The Art of War - 09

made a round of the whole army, comforting and encouraging the men; and
straightway they felt as if they were clothed in garments lined with
floss silk.]

26. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority
felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable,
moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to
spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.
[Li Ching once said that if you could make your soldiers afraid of you,
they would not be afraid of the enemy. Tu Mu recalls an instance of
stern military discipline which occurred in 219 A.D., when Lu Meng was
occupying the town of Chiang-ling. He had given stringent orders to his
army not to molest the inhabitants nor take anything from them by
force. Nevertheless, a certain officer serving under his banner, who
happened to be a fellow-townsman, ventured to appropriate a bamboo hat
belonging to one of the people, in order to wear it over his regulation
helmet as a protection against the rain. Lu Meng considered that the
fact of his being also a native of Ju-nan should not be allowed to
palliate a clear breach of discipline, and accordingly he ordered his
summary execution, the tears rolling down his face, however, as he did
so. This act of severity filled the army with wholesome awe, and from
that time forth even articles dropped in the highway were not picked

27. If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are
unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway
towards victory.
[That is, Ts’ao Kung says, "the issue in this case is uncertain."]

28. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that
our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway
towards victory.
[Cf. III. § 13 (1).]

29. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our
men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of
the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only
halfway towards victory.
30. Hence the experienced soldier, once in motion, is never bewildered;
once he has broken camp, he is never at a loss.
[The reason being, according to Tu Mu, that he has taken his measures
so thoroughly as to ensure victory beforehand. "He does not move
recklessly," says Chang Yu, "so that when he does move, he makes no

31. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your
victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you
may make your victory complete.
[Li Ch’uan sums up as follows: "Given a knowledge of three things—the
affairs of men, the seasons of heaven and the natural advantages of
earth—, victory will invariably crown your battles."]

[1] See "Pensees de Napoleon 1er," no. 47.
[2] "The Science of War," chap. 2.
[3] "Aids to Scouting," p. xii.

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The art of war recognises nine varieties of ground:
(1) Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4)
open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground;
(7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground; (9) desperate ground.
2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive
[So called because the soldiers, being near to their homes and anxious
to see their wives and children, are likely to seize the opportunity
afforded by a battle and scatter in every direction. "In their
advance," observes Tu Mu, "they will lack the valor of desperation, and
when they retreat, they will find harbors of refuge."]

3. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great
distance, it is facile ground.
[Li Ch’uan and Ho Shih say "because of the facility for retreating,"
and the other commentators give similar explanations. Tu Mu remarks:
"When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and
bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no
hankering after home."]

4. Ground the possession of which imports great advantage to either
side, is contentious ground.
[Tu Mu defines the ground as ground "to be contended for." Ts’ao Kung
says: "ground on which the few and the weak can defeat the many and the
strong," such as "the neck of a pass," instanced by Li Ch’uan. Thus,
Thermopylae was of this classification because the possession of it,
even for a few days only, meant holding the entire invading army in
check and thus gaining invaluable time. Cf. Wu Tzŭ, ch. V. ad init.:
"For those who have to fight in the ratio of one to ten, there is
nothing better than a narrow pass." When Lu Kuang was returning from
his triumphant expedition to Turkestan in 385 A.D., and had got as far
as I-ho, laden with spoils, Liang Hsi, administrator of Liang-chou,
taking advantage of the death of Fu Chien, King of Ch’in, plotted
against him and was for barring his way into the province. Yang Han,
governor of Kao-ch’ang, counseled him, saying: "Lu Kuang is fresh from
his victories in the west, and his soldiers are vigorous and
mettlesome. If we oppose him in the shifting sands of the desert, we
shall be no match for him, and we must therefore try a different plan.
Let us hasten to occupy the defile at the mouth of the Kao-wu pass,
thus cutting him off from supplies of water, and when his troops are
prostrated with thirst, we can dictate our own terms without moving. Or
if you think that the pass I mention is too far off, we could make a
stand against him at the I-wu pass, which is nearer. The cunning and
resource of Tzŭ-fang himself would be expended in vain against the
enormous strength of these two positions." Liang Hsi, refusing to act
on this advice, was overwhelmed and swept away by the invader.]

5. Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is open ground.
[There are various interpretations of the Chinese adjective for this
type of ground. Ts’ao Kung says it means "ground covered with a network
of roads," like a chessboard. Ho Shih suggested: "ground on which
intercommunication is easy."]

6. Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states,
[Ts’au Kung defines this as: "Our country adjoining the enemy’s and a
third country conterminous with both." Meng Shih instances the small
principality of Cheng, which was bounded on the north-east by Ch’i, on
the west by Chin, and on the south by Ch’u.]

so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his command,
[The belligerent who holds this dominating position can constrain most
of them to become his allies.]

is ground of intersecting highways.
7. When an army has penetrated into the heart of a hostile country,
leaving a number of fortified cities in its rear, it is serious ground.
[Wang Hsi explains the name by saying that "when an army has reached
such a point, its situation is serious."]

8. Mountain forests,
[Or simply "forests."]

rugged steeps, marshes and fens—all country that is hard to traverse:
this is difficult ground.
9. Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can
only retire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy
would suffice to crush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in
10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting
without delay, is desperate ground.
[The situation, as pictured by Ts’ao Kung, is very similar to the
"hemmed-in ground" except that here escape is no longer possible: "A
lofty mountain in front, a large river behind, advance impossible,
retreat blocked." Ch’en Hao says: "to be on ‘desperate ground’ is like
sitting in a leaking boat or crouching in a burning house." Tu Mu
quotes from Li Ching a vivid description of the plight of an army thus
entrapped: "Suppose an army invading hostile territory without the aid
of local guides:—it falls into a fatal snare and is at the enemy’s
mercy. A ravine on the left, a mountain on the right, a pathway so
perilous that the horses have to be roped together and the chariots
carried in slings, no passage open in front, retreat cut off behind, no
choice but to proceed in single file. Then, before there is time to
range our soldiers in order of battle, the enemy is overwhelming
strength suddenly appears on the scene. Advancing, we can nowhere take
a breathing-space; retreating, we have no haven of refuge. We seek a
pitched battle, but in vain; yet standing on the defensive, none of us
has a moment’s respite. If we simply maintain our ground, whole days
and months will crawl by; the moment we make a move, we have to sustain
the enemy’s attacks on front and rear. The country is wild, destitute
of water and plants; the army is lacking in the necessaries of life,
the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, all the resources of
strength and skill unavailing, the pass so narrow that a single man
defending it can check the onset of ten thousand; all means of offense
in the hands of the enemy, all points of vantage already forfeited by
ourselves:—in this terrible plight, even though we had the most valiant
soldiers and the keenest of weapons, how could they be employed with
the slightest effect?" Students of Greek history may be reminded of the
awful close to the Sicilian expedition, and the agony of the Athenians
under Nicias and Demonsthenes. [See Thucydides, VII. 78 sqq.].]

11. On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt
not. On contentious ground, attack not.
[But rather let all your energies be bent on occupying the advantageous
position first. So Ts’ao Kung. Li Ch’uan and others, however, suppose
the meaning to be that the enemy has already forestalled us, sot that
it would be sheer madness to attack. In the _Sun Tzŭ Hsu Lu_, when the
King of Wu inquires what should be done in this case, Sun Tzŭ replies:
"The rule with regard to contentious ground is that those in possession
have the advantage over the other side. If a position of this kind is
secured first by the enemy, beware of attacking him. Lure him away by
pretending to flee—show your banners and sound your drums—make a dash
for other places that he cannot afford to lose—trail brushwood and
raise a dust—confound his ears and eyes—detach a body of your best
troops, and place it secretly in ambuscade. Then your opponent will
sally forth to the rescue."]

12. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy’s way.
[Because the attempt would be futile, and would expose the blocking
force itself to serious risks. There are two interpretations available
here. I follow that of Chang Yu. The other is indicated in Ts’ao Kung’s
brief note: "Draw closer together"—i.e., see that a portion of your own
army is not cut off.]

On ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies.
[Or perhaps, "form alliances with neighbouring states."]

13. On serious ground, gather in plunder.
[On this, Li Ch’uan has the following delicious note: "When an army
penetrates far into the enemy’s country, care must be taken not to
alienate the people by unjust treatment. Follow the example of the Han
Emperor Kao Tsu, whose march into Ch’in territory was marked by no
violation of women or looting of valuables. [Nota bene: this was in 207
B.C., and may well cause us to blush for the Christian armies that
entered Peking in 1900 A.D.] Thus he won the hearts of all. In the
present passage, then, I think that the true reading must be, not
‘plunder,’ but ‘do not plunder.’" Alas, I fear that in this instance
the worthy commentator’s feelings outran his judgment. Tu Mu, at least,
has no such illusions. He says: "When encamped on ‘serious ground,’
there being no inducement as yet to advance further, and no possibility
of retreat, one ought to take measures for a protracted resistance by
bringing in provisions from all sides, and keep a close watch on the

In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.
[Or, in the words of VIII. § 2, "do not encamp.]

14. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.
[Ts’au Kung says: "Try the effect of some unusual artifice;" and Tu Yu
amplifies this by saying: "In such a position, some scheme must be
devised which will suit the circumstances, and if we can succeed in
deluding the enemy, the peril may be escaped." This is exactly what
happened on the famous occasion when Hannibal was hemmed in among the
mountains on the road to Casilinum, and to all appearances entrapped by
the dictator Fabius. The stratagem which Hannibal devised to baffle his
foes was remarkably like that which T’ien Tan had also employed with
success exactly 62 years before. [See IX. § 24, note.] When night came
on, bundles of twigs were fastened to the horns of some 2000 oxen and
set on fire, the terrified animals being then quickly driven along the
mountain side towards the passes which were beset by the enemy. The
strange spectacle of these rapidly moving lights so alarmed and
discomfited the Romans that they withdrew from their position, and
Hannibal’s army passed safely through the defile. [See Polybius, III.
93, 94; Livy, XXII. 16 17.]

On desperate ground, fight.
[For, as Chia Lin remarks: "if you fight with all your might, there is
a chance of life; where as death is certain if you cling to your

15. Those who were called skilful leaders of old knew how to drive a
wedge between the enemy’s front and rear;
[More literally, "cause the front and rear to lose touch with each

to prevent co-operation between his large and small divisions; to
hinder the good troops from rescuing the bad, the officers from
rallying their men.
16. When the enemy’s men were scattered, they prevented them from
concentrating; even when their forces were united, they managed to keep
them in disorder.
17. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when
otherwise, they stopped still.
[Mei Yao-ch’en connects this with the foregoing: "Having succeeded in
thus dislocating the enemy, they would push forward in order to secure
any advantage to be gained; if there was no advantage to be gained,
they would remain where they were."]

18. If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly
array and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say: "Begin
by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be
amenable to your will."
[Opinions differ as to what Sun Tzŭ had in mind. Ts’ao Kung thinks it
is "some strategical advantage on which the enemy is depending." Tu Mu
says: "The three things which an enemy is anxious to do, and on the
accomplishment of which his success depends, are: (1) to capture our
favourable positions; (2) to ravage our cultivated land; (3) to guard
his own communications." Our object then must be to thwart his plans in
these three directions and thus render him helpless. [Cf. III. § 3.] By
boldly seizing the initiative in this way, you at once throw the other
side on the defensive.]

19. Rapidity is the essence of war:
[According to Tu Mu, "this is a summary of leading principles in
warfare," and he adds: "These are the profoundest truths of military
science, and the chief business of the general." The following
anecdotes, told by Ho Shih, shows the importance attached to speed by
two of China’s greatest generals. In 227 A.D., Meng Ta, governor of
Hsin-ch’eng under the Wei Emperor Wen Ti, was meditating defection to
the House of Shu, and had entered into correspondence with Chu-ko
Liang, Prime Minister of that State. The Wei general Ssu-ma I was then
military governor of Wan, and getting wind of Meng Ta’s treachery, he
at once set off with an army to anticipate his revolt, having
previously cajoled him by a specious message of friendly import.
Ssu-ma’s officers came to him and said: "If Meng Ta has leagued himself
with Wu and Shu, the matter should be thoroughly investigated before we
make a move." Ssu-ma I replied: "Meng Ta is an unprincipled man, and we
ought to go and punish him at once, while he is still wavering and
before he has thrown off the mask." Then, by a series of forced
marches, be brought his army under the walls of Hsin-ch’eng with in a
space of eight days. Now Meng Ta had previously said in a letter to
Chu-ko Liang: "Wan is 1200 _li_ from here. When the news of my revolt
reaches Ssu-ma I, he will at once inform his imperial master, but it
will be a whole month before any steps can be taken, and by that time
my city will be well fortified. Besides, Ssu-ma I is sure not to come
himself, and the generals that will be sent against us are not worth
troubling about." The next letter, however, was filled with
consternation: "Though only eight days have passed since I threw off my
allegiance, an army is already at the city-gates. What miraculous
rapidity is this!" A fortnight later, Hsin- ch’eng had fallen and Meng
Ta had lost his head. [See _Chin Shu_, ch. 1, f. 3.] In 621 A.D., Li
Ching was sent from K’uei-chou in Ssu-ch’uan to reduce the successful
rebel Hsiao Hsien, who had set up as Emperor at the modern Ching-chou
Fu in Hupeh. It was autumn, and the Yangtsze being then in flood, Hsiao
Hsien never dreamt that his adversary would venture to come down
through the gorges, and consequently made no preparations. But Li Ching
embarked his army without loss of time, and was just about to start
when the other generals implored him to postpone his departure until
the river was in a less dangerous state for navigation. Li Ching
replied: "To the soldier, overwhelming speed is of paramount
importance, and he must never miss opportunities. Now is the time to
strike, before Hsiao Hsien even knows that we have got an army
together. If we seize the present moment when the river is in flood, we
shall appear before his capital with startling suddenness, like the
thunder which is heard before you have time to stop your ears against
it. [See VII. § 19, note.] This is the great principle in war. Even if
he gets to know of our approach, he will have to levy his soldiers in
such a hurry that they will not be fit to oppose us. Thus the full
fruits of victory will be ours." All came about as he predicted, and
Hsiao Hsien was obliged to surrender, nobly stipulating that his people
should be spared and he alone suffer the penalty of death.]

