The Art of War - 04

8. _Earth_ comprises distances, great and small; danger and security;
open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.
9. _The Commander_ stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity,
benevolence, courage and strictness.
[The five cardinal virtues of the Chinese are (1) humanity or
benevolence; (2) uprightness of mind; (3) self-respect, self-control,
or "proper feeling;" (4) wisdom; (5) sincerity or good faith. Here
"wisdom" and "sincerity" are put before "humanity or benevolence," and
the two military virtues of "courage" and "strictness" substituted for
"uprightness of mind" and "self-respect, self-control, or ‘proper

10. By _Method and discipline_ are to be understood the marshalling of
the army in its proper subdivisions, the gradations of rank among the
officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the
army, and the control of military expenditure.
11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows
them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.
12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the
military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in
this wise:—
13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

[I.e., "is in harmony with his subjects." Cf. § 5.]

(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
[See §§ 7, 8]

(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
[Tu Mu alludes to the remarkable story of Ts’ao Ts’ao (A.D. 155-220),
who was such a strict disciplinarian that once, in accordance with his
own severe regulations against injury to standing crops, he condemned
himself to death for having allowed his horse to shy into a field of
corn! However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy
his sense of justice by cutting off his hair. Ts’ao Ts’ao’s own comment
on the present passage is characteristically curt: "when you lay down a
law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed the offender must
be put to death."]

(5) Which army is the stronger?
[Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch’en puts it, freely
rendered, "_esprit de corps_ and ‘big battalions.’"]

(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzŭ as saying: "Without constant practice, the
officers will be nervous and undecided when mustering for battle;
without constant practice, the general will be wavering and irresolute
when the crisis is at hand."]

(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and
[On which side is there the most absolute certainty that merit will be
properly rewarded and misdeeds summarily punished?]

14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or
15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will
conquer:—let such a one be retained in command! The general that
hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:—let
such a one be dismissed!
[The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzŭ’s treatise was
composed expressly for the benefit of his patron Ho Lu, king of the Wu

16. While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any
helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one’s
[Sun Tzŭ, as a practical soldier, will have none of the "bookish
theoric." He cautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract
principles; "for," as Chang Yu puts it, "while the main laws of
strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of all and
sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to
secure a favourable position in actual warfare." On the eve of the
battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, commanding the cavalry, went to the
Duke of Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations
were for the morrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find
himself Commander-in-chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a
critical moment. The Duke listened quietly and then said: "Who will
attack the first tomorrow—I or Bonaparte?" "Bonaparte," replied Lord
Uxbridge. "Well," continued the Duke, "Bonaparte has not given me any
idea of his projects; and as my plans will depend upon his, how can you
expect me to tell you what mine are?" [1] ]

18. All warfare is based on deception.
[The truth of this pithy and profound saying will be admitted by every
soldier. Col. Henderson tells us that Wellington, great in so many
military qualities, was especially distinguished by "the extraordinary
skill with which he concealed his movements and deceived both friend
and foe."]

19. 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 we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are
20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
[All commentators, except Chang Yu, say, "When he is in disorder, crush
him." It is more natural to suppose that Sun Tzŭ is still illustrating
the uses of deception in war.]

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in
superior strength, evade him.
22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.
Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
[Wang Tzŭ, quoted by Tu Yu, says that the good tactician plays with his
adversary as a cat plays with a mouse, first feigning weakness and
immobility, and then suddenly pouncing upon him.]

23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.
[This is probably the meaning though Mei Yao-ch’en has the note: "while
we are taking our ease, wait for the enemy to tire himself out." The
_Yu Lan_ has "Lure him on and tire him out."]

If his forces are united, separate them.
[Less plausible is the interpretation favoured by most of the
commentators: "If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division
between them."]

24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not
25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged
26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his
temple ere the battle is fought.
[Chang Yu tells us that in ancient times it was customary for a temple
to be set apart for the use of a general who was about to take the
field, in order that he might there elaborate his plan of campaign.]

The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.
Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to
defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this
point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.
[1] "Words on Wellington," by Sir. W. Fraser.

