The Art of War

The Art of War: Sun Zi's Military Methods

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Art of War
    Book Description:

    Compiled during the Warring States period of 475-221 B.C.E., The Art of War has had an enormous impact on the development of Chinese military strategy over the past two thousand years and occupies an important place in East Asian intellectual history. It is the first known attempt to formulate a rational basis for the planning and conduct of military operations, and while numerous editions of the work exist, Victor Mair's translation is the first to remain true to the original structure and essential style of the text.

    Mair's fidelity to the original, along with his insightful commentary and reliance on archaeologically recovered manuscripts, breaks new ground in solving The Art of War's difficult textual and contextual problems. He confronts complex questions concerning the authorship of the work, asserting that Sun Wu, a supposed strategist of the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.E.) to whom the text is traditionally attributed, never existed. Instead, Mair claims that The Art of War coalesced over a period of around seventy-five years, from the middle of the fourth century to the first quarter of the third century B.C.E.

    Mair also reveals the way The Art of War reflects historical developments in technological and military strategy in civilizations throughout Eurasia, especially in regards to iron metallurgy. He demonstrates the close link between the philosophy in The Art of War and Taoism and discusses the reception of the text from the classical period to today. Finally, Mair highlights previously unaddressed stylistic and statistical aspects and includes philological annotations that present new ways of approaching the intellectual and social background of the work. A phenomenal achievement, Mair's comprehensive translation is an indispensable resource for today's students, strategists, and scholars.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50853-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xxviii)
    Arthur Waldron

    Sun Zi was an extraordinary thinker, still very influential. As a strategist he shares supremacy with just one other writer: Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), author of On War (1832). Like Clausewitz, Sun Zi is unfortunately most familiar at second hand, through a handful of quotations that lack context, for like Clausewitz, he, too, is rarely read in his entirety, with real care. One reason for this is the great difficulty of translating either of these works into lucid English in a way that is true to the texts. Vom Kriege is difficult enough. Not until 1976 did a first-rate...

    (pp. xxix-xxxiv)
    (pp. xxxv-xxxviii)
    (pp. xxxix-xlii)
    (pp. xliii-xlviii)
    (pp. xlix-l)
    (pp. li-liv)
    (pp. 1-75)

    The Chinese title of the book translated here is Sun Zi bingfa or just Sun Zi.¹ The latter means simply Master Sun, while the former may be rendered as Master Sun’s Military Methods/ Tactics/Strategy. ² It is commonly referred to in English as Master Sun’s Art of War or the Sun Zi.

    The Sun Zi is China’s earliest extant work dealing with military affairs.³ It is held by modern critical scholarship to be the late Warring States (475–221 B.C.) crystallization and summation of the military experiences leading up to that period. It is not, as traditionally believed, the original...

  11. CHAPTER 1 (Initial) Assessments
    (pp. 76-79)

    Master Sun said,²

    Warfare³ is a great affair of the state.⁴

    The field of life and death,

    The way of preservation and extinction.

    It cannot be left unexamined.⁵


    Measure it in terms of five factors,

    Weigh it by means of seven assessments,⁶

    and seek out its circumstances.

    The first factor is the Way,⁷

    The second is Heaven,⁸

    The third is Earth,⁹

    The fourth is Generalship,

    The fifth is Method.

    The Way is that which causes the people to be of the same mind with their superior.¹⁰


    They are committed to die with him,

    They are committed to live...

  12. CHAPTER 2 Doing Battle
    (pp. 80-83)

    Master Sun said,

    The method of waging war invariably requires

    a thousand swift chariots,

    a thousand heavy carts,

    a hundred thousand armored troops,

    and the transportation of grain over a thousand tricents.

    Then there are

    internal and external expenditures,

    provisions for missions sent to and fro,

    the raw material for glue and lacquer,¹

    the supplying of equipment,

    which amounts to a thousand pieces of gold per day.

    Only after that can an army of a hundred thousand men be mobilized.

    The purpose of engaging in battle is to win.² A prolonged war wears down the soldiers and dampens their ardor....

  13. CHAPTER 3 Planning for the Attack
    (pp. 84-87)

    Master Sun said,

    The method of waging war holds that it is always best

    to take¹ the opposing country intact,²

    whereas destroying the opposing country is next best.

    Taking an opposing army intact is best,

    whereas destroying it is next best.

    Taking an opposing regiment intact is best,

    whereas destroying it is next best.

    Taking an opposing company intact is best,

    whereas destroying it is next best.

    Taking an opposing squad³ intact is best,

    whereas destroying it is next best.

    For this reason,

    being victorious a hundred times in a hundred battles is not the most excellent approach. Causing the...

  14. CHAPTER 4 Positioning
    (pp. 88-90)

    Master Sun said,

    Those in the past who were skilled in battle first made themselves invincible so as to confront the vincibility of the enemy. Invincibility depends upon oneself; vincibility depends upon the enemy.


    he who is skilled in battle can make himself invincible, but cannot cause the enemy to be vincible.


    it is said, “Victory can be foretold, but cannot be forced.” When the enemy is invincible, we should adopt a defensive posture; when the enemy is vincible, we should launch an attack.¹ We adopt a defensive posture when our resources are insufficient; we launch an attack...

