The Art of War - 01

Sun Tzŭ
The Art of War
Translated from the Chinese with Introduction and Critical Notes
Assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS.
in the British Museum


To my brother
Captain Valentine Giles, R.G.
in the hope that
a work 2400 years old
may yet contain lessons worth consideration
by the soldier of today
this translation
is affectionately dedicated.


Preface to the Project Gutenberg Etext
Preface by Lionel Giles
Sun Wu and his Book
The Text of Sun Tzŭ
The Commentators
Appreciations of Sun Tzŭ
Apologies for War
Chapter I. Laying plans
Chapter II. Waging War
Chapter III. Attack by Stratagem
Chapter IV. Tactical Dispositions
Chapter V. Energy
Chapter VI. Weak Points and Strong
Chapter VII Manœuvring
Chapter VIII. Variation of Tactics
Chapter IX. The Army on the March
Chapter X. Terrain
Chapter XI. The Nine Situations
Chapter XII. The Attack by Fire
Chapter XIII. The Use of Spies

Preface to the Project Gutenberg Etext
When Lionel Giles began his translation of Sun Tzŭ’s _Art of War_, the
work was virtually unknown in Europe. Its introduction to Europe began
in 1782 when a French Jesuit Father living in China, Joseph Amiot,
acquired a copy of it, and translated it into French. It was not a good
translation because, according to Dr. Giles, "[I]t contains a great
deal that Sun Tzŭ did not write, and very little indeed of what he
The first translation into English was published in 1905 in Tokyo by
Capt. E. F. Calthrop, R.F.A. However, this translation is, in the words
of Dr. Giles, "excessively bad." He goes further in this criticism: "It
is not merely a question of downright blunders, from which none can
hope to be wholly exempt. Omissions were frequent; hard passages were
willfully distorted or slurred over. Such offenses are less pardonable.
They would not be tolerated in any edition of a Latin or Greek classic,
and a similar standard of honesty ought to be insisted upon in
translations from Chinese." In 1908 a new edition of Capt. Calthrop’s
translation was published in London. It was an improvement on the
first—omissions filled up and numerous mistakes corrected—but new
errors were created in the process. Dr. Giles, in justifying his
translation, wrote: "It was not undertaken out of any inflated estimate
of my own powers; but I could not help feeling that Sun Tzŭ deserved a
better fate than had befallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I
could hardly fail to improve on the work of my predecessors."
Clearly, Dr. Giles’ work established much of the groundwork for the
work of later translators who published their own editions. Of the
later editions of the _Art of War_ I have examined; two feature Giles’
edited translation and notes, the other two present the same basic
information from the ancient Chinese commentators found in the Giles
edition. Of these four, Giles’ 1910 edition is the most scholarly and
presents the reader an incredible amount of information concerning Sun
Tzŭ’s text, much more than any other translation.
The Giles’ edition of the _Art of War_, as stated above, was a
scholarly work. Dr. Giles was a leading sinologue at the time and an
assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts
in the British Museum. Apparently he wanted to produce a definitive
edition, superior to anything else that existed and perhaps something
that would become a standard translation. It was the best translation
available for 50 years. But apparently there was not much interest in
Sun Tzŭ in English-speaking countries since it took the start of the
Second World War to renew interest in his work. Several people
published unsatisfactory English translations of Sun Tzŭ. In 1944, Dr.
Giles’ translation was edited and published in the United States in a
series of military science books. But it wasn’t until 1963 that a good
English translation (by Samuel B. Griffith and still in print) was
published that was an equal to Giles’ translation. While this
translation is more lucid than Dr. Giles’ translation, it lacks his
copious notes that make his so interesting.
Dr. Giles produced a work primarily intended for scholars of the
Chinese civilization and language. It contains the Chinese text of Sun
Tzŭ, the English translation, and voluminous notes along with numerous
footnotes. Unfortunately, some of his notes and footnotes contain
Chinese characters; some are completely Chinese. Thus, a conversion to
a Latin alphabet etext was difficult. I did the conversion in complete
ignorance of Chinese (except for what I learned while doing the
conversion). Thus, I faced the difficult task of paraphrasing it while
retaining as much of the important text as I could. Every paraphrase
represents a loss; thus I did what I could to retain as much of the
text as possible. Because the 1910 text contains a Chinese concordance,
I was able to transliterate proper names, books, and the like at the
risk of making the text more obscure. However, the text, on the whole,
is quite satisfactory for the casual reader, a transformation made
possible by conversion to an etext. However, I come away from this task
with the feeling of loss because I know that someone with a background
in Chinese can do a better job than I did; any such attempt would be
Bob Sutton

