The Art of War - 07

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 a 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

37. Such is the art of warfare.
[1] See Col. Henderson, op. cit. vol. I. p. 426.
[2] For a number of maxims on this head, see "Marshal Turenne"
(Longmans, 1907), p. 29.

[The heading means literally "The Nine Variations," but as Sun Tzŭ does
not appear to enumerate these, and as, indeed, he has already told us
(V §§ 6-11) that such deflections from the ordinary course are
practically innumerable, we have little option but to follow Wang Hsi,
who says that "Nine" stands for an indefinitely large number. "All it
means is that in warfare we ought to vary our tactics to the utmost
degree…. I do not know what Ts’ao Kung makes these Nine Variations out
to be, but it has been suggested that they are connected with the Nine
Situations" - of chapt. XI. This is the view adopted by Chang Yu. The
only other alternative is to suppose that something has been lost—a
supposition to which the unusual shortness of the chapter lends some

1. Sun Tzŭ said: In war, the general receives his commands from the
sovereign, collects his army and concentrates his forces.
[Repeated from VII. § 1, where it is certainly more in place. It may
have been interpolated here merely in order to supply a beginning to
the chapter.]

2. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high
roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in
dangerously isolated positions.
[The last situation is not one of the Nine Situations as given in the
beginning of chap. XI, but occurs later on (ibid. § 43. q.v.). Chang Yu
defines this situation as being situated across the frontier, in
hostile territory. Li Ch’uan says it is "country in which there are no
springs or wells, flocks or herds, vegetables or firewood;" Chia Lin,
"one of gorges, chasms and precipices, without a road by which to

In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In a desperate
position, you must fight.
3. There are roads which must not be followed,
["Especially those leading through narrow defiles," says Li Ch’uan,
"where an ambush is to be feared."]

armies which must be not attacked,
[More correctly, perhaps, "there are times when an army must not be
attacked." Ch’en Hao says: "When you see your way to obtain a rival
advantage, but are powerless to inflict a real defeat, refrain from
attacking, for fear of overtaxing your men’s strength."]

towns which must not be besieged,
[Cf. III. § 4 Ts’ao Kung gives an interesting illustration from his own
experience. When invading the territory of Hsu-chou, he ignored the
city of Hua-pi, which lay directly in his path, and pressed on into the
heart of the country. This excellent strategy was rewarded by the
subsequent capture of no fewer than fourteen important district cities.
Chang Yu says: "No town should be attacked which, if taken, cannot be
held, or if left alone, will not cause any trouble." Hsun Ying, when
urged to attack Pi-yang, replied: "The city is small and
well-fortified; even if I succeed intaking it, it will be no great feat
of arms; whereas if I fail, I shall make myself a laughing-stock." In
the seventeenth century, sieges still formed a large proportion of war.
It was Turenne who directed attention to the importance of marches,
countermarches and manœuvers. He said: "It is a great mistake to waste
men in taking a town when the same expenditure of soldiers will gain a
province." [1] ]

positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which
must not be obeyed.
[This is a hard saying for the Chinese, with their reverence for
authority, and Wei Liao Tzŭ (quoted by Tu Mu) is moved to exclaim:
"Weapons are baleful instruments, strife is antagonistic to virtue, a
military commander is the negation of civil order!" The unpalatable
fact remains, however, that even Imperial wishes must be subordinated
to military necessity.]

4. The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany
variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.
5. The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted
with the configuration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn
his knowledge to practical account.
[Literally, "get the advantage of the ground," which means not only
securing good positions, but availing oneself of natural advantages in
every possible way. Chang Yu says: "Every kind of ground is
characterized by certain natural features, and also gives scope for a
certain variability of plan. How it is possible to turn these natural
features to account unless topographical knowledge is supplemented by
versatility of mind?"]