  15. CHAPTER 5 Configuration
    (pp. 91-94)

    Master Sun said,

    Managing masses of troops is similar to managing a small group of soldiers; it is a question of division and enumeration.² Sending masses of troops into combat is similar to sending small groups of soldiers into combat; it is a question of forms and terms.³ The masses of the triple army may be caused to have an encounter with the enemy and yet not be defeated; it is a question of conventional and unconventional tactics.⁴ The application of military force should be like throwing a grindstone on an egg: it is a question of emptiness and solidity....

  16. CHAPTER 6 Emptiness and Solidity
    (pp. 95-99)

    Master Sun said,

    Whoever occupies the battleground first and awaits the enemy is relaxed, while the one who arrives at the battleground later and rushes into battle is fatigued.


    he who is skilled in battle controls the movements of others but does not allow his own movements to be controlled by others. The ability to cause the enemy to come of his own accord is the result of enticing him with advantage; the ability to cause the enemy not to come is the result of dissuading him with disadvantage.¹


    if the enemy is relaxed, one may make him...

  17. CHAPTER 7 The Struggle of Armies
    (pp. 100-104)

    Master Sun said,

    In general, the method of waging war is such that the general receives his mandate from the ruler, then assembles the masses of his army, after which he encamps, facing off against the enemy. Nothing is more difficult than the struggle of armies that ensues. The difficulty of the struggle of armies lies in taking the circuitous as straight, in taking what is troublesome to be advantageous.


    take a circuitous route to reach the enemy, tempt him with advantages. Though I set out after him, I reach my destination before him. This is the planning of...

  18. CHAPTER 8 Nine Varieties
    (pp. 105-107)

    Master Sun said,

    The method of waging war is ordinarily that the general receives a mandate from the ruler, then assembles the army and brings together the masses. He does not encamp on unfavorable terrain; he joins with allies at terrain having a crossroads; he does not linger on forsaken terrain; he devises plans to extricate his forces from surrounded terrain; if he finds himself on desperate terrain he does battle.

    There are paths that he does not take; there are armies that he does not strike; there are cities that he does not attack; there are terrains that he...

  19. CHAPTER 9 Marching the Army
    (pp. 108-112)

    Master Sun said,

    In the placement of one’s army and in the scrutiny¹ of the enemy, the following ordinarily apply: in cutting through mountains stick to the valleys; place the army on a height looking toward the sun;² when battling at an elevation do not advance upwards toward the enemy—these are rules for the placement of an army in the mountains. Before crossing a river, the army must be placed at a distance from the water;³ when the enemy is crossing a river toward you, do not meet him in the water; let half the enemy forces get across...

  20. CHAPTER 10 Terrain Types
    (pp. 113-116)

    Master Sun said,

    There are the following types of terrain: accessible, hanging, branching, narrow, precarious, distant. The type through which I can go and my opponent can come is called “accessible.” On the accessible type of terrain, if I am the first to occupy the sunny heights and facilitate the routes for grain supply, this will be advantageous in battle. The type through which I can go but from which it is difficult to return is called “hanging.” On the hanging type of terrain, if the enemy is not prepared, I may go forth and conquer him; but if the...

  21. CHAPTER 11 Nine Types of Terrain
    (pp. 117-124)

    Master Sun said,

    According to the method of waging war, there are the following types of terrain:¹ dispersed, easy, contested, intersecting, having a crossroads, encumbered, unfavorable, surrounded, desperate. When the feudal lords battle the enemy on their own territory, that is dispersed terrain.² When one’s forces enter the territory of the foe, but not deeply, that is easy terrain. When there is territory that is advantageous to me if I take it but is also advantageous to my foe if he takes it, that is contested terrain. When there is territory through which I may go but through which my...

  22. CHAPTER 12 Incendiary Attack
    (pp. 125-127)

    Master Sun said,

    In all there are five different kinds of incendiary attack. They are to use fire against: 1. men,¹ 2. grain, 3. carts,² 4. storehouses, 5. supply lines. If one wishes to carry out an incendiary attack, all of the conditions must be right, and one must always keep a supply of incendiary materials on hand. There are suitable times and suitable days for launching incendiary attacks. The suitable times are when it is dry, and the suitable days are “Winnowing Basket,” “Wall,” “Wing,” and “Carriage Crossboard.” The times when the moon is in one of these four...

  23. CHAPTER 13 Using Spies
    (pp. 128-132)

    Master Sun said,

    Whenever a hundred thousand troops are raised and sent on an expedition a thousand tricents away, the expenditures of the common people and the contributions from public funds amount to a thousand pieces of gold per day. Inside and outside there is much turmoil; people exhaust themselves on the roads; and 700,000 households cannot attend to their agricultural and other daily chores.¹ The warring parties may face off for several years to contest for the victory of a single day. And yet there are those who, out of niggardliness for their rank and salary, are unwilling to...

  24. APPENDIX The Pseudo-Biography of Sun Wu
    (pp. 133-136)
  25. NOTES
    (pp. 137-164)
    (pp. 165-178)
  27. INDEX
    (pp. 179-190)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 191-198)