Preface by Lionel Giles
The seventh volume of _Mémoires concernant l’histoire, les sciences,
les arts, les mœurs, les usages, &c., des Chinois_ is devoted to the
Art of War, and contains, amongst other treatises, “Les Treize Articles
de Sun-tse,” translated from the Chinese by a Jesuit Father, Joseph
Amiot. Père Amiot appears to have enjoyed no small reputation as a
sinologue in his day, and the field of his labours was certainly
extensive. But his so-called translation of the Sun Tzŭ, if placed side
by side with the original, is seen at once to be little better than an
imposture. It contains a great deal that Sun Tzŭ did not write, and
very little indeed of what he did. Here is a fair specimen, taken from
the opening sentences of chapter 5:—
_De l’habileté dans le gouvernement des Troupes._ Sun-tse dit : Ayez
les noms de tous les Officiers tant généraux que subalternes;
inscrivez-les dans un catalogue à part, avec la note des talents & de
la capacité de chacun d’eux, afin de pouvoir les employer avec avantage
lorsque l’occasion en sera venue. Faites en sorte que tous ceux que
vous devez commander soient persuadés que votre principale attention
est de les préserver de tout dommage. Les troupes que vous ferez
avancer contre l’ennemi doivent être comme des pierres que vous
lanceriez contre des œufs. De vous à l’ennemi il ne doit y avoir
d’autre différence que celle du fort au faible, du vide au plein.
Attaquez à découvert, mais soyez vainqueur en secret. Voilà en peu de
mots en quoi consiste l’habileté & toute la perfection même du
gouvernement des troupes.

