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

p. 150


1. Sun Tzŭ said: There are five ways of attacking with fire. The first is to burn soldiers in their camp; 2

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the second is to burn stores; 1 the third is to burn baggage-trains; 2 the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines; 3 the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy. 4

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2. In order to carry out an attack with fire, we must have means available. 1 the material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness. 2

3. There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, and special days for starting a conflagration. 3

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4. The proper season is when the weather is very dry; the special days are those when the moon is in the constellations of the Sieve, the Wall, the Wing or the Cross-bar; 1 for these four are all days of rising wind. 2

5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possible developments: 3

6. (1) When fire breaks out inside the enemy's camp, respond at once 4 with an attack from without.

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7. (2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy's soldiers remain quiet, bide your time and do not attack. 1

8. (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it up with an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay where you are. 2

9. (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a favourable moment. 3

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10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack from the leeward. 1

11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze soon falls. 2

12. In every army, the five developments connected with fire must be known, the movements of the stars calculated, and a watch kept for the proper days. 3

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13. Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show intelligence; 1 those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an accession of strength. 2

14. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not robbed of all his belongings. 3

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15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. 1

16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources. 2

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17. Move not unless you see an advantage; 1 use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. 2

18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. 3

19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move if not, stay where you are. 4

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20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. 1

21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; 2 nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.

22. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution. 3

This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact. 4


150:1 Rather more than half the chapter (§§ 1–13) is devoted to the subject of fire, after which the author branches off into other topics.

150:2 So Tu Mu. Li Ch‘üan says: # "Set fire to the camp, and kill the soldiers" (when they try to escape from the flames). Pan Ch‘ao, sent on a diplomatic mission to the King of Shan-shan [see XI. S 51, note], found himself placed in extreme peril by the unexpected arrival of an envoy from the Hsiung-nu [the mortal enemies of the Chinese]. In consultation with his officers, he exclaimed: "'Never venture, never win! * The only course open to us now is to make an assault by fire on the barbarians under cover of night, when they will not be able to discern our numbers. Profiting by their panic, we shall exterminate them completely; this will cool the King's courage and cover us with glory, besides ensuring the success of our mission.' The officers all replied that would be necessary to discuss the matter first with the Intendant (#). Pan Ch‘ao then fell into a passion: 'It is to-day,' he cried, 'that our fortunes must be decided! The Intendant is only a humdrum civilian, who on hearing of our project will certainly be afraid, and everything will be brought to light. An inglorious death is no worthy fate for valiant warriors.' All then agreed to do as he wished. Accordingly, as soon as night came on, he and his little band quickly made their way to the barbarian camp. A strong gale was blowing at the time. Pan Ch‘ao ordered ten of the party to take drums and hide behind the enemy's barracks, it being arranged that when they saw flames shoot up, they p. 151 should begin drumming and yelling with all their might. The rest of his men, armed with bows and crossbows, he posted in ambuscade at the gate of the camp. He then set fire to the place from the windward side, whereupon a deafening noise of drums and shouting arose on the front and rear of the Hsiung-nu, who rushed out pell-mell in frantic disorder. Pan Ch‘ao slew three of them with his own hand, while his companions cut off the heads of the envoy and thirty of his suite. The remainder, more than a hundred in all, perished in the flames. On the following day, Pan Ch‘ao went back and informed # Kuo Hsün [the Intendant] of what he had done. The latter was greatly alarmed and turned pale. But Pan Ch‘ao, divining his thoughts, said with uplifted hand: 'Although you did not go with us last night, I should not think, Sir, of taking sole credit for our exploit.' This satisfied Kuo Hsün, and Pan Ch‘ao, having sent for Kuang, King of Shan-shan, showed him the head of the barbarian envoy. The whole kingdom was seized with fear and trembling, which Pan Ch‘ao took steps to allay by issuing a public proclamation. Then, taking the king's son as hostage, he returned to make his report to # Tou Ku." [Hou Han Shu, ch. 47, ff. 1, 2.]

150:* # "Unless you enter the tiger's lair, you cannot get hold of the tiger's cubs."

