Part 1 out of 4
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
is affectionately dedicated.
Preface to the Project Gutenburg Etext
When Lionel Giles began his translation of Sun Tzu's ART OF
WAR, the work was virtually unknown in Europe. Its introduction
to Europe began in 1782 when a French Jesuit Father living in
China, Joseph Amiot, acquired a copy of it, and translated it
into French. It was not a good translation because, according to
Dr. Giles, "[I]t contains a great deal that Sun Tzu did not
write, and very little indeed of what he did."
The first translation into English was published in 1905 in
Tokyo by Capt. E. F. Calthrop, R.F.A. However, this translation
is, in the words of Dr. Giles, "excessively bad." He goes
further in this criticism: "It is not merely a question of
downright blunders, from which none can hope to be wholly exempt.
Omissions were frequent; hard passages were willfully distorted
or slurred over. Such offenses are less pardonable. They would
not be tolerated in any edition of a Latin or Greek classic, and
a similar standard of honesty ought to be insisted upon in
translations from Chinese." In 1908 a new edition of Capt.
Calthrop's translation was published in London. It was an
improvement on the first -- omissions filled up and numerous
mistakes corrected -- but new errors were created in the process.
Dr. Giles, in justifying his translation, wrote: "It was not
undertaken out of any inflated estimate of my own powers; but I
could not help feeling that Sun Tzu deserved a better fate than
had befallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I could hardly
fail to improve on the work of my predecessors."
Clearly, Dr. Giles' work established much of the groundwork
for the work of later translators who published their own
editions. Of the later editions of the ART OF WAR I have
examined; two feature Giles' edited translation and notes, the
other two present the same basic information from the ancient
Chinese commentators found in the Giles edition. Of these four,
Giles' 1910 edition is the most scholarly and presents the reader
an incredible amount of information concerning Sun Tzu's text,
much more than any other translation.
The Giles' edition of the ART OF WAR, as stated above, was a
scholarly work. Dr. Giles was a leading sinologue at the time
and an assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and
Manuscripts in the British Museum. Apparently he wanted to
produce a definitive edition, superior to anything else that
existed and perhaps something that would become a standard
translation. It was the best translation available for 50 years.
But apparently there was not much interest in Sun Tzu in English-
speaking countries since it took the start of the Second
World War to renew interest in his work. Several people
published unsatisfactory English translations of Sun Tzu. In
1944, Dr. Giles' translation was edited and published in the
United States in a series of military science books. But it
wasn't until 1963 that a good English translation (by Samuel B.
Griffith and still in print) was published that was an equal to
Giles' translation. While this translation is more lucid than
Dr. Giles' translation, it lacks his copious notes that make his
Dr. Giles produced a work primarily intended for scholars of
the Chinese civilization and language. It contains the Chinese
text of Sun Tzu, the English translation, and voluminous notes
along with numerous footnotes. Unfortunately, some of his notes
and footnotes contain Chinese characters; some are completely
Chinese. Thus, a conversion to a Latin alphabet etext was
difficult. I did the conversion in complete ignorance of Chinese
(except for what I learned while doing the conversion). Thus, I
faced the difficult task of paraphrasing it while retaining as
much of the important text as I could. Every paraphrase
represents a loss; thus I did what I could to retain as much of
the text as possible. Because the 1910 text contains a Chinese
concordance, I was able to transliterate proper names, books, and
the like at the risk of making the text more obscure. However,
the text, on the whole, is quite satisfactory for the casual
reader, a transformation made possible by conversion to an etext.
However, I come away from this task with the feeling of loss
because I know that someone with a background in Chinese can do a
better job than I did; any such attempt would be welcomed.
Sun Wu and his Book
Ssu-ma Ch`ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzu: 
Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch`i State. His ART OF
WAR brought him to the notice of Ho Lu,  King of Wu. Ho
Lu said to him: "I have carefully perused your 13 chapters.
May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight
Sun Tzu replied: "You may."
Ho Lu asked: "May the test be applied to women?"
The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements
were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzu
divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King's
favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them
all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: "I
presume you know the difference between front and back, right
hand and left hand?"
The girls replied: Yes.
Sun Tzu went on: "When I say "Eyes front," you must
look straight ahead. When I say "Left turn," you must face
towards your left hand. When I say "Right turn," you must
face towards your right hand. When I say "About turn," you
must face right round towards your back."
Again the girls assented. The words of command having
been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes
in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he
gave the order "Right turn." But the girls only burst out
laughing. Sun Tzu said: "If words of command are not clear
and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then
the general is to blame."
So he started drilling them again, and this time gave
the order "Left turn," whereupon the girls once more burst
into fits of laughter. Sun Tzu: "If words of command are
not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly
understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE
clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the
fault of their officers."
So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies
to be beheaded. Now the king of Wu was watching the scene
from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his
favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly
alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: "We
are now quite satisfied as to our general's ability to handle
troops. If We are bereft of these two concubines, our meat
and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they
shall not be beheaded."
Sun Tzu replied: "Having once received His Majesty's
commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain
commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am
unable to accept."
Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and
straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in
their place. When this had been done, the drum was sounded
for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the
evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching
ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect
accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then
Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: "Your soldiers,
Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for
your majesty's inspection. They can be put to any use that
their sovereign may desire; bid them go through fire and
water, and they will not disobey."
But the King replied: "Let our general cease drilling
and return to camp. As for us, We have no wish to come down
and inspect the troops."
Thereupon Sun Tzu said: "The King is only fond of
words, and cannot translate them into deeds."
After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew how
to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the
west, he defeated the Ch`u State and forced his way into
Ying, the capital; to the north he put fear into the States
of Ch`i and Chin, and spread his fame abroad amongst the
feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the might of the King.
About Sun Tzu himself this is all that Ssu-ma Ch`ien has to
tell us in this chapter. But he proceeds to give a biography of
his descendant, Sun Pin, born about a hundred years after his
famous ancestor's death, and also the outstanding military genius
of his time. The historian speaks of him too as Sun Tzu, and in
his preface we read: "Sun Tzu had his feet cut off and yet
continued to discuss the art of war."  It seems likely, then,
that "Pin" was a nickname bestowed on him after his mutilation,
unless the story was invented in order to account for the name.
The crowning incident of his career, the crushing defeat of his
treacherous rival P`ang Chuan, will be found briefly related in
Chapter V. ss. 19, note.
To return to the elder Sun Tzu. He is mentioned in two
other passages of the SHIH CHI: --
In the third year of his reign [512 B.C.] Ho Lu, king of
Wu, took the field with Tzu-hsu [i.e. Wu Yuan] and Po P`ei,
and attacked Ch`u. He captured the town of Shu and slew the
two prince's sons who had formerly been generals of Wu. He
was then meditating a descent on Ying [the capital]; but the
general Sun Wu said: "The army is exhausted. It is not yet
possible. We must wait".... [After further successful
fighting,] "in the ninth year [506 B.C.], King Ho Lu
addressed Wu Tzu-hsu and Sun Wu, saying: "Formerly, you
declared that it was not yet possible for us to enter Ying.
Is the time ripe now?" The two men replied: "Ch`u's general
Tzu-ch`ang,  is grasping and covetous, and the princes of
T`ang and Ts`ai both have a grudge against him. If Your
Majesty has resolved to make a grand attack, you must win
over T`ang and Ts`ai, and then you may succeed." Ho Lu
followed this advice, [beat Ch`u in five pitched battles and
marched into Ying.] 
This is the latest date at which anything is recorded of Sun
Wu. He does not appear to have survived his patron, who died
from the effects of a wound in 496.
In another chapter there occurs this passage: 
From this time onward, a number of famous soldiers
arose, one after the other: Kao-fan,  who was employed by
the Chin State; Wang-tzu,  in the service of Ch`i; and Sun
Wu, in the service of Wu. These men developed and threw
light upon the principles of war.