Throughout the nineteenth century, which saw a wonderful development in
the study of Chinese literature, no translator ventured to tackle Sun
Tzŭ, although his work was known to be highly valued in China as by far
the oldest and best compendium of military science. It was not until
the year 1905 that the first English translation, by Capt. E.F.
Calthrop. R.F.A., appeared at Tokyo under the title “Sonshi”(the
Japanese form of Sun Tzŭ). Unfortunately, it was evident that the
translator’s knowledge of Chinese was far too scanty to fit him to
grapple with the manifold difficulties of Sun Tzŭ. He himself plainly
acknowledges that without the aid of two Japanese gentlemen “the
accompanying translation would have been impossible.” We can only
wonder, then, that with their help it should have been so excessively
bad. It is not merely a question of downright blunders, from which none
can hope to be wholly exempt. Omissions were frequent; hard passages
were wilfully distorted or slurred over. Such offences are less
pardonable. They would not be tolerated in any edition of a Greek or
Latin classic, and a similar standard of honesty ought to be insisted
upon in translations from Chinese.
From blemishes of this nature, at least, I believe that the present
translation is free. It was not undertaken out of any inflated estimate
of my own powers; but I could not help feeling that Sun Tzŭ deserved a
better fate than had befallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I
could hardly fail to improve on the work of my predecessors. Towards
the end of 1908, a new and revised edition of Capt. Calthrop’s
translation was published in London, this time, however, without any
allusion to his Japanese collaborators. My first three chapters were
then already in the printer’s hands, so that the criticisms of Capt.
Calthrop therein contained must be understood as referring to his
earlier edition. This is on the whole an improvement on the other,
thought there still remains much that cannot pass muster. Some of the
grosser blunders have been rectified and lacunae filled up, but on the
other hand a certain number of new mistakes appear. The very first
sentence of the introduction is startlingly inaccurate; and later on,
while mention is made of “an army of Japanese commentators” on Sun Tzŭ
(who are these, by the way?), not a word is vouchsafed about the
Chinese commentators, who nevertheless, I venture to assert, form a
much more numerous and infinitely more important “army.”
A few special features of the present volume may now be noticed. In the
first place, the text has been cut up into numbered paragraphs, both in
order to facilitate cross-reference and for the convenience of students
generally. The division follows broadly that of Sun Hsing-yen’s
edition; but I have sometimes found it desirable to join two or more of
his paragraphs into one. In quoting from other works, Chinese writers
seldom give more than the bare title by way of reference, and the task
of research is apt to be seriously hampered in consequence. With a view
to obviating this difficulty so far as Sun Tzŭ is concerned, I have
also appended a complete concordance of Chinese characters, following
in this the admirable example of Legge, though an alphabetical
arrangement has been preferred to the distribution under radicals which
he adopted. Another feature borrowed from “The Chinese Classics” is the
printing of text, translation and notes on the same page; the notes,
however, are inserted, according to the Chinese method, immediately
after the passages to which they refer. From the mass of native
commentary my aim has been to extract the cream only, adding the
Chinese text here and there when it seemed to present points of
literary interest. Though constituting in itself an important branch of
Chinese literature, very little commentary of this kind has hitherto
been made directly accessible by translation.
I may say in conclusion that, owing to the printing off of my sheets as
they were completed, the work has not had the benefit of a final
revision. On a review of the whole, without modifying the substance of
my criticisms, I might have been inclined in a few instances to temper
their asperity. Having chosen to wield a bludgeon, however, I shall not
cry out if in return I am visited with more than a rap over the
knuckles. Indeed, I have been at some pains to put a sword into the
hands of future opponents by scrupulously giving either text or
reference for every passage translated. A scathing review, even from
the pen of the Shanghai critic who despises “mere translations,” would
not, I must confess, be altogether unwelcome. For, after all, the worst
fate I shall have to dread is that which befell the ingenious paradoxes
of George in _The Vicar of Wakefield_.

Sun Wu and his Book
Ssu-ma Ch’ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzŭ: [1]