[Ts’ao Kung has the note: "He who wishes to fight must first count the
cost," which prepares us for the discovery that the subject of the
chapter is not what we might expect from the title, but is primarily a
consideration of ways and means.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: In the operations of war, where there are in the field
a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred
thousand mail-clad soldiers,
[The "swift chariots" were lightly built and, according to Chang Yu,
used for the attack; the "heavy chariots" were heavier, and designed
for purposes of defence. Li Ch’uan, it is true, says that the latter
were light, but this seems hardly probable. It is interesting to note
the analogies between early Chinese warfare and that of the Homeric
Greeks. In each case, the war-chariot was the important factor, forming
as it did the nucleus round which was grouped a certain number of
foot-soldiers. With regard to the numbers given here, we are informed
that each swift chariot was accompanied by 75 footmen, and each heavy
chariot by 25 footmen, so that the whole army would be divided up into
a thousand battalions, each consisting of two chariots and a hundred

with provisions enough to carry them a thousand _li_,
[2.78 modern _li_ go to a mile. The length may have varied slightly
since Sun Tzŭ’s time.]

the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of
guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots
and armour, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per
day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.
2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming,
the men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardour will be damped. If
you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.
3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State
will not be equal to the strain.
4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardour damped, your strength
exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to
take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be
able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has
never been seen associated with long delays.
[This concise and difficult sentence is not well explained by any of
the commentators. Ts’ao Kung, Li Ch’uan, Meng Shih, Tu Yu, Tu Mu and
Mei Yao-ch’en have notes to the effect that a general, though naturally
stupid, may nevertheless conquer through sheer force of rapidity. Ho
Shih says: "Haste may be stupid, but at any rate it saves expenditure
of energy and treasure; protracted operations may be very clever, but
they bring calamity in their train." Wang Hsi evades the difficulty by
remarking: "Lengthy operations mean an army growing old, wealth being
expended, an empty exchequer and distress among the people; true
cleverness insures against the occurrence of such calamities." Chang Yu
says: "So long as victory can be attained, stupid haste is preferable
to clever dilatoriness." Now Sun Tzŭ says nothing whatever, except
possibly by implication, about ill-considered haste being better than
ingenious but lengthy operations. What he does say is something much
more guarded, namely that, while speed may sometimes be injudicious,
tardiness can never be anything but foolish—if only because it means
impoverishment to the nation. In considering the point raised here by
Sun Tzŭ, the classic example of Fabius Cunctator will inevitably occur
to the mind. That general deliberately measured the endurance of Rome
against that of Hannibals’s isolated army, because it seemed to him
that the latter was more likely to suffer from a long campaign in a
strange country. But it is quite a moot question whether his tactics
would have proved successful in the long run. Their reversal it is
true, led to Cannae; but this only establishes a negative presumption
in their favour.]

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged
7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war
that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
[That is, with rapidity. Only one who knows the disastrous effects of a
long war can realize the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it
to a close. Only two commentators seem to favour this interpretation,
but it fits well into the logic of the context, whereas the rendering,
"He who does not know the evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits,"
is distinctly pointless.]

8. The skilful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his
supply-waggons loaded more than twice.
[Once war is declared, he will not waste precious time in waiting for
reinforcements, nor will he return his army back for fresh supplies,
but crosses the enemy’s frontier without delay. This may seem an
audacious policy to recommend, but with all great strategists, from
Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte, the value of time—that is, being a
little ahead of your opponent—has counted for more than either
numerical superiority or the nicest calculations with regard to

9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus
the army will have food enough for its needs.
[The Chinese word translated here as "war material" literally means
"things to be used", and is meant in the widest sense. It includes all
the impedimenta of an army, apart from provisions.]

10. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by
contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a
distance causes the people to be impoverished.
[The beginning of this sentence does not balance properly with the
next, though obviously intended to do so. The arrangement, moreover, is
so awkward that I cannot help suspecting some corruption in the text.
It never seems to occur to Chinese commentators that an emendation may
be necessary for the sense, and we get no help from them there. The
Chinese words Sun Tzŭ used to indicate the cause of the people’s
impoverishment clearly have reference to some system by which the
husbandmen sent their contributions of corn to the army direct. But why
should it fall on them to maintain an army in this way, except because
the State or Government is too poor to do so?]

11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up;
and high prices cause the people’s substance to be drained away.
[Wang Hsi says high prices occur before the army has left its own
territory. Ts’ao Kung understands it of an army that has already
crossed the frontier.]

