The Art of War, by Lionel Giles, , at sacred-texts.com
Sun Tzŭ can boast an exceptionally long and distinguished roll of commentators, which would do honour 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
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 Tzŭ actually came from the pen of this extraordinary man, whose biography in the San Kuo Chih 2 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 marvellous 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, Lü Pu and the two Yüan, 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." 3 Ts‘ao Kung's notes on Sun Tzŭ, models of austere brevity, are so thoroughly characteristic of the stern commander known to history that it is hard indeed to conceive of them as the work of a mere littérateur. Sometimes, indeed, owing to extreme compression,
they are scarcely intelligible and stand no less in need of a commentary than the text itself. 1 As we have seen, Ts‘ao Kung is the reputed author of the #, a book on war in 100,000 odd words, now lost, but mentioned in the #. 2
2. # Mêng Shih. The commentary which has come down to us under this name is comparatively meagre, 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, 3 but this is obviously a mistake, as his work is mentioned in the #. In Sun Hsing-yen's preface, he appears as Mêng Shih of the Liang dynasty [502–557]. Others would identify him with # Mêng K‘ang of the 3rd century. In the #, 4 he is named last of the # "Five Commentators," the others being Wei Wu Ti, Tu Mu, Ch‘ên Hao and Chia Lin.
3. # Li Ch‘üan of the 8th century was a well-known writer on military tactics. His # has been in constant use down to the present day. The # mentions # (lives of famous generals from the Chou to the T‘ang dynasty) as written by him. 5 He is also generally supposed to be the real author of the popular Taoist tract, the #. According to Ch‘ao Kung-wu and the T‘ien-i-ko catalogue, 6 he followed the # text of Sun Tzŭ, 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 Tzŭ, his notes being taken from the T‘ung Tien, the encyclopaedic treatise on the Constitution which was his life-work. They are largely repetitions of Ts‘ao Kung and Mêng Shih, besides which it is believed that he drew on the ancient commentaries of # Wang Ling and others. Owing to the peculiar arrangement of the 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 (803–85 2) is perhaps best known as a poet—a bright star even in the glorious galaxy of the Tang 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. 1 His notes, therefore, are well worth attention. They are very copious, and replete with historical parallels. The gist of Sun Tzŭ's work is thus summarised by him: "Practise benevolence and justice, but on the other hand make full use of artifice and measures of expediency." 2 He further declared that all the military
triumphs and disasters of the thousand years which had elapsed since Sun Wu's death would, upon examination, be found to uphold and corroborate, in every particular, the maxims contained in his book. 1 Tu Mu's somewhat spiteful charge against Ts‘ao Kung has already been considered elsewhere.
6. # Ch‘ên 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 Tzŭ 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. 2 Ou-yang Hsiu, writing in the middle of the 11th century, calls Ts‘ao Kung, Tu Mu and Ch‘ên Hao the three chief commentators on Sun Tzŭ (#), and observes that Ch‘ên Hao is continually attacking Tu Mu's shortcomings. His commentary, though not lacking in merit, must rank below those of his predecessors.
7. # Chia Lin is known to have lived under the T‘ang dynasty, for his commentary on Sun Tzŭ is mentioned in the # and was afterwards republished by # Chi Hsieh of the same dynasty together with those of Mêng Shih and Tu Yu. 3 It is of somewhat scanty texture, and in point of quality, too, perhaps the least valuable of the eleven.