take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected
routes, and attack unguarded spots.
20. The following are the principles to be observed by an invading
force: The further you penetrate into a country, the greater will be
the solidarity of your troops, and thus the defenders will not prevail
against you.
21. Make forays in fertile country in order to supply your army with
[Cf. _supra_, § 13. Li Ch’uan does not venture on a note here.]

22. Carefully study the well-being of your men,
[For "well-being", Wang Hsi means, "Pet them, humor them, give them
plenty of food and drink, and look after them generally."]

and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your
[Ch’en recalls the line of action adopted in 224 B.C. by the famous
general Wang Chien, whose military genius largely contributed to the
success of the First Emperor. He had invaded the Ch’u State, where a
universal levy was made to oppose him. But, being doubtful of the
temper of his troops, he declined all invitations to fight and remained
strictly on the defensive. In vain did the Ch’u general try to force a
battle: day after day Wang Chien kept inside his walls and would not
come out, but devoted his whole time and energy to winning the
affection and confidence of his men. He took care that they should be
well fed, sharing his own meals with them, provided facilities for
bathing, and employed every method of judicious indulgence to weld them
into a loyal and homogenous body. After some time had elapsed, he told
off certain persons to find out how the men were amusing themselves.
The answer was, that they were contending with one another in putting
the weight and long-jumping. When Wang Chien heard that they were
engaged in these athletic pursuits, he knew that their spirits had been
strung up to the required pitch and that they were now ready for
fighting. By this time the Ch’u army, after repeating their challenge
again and again, had marched away eastwards in disgust. The Ch’in
general immediately broke up his camp and followed them, and in the
battle that ensued they were routed with great slaughter. Shortly
afterwards, the whole of Ch’u was conquered by Ch’in, and the king
Fu-ch’u led into captivity.]

Keep your army continually on the move,
[In order that the enemy may never know exactly where you are. It has
struck me, however, that the true reading might be "link your army

and devise unfathomable plans.
23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and
they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is
nothing they may not achieve.
[Chang Yu quotes his favourite Wei Liao Tzŭ (ch. 3): "If one man were to
run amok with a sword in the market-place, and everybody else tried to
get our of his way, I should not allow that this man alone had courage
and that all the rest were contemptible cowards. The truth is, that a
desperado and a man who sets some value on his life do not meet on even

Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.
[Chang Yu says: "If they are in an awkward place together, they will
surely exert their united strength to get out of it."]

24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there
is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in the heart
of a hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no
help for it, they will fight hard.
25. Thus, without waiting to be marshalled, the soldiers will be
constantly on the _qui vive;_ without waiting to be asked, they will do
your will;
[Literally, "without asking, you will get."]

without restrictions, they will be faithful; without giving orders,
they can be trusted.
26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious
doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.
[The superstitious, "bound in to saucy doubts and fears," degenerate
into cowards and "die many times before their deaths." Tu Mu quotes
Huang Shih-kung: "‘Spells and incantations should be strictly
forbidden, and no officer allowed to inquire by divination into the
fortunes of an army, for fear the soldiers’ minds should be seriously
perturbed.’ The meaning is," he continues, "that if all doubts and
scruples are discarded, your men will never falter in their resolution
until they die."]

