Statue of Sun Tzu in Yurihama, Tottori, in Japan
|Born:||c. 544 B.C.E.|
Probably in state of Qi
|Died:||c. 496 B.C.E.|
Probably in state of Wu
|Magnum opus:||The Art of War|
Sun Zi (Chinese: 孫, 子, Sūn Zǐ; Wade-Giles: Sun Tzu) (c. 544 – 496 B.C.E.) was a Chinese author of The Art of War (Chinese: 兵, 法), an ancient Chinese classic on military strategy. He is also one of the earliest realists in international relations theory. According to a biography written about him in the second century B.C.E. by the historian Sima Qian, Sun Zi was a general who lived in the state of Wu. According to tradition, King Helü of Wu hired Sun Zi as a general in approximately 512 B.C.E., after he finished his military treatise, the The Art of War. After he was hired, the kingdom of Wu, previously considered a semi-barbaric state, went on to become the greatest state of the Spring and Autumn period by conquering the powerful state of Chu. Sun Zi suddenly disappeared when King Helu finally conquered Chu, and the date of his death remains unknown.
The Art of War is a systematic guide to strategy and tactics for rulers and commanders. The book discusses various maneuvers and the effect of terrain on the outcome of battles, and emphasizes the importance of gathering accurate information about the enemy's forces, dispositions and deployments, and movements. Sun Zi discusses the unpredictability of battle, the use of flexible strategies and tactics, the importance of deception and surprise, the close relationship between politics and military policy, and the high costs of war. The futility of seeking hard and fast rules and the subtle paradoxes of success are major themes. The best battle, Sun Zi says, is the battle that is won without being fought. The Art of War has been one of the most popular works on military strategy in history. The work was included in the ancient Chinese civil service examinations and in the syllabus for potential candidates of military service examinations in many East Asian countries. Leaders as diverse as Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), Napoleon, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, General Pervez Musharraf, Vo Nguyen Giap, and General Douglas MacArthur have drawn inspiration from the work. Since the 1980s, the competitive strategies of The Art of War have been applied to many fields, including business, politics, and personal relationships.
The name Sun Zi ("Master Sun") is an honorific title bestowed upon Sun Wu (孫, 武; Sūn Wǔ), the author's name. The character 武, wu, meaning "military," is the same as the character in wu shu, or martial art. Sun Wu also has a Chinese courtesy name, Chang Qing (長: 卿; Cháng Qīng).
The only surviving source on the life of Sun Zi is the biography written in the second century B.C.E. by the historian Sima Qian, who describes him as a general who lived in the state of Wu in the sixth century B.C.E., and therefore a contemporary of one of the great Chinese thinkers of ancient times, Confucius. According to tradition, Sun Zi was a member of the landless Chinese aristocracy, the shi, descendants of nobility who had lost their dukedoms during the consolidation of the Spring and Autumn period. Unlike most shi, who were traveling academics, Sun Zi worked as a mercenary (similar to a modern military consultant).
According to tradition, King Helü of Wu hired Sun Zi as a general in approximately 512 B.C.E., after he finished his military treatise, the The Art of War. After he was hired, the kingdom of Wu, previously considered a semi-barbaric state, went on to become the greatest state of the Spring and Autumn period by conquering the powerful state of Chu. Sun Zi suddenly disappeared when King Helu finally conquered Chu, and the date of his death remains unknown.
Sun Zi also is rumored to be an ancestor of Sun Jian, the founder of the Wu kingdom, which was one of the three competing dynasties during the Three Kingdoms era.
The Art of War
The Chinese classic Ping-fa (The Art of War, 兵, 法), the earliest known treatise on war and military science, is traditionally attributed to Sun Zi (personal name Sun Wu). It is likely, however, that it was written earlier in the Warring States period (475–221 B.C.E.), when China was divided into six or seven states that often resorted to war with each other in their struggles for supremacy.
In Chinese Sun Tzu (the original book title) is now commonly called Sunzi bingfa (Wade-Giles: Sun-tzu ping fa or Sun-tse ping fa). Bing Fa can be translated as "principal for using forces," "military methods," "army procedures," or "martial arts." Around 298 B.C.E., the historian Zhuangzi, writing in the state of Zhao, recorded that Sun Zi’s theory had been incorporated into the martial arts techniques of both offense and defense and of both armed and unarmed combat. Bing Fa was the philosophical basis of what we now know as the Asian martial arts.
Composed of 13 chapters, each devoted to one aspect of warfare, The Art of War has long been considered the definitive work of its time on military strategies and tactics. It was translated into a European language in 1782 by French Jesuit Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, as Art Militaire des Chinois, and that name probably influenced the subsequent English translations titled The Art of War.
In 1972 a set of bamboo engraved texts were discovered in a grave near Linyi in Shandong. These have helped to confirm parts of the text which were already known and have also added new sections. This version has been dated to between 134–118 B.C.E., and therefore rules out older theories that parts of the text had been written much later.