6. So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of varying
his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five Advantages, will
fail to make the best use of his men.
[Chia Lin tells us that these imply five obvious and generally
advantageous lines of action, namely: "if a certain road is short, it
must be followed; if an army is isolated, it must be attacked; if a
town is in a parlous condition, it must be besieged; if a position can
be stormed, it must be attempted; and if consistent with military
operations, the ruler’s commands must be obeyed." But there are
circumstances which sometimes forbid a general to use these advantages.
For instance, "a certain road may be the shortest way for him, but if
he knows that it abounds in natural obstacles, or that the enemy has
laid an ambush on it, he will not follow that road. A hostile force may
be open to attack, but if he knows that it is hard-pressed and likely
to fight with desperation, he will refrain from striking," and so on.]

7. Hence in the wise leader’s plans, considerations of advantage and of
disadvantage will be blended together.
["Whether in an advantageous position or a disadvantageous one," says
Ts’ao Kung, "the opposite state should be always present to your

8. If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may
succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes.
[Tu Mu says: "If we wish to wrest an advantage from the enemy, we must
not fix our minds on that alone, but allow for the possibility of the
enemy also doing some harm to us, and let this enter as a factor into
our calculations."]

9. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always
ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from
[Tu Mu says: "If I wish to extricate myself from a dangerous position,
I must consider not only the enemy’s ability to injure me, but also my
own ability to gain an advantage over the enemy. If in my counsels
these two considerations are properly blended, I shall succeed in
liberating myself…. For instance; if I am surrounded by the enemy and
only think of effecting an escape, the nervelessness of my policy will
incite my adversary to pursue and crush me; it would be far better to
encourage my men to deliver a bold counter-attack, and use the
advantage thus gained to free myself from the enemy’s toils." See the
story of Ts’ao Ts’ao, VII. § 35, note.]

10. Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them;
[Chia Lin enumerates several ways of inflicting this injury, some of
which would only occur to the Oriental mind:—"Entice away the enemy’s
best and wisest men, so that he may be left without counselors.
Introduce traitors into his country, that the government policy may be
rendered futile. Foment intrigue and deceit, and thus sow dissension
between the ruler and his ministers. By means of every artful
contrivance, cause deterioration amongst his men and waste of his
treasure. Corrupt his morals by insidious gifts leading him into
excess. Disturb and unsettle his mind by presenting him with lovely
women." Chang Yu (after Wang Hsi) makes a different interpretation of
Sun Tzŭ here: "Get the enemy into a position where he must suffer
injury, and he will submit of his own accord."]

and make trouble for them,
[Tu Mu, in this phrase, in his interpretation indicates that trouble
should be made for the enemy affecting their "possessions," or, as we
might say, "assets," which he considers to be "a large army, a rich
exchequer, harmony amongst the soldiers, punctual fulfillment of
commands." These give us a whip-hand over the enemy.]

and keep them constantly engaged;
[Literally, "make servants of them." Tu Yu says "prevent them from
having any rest."]

hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point.
[Meng Shih’s note contains an excellent example of the idiomatic use
of: "cause them to forget _pien_ (the reasons for acting otherwise than
on their first impulse), and hasten in our direction."]

11. The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the
enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the
chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made
our position unassailable.
12. There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1)
Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
["Bravery without forethought," as Ts’ao Kung analyzes it, which causes
a man to fight blindly and desperately like a mad bull. Such an
opponent, says Chang Yu, "must not be encountered with brute force, but
may be lured into an ambush and slain." Cf. Wu Tzŭ, chap. IV. ad init.:
"In estimating the character of a general, men are wont to pay
exclusive attention to his courage, forgetting that courage is only one
out of many qualities which a general should possess. The merely brave
man is prone to fight recklessly; and he who fights recklessly, without
any perception of what is expedient, must be condemned." Ssu-ma Fa,
too, makes the incisive remark: "Simply going to one’s death does not
bring about victory."]