It is obvious enough that Ssu-ma Ch`ien at least had no
doubt about the reality of Sun Wu as an historical personage; and
with one exception, to be noticed presently, he is by far the
most important authority on the period in question. It will not
be necessary, therefore, to say much of such a work as the WU
YUEH CH`UN CH`IU, which is supposed to have been written by Chao
Yeh of the 1st century A.D. The attribution is somewhat
doubtful; but even if it were otherwise, his account would be of
little value, based as it is on the SHIH CHI and expanded with
romantic details. The story of Sun Tzu will be found, for what
it is worth, in chapter 2. The only new points in it worth
noting are: (1) Sun Tzu was first recommended to Ho Lu by Wu
Tzu-hsu. (2) He is called a native of Wu. (3) He had previously
lived a retired life, and his contemporaries were unaware of his
The following passage occurs in the Huai-nan Tzu: "When
sovereign and ministers show perversity of mind, it is impossible
even for a Sun Tzu to encounter the foe." Assuming that this
work is genuine (and hitherto no doubt has been cast upon it), we
have here the earliest direct reference for Sun Tzu, for Huai-nan
Tzu died in 122 B.C., many years before the SHIH CHI was given to
Liu Hsiang (80-9 B.C.) says: "The reason why Sun Tzu at the
head of 30,000 men beat Ch`u with 200,000 is that the latter were
Teng Ming-shih informs us that the surname "Sun" was
bestowed on Sun Wu's grandfather by Duke Ching of Ch`i [547-490
B.C.]. Sun Wu's father Sun P`ing, rose to be a Minister of State
in Ch`i, and Sun Wu himself, whose style was Ch`ang-ch`ing, fled
to Wu on account of the rebellion which was being fomented by the
kindred of T`ien Pao. He had three sons, of whom the second,
named Ming, was the father of Sun Pin. According to this account
then, Pin was the grandson of Wu, which, considering that Sun
Pin's victory over Wei was gained in 341 B.C., may be dismissed
as chronological impossible. Whence these data were obtained by
Teng Ming-shih I do not know, but of course no reliance whatever
can be placed in them.
An interesting document which has survived from the close of
the Han period is the short preface written by the Great Ts`ao
Ts`ao, or Wei Wu Ti, for his edition of Sun Tzu. I shall give it
in full: --
I have heard that the ancients used bows and arrows to
their advantage.  The SHU CHU mentions "the army" among
the "eight objects of government." The I CHING says:
"'army' indicates firmness and justice; the experienced
leader will have good fortune." The SHIH CHING says: "The
King rose majestic in his wrath, and he marshaled his
troops." The Yellow Emperor, T`ang the Completer and Wu Wang
all used spears and battle-axes in order to succor their
generation. The SSU-MA FA says: "If one man slay another of
set purpose, he himself may rightfully be slain." He who
relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he
who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.
Instances of this are Fu Ch`ai  on the one hand and Yen
Wang on the other.  In military matters, the Sage's rule
is normally to keep the peace, and to move his forces only
when occasion requires. He will not use armed force unless
driven to it by necessity.
Many books have I read on the subject of war and
fighting; but the work composed by Sun Wu is the profoundest
of them all. [Sun Tzu was a native of the Ch`i state, his
personal name was Wu. He wrote the ART OF WAR in 13 chapters
for Ho Lu, King of Wu. Its principles were tested on women,
and he was subsequently made a general. He led an army
westwards, crushed the Ch`u state and entered Ying the
capital. In the north, he kept Ch`i and Chin in awe. A
hundred years and more after his time, Sun Pin lived. He was
a descendant of Wu.]  In his treatment of deliberation
and planning, the importance of rapidity in taking the field,
 clearness of conception, and depth of design, Sun Tzu
stands beyond the reach of carping criticism. My
contemporaries, however, have failed to grasp the full
meaning of his instructions, and while putting into practice
the smaller details in which his work abounds, they have
overlooked its essential purport. That is the motive which
has led me to outline a rough explanation of the whole.
One thing to be noticed in the above is the explicit
statement that the 13 chapters were specially composed for King
Ho Lu. This is supported by the internal evidence of I. ss. 15,
in which it seems clear that some ruler is addressed.
In the bibliographic section of the HAN SHU, there is an
entry which has given rise to much discussion: "The works of Sun
Tzu of Wu in 82 P`IEN (or chapters), with diagrams in 9 CHUAN."
It is evident that this cannot be merely the 13 chapters known to
Ssu-ma Ch`ien, or those we possess today. Chang Shou-chieh
refers to an edition of Sun Tzu's ART OF WAR of which the "13
chapters" formed the first CHUAN, adding that there were two
other CHUAN besides. This has brought forth a theory, that the
bulk of these 82 chapters consisted of other writings of Sun Tzu
-- we should call them apocryphal -- similar to the WEN TA, of
which a specimen dealing with the Nine Situations  is
preserved in the T`UNG TIEN, and another in Ho Shin's commentary.
It is suggested that before his interview with Ho Lu, Sun Tzu had
only written the 13 chapters, but afterwards composed a sort of
exegesis in the form of question and answer between himself and
the King. Pi I-hsun, the author of the SUN TZU HSU LU, backs
this up with a quotation from the WU YUEH CH`UN CH`IU: "The King
of Wu summoned Sun Tzu, and asked him questions about the art of
war. Each time he set forth a chapter of his work, the King
could not find words enough to praise him." As he points out, if
the whole work was expounded on the same scale as in the above-
mentioned fragments, the total number of chapters could not fail
to be considerable. Then the numerous other treatises attributed
to Sun Tzu might be included. The fact that the HAN CHIH
mentions no work of Sun Tzu except the 82 P`IEN, whereas the Sui
and T`ang bibliographies give the titles of others in addition to
the "13 chapters," is good proof, Pi I-hsun thinks, that all of
these were contained in the 82 P`IEN. Without pinning our faith
to the accuracy of details supplied by the WU YUEH CH`UN CH`IU,
or admitting the genuineness of any of the treatises cited by Pi
I-hsun, we may see in this theory a probable solution of the
mystery. Between Ssu-ma Ch`ien and Pan Ku there was plenty of
time for a luxuriant crop of forgeries to have grown up under the
magic name of Sun Tzu, and the 82 P`IEN may very well represent a
collected edition of these lumped together with the original
work. It is also possible, though less likely, that some of them
existed in the time of the earlier historian and were purposely
ignored by him. 
Tu Mu's conjecture seems to be based on a passage which
states: "Wei Wu Ti strung together Sun Wu's Art of War," which
in turn may have resulted from a misunderstanding of the final
words of Ts`ao King's preface. This, as Sun Hsing-yen points
out, is only a modest way of saying that he made an explanatory
paraphrase, or in other words, wrote a commentary on it. On the
whole, this theory has met with very little acceptance. Thus,
the SSU K`U CH`UAN SHU says: "The mention of the 13 chapters in
the SHIH CHI shows that they were in existence before the HAN
CHIH, and that latter accretions are not to be considered part of
the original work. Tu Mu's assertion can certainly not be taken
There is every reason to suppose, then, that the 13 chapters
existed in the time of Ssu-ma Ch`ien practically as we have them
now. That the work was then well known he tells us in so many
words. "Sun Tzu's 13 Chapters and Wu Ch`i's Art of War are the
two books that people commonly refer to on the subject of
military matters. Both of them are widely distributed, so I will
not discuss them here." But as we go further back, serious
difficulties begin to arise. The salient fact which has to be
faced is that the TSO CHUAN, the greatest contemporary record,
makes no mention whatsoever of Sun Wu, either as a general or as
a writer. It is natural, in view of this awkward circumstance,
that many scholars should not only cast doubt on the story of Sun
Wu as given in the SHIH CHI, but even show themselves frankly
skeptical as to the existence of the man at all. The most
powerful presentment of this side of the case is to be found in
the following disposition by Yeh Shui-hsin:  --
It is stated in Ssu-ma Ch`ien's history that Sun Wu was
a native of the Ch`i State, and employed by Wu; and that in
the reign of Ho Lu he crushed Ch`u, entered Ying, and was a
great general. But in Tso's Commentary no Sun Wu appears at
all. It is true that Tso's Commentary need not contain
absolutely everything that other histories contain. But Tso
has not omitted to mention vulgar plebeians and hireling
ruffians such as Ying K`ao-shu,  Ts`ao Kuei, , Chu
Chih-wu and Chuan She-chu . In the case of Sun Wu, whose
fame and achievements were so brilliant, the omission is much
more glaring. Again, details are given, in their due order,
about his contemporaries Wu Yuan and the Minister P`ei. 
Is it credible that Sun Wu alone should have been passed
In point of literary style, Sun Tzu's work belongs to
the same school as KUAN TZU,  LIU T`AO,  and the YUEH
YU  and may have been the production of some private
scholar living towards the end of the "Spring and Autumn" or
the beginning of the "Warring States" period.  The story
that his precepts were actually applied by the Wu State, is
merely the outcome of big talk on the part of his followers.
