The Art of War - 08

[Ts’ao Kung explains this as "felling trees to clear a passage," and
Chang Yu says: "Every man sends out scouts to climb high places and
observe the enemy. If a scout sees that the trees of a forest are
moving and shaking, he may know that they are being cut down to clear a
passage for the enemy’s march."]

The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of thick grass means
that the enemy wants to make us suspicious.
[Tu Yu’s explanation, borrowed from Ts’ao Kung’s, is as follows: "The
presence of a number of screens or sheds in the midst of thick
vegetation is a sure sign that the enemy has fled and, fearing pursuit,
has constructed these hiding-places in order to make us suspect an
ambush." It appears that these "screens" were hastily knotted together
out of any long grass which the retreating enemy happened to come

22. The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an ambuscade.
[Chang Yu’s explanation is doubtless right: "When birds that are flying
along in a straight line suddenly shoot upwards, it means that soldiers
are in ambush at the spot beneath."]

Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming.
23. When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of
chariots advancing; when the dust is low, but spread over a wide area,
it betokens the approach of infantry.
["High and sharp," or rising to a peak, is of course somewhat
exaggerated as applied to dust. The commentators explain the phenomenon
by saying that horses and chariots, being heavier than men, raise more
dust, and also follow one another in the same wheel-track, whereas
foot-soldiers would be marching in ranks, many abreast. According to
Chang Yu, "every army on the march must have scouts some way in
advance, who on sighting dust raised by the enemy, will gallop back and
report it to the commander-in-chief." Cf. Gen. Baden-Powell: "As you
move along, say, in a hostile country, your eyes should be looking afar
for the enemy or any signs of him: figures, dust rising, birds getting
up, glitter of arms, etc." [1] ]

When it branches out in different directions, it shows that parties
have been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and
fro signify that the army is encamping.
[Chang Yu says: "In apportioning the defences for a cantonment, light
horse will be sent out to survey the position and ascertain the weak
and strong points all along its circumference. Hence the small quantity
of dust and its motion."]

24. Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is
about to advance.
["As though they stood in great fear of us," says Tu Mu. "Their object
is to make us contemptuous and careless, after which they will attack
us." Chang Yu alludes to the story of T’ien Tan of the Ch’i-mo against
the Yen forces, led by Ch’i Chieh. In ch. 82 of the _Shih Chi_ we read:
"T’ien Tan openly said: ‘My only fear is that the Yen army may cut off
the noses of their Ch’i prisoners and place them in the front rank to
fight against us; that would be the undoing of our city.’ The other
side being informed of this speech, at once acted on the suggestion;
but those within the city were enraged at seeing their
fellow-countrymen thus mutilated, and fearing only lest they should
fall into the enemy’s hands, were nerved to defend themselves more
obstinately than ever. Once again T’ien Tan sent back converted spies
who reported these words to the enemy: "What I dread most is that the
men of Yen may dig up the ancestral tombs outside the town, and by
inflicting this indignity on our forefathers cause us to become
faint-hearted.’ Forthwith the besiegers dug up all the graves and
burned the corpses lying in them. And the inhabitants of Chi-mo,
witnessing the outrage from the city-walls, wept passionately and were
all impatient to go out and fight, their fury being increased tenfold.
T’ien Tan knew then that his soldiers were ready for any enterprise.
But instead of a sword, he himself took a mattock in his hands, and
ordered others to be distributed amongst his best warriors, while the
ranks were filled up with their wives and concubines. He then served
out all the remaining rations and bade his men eat their fill. The
regular soldiers were told to keep out of sight, and the walls were
manned with the old and weaker men and with women. This done, envoys
were dispatched to the enemy’s camp to arrange terms of surrender,
whereupon the Yen army began shouting for joy. T’ien Tan also collected
20,000 ounces of silver from the people, and got the wealthy citizens
of Chi-mo to send it to the Yen general with the prayer that, when the
town capitulated, he would not allow their homes to be plundered or
their women to be maltreated. Ch’i Chieh, in high good humor, granted
their prayer; but his army now became increasingly slack and careless.
Meanwhile, T’ien Tan got together a thousand oxen, decked them with
pieces of red silk, painted their bodies, dragon-like, with colored
stripes, and fastened sharp blades on their horns and well-greased
rushes on their tails. When night came on, he lighted the ends of the
rushes, and drove the oxen through a number of holes which he had
pierced in the walls, backing them up with a force of 5000 picked
warriors. The animals, maddened with pain, dashed furiously into the
enemy’s camp where they caused the utmost confusion and dismay; for
their tails acted as torches, showing up the hideous pattern on their
bodies, and the weapons on their horns killed or wounded any with whom
they came into contact. In the meantime, the band of 5000 had crept up
with gags in their mouths, and now threw themselves on the enemy. At
the same moment a frightful din arose in the city itself, all those
that remained behind making as much noise as possible by banging drums
and hammering on bronze vessels, until heaven and earth were convulsed
by the uproar. Terror-stricken, the Yen army fled in disorder, hotly
pursued by the men of Ch’i, who succeeded in slaying their general Ch’i
Chien…. The result of the battle was the ultimate recovery of some
seventy cities which had belonged to the Ch’i State."]

Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that
he will retreat.
25. When the light chariots come out first and take up a position on
the wings, it is a sign that the enemy is forming for battle.
26. Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot.
[The reading here is uncertain. Li Ch’uan indicates "a treaty confirmed
by oaths and hostages." Wang Hsi and Chang Yu, on the other hand,
simply say "without reason," "on a frivolous pretext."]

27. When there is much running about
[Every man hastening to his proper place under his own regimental

and the soldiers fall into rank, it means that the critical moment has
28. When some are seen advancing and some retreating, it is a lure.
29. When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears, they are faint
from want of food.
30. If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves,
the army is suffering from thirst.
[As Tu Mu remarks: "One may know the condition of a whole army from the
behavior of a single man."]

31. If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes no effort to
secure it, the soldiers are exhausted.
32. If birds gather on any spot, it is unoccupied.
[A useful fact to bear in mind when, for instance, as Ch’en Hao says,
the enemy has secretly abandoned his camp.]

Clamour by night betokens nervousness.
33. If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is
weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If
the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary.
[Tu Mu understands the sentence differently: "If all the officers of an
army are angry with their general, it means that they are broken with
fatigue" owing to the exertions which he has demanded from them.]

34. When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for
[In the ordinary course of things, the men would be fed on grain and
the horses chiefly on grass.]

and when the men do not hang their cooking-pots over the camp-fires,
showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that
they are determined to fight to the death.
[I may quote here the illustrative passage from the _Hou Han Shu_, ch.
71, given in abbreviated form by the _P’ei Wen Yun Fu:_ "The rebel Wang
Kuo of Liang was besieging the town of Ch’en- ts’ang, and Huang-fu
Sung, who was in supreme command, and Tung Cho were sent out against
him. The latter pressed for hasty measures, but Sung turned a deaf ear
to his counsel. At last the rebels were utterly worn out, and began to
throw down their weapons of their own accord. Sung was not advancing to
the attack, but Cho said: ‘It is a principle of war not to pursue
desperate men and not to press a retreating host.’ Sung answered: ‘That
does not apply here. What I am about to attack is a jaded army, not a
retreating host; with disciplined troops I am falling on a disorganized
multitude, not a band of desperate men.’ Thereupon he advances to the
attack unsupported by his colleague, and routed the enemy, Wang Kuo
being slain."]

35. The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in
subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file.
36. Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of his
[Because, when an army is hard pressed, as Tu Mu says, there is always
a fear of mutiny, and lavish rewards are given to keep the men in good

too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress.
[Because in such case discipline becomes relaxed, and unwonted severity
is necessary to keep the men to their duty.]

37. To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the enemy’s
numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.
[I follow the interpretation of Ts’ao Kung, also adopted by Li Ch’uan,
Tu Mu, and Chang Yu. Another possible meaning set forth by Tu Yu, Chia
Lin, Mei Tao-ch’en and Wang Hsi, is: "The general who is first
tyrannical towards his men, and then in terror lest they should mutiny,
etc." This would connect the sentence with what went before about
rewards and punishments.]

38. When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign
that the enemy wishes for a truce.
[Tu Mu says: "If the enemy open friendly relations be sending hostages,
it is a sign that they are anxious for an armistice, either because
their strength is exhausted or for some other reason." But it hardly
needs a Sun Tzŭ to draw such an obvious inference.]