(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;
[Ts’ao Kung defines the Chinese word translated here as "cowardice" as
being of the man "whom timidity prevents from advancing to seize an
advantage," and Wang Hsi adds "who is quick to flee at the sight of
danger." Meng Shih gives the closer paraphrase "he who is bent on
returning alive," this is, the man who will never take a risk. But, as
Sun Tzŭ knew, nothing is to be achieved in war unless you are willing
to take risks. T’ai Kung said: "He who lets an advantage slip will
subsequently bring upon himself real disaster." In 404 A.D., Liu Yu
pursued the rebel Huan Hsuan up the Yangtsze and fought a naval battle
with him at the island of Ch’eng-hung. The loyal troops numbered only a
few thousands, while their opponents were in great force. But Huan
Hsuan, fearing the fate which was in store for him should be be
overcome, had a light boat made fast to the side of his war-junk, so
that he might escape, if necessary, at a moment’s notice. The natural
result was that the fighting spirit of his soldiers was utterly
quenched, and when the loyalists made an attack from windward with
fireships, all striving with the utmost ardor to be first in the fray,
Huan Hsuan’s forces were routed, had to burn all their baggage and fled
for two days and nights without stopping. Chang Yu tells a somewhat
similar story of Chao Ying-ch’i, a general of the Chin State who during
a battle with the army of Ch’u in 597 B.C. had a boat kept in readiness
for him on the river, wishing in case of defeat to be the first to get

(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
[Tu Mu tells us that Yao Hsing, when opposed in 357 A.D. by Huang Mei,
Teng Ch’iang and others shut himself up behind his walls and refused to
fight. Teng Ch’iang said: "Our adversary is of a choleric temper and
easily provoked; let us make constant sallies and break down his walls,
then he will grow angry and come out. Once we can bring his force to
battle, it is doomed to be our prey." This plan was acted upon, Yao
Hsiang came out to fight, was lured as far as San-yuan by the enemy’s
pretended flight, and finally attacked and slain.]

(4) a delicacy of honour which is sensitive to shame;
This need not be taken to mean that a sense of honour is really a defect
in a general. What Sun Tzŭ condemns is rather an exaggerated
sensitiveness to slanderous reports, the thin-skinned man who is stung
by opprobrium, however undeserved. Mei Yao-ch’en truly observes, though
somewhat paradoxically: "The seeker after glory should be careless of
public opinion."]

(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and
[Here again, Sun Tzŭ does not mean that the general is to be careless
of the welfare of his troops. All he wishes to emphasize is the danger
of sacrificing any important military advantage to the immediate
comfort of his men. This is a shortsighted policy, because in the long
run the troops will suffer more from the defeat, or, at best, the
prolongation of the war, which will be the consequence. A mistaken
feeling of pity will often induce a general to relieve a beleaguered
city, or to reinforce a hard-pressed detachment, contrary to his
military instincts. It is now generally admitted that our repeated
efforts to relieve Ladysmith in the South African War were so many
strategical blunders which defeated their own purpose. And in the end,
relief came through the very man who started out with the distinct
resolve no longer to subordinate the interests of the whole to
sentiment in favour of a part. An old soldier of one of our generals who
failed most conspicuously in this war, tried once, I remember, to
defend him to me on the ground that he was always "so good to his men."
By this plea, had he but known it, he was only condemning him out of
Sun Tzŭ’s mouth.]

13. These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the
conduct of war.
14. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will
surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a
subject of meditation.
[1] "Marshal Turenne," p. 50.

[The contents of this interesting chapter are better indicated in § 1
than by this heading.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: We come now to the question of encamping the army, and
observing signs of the enemy. Pass quickly over mountains, and keep in
the neighbourhood of valleys.
[The idea is, not to linger among barren uplands, but to keep close to
supplies of water and grass. Cf. Wu Tzŭ, ch. 3: "Abide not in natural
ovens," i.e. "the openings of valleys." Chang Yu tells the following
anecdote: Wu-tu Ch’iang was a robber captain in the time of the Later
Han, and Ma Yuan was sent to exterminate his gang. Ch’iang having found
a refuge in the hills, Ma Yuan made no attempt to force a battle, but
seized all the favourable positions commanding supplies of water and
forage. Ch’iang was soon in such a desperate plight for want of
provisions that he was forced to make a total surrender. He did not
know the advantage of keeping in the neighbourhood of valleys."]