From the flourishing period of the Chou dynasty 
down to the time of the "Spring and Autumn," all military
commanders were statesmen as well, and the class of
professional generals, for conducting external campaigns, did
not then exist. It was not until the period of the "Six
States"  that this custom changed. Now although Wu was
an uncivilized State, it is conceivable that Tso should have
left unrecorded the fact that Sun Wu was a great general and
yet held no civil office? What we are told, therefore, about
Jang-chu  and Sun Wu, is not authentic matter, but the
reckless fabrication of theorizing pundits. The story of Ho
Lu's experiment on the women, in particular, is utterly
preposterous and incredible.
Yeh Shui-hsin represents Ssu-ma Ch`ien as having said that
Sun Wu crushed Ch`u and entered Ying. This is not quite correct.
No doubt the impression left on the reader's mind is that he at
least shared in these exploits. The fact may or may not be
significant; but it is nowhere explicitly stated in the SHIH CHI
either that Sun Tzu was general on the occasion of the taking of
Ying, or that he even went there at all. Moreover, as we know
that Wu Yuan and Po P`ei both took part in the expedition, and
also that its success was largely due to the dash and enterprise
of Fu Kai, Ho Lu's younger brother, it is not easy to see how yet
another general could have played a very prominent part in the
Ch`en Chen-sun of the Sung dynasty has the note: --
Military writers look upon Sun Wu as the father of their
art. But the fact that he does not appear in the TSO CHUAN,
although he is said to have served under Ho Lu King of Wu,
makes it uncertain what period he really belonged to.
He also says: --
The works of Sun Wu and Wu Ch`i may be of genuine
It is noticeable that both Yeh Shui-hsin and Ch`en Chen-sun,
while rejecting the personality of Sun Wu as he figures in Ssu-ma
Ch`ien's history, are inclined to accept the date traditionally
assigned to the work which passes under his name. The author of
the HSU LU fails to appreciate this distinction, and consequently
his bitter attack on Ch`en Chen-sun really misses its mark. He
makes one of two points, however, which certainly tell in favor
of the high antiquity of our "13 chapters." "Sun Tzu," he says,
"must have lived in the age of Ching Wang [519-476], because he
is frequently plagiarized in subsequent works of the Chou, Ch`in
and Han dynasties." The two most shameless offenders in this
respect are Wu Ch`i and Huai-nan Tzu, both of them important
historical personages in their day. The former lived only a
century after the alleged date of Sun Tzu, and his death is known
to have taken place in 381 B.C. It was to him, according to Liu
Hsiang, that Tseng Shen delivered the TSO CHUAN, which had been
entrusted to him by its author.  Now the fact that
quotations from the ART OF WAR, acknowledged or otherwise, are to
be found in so many authors of different epochs, establishes a
very strong anterior to them all, -- in other words, that Sun
Tzu's treatise was already in existence towards the end of the
5th century B.C. Further proof of Sun Tzu's antiquity is
furnished by the archaic or wholly obsolete meanings attaching to
a number of the words he uses. A list of these, which might
perhaps be extended, is given in the HSU LU; and though some of
the interpretations are doubtful, the main argument is hardly
affected thereby. Again, it must not be forgotten that Yeh Shui-
hsin, a scholar and critic of the first rank, deliberately
pronounces the style of the 13 chapters to belong to the early
part of the fifth century. Seeing that he is actually engaged in
an attempt to disprove the existence of Sun Wu himself, we may be
sure that he would not have hesitated to assign the work to a
later date had he not honestly believed the contrary. And it is
precisely on such a point that the judgment of an educated
Chinaman will carry most weight. Other internal evidence is not
far to seek. Thus in XIII. ss. 1, there is an unmistakable
allusion to the ancient system of land-tenure which had already
passed away by the time of Mencius, who was anxious to see it
revived in a modified form.  The only warfare Sun Tzu knows
is that carried on between the various feudal princes, in which
armored chariots play a large part. Their use seems to have
entirely died out before the end of the Chou dynasty. He speaks
as a man of Wu, a state which ceased to exist as early as 473
B.C. On this I shall touch presently.
But once refer the work to the 5th century or earlier, and
the chances of its being other than a bona fide production are
sensibly diminished. The great age of forgeries did not come
until long after. That it should have been forged in the period
immediately following 473 is particularly unlikely, for no one,
as a rule, hastens to identify himself with a lost cause. As for
Yeh Shui-hsin's theory, that the author was a literary recluse,
that seems to me quite untenable. If one thing is more apparent
than another after reading the maxims of Sun Tzu, it is that
their essence has been distilled from a large store of personal
observation and experience. They reflect the mind not only of a
born strategist, gifted with a rare faculty of generalization,
but also of a practical soldier closely acquainted with the
military conditions of his time. To say nothing of the fact that
these sayings have been accepted and endorsed by all the greatest
captains of Chinese history, they offer a combination of
freshness and sincerity, acuteness and common sense, which quite
excludes the idea that they were artificially concocted in the
study. If we admit, then, that the 13 chapters were the genuine
production of a military man living towards the end of the "CH`UN
CH`IU" period, are we not bound, in spite of the silence of the
TSO CHUAN, to accept Ssu-ma Ch`ien's account in its entirety? In
view of his high repute as a sober historian, must we not
hesitate to assume that the records he drew upon for Sun Wu's
biography were false and untrustworthy? The answer, I fear, must
be in the negative. There is still one grave, if not fatal,
objection to the chronology involved in the story as told in the
SHIH CHI, which, so far as I am aware, nobody has yet pointed
out. There are two passages in Sun Tzu in which he alludes to
contemporary affairs. The first in in VI. ss. 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
The other is in XI. ss. 30: --
Asked if an army can be made to imitate the SHUAI-JAN, I
should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh
are enemies; yet if they are crossing a river in the same
boat and are caught by a storm, they will come to each
other's assistance just as the left hand helps the right.
These two paragraphs are extremely valuable as evidence of
the date of composition. They assign the work to the period of
the struggle between Wu and Yueh. So much has been observed by
Pi I-hsun. But what has hitherto escaped notice is that they
also seriously impair the credibility of Ssu-ma Ch`ien's
narrative. As we have seen above, the first positive date given
in connection with Sun Wu is 512 B.C. He is then spoken of as a
general, acting as confidential adviser to Ho Lu, so that his
alleged introduction to that monarch had already taken place, and
of course the 13 chapters must have been written earlier still.
But at that time, and for several years after, down to the
capture of Ying in 506, Ch`u and not Yueh, was the great
hereditary enemy of Wu. The two states, Ch`u and Wu, had been
constantly at war for over half a century,  whereas the first
war between Wu and Yueh was waged only in 510,  and even then
was no more than a short interlude sandwiched in the midst of the
fierce struggle with Ch`u. Now Ch`u is not mentioned in the 13
chapters at all. The natural inference is that they were written
at a time when Yueh had become the prime antagonist of Wu, that
is, after Ch`u had suffered the great humiliation of 506. At
this point, a table of dates may be found useful.
514 | Accession of Ho Lu.
512 | Ho Lu attacks Ch`u, but is dissuaded from entering Ying,
| the capital. SHI CHI mentions Sun Wu as general.
511 | Another attack on Ch`u.
510 | Wu makes a successful attack on Yueh. This is the first
| war between the two states.
or | Ch`u invades Wu, but is signally defeated at Yu-chang.
506 | Ho Lu attacks Ch`u with the aid of T`ang and Ts`ai.
| Decisive battle of Po-chu, and capture of Ying. Last
| mention of Sun Wu in SHIH CHI.
505 | Yueh makes a raid on Wu in the absence of its army. Wu
| is beaten by Ch`in and evacuates Ying.
504 | Ho Lu sends Fu Ch`ai to attack Ch`u.
497 | Kou Chien becomes King of Yueh.
496 | Wu attacks Yueh, but is defeated by Kou Chien at Tsui-li.
| Ho Lu is killed.
494 | Fu Ch`ai defeats Kou Chien in the great battle of Fu-
| chaio, and enters the capital of Yueh.
or | Kou Chien renders homage to Wu. Death of Wu Tzu-hsu.
482 | Kou Chien invades Wu in the absence of Fu Ch`ai.
to | Further attacks by Yueh on Wu.
475 | Kou Chien lays siege to the capital of Wu.
473 | Final defeat and extinction of Wu.
The sentence quoted above from VI. ss. 21 hardly strikes me
as one that could have been written in the full flush of victory.