151:1 Tu Mu says: # "Provisions, fuel and fodder." In order to subdue the rebellious population of Kiangnan, # Kao Kêng recommended Wên Ti of the Sui dynasty to make periodical raids and burn their stores of grain, a policy which in the long run proved entirely successful. [#, ch. 41, fol. 2.]

151:2 An example given is the destruction of # Yüan Shao's waggons and impedimenta by Ts‘ao Ts‘ao in 200 A.D.

151:3 Tu Mu says that the things contained in # and # are the same. He specifies weapons and other implements, bullion and clothing. Cf. VII. § 11.

151:4 No fewer than four totally diverse explanations of this sentence are given by the commentators, not one of which is quite satisfactory. It is obvious, at any rate, that the ordinary meaning of # ("regiment" or "company") is here inadmissible. In spite of Tu Mu's note, #, I must regard "company burning" (Capt. Calthrop's rendering) as nonsense pure and simple. We may also, I think, reject the very forced explanation given by Li Ch‘üan, Mei Yao-ch‘ên p. 152 and Chang Yü, of whom the last-named says: # "burning a regiment's weapons, so that the soldiers may have nothing to fight with." That leaves only two solutions open: one, favoured by Chia Lin and Ho Shih, is to take # in the somewhat uncommon sense of "a road," = #. The commentary on a passage in the #, quoted in K‘ang Hsi, defines # (read sui) as # "a difficult road leading through a valley." Here it would stand for the # "line of supplies," which might be effectually interrupted if the country roundabout was laid waste with fire. Finally, the interpretation which I have adopted is that given by Tu Yu in the T‘ung Tien. He reads # (which is not absolutely necessary, # being sometimes used in the same sense), with the following note: # "To drop fire into the enemy's camp. The method by which this may be done is to set the tips of arrows alight by dipping them into a brazier, and then shoot them from powerful crossbows into the enemy's lines."

152:1 Ts‘ao Kung thinks # "traitors in the enemy's camp" are referred to. He thus takes # as the efficient cause only. But Ch‘ên Hao is more likely to be right in saying: # "We must have favourable circumstances in general, not merely traitors to help us." Chia Lin says: # "We must avail ourselves of wind and dry weather."

152:2 # is explained by Ts‘ao Kung as # "appliances for making fire." Tu Mu suggests # "dry vegetable matter, reeds, brushwood, straw, grease, oil, etc." Here we have the material cause. Chang Yü says: # "vessels for hoarding fire, stuff for lighting fires."

152:3 p. 153 A fire must not be begun "recklessly" or # "at haphazard."

153:1 These are, respectively, the 7th, 14th, 27th, and 28th of the # Twenty-eight Stellar Mansions, corresponding roughly to Sagittarius, Pegasus, Crater and Corvus. The original text, followed by the T‘u Shu, has # in place of #, the present reading rests on the authority of the T‘ung Tien and Yü Lan. Tu Mu says: #. For #, both T‘ung Tien and Yü Lan give the more precise location #. Mei Yao-ch‘ên tells us that by # is meant the tail of the # Dragon; by #, the eastern part of that constellation; by # and #, the tail of the # Quail.

153:2 # is elliptical for #. Hsiao I (afterwards fourth Emperor of the Liang dynasty, A.D. 552–555) is quoted by Tu Yu as saying that the days # of spring, # of summer, # of autumn, and # of winter bring fierce gales of wind and rain.

153:3 I take # as qualifying #, not #, and therefore think that Chang Yü is wrong in referring # to the five methods of attack set forth in § 1. What follows has certainly nothing to do with these.

153:4 The Yü Lan incorrectly reads # for #.

154:1 The original text omits #. The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the enemy into confusion. If this effect is not produced, it means that the enemy is ready to receive us. Hence the necessity for caution.

154:2 Ts‘ao Kung says: # "If you see a possible way, advance; but if you find the difficulties too great, retire."

