The Art of War - 10

learned from the _shuai-jan_.]

32. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard
of courage which all must reach.
[Literally, "level the courage [of all] as though [it were that of]
one." If the ideal army is to form a single organic whole, then it
follows that the resolution and spirit of its component parts must be
of the same quality, or at any rate must not fall below a certain
standard. Wellington’s seemingly ungrateful description of his army at
Waterloo as "the worst he had ever commanded" meant no more than that
it was deficient in this important particular—unity of spirit and
courage. Had he not foreseen the Belgian defections and carefully kept
those troops in the background, he would almost certainly have lost the

33. How to make the best of both strong and weak—that is a question
involving the proper use of ground.
[Mei Yao-ch’en’s paraphrase is: "The way to eliminate the differences
of strong and weak and to make both serviceable is to utilize
accidental features of the ground." Less reliable troops, if posted in
strong positions, will hold out as long as better troops on more
exposed terrain. The advantage of position neutralizes the inferiority
in stamina and courage. Col. Henderson says: "With all respect to the
text books, and to the ordinary tactical teaching, I am inclined to
think that the study of ground is often overlooked, and that by no
means sufficient importance is attached to the selection of positions…
and to the immense advantages that are to be derived, whether you are
defending or attacking, from the proper utilization of natural
features." [2] ]

34. Thus the skilful general conducts his army just as though he were
leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.
[Tu Mu says: "The simile has reference to the ease with which he does

35. It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure
secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.
36. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports
and appearances,
[Literally, "to deceive their eyes and ears."]

and thus keep them in total ignorance.
[Ts’ao Kung gives us one of his excellent apophthegms: "The troops must
not be allowed to share your schemes in the beginning; they may only
rejoice with you over their happy outcome." "To mystify, mislead, and
surprise the enemy," is one of the first principles in war, as had been
frequently pointed out. But how about the other process—the
mystification of one’s own men? Those who may think that Sun Tzŭ is
over-emphatic on this point would do well to read Col. Henderson’s
remarks on Stonewall Jackson’s Valley campaign: "The infinite pains,"
he says, "with which Jackson sought to conceal, even from his most
trusted staff officers, his movements, his intentions, and his
thoughts, a commander less thorough would have pronounced useless"—etc.
etc. [3] In the year 88 A.D., as we read in ch. 47 of the _Hou Han
Shu_, "Pan Ch’ao took the field with 25,000 men from Khotan and other
Central Asian states with the object of crushing Yarkand. The King of
Kutcha replied by dispatching his chief commander to succour the place
with an army drawn from the kingdoms of Wen-su, Ku-mo, and Wei-t’ou,
totaling 50,000 men. Pan Ch’ao summoned his officers and also the King
of Khotan to a council of war, and said: ‘Our forces are now
outnumbered and unable to make head against the enemy. The best plan,
then, is for us to separate and disperse, each in a different
direction. The King of Khotan will march away by the easterly route,
and I will then return myself towards the west. Let us wait until the
evening drum has sounded and then start.’ Pan Ch’ao now secretly
released the prisoners whom he had taken alive, and the King of Kutcha
was thus informed of his plans. Much elated by the news, the latter set
off at once at the head of 10,000 horsemen to bar Pan Ch’ao’s retreat
in the west, while the King of Wen-su rode eastward with 8000 horse in
order to intercept the King of Khotan. As soon as Pan Ch’ao knew that
the two chieftains had gone, he called his divisions together, got them
well in hand, and at cock-crow hurled them against the army of Yarkand,
as it lay encamped. The barbarians, panic-stricken, fled in confusion,
and were closely pursued by Pan Ch’ao. Over 5000 heads were brought
back as trophies, besides immense spoils in the shape of horses and
cattle and valuables of every description. Yarkand then capitulating,
Kutcha and the other kingdoms drew off their respective forces. From
that time forward, Pan Ch’ao’s prestige completely overawed the
countries of the west." In this case, we see that the Chinese general
not only kept his own officers in ignorance of his real plans, but
actually took the bold step of dividing his army in order to deceive
the enemy.]

37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans,
[Wang Hsi thinks that this means not using the same stratagem twice.]

he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge.
[Chang Yu, in a quotation from another work, says: "The axiom, that war
is based on deception, does not apply only to deception of the enemy.
You must deceive even your own soldiers. Make them follow you, but
without letting them know why."]