2. Camp in high places,
[Not on high hills, but on knolls or hillocks elevated above the
surrounding country.]

facing the sun.
[Tu Mu takes this to mean "facing south," and Ch’en Hao "facing east."
Cf. infra, §§ 11, 13.

Do not climb heights in order to fight. So much for mountain warfare.
3. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it.
["In order to tempt the enemy to cross after you," according to Ts’ao
Kung, and also, says Chang Yu, "in order not to be impeded in your
evolutions." The _T’ung Tien_ reads, "If _the enemy_ crosses a river,"
etc. But in view of the next sentence, this is almost certainly an

4. When an invading force crosses a river in its onward march, do not
advance to meet it in mid-stream. It will be best to let half the army
get across, and then deliver your attack.
[Li Ch’uan alludes to the great victory won by Han Hsin over Lung Chu
at the Wei River. Turning to the _Ch’ien Han Shu_, ch. 34, fol. 6
verso, we find the battle described as follows: "The two armies were
drawn up on opposite sides of the river. In the night, Han Hsin ordered
his men to take some ten thousand sacks filled with sand and construct
a dam higher up. Then, leading half his army across, he attacked Lung
Chu; but after a time, pretending to have failed in his attempt, he
hastily withdrew to the other bank. Lung Chu was much elated by this
unlooked-for success, and exclaiming: "I felt sure that Han Hsin was
really a coward!" he pursued him and began crossing the river in his
turn. Han Hsin now sent a party to cut open the sandbags, thus
releasing a great volume of water, which swept down and prevented the
greater portion of Lung Chu’s army from getting across. He then turned
upon the force which had been cut off, and annihilated it, Lung Chu
himself being amongst the slain. The rest of the army, on the further
bank, also scattered and fled in all directions.]

5. If you are anxious to fight, you should not go to meet the invader
near a river which he has to cross.
[For fear of preventing his crossing.]

6. Moor your craft higher up than the enemy, and facing the sun.
[See _supra_, § 2. The repetition of these words in connection with
water is very awkward. Chang Yu has the note: "Said either of troops
marshalled on the river-bank, or of boats anchored in the stream itself;
in either case it is essential to be higher than the enemy and facing
the sun." The other commentators are not at all explicit.]

Do not move up-stream to meet the enemy.
[Tu Mu says: "As water flows downwards, we must not pitch our camp on
the lower reaches of a river, for fear the enemy should open the
sluices and sweep us away in a flood. Chu-ko Wu-hou has remarked that
‘in river warfare we must not advance against the stream,’ which is as
much as to say that our fleet must not be anchored below that of the
enemy, for then they would be able to take advantage of the current and
make short work of us." There is also the danger, noted by other
commentators, that the enemy may throw poison on the water to be
carried down to us.]

So much for river warfare.
7. In crossing salt-marshes, your sole concern should be to get over
them quickly, without any delay.
[Because of the lack of fresh water, the poor quality of the herbage,
and last but not least, because they are low, flat, and exposed to

8. If forced to fight in a salt-marsh, you should have water and grass
near you, and get your back to a clump of trees.
[Li Ch’uan remarks that the ground is less likely to be treacherous
where there are trees, while Tu Mu says that they will serve to protect
the rear.]