154:3 Tu Mu says that the previous paragraphs had reference to the fire breaking out (either accidentally, we may suppose, or by the agency of incendiaries) inside the enemy's camp. "But," he continues, #, "if the enemy is settled in a waste place littered with quantities of grass, or if he has pitched his camp in a position which can be burnt out, we must carry our fire against him at any seasonable opportunity, and not wait on in hopes of an outbreak occurring within, for fear our opponents should themselves burn up the surrounding vegetation, and thus render our own attempts fruitless." The famous # Li Ling once baffled the # leader of the Hsiung-nu in this way. The latter, taking advantage of a favourable wind, tried to set fire to the Chinese general's camp, but found that every scrap of combustible vegetation in the neighbourhood had already been burnt down. On the other hand, # Po-ts‘ai, a general of the # Yellow Turban rebels, was badly defeated in 184 A.D. through his neglect of this simple precaution. "At the head of a large army he was besieging # Ch‘ang-shê, which was held by # Huang-fu Sung. The garrison was very p. 155 small, and a general feeling of nervousness pervaded the ranks; so Huang-fu Sung called his officers together and said: 'in war, there are various indirect methods of attack, and numbers do not count for everything. [The commentator here quotes Sun Tzŭ, V. §§ 5, 6 and 10.] Now the rebels have pitched their camp in the midst of thick grass (#), which will easily burn when the wind blows. If we set fire to it at night, they will be thrown into a panic, and we can make a sortie and attack them on all sides at once, thus emulating the achievement of T‘ien Tan.' [See p. 90.] That same evening, a strong breeze sprang up; so Huang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind reeds together into torches and mount guard on the city walls, after which he sent out a band of daring men, who stealthily made their way through the lines and started the fire with loud shouts and yells. Simultaneously, a glare of light shot up from the city-walls, and Huang-fu Sung, sounding his drums, led a rapid charge, which threw the rebels into confusion and put them to headlong flight." [Hou Han Shu, ch. 71, f. 2 r°.]

155:1 Chang Yü, following Tu Yu, says: # "When you make a fire, the enemy will retreat away from it; if you oppose his retreat and attack him then, he will fight desperately, which will not conduce to your success." A rather more obvious explanation is given by Tu Mu: "If the wind is in the east, begin burning to the east of the enemy, and follow lip the attack yourself from that side. If you start the fire on the east side, and then attack from the west, you will suffer in the same way as your enemy."

155:2 Cf. Lao Tzŭ's saying: # "A violent wind does not last the space of a morning." (Tao Tê Ching, chap. 23.) Mei Yao-ch‘ên and Wang Hsi say: "A day breeze dies down at nightfall, and a night breeze at daybreak. This is what happens as a general rule." The phenomenon observed may be correct enough, but how this sense is to be obtained is not apparent.

155:3 p. 156 Tu Mu's commentary shows what has to be supplied in order to make sense out of #. He says: # "We must make calculations as to the paths of the stars, and watch for the days on which wind will rise, before making our attack with fire." Chang Yü seems to take # in the sense of #: "We must not only know how to assail our opponents with fire, but also be on our guard against similar attacks from them."

156:1 I have not the least hesitation in rejecting the commentators' explanation of # as = #. Thus Chang Yü says: # "… will clearly [i.e. obviously] be able to gain the victory." This is not only clumsy in itself, but does not balance in the next clause. For # "intelligent," cf. infra, § 16, and Lun Yü XII. 6.

156:2 Capt. Calthrop gives an extraordinary rendering of the paragraph: "… if the attack is to be assisted, the fire must be unquenchable. If water is to assist the attack, the flood must be overwhelming."

156:3 Ts‘ao Kung's note is: # "We can merely obstruct the enemy's road or divide his army, but not sweep away all his accumulated stores." Water can do useful service, but it lacks the terrible destructive power of fire. This is the reason, Chang Yü concludes, why the former is dismissed in a couple of sentences, whereas the attack by fire is discussed in detail. Wu Tzŭ (ch. 4) speaks thus of the two elements: # "If an army is encamped on low-lying marshy ground, from which the water cannot run off, and where the rainfall is heavy, it may be submerged by a flood. If an army is encamped in wild marsh lands thickly overgrown with weeds and brambles, and visited by frequent gales, it may be exterminated by fire."