Sun Tzŭ Wu was a native of the Ch’i State. His _Art of War_ brought him
to the notice of Ho Lu, [2] King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him:
"I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory of
managing soldiers to a slight test?"
Sun Tzŭ replied: "You may."
Ho Lu asked: "May the test be applied to women?"
The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to
bring 180 ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzŭ divided them into two
companies, and placed one of the King’s favourite concubines at the head
of each. He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and
addressed them thus: "I presume you know the difference between front
and back, right hand and left hand?"
The girls replied: Yes.
Sun Tzŭ went on: "When I say "Eyes front," you must look straight
ahead. When I say "Left turn," you must face towards your left hand.
When I say "Right turn," you must face towards your right hand. When I
say "About turn," you must face right round towards your back."
Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus
explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the
drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he gave the order "Right turn." But
the girls only burst out laughing. Sun Tzŭ said: "If words of command
are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood,
then the general is to blame."
So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order "Left
turn," whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter. Sun
Tzŭ: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not
thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders _are_
clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of
their officers."
So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded.
Now the king of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised
pavilion; and when he saw that his favourite concubines were about to be
executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following
message: "We are now quite satisfied as to our general’s ability to
handle troops. If we are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and
drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall not be
Sun Tzŭ replied: "Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be
the general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty
which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept."
Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed
the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been
done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went
through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left,
marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect
accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzŭ
sent a messenger to the King saying: "Your soldiers, Sire, are now
properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty’s
inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire;
bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey."
But the King replied: "Let our general cease drilling and return to
camp. As for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops."
Thereupon Sun Tzŭ said: "The King is only fond of words, and cannot
translate them into deeds."
After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzŭ was one who knew how to handle an
army, and finally appointed him general. In the west, he defeated the
Ch’u State and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north he
put fear into the States of Ch’i and Chin, and spread his fame abroad
amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzŭ shared in the might of the
About Sun Tzŭ himself this is all that Ssu-ma Ch’ien has to tell us in
this chapter. But he proceeds to give a biography of his descendant,
Sun Pin, born about a hundred years after his famous ancestor’s death,
and also the outstanding military genius of his time. The historian
speaks of him too as Sun Tzŭ, and in his preface we read: "Sun Tzŭ had
his feet cut off and yet continued to discuss the art of war." [3] It
seems likely, then, that "Pin" was a nickname bestowed on him after his
mutilation, unless the story was invented in order to account for the
name. The crowning incident of his career, the crushing defeat of his
treacherous rival P’ang Chuan, will be found briefly related in Chapter
V. § 19, note.
To return to the elder Sun Tzŭ. He is mentioned in two other passages
of the _Shih Chi:_—
In the third year of his reign [512 B.C.] Ho Lu, king of Wu, took the
field with Tzŭ-hsu [i.e. Wu Yuan] and Po P’ei, and attacked Ch’u. He
captured the town of Shu and slew the two prince’s sons who had
formerly been generals of Wu. He was then meditating a descent on Ying
[the capital]; but the general Sun Wu said: "The army is exhausted. It
is not yet possible. We must wait"…. [After further successful
fighting,] "in the ninth year [506 B.C.], King Ho Lu addressed Wu
Tzŭ-hsu and Sun Wu, saying: "Formerly, you declared that it was not yet
possible for us to enter Ying. Is the time ripe now?" The two men
replied: "Ch’u’s general Tzŭ-ch’ang, [4] is grasping and covetous, and
the princes of T’ang and Ts’ai both have a grudge against him. If Your
Majesty has resolved to make a grand attack, you must win over T’ang
and Ts’ai, and then you may succeed." Ho Lu followed this advice, [beat
Ch’u in five pitched battles and marched into Ying.] [5]

This is the latest date at which anything is recorded of Sun Wu. He
does not appear to have survived his patron, who died from the effects
of a wound in 496. In another chapter there occurs this passage:[6]
From this time onward, a number of famous soldiers arose, one after the
other: Kao-fan, [7] who was employed by the Chin State; Wang-tzu, [8]
in the service of Ch’i; and Sun Wu, in the service of Wu. These men
developed and threw light upon the principles of war.

It is obvious enough that Ssu-ma Ch’ien at least had no doubt about the
reality of Sun Wu as an historical personage; and with one exception,
to be noticed presently, he is by far the most important authority on
the period in question. It will not be necessary, therefore, to say
much of such a work as the _Wu Yüeh Ch’un Ch’iu_, which is supposed to
have been written by Chao Yeh of the 1st century A.D. The attribution
is somewhat doubtful; but even if it were otherwise, his account would
be of little value, based as it is on the _Shih Chi_ and expanded with
romantic details. The story of Sun Tzŭ will be found, for what it is
worth, in chapter 2. The only new points in it worth noting are: (1)
Sun Tzŭ was first recommended to Ho Lu by Wu Tzŭ-hsu. (2) He is called
a native of Wu. (3) He had previously lived a retired life, and his
contemporaries were unaware of his ability.
The following passage occurs in the Huai-nan Tzŭ: "When sovereign and
ministers show perversity of mind, it is impossible even for a Sun Tzŭ
to encounter the foe." Assuming that this work is genuine (and hitherto
no doubt has been cast upon it), we have here the earliest direct
reference for Sun Tzŭ, for Huai-nan Tzŭ died in 122 B.C., many years
before the _Shih Chi_ was given to the world.
Liu Hsiang (80-9 B.C.) says: "The reason why Sun Tzŭ at the head of
30,000 men beat Ch’u with 200,000 is that the latter were
Teng Ming-shih informs us that the surname "Sun" was bestowed on Sun
Wu’s grandfather by Duke Ching of Ch’i [547-490 B.C.]. Sun Wu’s father
Sun P’ing, rose to be a Minister of State in Ch’i, and Sun Wu himself,
whose style was Ch’ang-ch’ing, fled to Wu on account of the rebellion
which was being fomented by the kindred of T’ien Pao. He had three
sons, of whom the second, named Ming, was the father of Sun Pin.
According to this account then, Pin was the grandson of Wu, which,
considering that Sun Pin’s victory over Wei was gained in 341 B.C., may
be dismissed as chronologically impossible. Whence these data were
obtained by Teng Ming-shih I do not know, but of course no reliance
whatever can be placed in them.
An interesting document which has survived from the close of the Han
period is the short preface written by the Great Ts’ao Ts’ao, or Wei Wu
Ti, for his edition of Sun Tzŭ. I shall give it in full:—