12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be
afflicted by heavy exactions.
13, 14. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the
homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their
incomes will be dissipated;
[Tu Mu and Wang Hsi agree that the people are not mulcted not of 3/10,
but of 7/10, of their income. But this is hardly to be extracted from
our text. Ho Shih has a characteristic tag: "The _people_ being
regarded as the essential part of the State, and _food_ as the people’s
heaven, is it not right that those in authority should value and be
careful of both?"]

while Government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses,
breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields,
protective mantlets, draught-oxen and heavy waggons, will amount to
four-tenths of its total revenue.
15. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One
cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s
own, and likewise a single _picul_ of his provender is equivalent to
twenty from one’s own store.
[Because twenty cartloads will be consumed in the process of
transporting one cartload to the front. A _picul_ is a unit of measure
equal to 133.3 pounds (65.5 kilograms).]

16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger;
that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have
their rewards.
[Tu Mu says: "Rewards are necessary in order to make the soldiers see
the advantage of beating the enemy; thus, when you capture spoils from
the enemy, they must be used as rewards, so that all your men may have
a keen desire to fight, each on his own account."]

17. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been
taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags
should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled
and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be
kindly treated and kept.
18. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one’s own
19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy
[As Ho Shih remarks: "War is not a thing to be trifled with." Sun Tzŭ
here reiterates the main lesson which this chapter is intended to

20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of
the people’s fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall
be in peace or in peril.

1. Sun Tzŭ said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is
to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it
is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than
to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire
than to destroy them.
[The equivalent to an army corps, according to Ssu-ma Fa, consisted
nominally of 12500 men; according to Ts’ao Kung, the equivalent of a
regiment contained 500 men, the equivalent to a detachment consists
from any number between 100 and 500, and the equivalent of a company
contains from 5 to 100 men. For the last two, however, Chang Yu gives
the exact figures of 100 and 5 respectively.]

2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme
excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s
resistance without fighting.
[Here again, no modern strategist but will approve the words of the old
Chinese general. Moltke’s greatest triumph, the capitulation of the
huge French army at Sedan, was won practically without bloodshed.]

3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy’s plans;
[Perhaps the word "balk" falls short of expressing the full force of
the Chinese word, which implies not an attitude of defence, whereby one
might be content to foil the enemy’s stratagems one after another, but
an active policy of counter-attack. Ho Shih puts this very clearly in
his note: "When the enemy has made a plan of attack against us, we must
anticipate him by delivering our own attack first."]

the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces;
[Isolating him from his allies. We must not forget that Sun Tzŭ, in
speaking of hostilities, always has in mind the numerous states or
principalities into which the China of his day was split up.]

the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field;
[When he is already at full strength.]

and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be
[Another sound piece of military theory. Had the Boers acted upon it in
1899, and refrained from dissipating their strength before Kimberley,
Mafeking, or even Ladysmith, it is more than probable that they would
have been masters of the situation before the British were ready
seriously to oppose them.]

The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements
of war, will take up three whole months;
[It is not quite clear what the Chinese word, here translated as
"mantlets", described. Ts’ao Kung simply defines them as "large
shields," but we get a better idea of them from Li Ch’uan, who says
they were to protect the heads of those who were assaulting the city
walls at close quarters. This seems to suggest a sort of Roman
_testudo_, ready made. Tu Mu says they were wheeled vehicles used in
repelling attacks, but this is denied by Ch’en Hao. See _supra_ II. 14.
The name is also applied to turrets on city walls. Of the "movable
shelters" we get a fairly clear description from several commentators.
They were wooden missile-proof structures on four wheels, propelled
from within, covered over with raw hides, and used in sieges to convey
parties of men to and from the walls, for the purpose of filling up the
encircling moat with earth. Tu Mu adds that they are now called "wooden

and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three
months more.
[These were great mounds or ramparts of earth heaped up to the level of
the enemy’s walls in order to discover the weak points in the defence,
and also to destroy the fortified turrets mentioned in the preceding

5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men
to the assault like swarming ants,
[This vivid simile of Ts’ao Kung is taken from the spectacle of an army
of ants climbing a wall. The meaning is that the general, losing
patience at the long delay, may make a premature attempt to storm the
place before his engines of war are ready.]

with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town
still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.
[We are reminded of the terrible losses of the Japanese before Port
Arthur, in the most recent siege which history has to record.]

6. Therefore the skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any
fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he
overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
[Chia Lin notes that he only overthrows the Government, but does no
harm to individuals. The classical instance is Wu Wang, who after
having put an end to the Yin dynasty was acclaimed "Father and mother
of the people."]