By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the
enemy from anticipating his purpose.
38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has
climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He
carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.
[Literally, "releases the spring" (see V. § 15), that is, takes some
decisive step which makes it impossible for the army to return—like
Hsiang Yu, who sunk his ships after crossing a river. Ch’en Hao,
followed by Chia Lin, understands the words less well as "puts forth
every artifice at his command."]

39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd
driving a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and
none knows whither he is going.
[Tu Mu says: "The army is only cognizant of orders to advance or
retreat; it is ignorant of the ulterior ends of attacking and

40. To muster his host and bring it into danger:—this may be termed the
business of the general.
[Sun Tzŭ means that after mobilization there should be no delay in
aiming a blow at the enemy’s heart. Note how he returns again and again
to this point. Among the warring states of ancient China, desertion was
no doubt a much more present fear and serious evil than it is in the
armies of today.]

41. The different measures suited to the nine varieties of ground;
[Chang Yu says: "One must not be hide-bound in interpreting the rules
for the nine varieties of ground."]

the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics; and the fundamental
laws of human nature: these are things that must most certainly be
42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that
penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means
[Cf. _supra_, § 20.]

43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your army across
neighbourhood territory, you find yourself on critical ground.
[This "ground" is curiously mentioned in VIII. § 2, but it does not
figure among the Nine Situations or the Six Calamities in chap. X.
One’s first impulse would be to translate it distant ground," but this,
if we can trust the commentators, is precisely what is not meant here.
Mei Yao-ch’en says it is "a position not far enough advanced to be
called ‘facile,’ and not near enough to home to be ‘dispersive,’ but
something between the two." Wang Hsi says: "It is ground separated from
home by an interjacent state, whose territory we have had to cross in
order to reach it. Hence, it is incumbent on us to settle our business
there quickly." He adds that this position is of rare occurrence, which
is the reason why it is not included among the Nine Situations.]

When there are means of communication on all four sides, the ground is
one of intersecting highways.
44. When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground.
When you penetrate but a little way, it is facile ground.
45. When you have the enemy’s strongholds on your rear, and narrow
passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no place of
refuge at all, it is desperate ground.
46. Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men with unity
of purpose.
[This end, according to Tu Mu, is best attained by remaining on the
defensive, and avoiding battle. Cf. _supra_, § 11.]

On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection between
all parts of my army.
[As Tu Mu says, the object is to guard against two possible
contingencies: "(1) the desertion of our own troops; (2) a sudden
attack on the part of the enemy." Cf. VII. § 17. Mei Yao-ch’en says:
"On the march, the regiments should be in close touch; in an
encampment, there should be continuity between the fortifications."]

47. On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.
[This is Ts’ao Kung’s interpretation. Chang Yu adopts it, saying: "We
must quickly bring up our rear, so that head and tail may both reach
the goal." That is, they must not be allowed to straggle up a long way
apart. Mei Yao-ch’en offers another equally plausible explanation:
"Supposing the enemy has not yet reached the coveted position, and we
are behind him, we should advance with all speed in order to dispute
its possession." Ch’en Hao, on the other hand, assuming that the enemy
has had time to select his own ground, quotes VI. § 1, where Sun Tzŭ
warns us against coming exhausted to the attack. His own idea of the
situation is rather vaguely expressed: "If there is a favourable
position lying in front of you, detach a picked body of troops to
occupy it, then if the enemy, relying on their numbers, come up to make
a fight for it, you may fall quickly on their rear with your main body,
and victory will be assured." It was thus, he adds, that Chao She beat
the army of Ch’in. (See p. 57.)]

48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defences. On
ground of intersecting highways, I would consolidate my alliances.
49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of
[The commentators take this as referring to forage and plunder, not, as
one might expect, to an unbroken communication with a home base.]

On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road.
50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat.
[Meng Shih says: "To make it seem that I meant to defend the position,
whereas my real intention is to burst suddenly through the enemy’s
lines." Mei Yao-ch’en says: "in order to make my soldiers fight with
desperation." Wang Hsi says, "fearing lest my men be tempted to run
away." Tu Mu points out that this is the converse of VII. § 36, where
it is the enemy who is surrounded. In 532 A.D., Kao Huan, afterwards
Emperor and canonized as Shen-wu, was surrounded by a great army under
Erh-chu Chao and others. His own force was comparatively small,
consisting only of 2000 horse and something under 30,000 foot. The
lines of investment had not been drawn very closely together, gaps
being left at certain points. But Kao Huan, instead of trying to
escape, actually made a shift to block all the remaining outlets
himself by driving into them a number of oxen and donkeys roped
together. As soon as his officers and men saw that there was nothing
for it but to conquer or die, their spirits rose to an extraordinary
pitch of exaltation, and they charged with such desperate ferocity that
the opposing ranks broke and crumbled under their onslaught.]