It seems rather to imply that, for the moment at least, the tide
had turned against Wu, and that she was getting the worst of the
struggle. Hence we may conclude that our treatise was not in
existence in 505, before which date Yueh does not appear to have
scored any notable success against Wu. Ho Lu died in 496, so
that if the book was written for him, it must have been during
the period 505-496, when there was a lull in the hostilities, Wu
having presumably exhausted by its supreme effort against Ch`u.
On the other hand, if we choose to disregard the tradition
connecting Sun Wu's name with Ho Lu, it might equally well have
seen the light between 496 and 494, or possibly in the period
482-473, when Yueh was once again becoming a very serious menace.
 We may feel fairly certain that the author, whoever he may
have been, was not a man of any great eminence in his own day.
On this point the negative testimony of the TSO CHUAN far
outweighs any shred of authority still attaching to the SHIH CHI,
if once its other facts are discredited. Sun Hsing-yen, however,
makes a feeble attempt to explain the omission of his name from
the great commentary. It was Wu Tzu-hsu, he says, who got all
the credit of Sun Wu's exploits, because the latter (being an
alien) was not rewarded with an office in the State.
How then did the Sun Tzu legend originate? It may be that
the growing celebrity of the book imparted by degrees a kind of
factitious renown to its author. It was felt to be only right
and proper that one so well versed in the science of war should
have solid achievements to his credit as well. Now the capture
of Ying was undoubtedly the greatest feat of arms in Ho Lu's
reign; it made a deep and lasting impression on all the
surrounding states, and raised Wu to the short-lived zenith of
her power. Hence, what more natural, as time went on, than that
the acknowledged master of strategy, Sun Wu, should be popularly
identified with that campaign, at first perhaps only in the sense
that his brain conceived and planned it; afterwards, that it was
actually carried out by him in conjunction with Wu Yuan,  Po
P`ei and Fu Kai?
It is obvious that any attempt to reconstruct even the
outline of Sun Tzu's life must be based almost wholly on
conjecture. With this necessary proviso, I should say that he
probably entered the service of Wu about the time of Ho Lu's
accession, and gathered experience, though only in the capacity
of a subordinate officer, during the intense military activity
which marked the first half of the prince's reign.  If he
rose to be a general at all, he certainly was never on an equal
footing with the three above mentioned. He was doubtless present
at the investment and occupation of Ying, and witnessed Wu's
sudden collapse in the following year. Yueh's attack at this
critical juncture, when her rival was embarrassed on every side,
seems to have convinced him that this upstart kingdom was the
great enemy against whom every effort would henceforth have to be
directed. Sun Wu was thus a well-seasoned warrior when he sat
down to write his famous book, which according to my reckoning
must have appeared towards the end, rather than the beginning of
Ho Lu's reign. The story of the women may possibly have grown
out of some real incident occurring about the same time. As we
hear no more of Sun Wu after this from any source, he is hardly
likely to have survived his patron or to have taken part in the
death-struggle with Yueh, which began with the disaster at Tsui-
If these inferences are approximately correct, there is a
certain irony in the fate which decreed that China's most
illustrious man of peace should be contemporary with her greatest
writer on war.
The Text of Sun Tzu
I have found it difficult to glean much about the history of
Sun Tzu's text. The quotations that occur in early authors go to
show that the "13 chapters" of which Ssu-ma Ch`ien speaks were
essentially the same as those now extant. We have his word for
it that they were widely circulated in his day, and can only
regret that he refrained from discussing them on that account.
Sun Hsing-yen says in his preface: --
During the Ch`in and Han dynasties Sun Tzu's ART OF WAR
was in general use amongst military commanders, but they seem
to have treated it as a work of mysterious import, and were
unwilling to expound it for the benefit of posterity. Thus
it came about that Wei Wu was the first to write a commentary
As we have already seen, there is no reasonable ground to
suppose that Ts`ao Kung tampered with the text. But the text
itself is often so obscure, and the number of editions which
appeared from that time onward so great, especially during the
T`ang and Sung dynasties, that it would be surprising if numerous
corruptions had not managed to creep in. Towards the middle of
the Sung period, by which time all the chief commentaries on Sun
Tzu were in existence, a certain Chi T`ien-pao published a work
in 15 CHUAN entitled "Sun Tzu with the collected commentaries of
ten writers." There was another text, with variant readings put
forward by Chu Fu of Ta-hsing, which also had supporters among
the scholars of that period; but in the Ming editions, Sun Hsing-
yen tells us, these readings were for some reason or other no
longer put into circulation. Thus, until the end of the 18th
century, the text in sole possession of the field was one derived
from Chi T`ien-pao's edition, although no actual copy of that
important work was known to have survived. That, therefore, is
the text of Sun Tzu which appears in the War section of the great
Imperial encyclopedia printed in 1726, the KU CHIN T`U SHU CHI
CH`ENG. Another copy at my disposal of what is practically the
same text, with slight variations, is that contained in the
"Eleven philosophers of the Chou and Ch`in dynasties" .
And the Chinese printed in Capt. Calthrop's first edition is
evidently a similar version which has filtered through Japanese
channels. So things remained until Sun Hsing-yen [1752-1818], a
distinguished antiquarian and classical scholar, who claimed to
be an actual descendant of Sun Wu,  accidentally discovered a
copy of Chi T`ien-pao's long-lost work, when on a visit to the
library of the Hua-yin temple.  Appended to it was the I
SHUO of Cheng Yu-Hsien, mentioned in the T`UNG CHIH, and also
believed to have perished. This is what Sun Hsing-yen designates
as the "original edition (or text)" -- a rather misleading name,
for it cannot by any means claim to set before us the text of Sun
Tzu in its pristine purity. Chi T`ien-pao was a careless
compiler, and appears to have been content to reproduce the
somewhat debased version current in his day, without troubling to
collate it with the earliest editions then available.
Fortunately, two versions of Sun Tzu, even older than the newly
discovered work, were still extant, one buried in the T`UNG TIEN,
Tu Yu's great treatise on the Constitution, the other similarly
enshrined in the T`AI P`ING YU LAN encyclopedia. In both the
complete text is to be found, though split up into fragments,
intermixed with other matter, and scattered piecemeal over a
number of different sections. Considering that the YU LAN takes
us back to the year 983, and the T`UNG TIEN about 200 years
further still, to the middle of the T`ang dynasty, the value of
these early transcripts of Sun Tzu can hardly be overestimated.
Yet the idea of utilizing them does not seem to have occurred to
anyone until Sun Hsing-yen, acting under Government instructions,
undertook a thorough recension of the text. This is his own
Because of the numerous mistakes in the text of Sun Tzu
which his editors had handed down, the Government ordered
that the ancient edition [of Chi T`ien-pao] should be used,
and that the text should be revised and corrected throughout.
It happened that Wu Nien-hu, the Governor Pi Kua, and Hsi, a
graduate of the second degree, had all devoted themselves to
this study, probably surpassing me therein. Accordingly, I
have had the whole work cut on blocks as a textbook for
The three individuals here referred to had evidently been
occupied on the text of Sun Tzu prior to Sun Hsing-yen's
commission, but we are left in doubt as to the work they really
accomplished. At any rate, the new edition, when ultimately
produced, appeared in the names of Sun Hsing-yen and only one co-
editor Wu Jen-shi. They took the "original edition" as their
basis, and by careful comparison with older versions, as well as
the extant commentaries and other sources of information such as
the I SHUO, succeeded in restoring a very large number of
doubtful passages, and turned out, on the whole, what must be
accepted as the closes approximation we are ever likely to get to
Sun Tzu's original work. This is what will hereafter be
denominated the "standard text."
The copy which I have used belongs to a reissue dated 1877.
it is in 6 PEN, forming part of a well-printed set of 23 early
philosophical works in 83 PEN.  It opens with a preface by
Sun Hsing-yen (largely quoted in this introduction), vindicating
the traditional view of Sun Tzu's life and performances, and
summing up in remarkably concise fashion the evidence in its
favor. This is followed by Ts`ao Kung's preface to his edition,
and the biography of Sun Tzu from the SHIH CHI, both translated
above. Then come, firstly, Cheng Yu-hsien's I SHUO,  with
author's preface, and next, a short miscellany of historical and
bibliographical information entitled SUN TZU HSU LU, compiled by
Pi I-hsun. As regards the body of the work, each separate
sentence is followed by a note on the text, if required, and then
by the various commentaries appertaining to it, arranged in
chronological order. These we shall now proceed to discuss
briefly, one by one.