Before the bamboo scroll version was discovered, the most cited version of The Art of War was the Annotation of Sun Tzu's Strategies by Cao Cao, the founder of Cao Wei Kingdom. In the preface, he wrote that previous annotations were not focused on the essential ideas. Other annotations cited in official history books include Shen You's (176-204) Sun Tzu's Military Strategy, Jia Xu's Copy of Sun Tzu's Military Strategy, Cao Cao and Wang Ling (a nephew of Wang Yun)'s Sun Tzu's Military Strategy.
The Book of Sui documented seven books named after Sun Zi. An annotation by Du Mu also includes Cao Cao's annotation. Li Jing's The Art of War is said to be a revision of Sun Tzu's strategies. Annotations by Cao Cao, Du Mu and Li Quan were translated into Tangut language before 1040 C.E.
After the movable type printer was invented, The Art of War (with Cao Cao's annotations) was published as a military text book, known as Seven Military Classics (武經七書) with six other strategy books. A book named Ten Schools of The Art of War Annotations was published before 1161 C.E. Seven Military Classics has been required reading as a military textbook since the Song dynasty, and had many annotations. More than thirty differently annotated versions of this book exist today. In the late 1920s, vernacular Chinese became increasingly popular, and annotations in vernacular Chinese began to appear. Some of these works were translated from other languages, such as Japanese.
Sun Bin, also known as Sun the Mutilated, allegedly a crippled descendent of Sun Zi, also wrote a text known as The Art of War. A more accurate title might be the Art of Warfare since this was more directly concerned with the practical matters of warfare, rather than military strategy. At least one translator has used the title The Lost Art of War, referring to the long period of time during which Sun Bin's book was lost. There is, however, no commonality between the content or writing style in the works of Sun Bin and Sun Tzu.
Theory of Sun Tzu
The Art of War is a systematic guide to strategy and tactics for rulers and commanders. The book discusses various maneuvers and the effect of terrain on the outcome of battles. It emphasizes the importance of gathering accurate information about the enemy's forces, dispositions and deployments, and movements.
Know the enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger of defeat.
Sun Zi stresses the unpredictability of battle, the use of flexible strategies and tactics, the importance of deception and surprise, the close relationship between politics and military policy, and the high costs of war. The futility of seeking hard and fast rules and the subtle paradoxes of success are major themes. The best battle, Sun Zi says, is the battle that is won without being fought.
Sun Zi laid down the essential rules of guerrilla tactics in The Art of War, advocating the use of deception and surprise to harass and demoralize the enemy until sufficient military strength was built up to defeat him in battle, or until political and military pressure caused him to seek peace.
"All warfare,” he said, “is based on deception. 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 that we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him."
The book's insistence on the close relationship between political considerations and military policy greatly influenced some modern strategists. Sun Zi's work is also one of the first to recommend the physical conditioning of armies prior to combat. He stated that physical training exercises should be basic in nature, with movements similar to today's jumping jacks and arm circles.
Influence of Sun Zi
Influence on Military Strategy
The Art of War has been one of the most popular works on military strategy in history. It is one of the most important collections of books in the Chinese literature, and was included in the ancient Chinese civil service examinations. In many East Asian countries, The Art of War was part of the syllabus for potential candidates of military service examinations.
During the Sengoku era in Japan, Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), a samurai lord, is said to have become almost invincible in all battles without relying on firearms because he studied The Art of War. The book was the inspiration for his famous battle standard "Fūrinkazan" (Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain), meaning fast as wind, silent as forest, ferocious as fire and immovable as mountain.
The French translation may have influenced Napoleon, Leaders as diverse as Mao Zedong, General Pervez Musharraf, Vo Nguyen Giap, and General Douglas MacArthur have claimed to have drawn inspiration from the work. It is said that Mao and Josef Stalin both read this book while at war, and that Mao and the Chinese communists took many of the tactics from The Art of War that they utilized in fighting the Japanese and, later, the Chinese nationalists.
The translator Griffith offers a chapter on "Sun Tzu and Mao Tse-Tung" citing The Art of War an influence on Mao's On Guerilla Warfare, On the Protracted War, and Strategic Problems of China's Revolutionary War and including a quote from Mao: "We must not belittle the saying in the book of Sun Wu Tzu, the great military expert of ancient China, 'Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.'"
During the Vietnam War, some Vietcong officers studied The Art of War, and reportedly could recite entire passages from memory.
The Department of the Army in the United States, through its Command and General Staff College, has directed all units to maintain libraries within their respective headquarters for the continuing education of personnel in the art of war. The Art of War is specifically mentioned by name as an example of works to be maintained at each individual unit, and staff duty officers are obliged to prepare short papers for presentation to other officers on their readings. The book was even referred to during the planning of Operation Desert Storm.
Applicability outside the military
Since at least the 1980s, The Art of War has been applied to many competitive endeavors that do not involve actual combat. The book has gained popularity in corporate culture; a number of business books have been written applying its lessons to "office politics" and corporate strategy. Many Japanese companies make the book required reading for their key corporate executives. The Art of War has also been applied, with much success, to business and managerial strategies.
The Art of War has aso been applied to political campaigns; Republican election strategist Lee Atwater claimed he traveled everywhere with it.