I have heard that the ancients used bows and arrows to their advantage.
[10] The _Lun Yu_ says: “There must be a sufficiency of military
strength.” The _Shu Ching_ mentions "the army" among the "eight objects
of government." The _I Ching_ says: "‘army’ indicates firmness and
justice; the experienced leader will have good fortune." The _Shih
Ching_ says: "The King rose majestic in his wrath, and he marshalled his
troops." The Yellow Emperor, T’ang the Completer and Wu Wang all used
spears and battle-axes in order to succour their generation. The _Ssu-ma
Fa_ says: "If one man slay another of set purpose, he himself may
rightfully be slain." He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be
exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.
Instances of this are Fu Ch’ai [11] on the one hand and Yen Wang on the
other. [12] In military matters, the Sage’s rule is normally to keep
the peace, and to move his forces only when occasion requires. He will
not use armed force unless driven to it by necessity.
Many books have I read on the subject of war and fighting; but the work
composed by Sun Wu is the profoundest of them all. [Sun Tzŭ was a
native of the Ch’i state, his personal name was Wu. He wrote the _Art
of War_ in 13 chapters for Ho Lu, King of Wu. Its principles were
tested on women, and he was subsequently made a general. He led an army
westwards, crushed the Ch’u state and entered Ying the capital. In the
north, he kept Ch’i and Chin in awe. A hundred years and more after his
time, Sun Pin lived. He was a descendant of Wu.] [13] In his treatment
of deliberation and planning, the importance of rapidity in taking the
field, [14] clearness of conception, and depth of design, Sun Tzŭ
stands beyond the reach of carping criticism. My contemporaries,
however, have failed to grasp the full meaning of his instructions, and
while putting into practice the smaller details in which his work
abounds, they have overlooked its essential purport. That is the motive
which has led me to outline a rough explanation of the whole.
One thing to be noticed in the above is the explicit statement that the
13 chapters were specially composed for King Ho Lu. This is supported
by the internal evidence of I. § 15, in which it seems clear that some
ruler is addressed.
In the bibliographic section of the _Han Shu_, there is an entry which
has given rise to much discussion: "The works of Sun Tzŭ of Wu in 82
_p’ien_ (or chapters), with diagrams in 9 _chuan_." It is evident that
this cannot be merely the 13 chapters known to Ssu-ma Ch’ien, or those
we possess today. Chang Shou-chieh refers to an edition of Sun Tzŭ’s
_Art of War_ of which the "13 chapters" formed the first _chuan_,
adding that there were two other _chuan_ besides. This has brought
forth a theory, that the bulk of these 82 chapters consisted of other
writings of Sun Tzŭ—we should call them apocryphal—similar to the _Wen
Ta_, of which a specimen dealing with the Nine Situations [15] is
preserved in the _T’ung Tien_, and another in Ho Shin’s commentary. It
is suggested that before his interview with Ho Lu, Sun Tzŭ had only
written the 13 chapters, but afterwards composed a sort of exegesis in
the form of question and answer between himself and the King. Pi
I-hsun, the author of the _Sun Tzŭ Hsu Lu_, backs this up with a
quotation from the _Wu Yüeh Ch’un Ch’iu:_ "The King of Wu summoned Sun
Tzŭ, and asked him questions about the art of war. Each time he set
forth a chapter of his work, the King could not find words enough to
praise him." As he points out, if the whole work was expounded on the
same scale as in the above-mentioned fragments, the total number of
chapters could not fail to be considerable. Then the numerous other
treatises attributed to Sun Tzŭ might be included. The fact that the