Sun Tzu can boast an exceptionally long distinguished roll
of commentators, which would do honor to any classic. Ou-yang
Hsiu remarks on this fact, though he wrote before the tale was
complete, and rather ingeniously explains it by saying that the
artifices of war, being inexhaustible, must therefore be
susceptible of treatment in a great variety of ways.
1. TS`AO TS`AO or Ts`ao Kung, afterwards known as Wei Wu Ti
[A.D. 155-220]. There is hardly any room for doubt that the
earliest commentary on Sun Tzu actually came from the pen of this
extraordinary man, whose biography in the SAN KUO CHIH reads like
a romance. One of the greatest military geniuses that the world
has seen, and Napoleonic in the scale of his operations, he was
especially famed for the marvelous rapidity of his marches, which
has found expression in the line "Talk of Ts`ao Ts`ao, and Ts`ao
Ts`ao will appear." Ou-yang Hsiu says of him that he was a great
captain who "measured his strength against Tung Cho, Lu Pu and
the two Yuan, father and son, and vanquished them all; whereupon
he divided the Empire of Han with Wu and Shu, and made himself
king. It is recorded that whenever a council of war was held by
Wei on the eve of a far-reaching campaign, he had all his
calculations ready; those generals who made use of them did not
lose one battle in ten; those who ran counter to them in any
particular saw their armies incontinently beaten and put to
flight." Ts`ao Kung's notes on Sun Tzu, models of austere
brevity, are so thoroughly characteristic of the stern commander
known to history, that it is hard indeed to conceive of them as
the work of a mere LITTERATEUR. Sometimes, indeed, owing to
extreme compression, they are scarcely intelligible and stand no
less in need of a commentary than the text itself. 
2. MENG SHIH. The commentary which has come down to us
under this name is comparatively meager, and nothing about the
author is known. Even his personal name has not been recorded.
Chi T`ien-pao's edition places him after Chia Lin,and Ch`ao Kung-
wu also assigns him to the T`ang dynasty,  but this is a
mistake. In Sun Hsing-yen's preface, he appears as Meng Shih of
the Liang dynasty [502-557]. Others would identify him with Meng
K`ang of the 3rd century. He is named in one work as the last of
the "Five Commentators," the others being Wei Wu Ti, Tu Mu, Ch`en
Hao and Chia Lin.
3. LI CH`UAN of the 8th century was a well-known writer on
military tactics. One of his works has been in constant use down
to the present day. The T`UNG CHIH mentions "Lives of famous
generals from the Chou to the T`ang dynasty" as written by him.
 According to Ch`ao Kung-wu and the T`IEN-I-KO catalogue, he
followed a variant of the text of Sun Tzu which differs
considerably from those now extant. His notes are mostly short
and to the point, and he frequently illustrates his remarks by
anecdotes from Chinese history.
4. TU YU (died 812) did not publish a separate commentary
on Sun Tzu, his notes being taken from the T`UNG TIEN, the
encyclopedic treatise on the Constitution which was his life-
work. They are largely repetitions of Ts`ao Kung and Meng Shih,
besides which it is believed that he drew on the ancient
commentaries of Wang Ling and others. Owing to the peculiar
arrangement of T`UNG TIEN, he has to explain each passage on its
merits, apart from the context, and sometimes his own explanation
does not agree with that of Ts`ao Kung, whom he always quotes
first. Though not strictly to be reckoned as one of the "Ten
Commentators," he was added to their number by Chi T`ien-pao,
being wrongly placed after his grandson Tu Mu.
5. TU MU (803-852) is perhaps the best known as a poet -- a
bright star even in the glorious galaxy of the T`ang period. We
learn from Ch`ao Kung-wu that although he had no practical
experience of war, he was extremely fond of discussing the
subject, and was moreover well read in the military history of
the CH`UN CH`IU and CHAN KUO eras. His notes, therefore, are
well worth attention. They are very copious, and replete with
historical parallels. The gist of Sun Tzu's work is thus
summarized by him: "Practice benevolence and justice, but on the
other hand make full use of artifice and measures of expediency."
He further declared that all the military triumphs and disasters
of the thousand years which had elapsed since Sun Tzu's death
would, upon examination, be found to uphold and corroborate, in
every particular, the maxims contained in his book. Tu Mu's
somewhat spiteful charge against Ts`ao Kung has already been
6. CH`EN HAO appears to have been a contemporary of Tu Mu.
Ch`ao Kung-wu says that he was impelled to write a new commentary
on Sun Tzu because Ts`ao Kung's on the one hand was too obscure
and subtle, and that of Tu Mu on the other too long-winded and
diffuse. Ou-yang Hsiu, writing in the middle of the 11th
century, calls Ts`ao Kung, Tu Mu and Ch`en Hao the three chief
commentators on Sun Tzu, and observes that Ch`en Hao is
continually attacking Tu Mu's shortcomings. His commentary,
though not lacking in merit, must rank below those of his
7. CHIA LIN is known to have lived under the T`ang dynasty,
for his commentary on Sun Tzu is mentioned in the T`ang Shu and
was afterwards republished by Chi Hsieh of the same dynasty
together with those of Meng Shih and Tu Yu. It is of somewhat
scanty texture, and in point of quality, too, perhaps the least
valuable of the eleven.
8. MEI YAO-CH`EN (1002-1060), commonly known by his "style"
as Mei Sheng-yu, was, like Tu Mu, a poet of distinction. His
commentary was published with a laudatory preface by the great
Ou-yang Hsiu, from which we may cull the following: --
Later scholars have misread Sun Tzu, distorting his
words and trying to make them square with their own one-sided
views. Thus, though commentators have not been lacking, only
a few have proved equal to the task. My friend Sheng-yu has
not fallen into this mistake. In attempting to provide a
critical commentary for Sun Tzu's work, he does not lose
sight of the fact that these sayings were intended for states
engaged in internecine warfare; that the author is not
concerned with the military conditions prevailing under the
sovereigns of the three ancient dynasties,  nor with the
nine punitive measures prescribed to the Minister of War.
 Again, Sun Wu loved brevity of diction, but his meaning
is always deep. Whether the subject be marching an army, or
handling soldiers, or estimating the enemy, or controlling
the forces of victory, it is always systematically treated;
the sayings are bound together in strict logical sequence,
though this has been obscured by commentators who have
probably failed to grasp their meaning. In his own
commentary, Mei Sheng-yu has brushed aside all the obstinate
prejudices of these critics, and has tried to bring out the
true meaning of Sun Tzu himself. In this way, the clouds of
confusion have been dispersed and the sayings made clear. I
am convinced that the present work deserves to be handed down
side by side with the three great commentaries; and for a
great deal that they find in the sayings, coming generations
will have constant reason to thank my friend Sheng-yu.
Making some allowance for the exuberance of friendship, I am
inclined to endorse this favorable judgment, and would certainly
place him above Ch`en Hao in order of merit.
9. WANG HSI, also of the Sung dynasty, is decidedly
original in some of his interpretations, but much less judicious
than Mei Yao-ch`en, and on the whole not a very trustworthy
guide. He is fond of comparing his own commentary with that of
Ts`ao Kung, but the comparison is not often flattering to him.
We learn from Ch`ao Kung-wu that Wang Hsi revised the ancient
text of Sun Tzu, filling up lacunae and correcting mistakes. 
10. HO YEN-HSI of the Sung dynasty. The personal name of
this commentator is given as above by Cheng Ch`iao in the TUNG
CHIH, written about the middle of the twelfth century, but he
appears simply as Ho Shih in the YU HAI, and Ma Tuan-lin quotes
Ch`ao Kung-wu as saying that his personal name is unknown. There
seems to be no reason to doubt Cheng Ch`iao's statement,
otherwise I should have been inclined to hazard a guess and
identify him with one Ho Ch`u-fei, the author of a short treatise
on war, who lived in the latter part of the 11th century. Ho
Shih's commentary, in the words of the T`IEN-I-KO catalogue,
"contains helpful additions" here and there, but is chiefly
remarkable for the copious extracts taken, in adapted form, from
the dynastic histories and other sources.
11. CHANG YU. The list closes with a commentator of no
great originality perhaps, but gifted with admirable powers of
lucid exposition. His commentator is based on that of Ts`ao
Kung, whose terse sentences he contrives to expand and develop in
masterly fashion. Without Chang Yu, it is safe to say that much
of Ts`ao Kung's commentary would have remained cloaked in its
pristine obscurity and therefore valueless. His work is not
mentioned in the Sung history, the T`UNG K`AO, or the YU HAI, but
it finds a niche in the T`UNG CHIH, which also names him as the
author of the "Lives of Famous Generals." 
