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The Art of War, by Lionel Giles, [1910], at

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

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

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. 2

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4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline. 1

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. 2

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. 3

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. 4

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9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. 1

10. By Method and discipline are to be understood the marshalling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the gradations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure. 2

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:— 3

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13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? 1

(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?

(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth? 2

(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? 3

(5) Which army is the stronger? 4

(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? 5

(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment? 6

14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

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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! 1

16. While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules. 2

17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans. 3

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18. All warfare is based on deception. 1

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. 2

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. 3

22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. 4

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23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. 1

If his forces are united, separate them. 2

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

25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand. 3

26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. 4

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


1:1 This is the only possible meaning of #, which M. Amiot and Capt. Calthrop wrongly translate "Fondements de l’art militaire" and "First principles" respectively. Ts‘ao Kung says it refers to the deliberations in the temple selected by the general for his temporary use, or as we should say, in his tent. See § 26.

1:2 The old text of the T‘ung Tien has #, etc. Later editors have inserted # after #, and # before #. The former correction is perhaps superfluous, but the latter seems necessary in order to make sense, and is supported by the accepted reading in § 12, where the same words recur. I am inclined to think, however, that the whole sentence from # to # is an interpolation and has no business here at all. If it be retained, Wang Hsi must be right in saying that # denotes the "seven considerations" in § 13. # are the circumstances or conditions likely to bring about victory or defeat. The antecedent of the first # is #; of the second, #. # p. 3 contains the idea of "comparison with the enemy," which cannot well be brought out here, but will appear in § 12. Altogether, difficult though it is, the passage is not so hopelessly corrupt as to justify Capt. Calthrop in burking it entirely.

2:1 It appears from what follows that Sun Tzŭ means by # a principle of harmony. not unlike the Tao of Lao Tzŭ in its moral aspect. One might be tempted to render it by "morale," were it not considered as an attribute of the ruler in § 13.

2:2 The original text omits #, inserts an # after each #, and omits # after #. Capt. Calthrop translates: "If the ruling authority be upright, the people are united"—a very pretty sentiment, but wholly out of place in what purports to be a translation of Sun Tzŭ.

2:3 The commentators, I think, make an unnecessary mystery of #. Thus Mêng Shih defines the words as # "the hard and the soft, waxing and waning," which does not help us much. 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.

2:4 #. (omitted by Capt. Calthrop) may have been included here because the safety of an army depends largely on its quickness to turn these geographical features to account.

3:1 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 # and # are put before #, and the two military virtues of "courage" and "strictness" substituted for # and #.

3:2 The Chinese of this sentence is so concise as to be practically unintelligible without commentary. I have followed the interpretation of Ts‘ao Kung, who joins # and again #. Others take each of the six predicates separately. # has the somewhat uncommon sense of "cohort" or division of an army. Capt. Calthrop translates: "Partition and ordering of troops," which only covers #.

3:3 The Yü Lan has an interpolated # before #. It is obvious, however, that the # just enumerated cannot be described as #. Capt. Calthrop, forced to give some rendering of the words which he had omitted in § 3, shows himself decidedly hazy: "Further, with regard to these and the following seven matters, the condition of the enemy must be compared with our own." He does not appear to see that the seven queries or considerations which follow arise directly out of the Five heads, instead of being supplementary to them.

4:1 I.e., "is in harmony with his subjects." Cf. § 5.

4:2 See §§ 7, 8.

4:3 Tu Mu alludes to the remarkable story of Ts‘ao Ts‘ao (A.D. 155–220), who was such a strict disciplinarian that once, in accordance with his own severe regulations against injury to standing crops, he condemned himself to death for having allowed his horse to shy into a field of corn! However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice by cutting off his hair. Ts‘ao Ts‘ao's own comment on the present passage is characteristically curt: # "when you lay down a law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed, the offender must be put to death."

4:4 Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch‘ên puts it, #, which might be freely rendered "esprit de corps and 'big battalions.'"

4:5 Tu Yu quotes # 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."

4:6 # literally "clear;" that is, on which side is there the most absolute certainty that merit will be properly rewarded and misdeeds summarily punished?

5:1 The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzŭ's treatise was composed expressly for the benefit of his patron # Ho Lü, king of the Wu State. It is not necessary, however, to understand # before # (as some commentators do), or to take # as "generals under my command."

5:2 Capt. Calthrop blunders amazingly over this sentence: "Wherefore, with regard to the foregoing, considering that with us lies the advantage, and the generals agreeing, we create a situation which promises victory." Mere logic should have kept him from penning such frothy balderdash.

5:3 Sun Tzŭ, 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 Yü 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 favourable 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 to-morrow—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?" *

5:* "Words on Wellington," by Sir W. Fraser.

6:1 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."

6:2 #, as often in Sun Tzŭ, is used in the sense of #. It is rather remarkable that all the commentators, with the exception of Chang Yü, refer # to the enemy: "when he is in disorder, crush him." It is more natural to suppose that Sun Tzŭ is still illustrating the uses of deception in war.

6:3 The meaning of # is made clear from chap. VI, where it is opposed to # "weak or vulnerable spots." #, according to Tu Yu and other commentators, has reference to the keenness of the men as well as to numerical superiority. Capt. Calthrop evolves an extraordinarily far-fetched translation: "If there are defects, give an appearance of perfection, and awe the enemy. Pretend to be strong, and so cause the enemy to avoid you"!

6:4 I follow Chang Yü in my interpretation of #. # is expanded by Mei Yao-ch‘ên into #. Wang Tzŭ, quoted by Tu Yu, p. 7 says that the good tactician plays with his adversary as a cat plays with a mouse, first feigning weakness and immobility, and then suddenly pouncing upon him.

7:1 This is probably the meaning, though Mei Yao-ch‘ên has the note: # we are taking our ease, wait for the enemy to tire himself out." The Yü Lan has # "Lure him on and tire him out". This would seem also to have been Ts‘ao Kung's text, judging by his comment #.

7:2 Less plausible is the interpretation favoured by most of the commentators: "If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them."

7:3 This seems to be the way in which Ts‘ao Kung understood the passage, and is perhaps the best sense to be got out of the text as it stands. Most of the commentators give the following explanation: "It is impossible to lay down rules for warfare before you come into touch with the enemy." This would be very plausible if it did not ignore #, which unmistakably refers to the maxims which Sun Tzŭ has been laying down. It is possible, of course, that # may be a later interpolation, in which case the sentence would practically mean: "Success in warfare cannot be taught." As an alternative, however, I would venture to suggest that a second # may have fallen out after #, so that we get: "These maxims for succeeding in war are the first that ought to be imparted."

7:4 p. 8 Chang Yü 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. Capt. Calthrop misunderstands it as "the shrine of the ancestors," and gives a loose and inaccurate rendering of the whole passage.

Next: II. Waging War