39. If the enemy’s troops march up angrily and remain facing ours for a
long time without either joining battle or taking themselves off again,
the situation is one that demands great vigilance and circumspection.
[Ts’ao Kung says a manœuver of this sort may be only a ruse to gain
time for an unexpected flank attack or the laying of an ambush.]

40. If our troops are no more in number than the enemy, that is amply
sufficient; it only means that no direct attack can be made.
[Literally, "no martial advance." That is to say, _cheng_ tactics and
frontal attacks must be eschewed, and stratagem resorted to instead.]

What we can do is simply to concentrate all our available strength,
keep a close watch on the enemy, and obtain reinforcements.
[This is an obscure sentence, and none of the commentators succeed in
squeezing very good sense out of it. I follow Li Ch’uan, who appears to
offer the simplest explanation: "Only the side that gets more men will
win." Fortunately we have Chang Yu to expound its meaning to us in
language which is lucidity itself: "When the numbers are even, and no
favourable opening presents itself, although we may not be strong enough
to deliver a sustained attack, we can find additional recruits amongst
our sutlers and camp-followers, and then, concentrating our forces and
keeping a close watch on the enemy, contrive to snatch the victory. But
we must avoid borrowing foreign soldiers to help us." He then quotes
from Wei Liao Tzŭ, ch. 3: "The nominal strength of mercenary troops may
be 100,000, but their real value will be not more than half that

41. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is
sure to be captured by them.
[Ch’en Hao, quoting from the _Tso Chuan_, says: "If bees and scorpions
carry poison, how much more will a hostile state! Even a puny opponent,
then, should not be treated with contempt."]

42. If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you,
they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be
practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you,
punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless.
43. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with
humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline.
[Yen Tzŭ [B.C. 493] said of Ssu-ma Jang-chu: "His civil virtues
endeared him to the people; his martial prowess kept his enemies in
awe." Cf. Wu Tzŭ, ch. 4 init.: "The ideal commander unites culture with
a warlike temper; the profession of arms requires a combination of
hardness and tenderness."]

This is a certain road to victory.
44. If in training soldiers commands are habitually enforced, the army
will be well-disciplined; if not, its discipline will be bad.
45. If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his
orders being obeyed,
[Tu Mu says: "A general ought in time of peace to show kindly
confidence in his men and also make his authority respected, so that
when they come to face the enemy, orders may be executed and discipline
maintained, because they all trust and look up to him." What Sun Tzŭ
has said in § 44, however, would lead one rather to expect something
like this: "If a general is always confident that his orders will be
carried out," etc."]

the gain will be mutual.
[Chang Yu says: "The general has confidence in the men under his
command, and the men are docile, having confidence in him. Thus the
gain is mutual." He quotes a pregnant sentence from Wei Liao Tzŭ, ch.
4: "The art of giving orders is not to try to rectify minor blunders
and not to be swayed by petty doubts." Vacillation and fussiness are
the surest means of sapping the confidence of an army.]

[1] "Aids to Scouting," p. 26.

Chapter X. TERRAIN
[Only about a third of the chapter, comprising §§ 1-13, deals with
"terrain," the subject being more fully treated in ch. XI. The "six
calamities" are discussed in §§ 14-20, and the rest of the chapter is
again a mere string of desultory remarks, though not less interesting,
perhaps, on that account.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit: (1)
Accessible ground;
[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "plentifully provided with roads and means of

(2) entangling ground;
[The same commentator says: "Net-like country, venturing into which you
become entangled."]

(3) temporising ground;
[Ground which allows you to "stave off" or "delay."]

(4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a great
distance from the enemy.
[It is hardly necessary to point out the faultiness of this
classification. A strange lack of logical perception is shown in the
Chinaman’s unquestioning acceptance of glaring cross-divisions such as
the above.]

2. Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is called
3. With regard to ground of this nature, be before the enemy in
occupying the raised and sunny spots, and carefully guard your line of
[The general meaning of the last phrase is doubtlessly, as Tu Yu says,
"not to allow the enemy to cut your communications." In view of
Napoleon’s dictum, "the secret of war lies in the communications," [1]
we could wish that Sun Tzŭ had done more than skirt the edge of this
important subject here and in I. § 10, VII. § 11. Col. Henderson says:
"The line of supply may be said to be as vital to the existence of an
army as the heart to the life of a human being. Just as the duelist who
finds his adversary’s point menacing him with certain death, and his
own guard astray, is compelled to conform to his adversary’s movements,
and to content himself with warding off his thrusts, so the commander
whose communications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false
position, and he will be fortunate if he has not to change all his
plans, to split up his force into more or less isolated detachments,
and to fight with inferior numbers on ground which he has not had time
to prepare, and where defeat will not be an ordinary failure, but will
entail the ruin or surrender of his whole army." [2]

Then you will be able to fight with advantage.
4. Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called
5. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may
sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your
coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible,
disaster will ensue.
6. When the position is such that neither side will gain by making the
first move, it is called _temporising_ ground.
[Tu Mu says: "Each side finds it inconvenient to move, and the
situation remains at a deadlock."]

7. In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should offer us an
attractive bait,
[Tu Yu says, "turning their backs on us and pretending to flee." But
this is only one of the lures which might induce us to quit our

it will be advisable not to stir forth, but rather to retreat, thus
enticing the enemy in his turn; then, when part of his army has come
out, we may deliver our attack with advantage.
8. With regard to _narrow passes_, if you can occupy them first, let
them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy.
[Because then, as Tu Yu observes, "the initiative will lie with us, and
by making sudden and unexpected attacks we shall have the enemy at our

9. Should the enemy forestall you in occupying a pass, do not go after
him if the pass is fully garrisoned, but only if it is weakly
10. With regard to _precipitous heights_, if you are beforehand with
your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there
wait for him to come up.
[Ts’ao Kung says: "The particular advantage of securing heights and
defiles is that your actions cannot then be dictated by the enemy."
[For the enunciation of the grand principle alluded to, see VI. § 2].
Chang Yu tells the following anecdote of P’ei Hsing-chien (A.D.
619-682), who was sent on a punitive expedition against the Turkic
tribes. "At night he pitched his camp as usual, and it had already been
completely fortified by wall and ditch, when suddenly he gave orders
that the army should shift its quarters to a hill near by. This was
highly displeasing to his officers, who protested loudly against the
extra fatigue which it would entail on the men. P’ei Hsing-chien,
however, paid no heed to their remonstrances and had the camp moved as
quickly as possible. The same night, a terrific storm came on, which
flooded their former place of encampment to the depth of over twelve
feet. The recalcitrant officers were amazed at the sight, and owned
that they had been in the wrong. ‘How did you know what was going to
happen?’ they asked. P’ei Hsing-chien replied: ‘From this time forward
be content to obey orders without asking unnecessary questions.’ From
this it may be seen," Chang Yu continues, "that high and sunny places
are advantageous not only for fighting, but also because they are
immune from disastrous floods."]

11. If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him, but
retreat and try to entice him away.
[The turning point of Li Shih-min’s campaign in 621 A.D. against the
two rebels, Tou Chien-te, King of Hsia, and Wang Shih-ch’ung, Prince of
Cheng, was his seizure of the heights of Wu-lao, in spite of which Tou
Chien-te persisted in his attempt to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was
defeated and taken prisoner. See _Chiu T’ang Shu_, ch. 2, fol. 5 verso,
and also ch. 54.]

12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the
strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to provoke a
[The point is that we must not think of undertaking a long and
wearisome march, at the end of which, as Tu Yu says, "we should be
exhausted and our adversary fresh and keen."]

and fighting will be to your disadvantage.
13. These six are the principles connected with Earth.
[Or perhaps, "the principles relating to ground." See, however, I. §

The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful to
study them.
14. Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not arising from
natural causes, but from faults for which the general is responsible.
These are: (1) Flight; (2) insubordination; (3) collapse; (4) ruin; (5)
disorganisation; (6) rout.
15. Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against
another ten times its size, the result will be the _flight_ of the
16. When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too
weak, the result is _insubordination_.
[Tu Mu cites the unhappy case of T’ien Pu [_Hsin T’ang Shu_, ch. 148],
who was sent to Wei in 821 A.D. with orders to lead an army against
Wang T’ing-ts’ou. But the whole time he was in command, his soldiers
treated him with the utmost contempt, and openly flouted his authority
by riding about the camp on donkeys, several thousands at a time. T’ien
Pu was powerless to put a stop to this conduct, and when, after some
months had passed, he made an attempt to engage the enemy, his troops
turned tail and dispersed in every direction. After that, the
unfortunate man committed suicide by cutting his throat.]