It is rather remarkable that the last-named four should all
have flourished within so short a space of time. Ch`ao Kung-wu
accounts for it by saying: "During the early years of the Sung
dynasty the Empire enjoyed a long spell of peace, and men ceased
to practice the art of war. but when [Chao] Yuan-hao's rebellion
came [1038-42] and the frontier generals were defeated time after
time, the Court made strenuous inquiry for men skilled in war,
and military topics became the vogue amongst all the high
officials. Hence it is that the commentators of Sun Tzu in our
dynasty belong mainly to that period. 
Besides these eleven commentators, there are several others
whose work has not come down to us. The SUI SHU mentions four,
namely Wang Ling (often quoted by Tu Yu as Wang Tzu); Chang Tzu-
shang; Chia Hsu of Wei;  and Shen Yu of Wu. The T`ANG SHU
adds Sun Hao, and the T`UNG CHIH Hsiao Chi, while the T`U SHU
mentions a Ming commentator, Huang Jun-yu. It is possible that
some of these may have been merely collectors and editors of
other commentaries, like Chi T`ien-pao and Chi Hsieh, mentioned
Appreciations of Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu has exercised a potent fascination over the minds of
some of China's greatest men. Among the famous generals who are
known to have studied his pages with enthusiasm may be mentioned
Han Hsin (d. 196 B.C.),  Feng I (d. 34 A.D.),  Lu Meng
(d. 219),  and Yo Fei (1103-1141).  The opinion of Ts`ao
Kung, who disputes with Han Hsin the highest place in Chinese
military annals, has already been recorded.  Still more
remarkable, in one way, is the testimony of purely literary men,
such as Su Hsun (the father of Su Tung-p`o), who wrote several
essays on military topics, all of which owe their chief
inspiration to Sun Tzu. The following short passage by him is
preserved in the YU HAI:  --
Sun Wu's saying, that in war one cannot make certain of
conquering,  is very different indeed from what other
books tell us.  Wu Ch`i was a man of the same stamp as
Sun Wu: they both wrote books on war, and they are linked
together in popular speech as "Sun and Wu." But Wu Ch`i's
remarks on war are less weighty, his rules are rougher and
more crudely stated, and there is not the same unity of plan
as in Sun Tzu's work, where the style is terse, but the
meaning fully brought out.
The following is an extract from the "Impartial Judgments in
the Garden of Literature" by Cheng Hou: --
Sun Tzu's 13 chapters are not only the staple and base
of all military men's training, but also compel the most
careful attention of scholars and men of letters. His
sayings are terse yet elegant, simple yet profound,
perspicuous and eminently practical. Such works as the LUN
YU, the I CHING and the great Commentary,  as well as the
writings of Mencius, Hsun K`uang and Yang Chu, all fall below
the level of Sun Tzu.
Chu Hsi, commenting on this, fully admits the first part of
the criticism, although he dislikes the audacious comparison with
the venerated classical works. Language of this sort, he says,
"encourages a ruler's bent towards unrelenting warfare and
Apologies for War
Accustomed as we are to think of China as the greatest
peace-loving nation on earth, we are in some danger of forgetting
that her experience of war in all its phases has also been such
as no modern State can parallel. Her long military annals
stretch back to a point at which they are lost in the mists of
time. She had built the Great Wall and was maintaining a huge
standing army along her frontier centuries before the first Roman
legionary was seen on the Danube. What with the perpetual
collisions of the ancient feudal States, the grim conflicts with
Huns, Turks and other invaders after the centralization of
government, the terrific upheavals which accompanied the
overthrow of so many dynasties, besides the countless rebellions
and minor disturbances that have flamed up and flickered out
again one by one, it is hardly too much to say that the clash of
arms has never ceased to resound in one portion or another of the
No less remarkable is the succession of illustrious captains
to whom China can point with pride. As in all countries, the
greatest are fond of emerging at the most fateful crises of her
history. Thus, Po Ch`i stands out conspicuous in the period when
Ch`in was entering upon her final struggle with the remaining
independent states. The stormy years which followed the break-up
of the Ch`in dynasty are illuminated by the transcendent genius
of Han Hsin. When the House of Han in turn is tottering to its
fall, the great and baleful figure of Ts`ao Ts`ao dominates the
scene. And in the establishment of the T`ang dynasty,one of the
mightiest tasks achieved by man, the superhuman energy of Li
Shih-min (afterwards the Emperor T`ai Tsung) was seconded by the
brilliant strategy of Li Ching. None of these generals need fear
comparison with the greatest names in the military history of
In spite of all this, the great body of Chinese sentiment,
from Lao Tzu downwards, and especially as reflected in the
standard literature of Confucianism, has been consistently
pacific and intensely opposed to militarism in any form. It is
such an uncommon thing to find any of the literati defending
warfare on principle, that I have thought it worth while to
collect and translate a few passages in which the unorthodox view
is upheld. The following, by Ssu-ma Ch`ien, shows that for all
his ardent admiration of Confucius, he was yet no advocate of
peace at any price: --
Military weapons are the means used by the Sage to
punish violence and cruelty, to give peace to troublous
times, to remove difficulties and dangers, and to succor
those who are in peril. Every animal with blood in its veins
and horns on its head will fight when it is attacked. How
much more so will man, who carries in his breast the
faculties of love and hatred, joy and anger! When he is
pleased, a feeling of affection springs up within him; when
angry, his poisoned sting is brought into play. That is the
natural law which governs his being.... What then shall be
said of those scholars of our time, blind to all great
issues, and without any appreciation of relative values, who
can only bark out their stale formulas about "virtue" and
"civilization," condemning the use of military weapons? They
will surely bring our country to impotence and dishonor and
the loss of her rightful heritage; or, at the very least,
they will bring about invasion and rebellion, sacrifice of
territory and general enfeeblement. Yet they obstinately
refuse to modify the position they have taken up. The truth
is that, just as in the family the teacher must not spare the
rod, and punishments cannot be dispensed with in the State,
so military chastisement can never be allowed to fall into
abeyance in the Empire. All one can say is that this power
will be exercised wisely by some, foolishly by others, and
that among those who bear arms some will be loyal and others
The next piece is taken from Tu Mu's preface to his
commentary on Sun Tzu: --
War may be defined as punishment, which is one of the
functions of government. It was the profession of Chung Yu
and Jan Ch`iu, both disciples of Confucius. Nowadays, the
holding of trials and hearing of litigation, the imprisonment
of offenders and their execution by flogging in the market-
place, are all done by officials. But the wielding of huge
armies, the throwing down of fortified cities, the hauling of
women and children into captivity, and the beheading of
traitors -- this is also work which is done by officials.
The objects of the rack and of military weapons are
essentially the same. There is no intrinsic difference
between the punishment of flogging and cutting off heads in
war. For the lesser infractions of law, which are easily
dealt with, only a small amount of force need be employed:
hence the use of military weapons and wholesale decapitation.
In both cases, however, the end in view is to get rid of
wicked people, and to give comfort and relief to the good....
Chi-sun asked Jan Yu, saying: "Have you, Sir, acquired
your military aptitude by study, or is it innate?" Jan Yu
replied: "It has been acquired by study."  "How can
that be so," said Chi-sun, "seeing that you are a disciple of
Confucius?" "It is a fact," replied Jan Yu; "I was taught by
Confucius. It is fitting that the great Sage should exercise
both civil and military functions, though to be sure my
instruction in the art of fighting has not yet gone very
Now, who the author was of this rigid distinction
between the "civil" and the "military," and the limitation of
each to a separate sphere of action, or in what year of which
dynasty it was first introduced, is more than I can say.
But, at any rate, it has come about that the members of the
governing class are quite afraid of enlarging on military
topics, or do so only in a shamefaced manner. If any are
bold enough to discuss the subject, they are at once set down
as eccentric individuals of coarse and brutal propensities.
This is an extraordinary instance in which, through sheer
lack of reasoning, men unhappily lose sight of fundamental
When the Duke of Chou was minister under Ch`eng Wang, he
regulated ceremonies and made music, and venerated the arts
of scholarship and learning; yet when the barbarians of the
River Huai revolted,  he sallied forth and chastised
them. When Confucius held office under the Duke of Lu, and a
meeting was convened at Chia-ku,  he said: "If pacific
negotiations are in progress, warlike preparations should
have been made beforehand." He rebuked and shamed the
Marquis of Ch`i, who cowered under him and dared not proceed
to violence. How can it be said that these two great Sages
had no knowledge of military matters?