On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness
of saving their lives.
Tu Yu says: "Burn your baggage and impedimenta, throw away your stores
and provisions, choke up the wells, destroy your cooking-stoves, and
make it plain to your men that they cannot survive, but must fight to
the death." Mei Yao-ch’en says: "The only chance of life lies in giving
up all hope of it." This concludes what Sun Tzŭ has to say about
"grounds" and the "variations" corresponding to them. Reviewing the
passages which bear on this important subject, we cannot fail to be
struck by the desultory and unmethodical fashion in which it is
treated. Sun Tzŭ begins abruptly in VIII. § 2 to enumerate "variations"
before touching on "grounds" at all, but only mentions five, namely
nos. 7, 5, 8 and 9 of the subsequent list, and one that is not included
in it. A few varieties of ground are dealt with in the earlier portion
of chap. IX, and then chap. X sets forth six new grounds, with six
variations of plan to match. None of these is mentioned again, though
the first is hardly to be distinguished from ground no. 4 in the next
chapter. At last, in chap. XI, we come to the Nine Grounds par
excellence, immediately followed by the variations. This takes us down
to § 14. In §§ 43-45, fresh definitions are provided for nos. 5, 6, 2,
8 and 9 (in the order given), as well as for the tenth ground noticed
in chap. VIII; and finally, the nine variations are enumerated once
more from beginning to end, all, with the exception of 5, 6 and 7,
being different from those previously given. Though it is impossible to
account for the present state of Sun Tzŭ’s text, a few suggestive facts
maybe brought into prominence: (1) Chap. VIII, according to the title,
should deal with nine variations, whereas only five appear. (2) It is
an abnormally short chapter. (3) Chap. XI is entitled The Nine Grounds.
Several of these are defined twice over, besides which there are two
distinct lists of the corresponding variations. (4) The length of the
chapter is disproportionate, being double that of any other except IX.
I do not propose to draw any inferences from these facts, beyond the
general conclusion that Sun Tzŭ’s work cannot have come down to us in
the shape in which it left his hands: chap. VIII is obviously defective
and probably out of place, while XI seems to contain matter that has
either been added by a later hand or ought to appear elsewhere.]

51. For it is the soldier’s disposition to offer an obstinate
resistance when surrounded, to fight hard when he cannot help himself,
and to obey promptly when he has fallen into danger.
[Chang Yu alludes to the conduct of Pan Ch’ao’s devoted followers in 73
A.D. The story runs thus in the _Hou Han Shu_, ch. 47: "When Pan Ch’ao
arrived at Shan-shan, Kuang, the King of the country, received him at
first with great politeness and respect; but shortly afterwards his
behavior underwent a sudden change, and he became remiss and negligent.
Pan Ch’ao spoke about this to the officers of his suite: ‘Have you
noticed,’ he said, ‘that Kuang’s polite intentions are on the wane?
This must signify that envoys have come from the Northern barbarians,
and that consequently he is in a state of indecision, not knowing with
which side to throw in his lot. That surely is the reason. The truly
wise man, we are told, can perceive things before they have come to
pass; how much more, then, those that are already manifest!’ Thereupon
he called one of the natives who had been assigned to his service, and
set a trap for him, saying: ‘Where are those envoys from the Hsiung-nu
who arrived some day ago?’ The man was so taken aback that between
surprise and fear he presently blurted out the whole truth. Pan Ch’ao,
keeping his informant carefully under lock and key, then summoned a
general gathering of his officers, thirty-six in all, and began
drinking with them. When the wine had mounted into their heads a
little, he tried to rouse their spirit still further by addressing them
thus: ‘Gentlemen, here we are in the heart of an isolated region,
anxious to achieve riches and honour by some great exploit. Now it
happens that an ambassador from the Hsiung-no arrived in this kingdom
only a few days ago, and the result is that the respectful courtesy
extended towards us by our royal host has disappeared. Should this
envoy prevail upon him to seize our party and hand us over to the
Hsiung-no, our bones will become food for the wolves of the desert.
What are we to do?’ With one accord, the officers replied: ‘Standing as
we do in peril of our lives, we will follow our commander through life
and death.’ For the sequel of this adventure, see chap. XII. § 1,

