1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign.
2. Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching his camp.
[“Chang Yu says: “the establishment of harmony and confidence between the higher and lower ranks before venturing into the field;” and he quotes a saying of Wu Tzu (chap. 1 ad init.): “Without harmony in the State, no military expedition can be undertaken; without harmony in the army, no battle array can be formed.” In an historical romance Sun Tzu is represented as saying to Wu Yuan: “As a general rule, those who are waging war should get rid of all the domestic troubles before proceeding to attack the external foe.”]
3. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is nothing more difficult.
[I have departed slightly from the traditional interpretation of Ts‘ao Kung, who says: “From the time of receiving the sovereign’s instructions until our encampment over against the enemy, the tactics to be pursued are most difficult.” It seems to me that the tactics or maneuvers can hardly be said to begin until the army has sallied forth and encamped, and Ch‘ien Hao’s note gives color to this view: “For levying, concentrating, harmonizing and entrenching an army, there are plenty of old rules which will serve. The real difficulty comes when we engage in tactical operations.” Tu Yu also observes that “the great difficulty is to be beforehand with the enemy in seizing favorable position.”]
The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.
[This sentence contains one of those highly condensed and somewhat enigmatical expressions of which Sun Tzu is so fond. This is how it is explained by Ts‘ao Kung: “Make it appear that you are a long way off, then cover the distance rapidly and arrive on the scene before your opponent.” Tu Mu says: “Hoodwink the enemy, so that he may be remiss and leisurely while you are dashing along with utmost speed.” Ho Shih gives a slightly different turn: “Although you may have difficult ground to traverse and natural obstacles to encounter this is a drawback which can be turned into actual advantage by celerity of movement.” Signal examples of this saying are afforded by the two famous passages across the Alps — that of Hannibal, which laid Italy at his mercy, and that of Napoleon two thousand years later, which resulted in the great victory of Marengo.]
4. Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the enemy out of the way, and though starting after him, to contrive to reach the goal before him, shows knowledge of the artifice of DEVIATION.
[Tu Mu cites the famous march of Chao She in 270 B.C. to relieve the town of O-yu, which was closely invested by a Ch‘in army. The King of Chao first consulted Lien P‘o on the advisability of attempting a relief, but the latter thought the distance too great, and the intervening country too rugged and difficult. His Majesty then turned to Chao She, who fully admitted the hazardous nature of the march, but finally said: “We shall be like two rats fighting in a whole — and the pluckier one will win!” So he left the capital with his army, but had only gone a distance of 30 LI when he stopped and began throwing up entrenchments. For 28 days he continued strengthening his fortifications, and took care that spies should carry the intelligence to the enemy. The Ch‘in general was overjoyed, and attributed his adversary’s tardiness to the fact that the beleaguered city was in the Han State, and thus not actually part of Chao territory. But the spies had no sooner departed than Chao She began a forced march lasting for two days and one night, and arrive on the scene of action with such astonishing rapidity that he was able to occupy a commanding position on the “North hill” before the enemy had got wind of his movements. A crushing defeat followed for the Ch‘in forces, who were obliged to raise the siege of O-yu in all haste and retreat across the border.]
5. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.
[I adopt the reading of the T‘UNG TIEN, Cheng Yu-hsien and the T‘U SHU, since they appear to apply the exact nuance required in order to make sense. The commentators using the standard text take this line to mean that maneuvers may be profitable, or they may be dangerous: it all depends on the ability of the general.]
6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores.
[Some of the Chinese text is unintelligible to the Chinese commentators, who paraphrase the sentence. I submit my own rendering without much enthusiasm, being convinced that there is some deep-seated corruption in the text. On the whole, it is clear that Sun Tzu does not approve of a lengthy march being undertaken without supplies. Cf. infra, ss. 11.]
7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at a stretch,
[The ordinary day’s march, according to Tu Mu, was 30 LI; but on one occasion, when pursuing Liu Pei, Ts‘ao Ts‘ao is said to have covered the incredible distance of 300 li within twenty-four hours.]
doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.
8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall behind, and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its destination.
[The moral is, as Ts‘ao Kung and others point out: Don’t march a hundred LI to gain a tactical advantage, either with or without impedimenta. Maneuvers of this description should be confined to short distances. Stonewall Jackson said: “The hardships of forced marches are often more painful than the dangers of battle.” He did not often call upon his troops for extraordinary exertions. It was only when he intended a surprise, or when a rapid retreat was imperative, that he sacrificed everything for speed.1 ]
9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver the enemy, you will lose the leader of your first division, and only half your force will reach the goal.
[Literally, “the leader of the first division will be TORN AWAY.”]
10. If you march thirty LI with the same object, two-thirds of your army will arrive.
[In the T‘UNG TIEN is added: “From this we may know the difficulty of maneuvering.”]
11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost.