_Han Chih_ mentions no work of Sun Tzŭ except the 82 _p’ien_, whereas
the Sui and T’ang bibliographies give the titles of others in addition
to the "13 chapters," is good proof, Pi I-hsun thinks, that all of
these were contained in the 82 _p’ien_. Without pinning our faith to
the accuracy of details supplied by the _Wu Yüeh Ch’un Ch’iu_, or
admitting the genuineness of any of the treatises cited by Pi I-hsun,
we may see in this theory a probable solution of the mystery. Between
Ssu-ma Ch’ien and Pan Ku there was plenty of time for a luxuriant crop
of forgeries to have grown up under the magic name of Sun Tzŭ, and the
82 _p’ien_ may very well represent a collected edition of these lumped
together with the original work. It is also possible, though less
likely, that some of them existed in the time of the earlier historian
and were purposely ignored by him. [16]
Tu Mu’s conjecture seems to be based on a passage which states: "Wei Wu
Ti strung together Sun Wu’s _Art of War_," which in turn may have
resulted from a misunderstanding of the final words of Ts’ao King’s
preface. This, as Sun Hsing-yen points out, is only a modest way of
saying that he made an explanatory paraphrase, or in other words, wrote
a commentary on it. On the whole, this theory has met with very little
acceptance. Thus, the _Ssu K’u Ch’uan Shu_ says: "The mention of the 13
chapters in the _Shih Chi_ shows that they were in existence before the
_Han Chih_, and that latter accretions are not to be considered part of
the original work. Tu Mu’s assertion can certainly not be taken as
There is every reason to suppose, then, that the 13 chapters existed in
the time of Ssu-ma Ch’ien practically as we have them now. That the
work was then well known he tells us in so many words. "Sun Tzŭ’s _13
Chapters_ and Wu Ch’i’s _Art of War_ are the two books that people
commonly refer to on the subject of military matters. Both of them are
widely distributed, so I will not discuss them here." But as we go
further back, serious difficulties begin to arise. The salient fact
which has to be faced is that the _Tso Chuan_, the greatest
contemporary record, makes no mention whatsoever of Sun Wu, either as a
general or as a writer. It is natural, in view of this awkward
circumstance, that many scholars should not only cast doubt on the
story of Sun Wu as given in the _Shih Chi_, but even show themselves
frankly skeptical as to the existence of the man at all. The most
powerful presentment of this side of the case is to be found in the
following disposition by Yeh Shui-hsin: [17]—

It is stated in Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s history that Sun Wu was a native of the
Ch’i State, and employed by Wu; and that in the reign of Ho Lu he
crushed Ch’u, entered Ying, and was a great general. But in Tso’s
Commentary no Sun Wu appears at all. It is true that Tso’s Commentary
need not contain absolutely everything that other histories contain.
But Tso has not omitted to mention vulgar plebeians and hireling
ruffians such as Ying K’ao-shu, [18] Ts’ao Kuei, [19], Chu Chih-wu and
Chuan She-chu [20]. In the case of Sun Wu, whose fame and achievements
were so brilliant, the omission is much more glaring. Again, details
are given, in their due order, about his contemporaries Wu Yuan and the
Minister P’ei. [21] Is it credible that Sun Wu alone should have been
passed over?
In point of literary style, Sun Tzŭ’s work belongs to the same school
as _Kuan Tzŭ_, [22] _Liu T’ao_, [23] and the _Yüeh Yu_ [24] and may
have been the production of some private scholar living towards the end
of the "Spring and Autumn" or the beginning of the "Warring States"
period. [25] The story that his precepts were actually applied by the
Wu State, is merely the outcome of big talk on the part of his
From the flourishing period of the Chou dynasty [26] down to the time