8. # Mei Yao-ch‘ên (1002–1060), commonly known by his "style" as Mei # Shêng-yü, 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:—
Making some allowance for the exuberance of friendship, I am inclined to endorse this favourable judgment, and would certainly place him above Ch'ên 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‘ên, 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 Tzŭ, filling up lacunae and correcting mistakes. 1
10. # Ho Yen-hsi of the Sung dynasty. The personal name of this commentator is given as above by # Chêng Ch‘iao in the T‘ung Chih, written about the middle of the twelfth century, but he appears simply as # Ho Shih in the Yü 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 Chêng Ch‘iao's statement, otherwise I should have been inclined to hazard a guess and identify him with one # Ho Ch‘ü-fei, the author of a short treatise on war entitled #, who lived in the latter part of the 11th century. 2 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 Yü. The list closes with a commentator of no great originality perhaps, but gifted with admirable powers of lucid exposition. His commentary is based on that of Ts‘ao Kung, whose terse sentences he contrives to expand and develop in masterly fashion. Without Chang Yü, 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 Yü Hai, but it finds a niche in the T‘ung Chih, which also names him as the author of the # "Lives of Famous Generals." 1
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 practise the art of war. But when [Chao] Yüan-hao's rebellion came [1038–42] and the frontier generals were defeated time after time, the Court made strenuous enquiry for men skilled in war, and military topics became the vogue amongst all the high officials. Hence it is that the commentators of Sun Tzŭ in our dynasty belong mainly to that period." 2
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 #); # Chang Tzŭ-shang; # Chia Hsü of # Wei; 3 and # Shên 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-yü. It is possible that some of these may have been merely collectors and editors of other commentaries, like Chi T‘ien-pao and Chi Hsieh, mentioned above. Certainly in the case of the latter, the entry #, in the T‘ung K‘ao, without the following note, would give one to understand that he had written an independent commentary of his own.
There are two works, described in the
[paragraph continues] Ssu K‘u Ch‘üan Shu 1 and no doubt extremely rare, which I should much like to have seen. One is entitled #, in 5 chüan. It gives selections from four new commentators, probably of the Ming dynasty, as well as from the eleven known to us. The names of the four are # Hsieh Yüan; # Chang Ao; # Li Ts‘ai; and # Huang Chih-chêng. The other work is # in 4 chüan, compiled by # Chêng Tuan of the present dynasty. It is a compendium of information on ancient warfare, with special reference to Sun Tzŭ's 13 chapters.
xxxv:1 Preface to Mei Yao-ch‘ên's edition: #
xxxv:2 See #, ch. 1.
xxxv:3 Loc. cit.: #.
xxxvi:1 Cf. # Catalogue of the library of the # Fan family at Ningpo, #, fol. 12 v°: # "His commentary is frequently obscure but furnishes a clue, but does not fully develop the meaning."
xxxvi:2 See #, ch. 141 ad init.
xxxvi:3 Wên Hsien T‘ung K‘ao, ch. 221, f. 9 v°.
xxxvi:4 Ch. 207, f. 5 r°.
xxxvi:5 It is interesting to note that M. Pelliot has recently discovered chapters 1, 4 and 5 of this lost work in the "Grottos of the Thousand Buddhas." See B. E. F. E. O, t. VIII, nos. 3–4, p. 525.
xxxvi:6 Loc. cit.
xxxvii:1 Wên Hsien T‘ung K‘ao, ch. 221, f. 9: #.
xxxvii:2 Preface to his commentary (T‘u Shu, # ch. 442): #.
xxxviii:1 Ibid.: #.
xxxviii:2 T‘ung K‘ao, loc. cit.: #.
xxxix:1 The Hsia, the Shang and the Chou. Although the last-named was nominally existent in Sun Tzŭ's day, it retained hardly a vestige of power, and the old military organisation had practically gone by the hoard. I can suggest no other explanation of the passage.
xxxix:2 See Chou Li, XXIX. 6–10.
xxxix:3 See T‘u Shu, #, ch. 90, f. 2 v°: #.
xl:1 T‘ung K‘ao, ch. 221, f. 11 r°: #.
xl:2 See #, ch. 99, f. 16 v°.
xli:1 This appears to be still extant. See Wylie's "Notes," p. 91 (new edition).
xli:2 T‘ung K‘ao, loc. cit.: #.
xli:3 A notable person in his day. His biography is given in the San Kuo Chih, ch. 10.
xlii:1 Ch. 100, ff. 2, 3.