27. If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because
they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it
is not because they are disinclined to longevity.
[Chang Yu has the best note on this passage: "Wealth and long life are
things for which all men have a natural inclination. Hence, if they
burn or fling away valuables, and sacrifice their own lives, it is not
that they dislike them, but simply that they have no choice." Sun Tzŭ
is slyly insinuating that, as soldiers are but human, it is for the
general to see that temptations to shirk fighting and grow rich are not
thrown in their way.]

28. On the day they are ordered out to battle, your soldiers may weep,
[The word in the Chinese is "snivel." This is taken to indicate more
genuine grief than tears alone.]

those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying down letting
the tears run down their cheeks.
[Not because they are afraid, but because, as Ts’ao Kung says, "all
have embraced the firm resolution to do or die." We may remember that
the heroes of the Iliad were equally childlike in showing their
emotion. Chang Yu alludes to the mournful parting at the I River
between Ching K’o and his friends, when the former was sent to attempt
the life of the King of Ch’in (afterwards First Emperor) in 227 B.C.
The tears of all flowed down like rain as he bade them farewell and
uttered the following lines: "The shrill blast is blowing, Chilly the
burn; Your champion is going—Not to return." [1] ]

But let them once be brought to bay, and they will display the courage
of a Chu or a Kuei.
[Chu was the personal name of Chuan Chu, a native of the Wu State and
contemporary with Sun Tzŭ himself, who was employed by Kung-tzu Kuang,
better known as Ho Lu Wang, to assassinate his sovereign Wang Liao with
a dagger which he secreted in the belly of a fish served up at a
banquet. He succeeded in his attempt, but was immediately hacked to
pieces by the king’s bodyguard. This was in 515 B.C. The other hero
referred to, Ts’ao Kuei (or Ts’ao Mo), performed the exploit which has
made his name famous 166 years earlier, in 681 B.C. Lu had been thrice
defeated by Ch’i, and was just about to conclude a treaty surrendering
a large slice of territory, when Ts’ao Kuei suddenly seized Huan Kung,
the Duke of Ch’i, as he stood on the altar steps and held a dagger
against his chest. None of the duke’s retainers dared to move a muscle,
and Ts’ao Kuei proceeded to demand full restitution, declaring the Lu
was being unjustly treated because she was a smaller and a weaker
state. Huan Kung, in peril of his life, was obliged to consent,
whereupon Ts’ao Kuei flung away his dagger and quietly resumed his
place amid the terrified assemblage without having so much as changed
color. As was to be expected, the Duke wanted afterwards to repudiate
the bargain, but his wise old counselor Kuan Chung pointed out to him
the impolicy of breaking his word, and the upshot was that this bold
stroke regained for Lu the whole of what she had lost in three pitched

29. The skilful tactician may be likened to the _shuai-jan_. Now the
_shuai-jan_ is a snake that is found in the Ch‘ang mountains.
["_Shuai-jan_" means "suddenly" or "rapidly," and the snake in question
was doubtless so called owing to the rapidity of its movements. Through
this passage, the term in the Chinese has now come to be used in the
sense of "military manœuvers."]

Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its
tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and
you will be attacked by head and tail both.
30. Asked if an army can be made to imitate the _shuai-jan_,
[That is, as Mei Yao-ch’en says, "Is it possible to make the front and
rear of an army each swiftly responsive to attack on the other, just as
though they were part of a single living body?"]

I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yüeh are
[Cf. VI. § 21.]

yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a
storm, they will come to each other’s assistance just as the left hand
helps the right.
[The meaning is: If two enemies will help each other in a time of
common peril, how much more should two parts of the same army, bound
together as they are by every tie of interest and fellow-feeling. Yet
it is notorious that many a campaign has been ruined through lack of
cooperation, especially in the case of allied armies.]

31. Hence it is not enough to put one’s trust in the tethering of
horses, and the burying of chariot wheels in the ground.
[These quaint devices to prevent one’s army from running away recall
the Athenian hero Sophanes, who carried the anchor with him at the
battle of Plataea, by means of which he fastened himself firmly to one
spot. [See Herodotus, IX. 74.] It is not enough, says Sun Tzŭ, to
render flight impossible by such mechanical means. You will not succeed
unless your men have tenacity and unity of purpose, and, above all, a
spirit of sympathetic cooperation. This is the lesson which can be