We have seen that the great Chu Hsi held Sun Tzu in high
esteem. He also appeals to the authority of the Classics: --
Our Master Confucius, answering Duke Ling of Wei, said:
"I have never studied matters connected with armies and
battalions."  Replying to K`ung Wen-tzu, he said: I
have not been instructed about buff-coats and weapons." But
if we turn to the meeting at Chia-ku, we find that he used
armed force against the men of Lai, so that the marquis of
Ch`i was overawed. Again, when the inhabitants of Pi
revolted, the ordered his officers to attack them, whereupon
they were defeated and fled in confusion. He once uttered
the words: "If I fight, I conquer."  And Jan Yu also
said: "The Sage exercises both civil and military
functions."  Can it be a fact that Confucius never
studied or received instruction in the art of war? We can
only say that he did not specially choose matters connected
with armies and fighting to be the subject of his teaching.
Sun Hsing-yen, the editor of Sun Tzu, writes in similar
Confucius said: "I am unversed in military matters."
 He also said: "If I fight, I conquer." Confucius
ordered ceremonies and regulated music. Now war constitutes
one of the five classes of State ceremonial,  and must
not be treated as an independent branch of study. Hence, the
words "I am unversed in" must be taken to mean that there are
things which even an inspired Teacher does not know. Those
who have to lead an army and devise stratagems, must learn
the art of war. But if one can command the services of a
good general like Sun Tzu, who was employed by Wu Tzu-hsu,
there is no need to learn it oneself. Hence the remark added
by Confucius: "If I fight, I conquer."
The men of the present day, however, willfully interpret
these words of Confucius in their narrowest sense, as though
he meant that books on the art of war were not worth reading.
With blind persistency, they adduce the example of Chao Kua,
who pored over his father's books to no purpose,  as a
proof that all military theory is useless. Again, seeing
that books on war have to do with such things as opportunism
in designing plans, and the conversion of spies, they hold
that the art is immoral and unworthy of a sage. These people
ignore the fact that the studies of our scholars and the
civil administration of our officials also require steady
application and practice before efficiency is reached. The
ancients were particularly chary of allowing mere novices to
botch their work.  Weapons are baneful  and fighting
perilous; and useless unless a general is in constant
practice, he ought not to hazard other men's lives in battle.
 Hence it is essential that Sun Tzu's 13 chapters should
Hsiang Liang used to instruct his nephew Chi  in the
art of war. Chi got a rough idea of the art in its general
bearings, but would not pursue his studies to their proper
outcome, the consequence being that he was finally defeated
and overthrown. He did not realize that the tricks and
artifices of war are beyond verbal computation. Duke Hsiang
of Sung and King Yen of Hsu were brought to destruction by
their misplaced humanity. The treacherous and underhand
nature of war necessitates the use of guile and stratagem
suited to the occasion. There is a case on record of
Confucius himself having violated an extorted oath,  and
also of his having left the Sung State in disguise.  Can
we then recklessly arraign Sun Tzu for disregarding truth and
The following are the oldest Chinese treatises on war, after
Sun Tzu. The notes on each have been drawn principally from the
SSU K`U CH`UAN SHU CHIEN MING MU LU, ch. 9, fol. 22 sqq.
1. WU TZU, in 1 CHUAN or 6 chapters. By Wu Ch`i (d. 381
B.C.). A genuine work. See SHIH CHI, ch. 65.
2. SSU-MA FA, in 1 CHUAN or 5 chapters. Wrongly attributed
to Ssu-ma Jang-chu of the 6th century B.C. Its date, however,
must be early, as the customs of the three ancient dynasties are
constantly to be met within its pages. See SHIH CHI, ch. 64.
The SSU K`U CH`UAN SHU (ch. 99, f. 1) remarks that the
oldest three treatises on war, SUN TZU, WU TZU and SSU-MA FA,
are, generally speaking, only concerned with things strictly
military -- the art of producing, collecting, training and
drilling troops, and the correct theory with regard to measures
of expediency, laying plans, transport of goods and the handling
of soldiers -- in strong contrast to later works, in which the
science of war is usually blended with metaphysics, divination
and magical arts in general.
3. LIU T`AO, in 6 CHUAN, or 60 chapters. Attributed to Lu
Wang (or Lu Shang, also known as T`ai Kung) of the 12th century
B.C.  But its style does not belong to the era of the Three
Dynasties. Lu Te-ming (550-625 A.D.) mentions the work, and
enumerates the headings of the six sections so that the forgery
cannot have been later than Sui dynasty.
4. WEI LIAO TZU, in 5 CHUAN. Attributed to Wei Liao (4th
cent. B.C.), who studied under the famous Kuei-ku Tzu. The work
appears to have been originally in 31 chapters, whereas the text
we possess contains only 24. Its matter is sound enough in the
main, though the strategical devices differ considerably from
those of the Warring States period. It is been furnished with a
commentary by the well-known Sung philosopher Chang Tsai.
5. SAN LUEH, in 3 CHUAN. Attributed to Huang-shih Kung, a
legendary personage who is said to have bestowed it on Chang
Liang (d. 187 B.C.) in an interview on a bridge. But here again,
the style is not that of works dating from the Ch`in or Han
period. The Han Emperor Kuang Wu [25-57 A.D.] apparently quotes
from it in one of his proclamations; but the passage in question
may have been inserted later on, in order to prove the
genuineness of the work. We shall not be far out if we refer it
to the Northern Sung period [420-478 A.D.], or somewhat earlier.
6. LI WEI KUNG WEN TUI, in 3 sections. Written in the form
of a dialogue between T`ai Tsung and his great general Li Ching,
it is usually ascribed to the latter. Competent authorities
consider it a forgery, though the author was evidently well
versed in the art of war.
7. LI CHING PING FA (not to be confounded with the
foregoing) is a short treatise in 8 chapters, preserved in the
T`ung Tien, but not published separately. This fact explains its
omission from the SSU K`U CH`UAN SHU.
8. WU CH`I CHING, in 1 CHUAN. Attributed to the legendary
minister Feng Hou, with exegetical notes by Kung-sun Hung of the
Han dynasty (d. 121 B.C.), and said to have been eulogized by the
celebrated general Ma Lung (d. 300 A.D.). Yet the earliest
mention of it is in the SUNG CHIH. Although a forgery, the work
is well put together.
Considering the high popular estimation in which Chu-ko
Liang has always been held, it is not surprising to find more
than one work on war ascribed to his pen. Such are (1) the SHIH
LIU TS`E (1 CHUAN), preserved in the YUNG LO TA TIEN; (2) CHIANG
YUAN (1 CHUAN); and (3) HSIN SHU (1 CHUAN), which steals
wholesale from Sun Tzu. None of these has the slightest claim to
be considered genuine.
Most of the large Chinese encyclopedias contain extensive
sections devoted to the literature of war. The following
references may be found useful: --
T`UNG TIEN (circa 800 A.D.), ch. 148-162.
T`AI P`ING YU LAN (983), ch. 270-359.
WEN HSIEN TUNG K`AO (13th cent.), ch. 221.
YU HAI (13th cent.), ch. 140, 141.
SAN TS`AI T`U HUI (16th cent).
KUANG PO WU CHIH (1607), ch. 31, 32.
CH`IEN CH`IO LEI SHU (1632), ch. 75.
YUAN CHIEN LEI HAN (1710), ch. 206-229.
KU CHIN T`U SHU CHI CH`ENG (1726), section XXX, esp. ch. 81-
HSU WEN HSIEN T`UNG K`AO (1784), ch. 121-134.
HUANG CH`AO CHING SHIH WEN PIEN (1826), ch. 76, 77.
The bibliographical sections of certain historical works
also deserve mention: --
CH`IEN HAN SHU, ch. 30.
SUI SHU, ch. 32-35.
CHIU T`ANG SHU, ch. 46, 47.
HSIN T`ANG SHU, ch. 57,60.
SUNG SHIH, ch. 202-209.
T`UNG CHIH (circa 1150), ch. 68.
To these of course must be added the great Catalogue of the
Imperial Library: --
SSU K`U CH`UAN SHU TSUNG MU T`I YAO (1790), ch. 99, 100.