It has also found its way into sport: Australian cricket coach John Buchanan handed out excerpts from the book to his players before a match against England in 2001, and the book is allegedly a favorite of University of South Carolina football head coach Steve Spurrier. Former Brazilian football coach, and current coach of the Portuguese national football team, Luiz Felipe Scolari, uses the book to plot his football strategy. In the 2002 FIFA World Cup he gave a copy to each of his players. In the recent 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany he used the book to plan his team's win against England.
Some have also interpreted The Art of War as a guide for social strategies, such as establishing and maintaining social and romantic relationships. "The Art of War" has been frequently mentioned in popular media such as film and television. The book has also gained influence among players of strategy games.
Many scholars of Chinese history have criticized the use of individual quotations from the book as aphorisms, saying that doing so obscures the deeper significance and general coherence of the text.
The Thirteen Chapters
Chapter titles from Lionel Giles' 1910 translation
Chapter titles from Chow-Hou Wee's 2003 translation
Verses from the book, such as the last verse of Chapter 3, occur daily in modern Chinese idioms and phrases:
- So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will win a hundred times in a hundred battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you win one and lose the next. If you do not know yourself or your enemy, you will always lose.
This has been more tersely interpreted and condensed into the modern proverb:
- 知己知彼, 百戰百勝
- If you know both yourself and your enemy, you will come out of one hundred battles with one hundred victories.
Other popular verses emphasize that true skill as a warrior means achieving victory "without fighting":
- Therefore One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skillful.
- War is of vital importance to the state and should not be engaged carelessly.
- J. H. Huang (trans.), Sun-Tzu: Art of War-The New Translation (New York: William Morrow, 1993, ISBN 0688124003).
- Sonshi.com, Interview with Roger Ames. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
- John W. Killigrew, “Sun Pin’s Art of War: A Summary,” Air University Review (July-August 1980). Retrieved September 17, 2007.
- About Furinkazan-kan, City of Hokuto Official Website. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
- Samuel B. Griffith, “Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.” Available online from Giovanni's Research Publication and Related Works. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
- U.S. Army, Military History and Professional Development (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 85-CSI-21 85), 18.
- Paul K. Van Riper, “Planning for and Applying Military Force: An Examination of Terms.” Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
- Grant T. Hammond, “Desert Storm Warnings: A Book Review,” Joint Force Quarterly (Summer 1995): 129-133. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
- Raymond E. Floyd, “The Art of War and the Art of Management,” Industrial Management (Sept.-Oct. 1992).
- Jan Collins Stucker, “What Lee Atwater Knows About Winning,” Southern Magazine (April 1989).
Translations of The Art of War
- Ames, Roger (trans.). The Art of Warfare. New York: Random House, 1993. ISBN 034536239X
- Clavell, James (ed.). The Art of War. Delacorte Press, 1983. ISBN 0385292163
- This edition was published as a tie-in with Clavell's Asian Saga; it is essentially a re-working of the Lionel Giles translation.
- The Denma Translation Group. The Art of War: The Denma Translation. Shambhala Classics, 2001. ISBN 1570629048
- Giles, Lionel (trans.). The Art of War. from Project Gutenberg.
- Han Hiong Tan (trans.). Sun Zi's The Art of War. H. H. Tan Medical P/L, 2001. ISBN 0958006709
- Huang, J. H. The Art of War: The New Translation. New York: William Morrow, 1993. ISBN 0688124003
- This text is not a new interpretation of same texts that other editions are based on. Mr. Huang writes a new text based on manuscripts recently discovered in Linyi, China that predates all previous texts by as much as one thousand years.
- Krause, Donald G. The Art of War For Executives | publisher=Berkely Publishing Group (Under Perigee Books | year=1995 | id=ISBN 0399519025
- This book written by Donald Krause is interpreted for today's business reader.
- Sawyer, Ralph D. (trans.). The Art of War. Barnes & Noble, 1994. ISBN 1566192978
- This translation tries to put the text in its original context as a work of military strategy. It also includes a lengthy introduction and translations of some of the "bamboo strips" recovered from the shrine.
- Handel, M. I. Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought. London: F. Cass, 2001. ISBN 0714650919
- Hawkins, David E., and Shan Rajagopal. Sun Tzu and the Project Battleground: Creating Project Strategy from The Art of War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. ISBN 1403943214
- Krause, D. G. The Art of War for Executives. New York: Berkley Pub. Group, 1995. ISBN 0399519025
- McNeilly, M. Sun Tzu and the Art of Business: Six Strategic Principles for Managers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0195099966
- Michaelson, G. A. and S. Michaelson. Sun Tzu Strategies for Marketing: 12 Essential Principles for Winning the War for Customers. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0071427317
- Zhuge, L., J. Liu, and T. F. Cleary. Mastering the Art of War. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1989. ISBN 0877735131
All links retrieved February 26, 2023.
- Works by Sun Tzu. Project Gutenberg
- The Art of War, translated by Lionel Giles (1910) without the translator's annotations
- Sonshi.com: Sun Tzu's Art of War Applied to Modern Strategy and Leadership
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