52. We cannot enter into alliance with neighbouring princes until we are
acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the
march unless we are familiar with the face of the country—its mountains
and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We
shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make
use of local guides.
[These three sentences are repeated from VII. §§ 12-14—in order to
emphasize their importance, the commentators seem to think. I prefer to
regard them as interpolated here in order to form an antecedent to the
following words. With regard to local guides, Sun Tzŭ might have added
that there is always the risk of going wrong, either through their
treachery or some misunderstanding such as Livy records (XXII. 13):
Hannibal, we are told, ordered a guide to lead him into the
neighbourhood of Casinum, where there was an important pass to be
occupied; but his Carthaginian accent, unsuited to the pronunciation of
Latin names, caused the guide to understand Casilinum instead of
Casinum, and turning from his proper route, he took the army in that
direction, the mistake not being discovered until they had almost

53. To be ignorant of any one of the following four or five principles
does not befit a warlike prince.
54. When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship
shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy’s forces. He
overawes his opponents, and their allies are prevented from joining
against him.
[Mei Tao-ch’en constructs one of the chains of reasoning that are so
much affected by the Chinese: "In attacking a powerful state, if you
can divide her forces, you will have a superiority in strength; if you
have a superiority in strength, you will overawe the enemy; if you
overawe the enemy, the neighbouring states will be frightened; and if
the neighbouring states are frightened, the enemy’s allies will be
prevented from joining her." The following gives a stronger meaning:
"If the great state has once been defeated (before she has had time to
summon her allies), then the lesser states will hold aloof and refrain
from massing their forces." Ch’en Hao and Chang Yu take the sentence in
quite another way. The former says: "Powerful though a prince may be,
if he attacks a large state, he will be unable to raise enough troops,
and must rely to some extent on external aid; if he dispenses with
this, and with overweening confidence in his own strength, simply tries
to intimidate the enemy, he will surely be defeated." Chang Yu puts his
view thus: "If we recklessly attack a large state, our own people will
be discontented and hang back. But if (as will then be the case) our
display of military force is inferior by half to that of the enemy, the
other chieftains will take fright and refuse to join us."]

55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor
does he foster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret
designs, keeping his antagonists in awe.
[The train of thought, as said by Li Ch’uan, appears to be this: Secure
against a combination of his enemies, "he can afford to reject
entangling alliances and simply pursue his own secret designs, his
prestige enable him to dispense with external friendships."]

Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms.
[This paragraph, though written many years before the Ch’in State
became a serious menace, is not a bad summary of the policy by which
the famous Six Chancellors gradually paved the way for her final
triumph under Shih Huang Ti. Chang Yu, following up his previous note,
thinks that Sun Tzŭ is condemning this attitude of cold-blooded
selfishness and haughty isolation.]

56. Bestow rewards without regard to rule,
[Wu Tzŭ (ch. 3) less wisely says: "Let advance be richly rewarded and
retreat be heavily punished."]

issue orders
[Literally, "hang" or post up."]

without regard to previous arrangements;
["In order to prevent treachery," says Wang Hsi. The general meaning is
made clear by Ts’ao Kung’s quotation from the _Ssu-ma Fa:_ "Give
instructions only on sighting the enemy; give rewards when you see
deserving deeds." Ts’ao Kung’s paraphrase: "The final instructions you
give to your army should not correspond with those that have been
previously posted up." Chang Yu simplifies this into "your arrangements
should not be divulged beforehand." And Chia Lin says: "there should be
no fixity in your rules and arrangements." Not only is there danger in
letting your plans be known, but war often necessitates the entire
reversal of them at the last moment.]

and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do
with but a single man.
[Cf. _supra_, § 34.]

57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know
your design.
[Literally, "do not tell them words;" i.e. do not give your reasons for
any order. Lord Mansfield once told a junior colleague to "give no
reasons" for his decisions, and the maxim is even more applicable to a
general than to a judge.]