[I think Sun Tzu meant “stores accumulated in depots.” But Tu Yu says “fodder and the like,” Chang Yu says “Goods in general,” and Wang Hsi says “fuel, salt, foodstuffs, etc.”]
12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.
13. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country — its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.
14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides.
[ss. 12–14 are repeated in chap. XI. ss. 52.]
15. In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed.
[In the tactics of Turenne, deception of the enemy, especially as to the numerical strength of his troops, took a very prominent position.2 ]
16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided by circumstances.
17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind,
[The simile is doubly appropriate, because the wind is not only swift but, as Mei Yao-ch‘en points out, “invisible and leaves no tracks.”]
your compactness that of the forest.
[Meng Shih comes nearer to the mark in his note: “When slowly marching, order and ranks must be preserved”— so as to guard against surprise attacks. But natural forest do not grow in rows, whereas they do generally possess the quality of density or compactness.]
18. In raiding and plundering be like fire,
[Cf. SHIH CHING, IV. 3. iv. 6: “Fierce as a blazing fire which no man can check.”]
in immovability like a mountain.
[That is, when holding a position from which the enemy is trying to dislodge you, or perhaps, as Tu Yu says, when he is trying to entice you into a trap.]
19. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
[Tu Yu quotes a saying of T‘ai Kung which has passed into a proverb: “You cannot shut your ears to the thunder or your eyes to the lighting — so rapid are they.” Likewise, an attack should be made so quickly that it cannot be parried.]
20. When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be divided amongst your men;
[Sun Tzu wishes to lessen the abuses of indiscriminate plundering by insisting that all booty shall be thrown into a common stock, which may afterwards be fairly divided amongst all.]
when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for the benefit of the soldiery.
[Ch‘en Hao says “quarter your soldiers on the land, and let them sow and plant it.” It is by acting on this principle, and harvesting the lands they invaded, that the Chinese have succeeded in carrying out some of their most memorable and triumphant expeditions, such as that of Pan Ch‘ao who penetrated to the Caspian, and in more recent years, those of Fu-k‘ang-an and Tso Tsung-t‘ang.]
21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
[Chang Yu quotes Wei Liao Tzu as saying that we must not break camp until we have gained the resisting power of the enemy and the cleverness of the opposing general. Cf. the “seven comparisons” in I. ss. 13.]
22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation.
[See supra, SS. 3, 4.]
Such is the art of maneuvering.
[With these words, the chapter would naturally come to an end. But there now follows a long appendix in the shape of an extract from an earlier book on War, now lost, but apparently extant at the time when Sun Tzu wrote. The style of this fragment is not noticeable different from that of Sun Tzu himself, but no commentator raises a doubt as to its genuineness.]
23. The Book of Army Management says:
[It is perhaps significant that none of the earlier commentators give us any information about this work. Mei Yao-Ch‘en calls it “an ancient military classic,” and Wang Hsi, “an old book on war.” Considering the enormous amount of fighting that had gone on for centuries before Sun Tzu’s time between the various kingdoms and principalities of China, it is not in itself improbable that a collection of military maxims should have been made and written down at some earlier period.]
On the field of battle,
[Implied, though not actually in the Chinese.]
the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags.
24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.
[Chang Yu says: “If sight and hearing converge simultaneously on the same object, the evolutions of as many as a million soldiers will be like those of a single man.”!]
25. The host thus forming a single united body, is it impossible either for the brave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to retreat alone.
[Chuang Yu quotes a saying: “Equally guilty are those who advance against orders and those who retreat against orders.” Tu Mu tells a story in this connection of Wu Ch‘i, when he was fighting against the Ch‘in State. Before the battle had begun, one of his soldiers, a man of matchless daring, sallied forth by himself, captured two heads from the enemy, and returned to camp. Wu Ch‘i had the man instantly executed, whereupon an officer ventured to remonstrate, saying: “This man was a good soldier, and ought not to have been beheaded.” Wu Ch‘i replied: “I fully believe he was a good soldier, but I had him beheaded because he acted without orders.”]
This is the art of handling large masses of men.
26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing the ears and eyes of your army.
[Ch‘en Hao alludes to Li Kuang-pi’s night ride to Ho-yang at the head of 500 mounted men; they made such an imposing display with torches, that though the rebel leader Shih Ssu-ming had a large army, he did not dare to dispute their passage.]
27. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit;
[“In war,” says Chang Yu, “if a spirit of anger can be made to pervade all ranks of an army at one and the same time, its onset will be irresistible. Now the spirit of the enemy’s soldiers will be keenest when they have newly arrived on the scene, and it is therefore our cue not to fight at once, but to wait until their ardor and enthusiasm have worn off, and then strike. It is in this way that they may be robbed of their keen spirit.” Li Ch‘uan and others tell an anecdote (to be found in the TSO CHUAN, year 10, ss. 1) of Ts‘ao Kuei, a protege of Duke Chuang of Lu. The latter State was attacked by Ch‘i, and the duke was about to join battle at Ch‘ang-cho, after the first roll of the enemy’s drums, when Ts‘ao said: “Not just yet.” Only after their drums had beaten for the third time, did he give the word for attack. Then they fought, and the men of Ch‘i were utterly defeated. Questioned afterwards by the Duke as to the meaning of his delay, Ts‘ao Kuei replied: “In battle, a courageous spirit is everything. Now the first roll of the drum tends to create this spirit, but with the second it is already on the wane, and after the third it is gone altogether. I attacked when their spirit was gone and ours was at its height. Hence our victory.” Wu Tzu (chap. 4) puts “spirit” first among the “four important influences” in war, and continues: “The value of a whole army — a mighty host of a million men — is dependent on one man alone: such is the influence of spirit!”]
a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.
[Chang Yu says: “Presence of mind is the general’s most important asset. It is the quality which enables him to discipline disorder and to inspire courage into the panic-stricken.” The great general Li Ching (A.D. 571–649) has a saying: “Attacking does not merely consist in assaulting walled cities or striking at an army in battle array; it must include the art of assailing the enemy’s mental equilibrium.”]
28. Now a soldier’s spirit is keenest in the morning;
[Always provided, I suppose, that he has had breakfast. At the battle of the Trebia, the Romans were foolishly allowed to fight fasting, whereas Hannibal’s men had breakfasted at their leisure. See Livy, XXI, liv. 8, lv. 1 and 8.]
by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only on returning to camp.
29. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods.
30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:— this is the art of retaining self-possession.
31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished:— this is the art of husbanding one’s strength.
32. To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array:— this is the art of studying circumstances.
33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.
34. Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not attack soldiers whose temper is keen.
35. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy.
[Li Ch‘uan and Tu Mu, with extraordinary inability to see a metaphor, take these words quite literally of food and drink that have been poisoned by the enemy. Ch‘en Hao and Chang Yu carefully point out that the saying has a wider application.]
Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.
[The commentators explain this rather singular piece of advice by saying that a man whose heart is set on returning home will fight to the death against any attempt to bar his way, and is therefore too dangerous an opponent to be tackled. Chang Yu quotes the words of Han Hsin: “Invincible is the soldier who hath his desire and returneth homewards.” A marvelous tale is told of Ts‘ao Ts‘ao’s courage and resource in ch. 1 of the SAN KUO CHI: In 198 A.D., he was besieging Chang Hsiu in Jang, when Liu Piao sent reinforcements with a view to cutting off Ts‘ao’s retreat. The latter was obliged to draw off his troops, only to find himself hemmed in between two enemies, who were guarding each outlet of a narrow pass in which he had engaged himself. In this desperate plight Ts‘ao waited until nightfall, when he bored a tunnel into the mountain side and laid an ambush in it. As soon as the whole army had passed by, the hidden troops fell on his rear, while Ts‘ao himself turned and met his pursuers in front, so that they were thrown into confusion and annihilated. Ts‘ao Ts‘ao said afterwards: “The brigands tried to check my army in its retreat and brought me to battle in a desperate position: hence I knew how to overcome them.”]
36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.
[This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object, as Tu Mu puts it, is “to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair.” Tu Mu adds pleasantly: “After that, you may crush him.”]
Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
[Ch‘en Hao quotes the saying: “Birds and beasts when brought to bay will use their claws and teeth.” Chang Yu says: “If your adversary has burned his boats and destroyed his cooking-pots, and is ready to stake all on the issue of a battle, he must not be pushed to extremities.” Ho Shih illustrates the meaning by a story taken from the life of Yen-ch‘ing. That general, together with his colleague Tu Chung-wei was surrounded by a vastly superior army of Khitans in the year 945 A.D. The country was bare and desert-like, and the little Chinese force was soon in dire straits for want of water. The wells they bored ran dry, and the men were reduced to squeezing lumps of mud and sucking out the moisture. Their ranks thinned rapidly, until at last Fu Yen-ch‘ing exclaimed: “We are desperate men. Far better to die for our country than to go with fettered hands into captivity!” A strong gale happened to be blowing from the northeast and darkening the air with dense clouds of sandy dust. To Chung-wei was for waiting until this had abated before deciding on a final attack; but luckily another officer, Li Shou-cheng by name, was quicker to see an opportunity, and said: “They are many and we are few, but in the midst of this sandstorm our numbers will not be discernible; victory will go to the strenuous fighter, and the wind will be our best ally.” Accordingly, Fu Yen-ch‘ing made a sudden and wholly unexpected onslaught with his cavalry, routed the barbarians and succeeded in breaking through to safety.]
37. Such is the art of warfare.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00