Towards the end of
“Spring and Autumn” period (2,500
[Sunzi] presented his thesis on military strategy, known as
the “Art of War” to the King of [Wu], who promptly appointed
him a general. He led an army to conquer the Kingdom of [Chu].
The “Art of War” gave a comprehensive analysis of war
strategy. It was certainly the first to highlight the
importance of many aspects of military planning and
strategy, including the use of spies. The whole thesis is
quite short, containing 13 chapters as follows:
Waging a war
Attack by stratagem
Strength and Weaknesses
Variations in tactics
Army on the march
The nine situations
Attack with fire
The use of spies
We will look at the first and last chapters, to get a
general idea of this book. (The Chinese characters are given
in the book, not reproduced here).
Chapter one gives a general overview.
“Warfare is of vital importance to the State. It is a
matter of life and death, survive or perish, something that
cannot be ignored. It is governed by five factors, in
determining field conditions.”
“Factors to be considered are The Morality, Heaven, Earth,
Command and Techniques.”
unifies the people with the ruler, they willingly live or
die together with him.
Heavenly factors signify [yīn-yáng], cold or hot, times
and seasons. Earthly factors include high or low, far or
near, dangerous or easy paths; open area or narrow passes;
the chances of life or death. Command stands for the virtues
of wisdom, trust, benevolence, courage and discipline.
Techniques include marshalling of the army, the ranking of
officers and soldiers, the maintenance of supply lines
and the control of military expenditure.”
“The general who listens to me will be victorious, retain
him; he who does not listen to me will fail, remove him.”
“Warfare is an art of deception. Be seen to be unable,
when you are ready to attack; be seen to be inactive when
you mobilise your forces; be seen to be far when you are
near, be seen to be near when you are far away.
Tempt the enemy if he seeks some advantage. Crush him when
he is in disarray. Be prepared if he is formidable and
solid. Evade him if his force is superior.”
“Provoke him if he gets angry easily. Promote his
arrogance if he is humble.
Wear him down when he needs to take a rest. Create division
if his forces are united. Attack him when he is least
prepared, appear where he least expects it. These are
military tactics for victory not to be divulged.”
Chapter eight deals with "variations
in tactics". A translation could be found on a separate
The last chapter deals with the use of spies.
“Marshalling a hundred thousand soldiers through great
distances requires heavy expenditure and national resources.
Internal and external disturbances result in men dropping
off along the way.
As many as seven hundred thousand families will need to
contribute in their labour. Hostile armies may face each
other for years, striving for the victory which could be
decided in a single day.”
“To be unaware of enemy condition so as to save a hundred
ounces of gold is the height of inhumanity.
He who does so is not a leader, not a servant to his king,
and no master of victory. The famous generals and wise
leaders who strike and conquer, and achieve more than
ordinary men, acquire knowledge beforehand. This prior
knowledge cannot be extracted from supernatural spirits; it
cannot be obtained inferred from experience, or deduced by
calculation. It can only be obtained from other men.”
“Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five types:
local spies; internal spies; converted spies; doomed spies;
and surviving spies. When all these spies are all at work,
we know the entire secret, a gift from divine sources, and a
treasure to the Emperor.”
“Local spies are recruited from people of a local area;
internal spies are officials of the enemy. Converted spies
people from the enemy who have joined us; doomed spies are
those who could be reported by us back to their masters
after they have created some problems; surviving spies are
those captured from the enemy camp.”
“In the military there is nothing more intimate than
spies, no award higher than that given to spies, no business
more secretive than that of spies. Spies without integrity
would not be useful. Those who are not straightforward and
forthright cannot be managed. Those who are not subtle would
not obtain the truth.”
Even though military technology and weaponry has advanced
considerably since then, the basic strategy, based on human
nature, remains the same. Numerous books have been written
on [Sūn Zǐ]. In addition to military strategy, some authors
focus on the application to business and management.