So much for operations in salt-marshes.
9. In dry, level country, take up an easily accessible position with
rising ground to your right and on your rear,
[Tu Mu quotes T’ai Kung as saying: "An army should have a stream or a
marsh on its left, and a hill or tumulus on its right."]

so that the danger may be in front, and safety lie behind. So much for
campaigning in flat country.
10. These are the four useful branches of military knowledge
[Those, namely, concerned with (1) mountains, (2) rivers, (3) marshes,
and (4) plains. Compare Napoleon’s "Military Maxims," no. 1.]

which enabled the Yellow Emperor to vanquish four several sovereigns.
[Regarding the "Yellow Emperor": Mei Yao-ch’en asks, with some
plausibility, whether there is an error in the text as nothing is known
of Huang Ti having conquered four other Emperors. The _Shih Chi_ (ch. 1
ad init.) speaks only of his victories over Yen Ti and Ch’ih Yu. In the
_Liu T’ao_ it is mentioned that he "fought seventy battles and pacified
the Empire." Ts’ao Kung’s explanation is, that the Yellow Emperor was
the first to institute the feudal system of vassals princes, each of
whom (to the number of four) originally bore the title of Emperor. Li
Ch’uan tells us that the art of war originated under Huang Ti, who
received it from his Minister Feng Hou.]

11. All armies prefer high ground to low,
["High Ground," says Mei Yao-ch’en, "is not only more agreeable and
salubrious, but more convenient from a military point of view; low
ground is not only damp and unhealthy, but also disadvantageous for

and sunny places to dark.
12. If you are careful of your men,
[Ts’ao Kung says: "Make for fresh water and pasture, where you can turn
out your animals to graze."]

and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of every
[Chang Yu says: "The dryness of the climate will prevent the outbreak
of illness."]

and this will spell victory.
13. When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the sunny side, with the
slope on your right rear. Thus you will at once act for the benefit of
your soldiers and utilise the natural advantages of the ground.
14. When, in consequence of heavy rains up-country, a river which you
wish to ford is swollen and flecked with foam, you must wait until it
15. Country in which there are precipitous cliffs with torrents running
between, deep natural hollows,
The latter defined as "places enclosed on every side by steep banks,
with pools of water at the bottom."]

confined places,
[Defined as "natural pens or prisons" or "places surrounded by
precipices on three sides—easy to get into, but hard to get out of."]

tangled thickets,
[Defined as "places covered with such dense undergrowth that spears
cannot be used."]

[Defined as "low-lying places, so heavy with mud as to be impassable
for chariots and horsemen."]

and crevasses,
[Defined by Mei Yao-ch’en as "a narrow difficult way between beetling
cliffs." Tu Mu’s note is "ground covered with trees and rocks, and
intersected by numerous ravines and pitfalls." This is very vague, but
Chia Lin explains it clearly enough as a defile or narrow pass, and
Chang Yu takes much the same view. On the whole, the weight of the
commentators certainly inclines to the rendering "defile." But the
ordinary meaning of the Chinese in one place is "a crack or fissure"
and the fact that the meaning of the Chinese elsewhere in the sentence
indicates something in the nature of a defile, make me think that Sun
Tzŭ is here speaking of crevasses.]

should be left with all possible speed and not approached.
16. While we keep away from such places, we should get the enemy to
approach them; while we face them, we should let the enemy have them on
his rear.
17. If in the neighbourhood of your camp there should be any hilly
country, ponds surrounded by aquatic grass, hollow basins filled with
reeds, or woods with thick undergrowth, they must be carefully routed
out and searched; for these are places where men in ambush or insidious
spies are likely to be lurking.
[Chang Yu has the note: "We must also be on our guard against traitors
who may lie in close covert, secretly spying out our weaknesses and
overhearing our instructions."]

18. When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is relying on
the natural strength of his position.
[Here begin Sun Tzŭ’s remarks on the reading of signs, much of which is
so good that it could almost be included in a modern manual like Gen.
Baden-Powell’s "Aids to Scouting."]

19. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious
for the other side to advance.
[Probably because we are in a strong position from which he wishes to
dislodge us. "If he came close up to us, says Tu Mu, "and tried to
force a battle, he would seem to despise us, and there would be less
probability of our responding to the challenge."]

20. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is tendering a
21. Movement amongst the trees of a forest shows that the enemy is