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
[T`sao Kung thinks that "traitors in the enemy's camp"
referred to. But Ch`en Hao is more likely to be right in saying:
"We must have favorable circumstances in general, not
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 Corvus.]
for these four are all days of rising wind.
5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet
five possible developments:
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
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;
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. SS. 5, 6 and 10.] Now the rebels have pitched
their camp in the midst of thick grass which will easily burn
when the wind blows. If we set fire to it at night, they will be
thrown into a panic, and we can make a sortie and attack them on
all sides at once, thus emulating the achievement of T`ien Tan.'
[See p. 90.] That same evening, a strong breeze sprang up; so
Huang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind reeds together into
torches and mount guard on the city walls, after which he sent
out a band of daring men, who stealthily made their way through
the lines and started the fire with loud shouts and yells.
Simultaneously, a glare of light shot up from the city walls, and
Huang-fu Sung, sounding his drums, led a rapid charge, which
threw the rebels into confusion and put them to headlong flight."
[HOU HAN SHU, ch. 71.] ]
10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do
not attack from the leeward.
[Chang Yu, following Tu Yu, says: "When you make a fire,
the enemy will retreat away from it; if you oppose his retreat
and attack him then, he will fight desperately, which will not
conduce to your success." A rather more obvious explanation is
given by Tu Mu: "If the wind is in the east, begin burning to
the east of the enemy, and follow up the attack yourself from
that side. If you start the fire on the east side, and then
attack from the west, you will suffer in the same way as your
11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a
night breeze soon falls.
[Cf. Lao Tzu's saying: "A violent wind does not last the
space of a morning." (TAO TE CHING, chap. 23.) Mei Yao-ch`en
and Wang Hsi say: "A day breeze dies down at nightfall, and a
night breeze at daybreak. This is what happens as a general
rule." The phenomenon observed may be correct enough, but how
this sense is to be obtained is not apparent.]
12. In every army, the five developments connected with
fire must be known, the movements of the stars calculated, and a
watch kept for the proper days.
[Tu Mu says: "We must make calculations as to the paths
the stars, and watch for the days on which wind will rise,
before making our attack with fire." Chang Yu seems to interpret
the text differently: "We must not only know how to assail our
opponents with fire, but also be on our guard against similar
attacks from them."]
13. Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show
intelligence; those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an
accession of strength.
14. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not
robbed of all his belongings.
[Ts`ao Kung's note is: "We can merely obstruct the enemy's
road or divide his army, but not sweep away all his accumulated
stores." Water can do useful service, but it lacks the terrible
destructive power of fire. This is the reason, Chang Yu
concludes, why the former is dismissed in a couple of sentences,
whereas the attack by fire is discussed in detail. Wu Tzu (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
[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 are.
[This is repeated from XI. ss. 17. Here I feel convinced
that it is an interpolation, for it is evident that ss. 20 ought
to follow immediately on ss. 18.]
20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be
succeeded by content.
21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never
come again into being;
[The Wu State was destined to be a melancholy example of
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.
 "Unless you enter the tiger's lair, you cannot get
the tiger's cubs."
[Go to Index]
13. THE USE OF SPIES
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. ss. ss. 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,
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
[Mei Yao-ch`en says: "Men will be lacking at the plough-
tail." The allusion is to the system of dividing land into nine
parts, each consisting of about 15 acres, the plot in the center
being cultivated on behalf of the State by the tenants of the
other eight. It was here also, so Tu Mu tells us, that their
cottages were built and a well sunk, to be used by all in common.
[See II. ss. 12, note.] In time of war, one of the families
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
["For spies" is of course the meaning, though it
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
7. Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes:
(1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4)
doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.
8. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can
discover the secret system. This is called "divine manipulation
of the threads." It is the sovereign's most precious faculty.
[Cromwell, one of the greatest and most practical of all
cavalry leaders, had officers styled 'scout masters,' whose
business it was to collect all possible information regarding the
enemy, through scouts and spies, etc., and much of his success in
war was traceable to the previous knowledge of the enemy's moves
thus gained."  ]
9. Having LOCAL SPIES means employing the services of the
inhabitants of a district.
[Tu Mu says: "In the enemy's country, win people over
kind treatment, and use them as spies."]
10. Having INWARD SPIES, making use of officials of the
[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
(ss. 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 sun of the
famous Chao She. From his boyhood, he had been wholly engrossed
in the study of war and military matters, until at last he came
to believe that there was no commander in the whole Empire who
could stand against him. His father was much disquieted by this
overweening conceit, and the flippancy with which he spoke of
such a serious thing as war, and solemnly declared that if ever
Kua was appointed general, he would bring ruin on the armies of
Chao. This was the man who, in spite of earnest protests from
his own mother and the veteran statesman Lin Hsiang-ju, was now
sent to succeed Lien P`o. Needless to say, he proved no match
for the redoubtable Po Ch`i and the great military power of
Ch`in. He fell into a trap by which his army was divided into
two and his communications cut; and after a desperate resistance
lasting 46 days, during which the famished soldiers devoured one
another, he was himself killed by an arrow, and his whole force,
amounting, it is said, to 400,000 men, ruthlessly put to the
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 thing calculated to deceive our own spies, who
must be led to believe that they have been unwittingly disclosed.
Then, when these spies are captured in the enemy's lines, they
will make an entirely false report, and the enemy will take
measures accordingly, only to find that we do something quite
different. The spies will thereupon be put to death." As an
example of doomed spies, Ho Shih mentions the prisoners released
by Pan Ch`ao in his campaign against Yarkand. (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.  ]
15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain
[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
16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and
[Chang Yu says: "When you have attracted them by
substantial offers, you must treat them with absolute sincerity;
then they will work for you with all their might."]
17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make
certain of the truth of their reports.
[Mei Yao-ch`en says: "Be on your guard against the
possibility of spies going over to the service of the enemy."]
18. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind
[Cf. VI. ss. 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-
[Literally "visitors", is equivalent, as Tu Yu says,
"those whose duty it is to keep the general supplied with
information," which naturally necessitates frequent interviews
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
22. It is through the information brought by the converted
spy that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward
[Tu Yu says: "through conversion of the enemy's spies
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 deceived."]
24. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy
can be used on appointed occasions.
25. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is
knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived,
in the first instance, from the converted spy.
[As explained in ss. 22-24. He not only brings information
himself, but makes it possible to use the other kinds of spy to
Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with
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
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,
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 water, because on them
depends an army's ability to move.
[Chia Lin says that an army without spies is like a man with
ears or eyes.]
 "Aids to Scouting," p. 2.
 "Marshal Turenne," p. 311