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    SUNZI'S ART OF WAR

Towards the end of  “Spring and Autumn” period (2,500 years ago), [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:

1.       Laying plans                                            2.       Waging a war                                 3.       Attack by stratagem

4.       Tactical Dispositions                                5.       Formation                                        6.       Strength and Weaknesses

7.       Manoeuvring                                           8.       Variations in tactics                         9.       Army on the march

10.   Terrain considerations                             11.   The nine situations                           12.   Attack with fire

13.   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.”

 “Morality 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 page.

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.[1]

[1]   For example, Khoo Kheng-Hor, Sun Tzu & Management, Pelanduk Publications, Malaysia 2003.

More information could be found in chapter eight of this book

For more information please contact the author