When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the
result is _collapse_.
[Ts’ao Kung says: "The officers are energetic and want to press on, the
common soldiers are feeble and suddenly collapse."]

17. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on
meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of
resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or no he is
in a position to fight, the result is _ruin_.
[Wang Hsi’s note is: "This means, the general is angry without cause,
and at the same time does not appreciate the ability of his subordinate
officers; thus he arouses fierce resentment and brings an avalanche of
ruin upon his head."]

18. When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are
not clear and distinct;
[Wei Liao Tzŭ (ch. 4) says: "If the commander gives his orders with
decision, the soldiers will not wait to hear them twice; if his moves
are made without vacillation, the soldiers will not be in two minds
about doing their duty." General Baden-Powell says, italicizing the
words: "The secret of getting successful work out of your trained men
lies in one nutshell—in the clearness of the instructions they
receive." [3] Cf. also Wu Tzŭ ch. 3: "the most fatal defect in a
military leader is difference; the worst calamities that befall an army
arise from hesitation."]

when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men,
[Tu Mu says: "Neither officers nor men have any regular routine."]

and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is
utter _disorganisation_.
19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an
inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment
against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the
front rank, the result must be a _rout_.
[Chang Yu paraphrases the latter part of the sentence and continues:
"Whenever there is fighting to be done, the keenest spirits should be
appointed to serve in the front ranks, both in order to strengthen the
resolution of our own men and to demoralize the enemy." Cf. the primi
ordines of Caesar ("De Bello Gallico," V. 28, 44, et al.).]

20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully
noted by the general who has attained a responsible post.
[See _supra_, § 13.]

21. The natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally;
[Ch’en Hao says: "The advantages of weather and season are not equal to
those connected with ground."]

but a power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of
victory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and
distances, constitutes the test of a great general.
22. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into
practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practises
them, will surely be defeated.
23. If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even
though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory,
then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding.
[Cf. VIII. § 3 fin. Huang Shih-kung of the Ch’in dynasty, who is said
to have been the patron of Chang Liang and to have written the _San
Lueh_, has these words attributed to him: "The responsibility of
setting an army in motion must devolve on the general alone; if advance
and retreat are controlled from the Palace, brilliant results will
hardly be achieved. Hence the god-like ruler and the enlightened
monarch are content to play a humble part in furthering their country’s
cause [lit., kneel down to push the chariot wheel]." This means that
"in matters lying outside the zenana, the decision of the military
commander must be absolute." Chang Yu also quote the saying: "Decrees
from the Son of Heaven do not penetrate the walls of a camp."]

24. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without
fearing disgrace,
[It was Wellington, I think, who said that the hardest thing of all for
a soldier is to retreat.]

whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for
his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
[A noble presentiment, in few words, of the Chinese "happy warrior."
Such a man, says Ho Shih, "even if he had to suffer punishment, would
not regret his conduct."]

25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you
into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and
they will stand by you even unto death.
[Cf. I. § 6. In this connection, Tu Mu draws for us an engaging picture
of the famous general Wu Ch’i, from whose treatise on war I have
frequently had occasion to quote: "He wore the same clothes and ate the
same food as the meanest of his soldiers, refused to have either a
horse to ride or a mat to sleep on, carried his own surplus rations
wrapped in a parcel, and shared every hardship with his men. One of his
soldiers was suffering from an abscess, and Wu Ch’i himself sucked out
the virus. The soldier’s mother, hearing this, began wailing and
lamenting. Somebody asked her, saying: ‘Why do you cry? Your son is
only a common soldier, and yet the commander-in-chief himself has
sucked the poison from his sore.’ The woman replied, ‘Many years ago,
Lord Wu performed a similar service for my husband, who never left him
afterwards, and finally met his death at the hands of the enemy. And
now that he has done the same for my son, he too will fall fighting I
know not where.’" Li Ch’uan mentions the Viscount of Ch’u, who invaded
the small state of Hsiao during the winter. The Duke of Shen said to
him: "Many of the soldiers are suffering severely from the cold." So he