1. SHI CHI, ch. 65.
2. He reigned from 514 to 496 B.C.
3. SHI CHI, ch. 130.
4. The appellation of Nang Wa.
5. SHI CHI, ch. 31.
6. SHI CHI, ch. 25.
7. The appellation of Hu Yen, mentioned in ch. 39 under the year
8. Wang-tzu Ch`eng-fu, ch. 32, year 607.
9. The mistake is natural enough. Native critics refer to a
work of the Han dynasty, which says: "Ten LI outside the WU gate
[of the city of Wu, now Soochow in Kiangsu] there is a great
mound, raised to commemorate the entertainment of Sun Wu of Ch`i,
who excelled in the art of war, by the King of Wu."
10. "They attached strings to wood to make bows, and sharpened
wood to make arrows. The use of bows and arrows is to keep the
Empire in awe."
11. The son and successor of Ho Lu. He was finally defeated and
overthrown by Kou chien, King of Yueh, in 473 B.C. See post.
12. King Yen of Hsu, a fabulous being, of whom Sun Hsing-yen
says in his preface: "His humanity brought him to destruction."
13. The passage I have put in brackets is omitted in the T`U
SHU, and may be an interpolation. It was known, however to Chang
Shou-chieh of the T`ang dynasty, and appears in the T`AI P`ING YU
14. Ts`ao Kung seems to be thinking of the first part of chap.
II, perhaps especially of ss. 8.
15. See chap. XI.
16. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that WU TZU, which is
not in 6 chapters, has 48 assigned to it in the HAN CHIH.
Likewise, the CHUNG YUNG is credited with 49 chapters, though now
only in one only. In the case of very short works, one is
tempted to think that P`IEN might simply mean "leaves."
17. Yeh Shih of the Sung dynasty [1151-1223].
18. He hardly deserves to be bracketed with assassins.
19. See Chapter 7, ss. 27 and Chapter 11, ss. 28.
20. See Chapter 11, ss. 28. Chuan Chu is the abbreviated form
of his name.
21. I.e. Po P`ei. See ante.
22. The nucleus of this work is probably genuine, though large
additions have been made by later hands. Kuan chung died in 645
23. See infra, beginning of INTRODUCTION.
24. I do not know what this work, unless it be the last chapter
of another work. Why that chapter should be singled out,
however, is not clear.
25. About 480 B.C.
26. That is, I suppose, the age of Wu Wang and Chou Kung.
27. In the 3rd century B.C.
28. Ssu-ma Jang-chu, whose family name was T`ien, lived in the
latter half of the 6th century B.C., and is also believed to have
written a work on war. See SHIH CHI, ch. 64, and infra at the
beginning of the INTRODUCTION.
29. See Legge's Classics, vol. V, Prolegomena p. 27. Legge
thinks that the TSO CHUAN must have been written in the 5th
century, but not before 424 B.C.
30. See MENCIUS III. 1. iii. 13-20.
31. When Wu first appears in the CH`UN CH`IU in 584, it is
already at variance with its powerful neighbor. The CH`UN CH`IU
first mentions Yueh in 537, the TSO CHUAN in 601.
32. This is explicitly stated in the TSO CHUAN, XXXII, 2.
33. There is this to be said for the later period, that the feud
would tend to grow more bitter after each encounter, and thus
more fully justify the language used in XI. ss. 30.
34. With Wu Yuan himself the case is just the reverse: -- a
spurious treatise on war has been fathered on him simply because
he was a great general. Here we have an obvious inducement to
forgery. Sun Wu, on the other hand, cannot have been widely
known to fame in the 5th century.
35. From TSO CHUAN: "From the date of King Chao's accession
 there was no year in which Ch`u was not attacked by Wu."
36. Preface ad fin: "My family comes from Lo-an, and we are
really descended from Sun Tzu. I am ashamed to say that I only
read my ancestor's work from a literary point of view, without
comprehending the military technique. So long have we been
enjoying the blessings of peace!"
37. Hoa-yin is about 14 miles from T`ung-kuan on the eastern
border of Shensi. The temple in question is still visited by
those about the ascent of the Western Sacred Mountain. It is
mentioned in a text as being "situated five LI east of the
district city of Hua-yin. The temple contains the Hua-shan
tablet inscribed by the T`ang Emperor Hsuan Tsung [713-755]."
38. See my "Catalogue of Chinese Books" (Luzac & Co., 1908), no.
39. This is a discussion of 29 difficult passages in Sun Tzu.
40. Cf. Catalogue of the library of Fan family at Ningpo: "His
commentary is frequently obscure; it furnishes a clue, but does
not fully develop the meaning."
41. WEN HSIEN T`UNG K`AO, ch. 221.
42. It is interesting to note that M. Pelliot has recently
discovered chapters 1, 4 and 5 of this lost work in the "Grottos
of the Thousand Buddhas." See B.E.F.E.O., t. VIII, nos. 3-4, p.
43. The Hsia, the Shang and the Chou. Although the last-named
was nominally existent in Sun Tzu's day, it retained hardly a
vestige of power, and the old military organization had
practically gone by the board. I can suggest no other
explanation of the passage.
44. See CHOU LI, xxix. 6-10.
45. T`UNG K`AO, ch. 221.
46. This appears to be still extant. See Wylie's "Notes," p. 91
47. T`UNG K`AO, loc. cit.
48. A notable person in his day. His biography is given in the
SAN KUO CHIH, ch. 10.
49. See XI. ss. 58, note.
50. HOU HAN SHU, ch. 17 ad init.
51. SAN KUO CHIH, ch. 54.
52. SUNG SHIH, ch. 365 ad init.
53. The few Europeans who have yet had an opportunity of
acquainting themselves with Sun Tzu are not behindhand in their
praise. In this connection, I may perhaps be excused for quoting
from a letter from Lord Roberts, to whom the sheets of the
present work were submitted previous to publication: "Many of
Sun Wu's maxims are perfectly applicable to the present day, and
no. 11 [in Chapter VIII] is one that the people of this country
would do well to take to heart."
54. Ch. 140.
55. See IV. ss. 3.
56. The allusion may be to Mencius VI. 2. ix. 2.
57. The TSO CHUAN.
58. SHIH CHI, ch. 25, fol. I.
59. Cf. SHIH CHI, ch 47.
60. See SHU CHING, preface ss. 55.
61. See SHIH CHI, ch. 47.
62. Lun Yu, XV. 1.
63. I failed to trace this utterance.
66. The other four being worship, mourning, entertainment of
guests, and festive rites. See SHU CHING, ii. 1. III. 8, and
CHOU LI, IX. fol. 49.
67. See XIII. ss. 11, note.
68. This is a rather obscure allusion to the TSO CHUAN, where
Tzu-ch`an says: "If you have a piece of beautiful brocade, you
will not employ a mere learner to make it up."
69. Cf. TAO TE CHING, ch. 31.
70. Sun Hsing-yen might have quoted Confucius again. See LUN
YU, XIII. 29, 30.
71. Better known as Hsiang Yu [233-202 B.C.].
72. SHIH CHI, ch. 47.
73. SHIH CHI, ch. 38.
74. See XIII. ss. 27, note. Further details on T`ai Kung will
be found in the SHIH CHI, ch. 32 ad init. Besides the tradition
which makes him a former minister of Chou Hsin, two other
accounts of him are there given, according to which he would
appear to have been first raised from a humble private station by
I. 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.
II. 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 to
Chang Yu, used for the attack; the "heavy chariots" were heavier,
and designed for purposes of defense. Li Ch`uan, it is true,
says that the latter were light, but this seems hardly probable.
It is interesting to note the analogies between early Chinese
warfare and that of the Homeric Greeks. In each case, the war-
chariot was the important factor, forming as it did the nucleus
round which was grouped a certain number of foot-soldiers. With
regard to the numbers given here, we are informed that each swift
chariot was accompanied by 75 footmen, and each heavy chariot by
25 footmen, so that the whole army would be divided up into a
thousand battalions, each consisting of two chariots and a
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.
III. 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 the full
force of the Chinese word, which implies not an attitude of
defense, whereby one might be content to foil the enemy's
stratagems one after another, but an active policy of counter-
attack. Ho Shih puts this very clearly in his note: "When the
enemy has made a plan of attack against us, we must anticipate
him by delivering our own attack first."]
the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces;
[Isolating him from his allies. We must not forget that Sun
Tzu, in speaking of hostilities, always has in mind the numerous
states or principalities into which the China of his day was
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;