When the outlook is bright, bring it before their eyes; but tell them
nothing when the situation is gloomy.
58. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it
into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety.
[These words of Sun Tzŭ were once quoted by Han Hsin in explanation of
the tactics he employed in one of his most brilliant battles, already
alluded to on p. 28. In 204 B.C., he was sent against the army of Chao,
and halted ten miles from the mouth of the Ching-hsing pass, where the
enemy had mustered in full force. Here, at midnight, he detached a body
of 2000 light cavalry, every man of which was furnished with a red
flag. Their instructions were to make their way through narrow defiles
and keep a secret watch on the enemy. "When the men of Chao see me in
full flight," Han Hsin said, "they will abandon their fortifications
and give chase. This must be the sign for you to rush in, pluck down
the Chao standards and set up the red banners of Han in their stead."
Turning then to his other officers, he remarked: "Our adversary holds a
strong position, and is not likely to come out and attack us until he
sees the standard and drums of the commander-in-chief, for fear I
should turn back and escape through the mountains." So saying, he first
of all sent out a division consisting of 10,000 men, and ordered them
to form in line of battle with their backs to the River Ti. Seeing this
manœuver, the whole army of Chao broke into loud laughter. By this time
it was broad daylight, and Han Hsin, displaying the generalissimo’s
flag, marched out of the pass with drums beating, and was immediately
engaged by the enemy. A great battle followed, lasting for some time;
until at length Han Hsin and his colleague Chang Ni, leaving drums and
banner on the field, fled to the division on the river bank, where
another fierce battle was raging. The enemy rushed out to pursue them
and to secure the trophies, thus denuding their ramparts of men; but
the two generals succeeded in joining the other army, which was
fighting with the utmost desperation. The time had now come for the
2000 horsemen to play their part. As soon as they saw the men of Chao
following up their advantage, they galloped behind the deserted walls,
tore up the enemy’s flags and replaced them by those of Han. When the
Chao army looked back from the pursuit, the sight of these red flags
struck them with terror. Convinced that the Hans had got in and
overpowered their king, they broke up in wild disorder, every effort of
their leader to stay the panic being in vain. Then the Han army fell on
them from both sides and completed the rout, killing a number and
capturing the rest, amongst whom was King Ya himself…. After the
battle, some of Han Hsin’s officers came to him and said: "In the _Art
of War_ we are told to have a hill or tumulus on the right rear, and a
river or marsh on the left front. [This appears to be a blend of Sun
Tzŭ and T’ai Kung. See IX § 9, and note.] You, on the contrary, ordered
us to draw up our troops with the river at our back. Under these
conditions, how did you manage to gain the victory?" The general
replied: "I fear you gentlemen have not studied the Art of War with
sufficient care. Is it not written there: ‘Plunge your army into
desperate straits and it will come off in safety; place it in deadly
peril and it will survive’? Had I taken the usual course, I should
never have been able to bring my colleague round. What says the
Military Classic—‘Swoop down on the market-place and drive the men off
to fight.’ [This passage does not occur in the present text of Sun
Tzŭ.] If I had not placed my troops in a position where they were
obliged to fight for their lives, but had allowed each man to follow
his own discretion, there would have been a general _débandade_, and it
would have been impossible to do anything with them." The officers
admitted the force of his argument, and said: "These are higher tactics
than we should have been capable of." [See _Ch’ien Han Shu_, ch. 34,
ff. 4, 5.] ]

59. For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm’s way that is
capable of striking a blow for victory.
[Danger has a bracing effect.]

60. Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves
to the enemy’s purpose.
[Ts’ao Kung says: "Feign stupidity"—by an appearance of yielding and
falling in with the enemy’s wishes. Chang Yu’s note makes the meaning
clear: "If the enemy shows an inclination to advance, lure him on to do
so; if he is anxious to retreat, delay on purpose that he may carry out
his intention." The object is to make him remiss and contemptuous
before we deliver our attack.]

61. By persistently hanging on the enemy’s flank,
[I understand the first four words to mean "accompanying the enemy in
one direction." Ts’ao Kung says: "unite the soldiers and make for the
enemy." But such a violent displacement of characters is quite

we shall succeed in the long run
[Literally, "after a thousand _li_."]

in killing the commander-in-chief.
[Always a great point with the Chinese.]

62. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning.
63. On the day that you take up your command, block the frontier
passes, destroy the official tallies,
[These were tablets of bamboo or wood, one half of which was issued as
a permit or passport by the official in charge of a gate. Cf. the
"border-warden" of _Lun Yu_ III. 24, who may have had similar duties.
When this half was returned to him, within a fixed period, he was
authorized to open the gate and let the traveler through.]

and stop the passage of all emissaries.
[Either to or from the enemy’s country.]

64. Be stern in the council-chamber,
[Show no weakness, and insist on your plans being ratified by the

so that you may control the situation.
[Mei Yao-ch’en understands the whole sentence to mean: Take the
strictest precautions to ensure secrecy in your deliberations.]

65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear,
[Cf. _supra_, § 18.]

and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.