157:1 This is one of the most perplexing passages in Sun Tzŭ. The difficulty lies mainly in #, of which two interpretations appear possible. Most of the commentators understand # in the sense (not known to K‘ang Hsi) of # "reward" or # "promote," and # as referring to the merit of officers and men. Thus Ts‘ao Kung says: # "Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day." And Tu Mu: "If you do not take opportunity to advance and reward the deserving, your subordinates will not carry out your commands, and disaster will ensue." # would then probably mean # "stoppage of expenditure," or as Chia Lin puts it, # "the grudging of expenditure." For several reasons, however, and in spite of the formidable array of scholars on the other side, I prefer the interpretation suggested by Mei Yao-ch‘ên alone, whose words I will quote: # "Those who want to make sure of succeeding in their battles and assaults must seize the favourable moments when they come and not shrink on occasion from heroic measures: that is to say, they must resort to such means of attack as fire, water and the like. What they must not do, and what will prove fatal, is to sit still and simply hold on to the advantages they have got." This retains the more usual meaning of #, and also brings out a clear connection of thought with the previous part of the chapter. With regard to #, Wang Hsi paraphrases it as # "expending treasure and tiring out [lit., ageing] the army." # Of course is expenditure or waste in general, either of time, money or strength. But the soldier is less concerned with the saving of money than of time. For the metaphor expressed in "stagnation" I am indebted to Ts‘ao Kung, who says: #. Capt. Calthrop gives a rendering which bears but little relation to the Chinese text: "unless victory or possession be obtained, the enemy quickly recovers, and misfortunes arise. The war drags on, and money is spent."

157:2 p. 158 As Sun Tzŭ quotes this jingle in support of his assertion in § 15, we must suppose # to stand for # or something analogous. The meaning seems to be that the ruler lays plans which the general must show resourcefulness in carrying out. It is now plainer than ever that # cannot mean "to reward." Nevertheless, Tu Mu quotes the following from the #, ch. 2: # "The warlike prince controls his soldiers by his authority, knits them together by good faith, and by rewards makes them serviceable. If faith decays, there will be disruption; if rewards are deficient, commands will not be respected."

158:1 #, the Yü Lan's variant for #, is adopted by Li Ch‘üan and Tu Mu.

158:2 Sun Tzŭ may at times appear to be over-cautious, but he never goes so far in that direction as the remarkable passage in the Tao Tê Ching. ch. 69: # "I dare not take the initiative, but prefer to act on the defensive; I dare not advance an inch, but prefer to retreat a foot."

158:3 Again compare Lao Tzŭ, ch. 68: #. Chang Yü says that # is a weaker word than #, and is therefore applied to the general as opposed to the sovereign. The T‘ung Tien and Yü Lan read # for #, and the latter # for #.

158:4 This is repeated from XI. § 17. Here I feel convinced that it is an interpolation, for it is evident that § 20 ought to follow immediately on p. 159 § 18. For #, the T‘ung Tien and Yü Lan have #. Capt. Calthrop invents a sentence which he inserts before this one: "Do not make war unless victory may be gained thereby." While he was about it, he might have credited Sun Tzŭ with something slightly less inane.

159:1 According to Chang Yü, # denotes joy outwardly manifested in the countenance, # the inward sensation of happiness.

159:2 The Wu State was destined to be a melancholy example of this saying. See p. 50.

159:3 #, which usually means "to warn," is here equal to #. This is a good instance of how Chinese characters, which stand for ideas, refuse to be fettered by dictionary-made definitions. The T‘u Shu reads as in § 16.

159:4 It is odd that # should not have the same meaning here as in III. § 1, q.v. This has led me to consider whether it might not be possible to take the earlier passage thus: "to preserve your own army (country, regiment, etc.) intact is better than to destroy the enemy's." The two words do not appear in the T‘ung Tien or the Yü Lan. Capt. Calthrop misses the point by translating: "then is the state secure, and the army victorious in battle."

Next: XIII. The Use of Spies