7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire,
and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.
[Owing to the double meanings in the Chinese text, the latter part of
the sentence is susceptible of quite a different meaning: "And thus,
the weapon not being blunted by use, its keenness remains perfect."]

This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to
surround him; if five to one, to attack him;
[Straightway, without waiting for any further advantage.]

if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.
[Tu Mu takes exception to the saying; and at first sight, indeed, it
appears to violate a fundamental principle of war. Ts’ao Kung, however,
gives a clue to Sun Tzŭ’s meaning: "Being two to the enemy’s one, we
may use one part of our army in the regular way, and the other for some
special diversion." Chang Yu thus further elucidates the point: "If our
force is twice as numerous as that of the enemy, it should be split up
into two divisions, one to meet the enemy in front, and one to fall
upon his rear; if he replies to the frontal attack, he may be crushed
from behind; if to the rearward attack, he may be crushed in front."
This is what is meant by saying that ‘one part may be used in the
regular way, and the other for some special diversion.’ Tu Mu does not
understand that dividing one’s army is simply an irregular, just as
concentrating it is the regular, strategical method, and he is too
hasty in calling this a mistake."]

9. If equally matched, we can offer battle;
[Li Ch’uan, followed by Ho Shih, gives the following paraphrase: "If
attackers and attacked are equally matched in strength, only the able
general will fight."]

if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy;
[The meaning, "we can _watch_ the enemy," is certainly a great
improvement on the above; but unfortunately there appears to be no very
good authority for the variant. Chang Yu reminds us that the saying
only applies if the other factors are equal; a small difference in
numbers is often more than counterbalanced by superior energy and

if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in
the end it must be captured by the larger force.
11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State: if the bulwark is
complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is
defective, the State will be weak.
[As Li Ch’uan tersely puts it: "Gap indicates deficiency; if the
general’s ability is not perfect (i.e. if he is not thoroughly versed
in his profession), his army will lack strength."]

12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his
13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant
of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.
[Li Ch’uan adds the comment: "It is like tying together the legs of a
thoroughbred, so that it is unable to gallop." One would naturally
think of "the ruler" in this passage as being at home, and trying to
direct the movements of his army from a distance. But the commentators
understand just the reverse, and quote the saying of T’ai Kung: "A
kingdom should not be governed from without, and army should not be
directed from within." Of course it is true that, during an engagement,
or when in close touch with the enemy, the general should not be in the
thick of his own troops, but a little distance apart. Otherwise, he
will be liable to misjudge the position as a whole, and give wrong

14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he
administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in
an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds.
[Ts’ao Kung’s note is, freely translated: "The military sphere and the
civil sphere are wholly distinct; you can’t handle an army in kid
gloves." And Chang Yu says: "Humanity and justice are the principles on
which to govern a state, but not an army; opportunism and flexibility,
on the other hand, are military rather than civil virtues to assimilate
the governing of an army"—to that of a State, understood.]

15. (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination,
[That is, he is not careful to use the right man in the right place.]

through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to
circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
[I follow Mei Yao-ch’en here. The other commentators refer not to the
ruler, as in §§ 13, 14, but to the officers he employs. Thus Tu Yu
says: "If a general is ignorant of the principle of adaptability, he
must not be entrusted with a position of authority." Tu Mu quotes: "The
skilful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the
covetous man, and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in
establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in
action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid
man has no fear of death."]

16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to
come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy
into the army, and flinging victory away.
17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He
will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
[Chang Yu says: If he can fight, he advances and takes the offensive;
if he cannot fight, he retreats and remains on the defensive. He will
invariably conquer who knows whether it is right to take the offensive
or the defensive.]

(2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior
[This is not merely the general’s ability to estimate numbers
correctly, as Li Ch’uan and others make out. Chang Yu expounds the
saying more satisfactorily: "By applying the art of war, it is possible
with a lesser force to defeat a greater, and _vice versa_. The secret
lies in an eye for locality, and in not letting the right moment slip.
Thus Wu Tzŭ says: ‘With a superior force, make for easy ground; with an
inferior one, make for difficult ground.’"]

(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout
all its ranks.
(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy
(5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by
the sovereign.
[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzŭ as saying: "It is the sovereign’s function to
give broad instructions, but to decide on battle it is the function of
the general." It is needless to dilate on the military disasters which
have been caused by undue interference with operations in the field on