The Art of War - 11

[Ch’en Hao’s explanation: "If I manage to seize a favourable position,
but the enemy does not appear on the scene, the advantage thus obtained
cannot be turned to any practical account. He who intends therefore, to
occupy a position of importance to the enemy, must begin by making an
artful appointment, so to speak, with his antagonist, and cajole him
into going there as well." Mei Yao-ch’en explains that this "artful
appointment" is to be made through the medium of the enemy’s own spies,
who will carry back just the amount of information that we choose to
give them. Then, having cunningly disclosed our intentions, "we must
manage, though starting after the enemy, to arrive before him (VII. §
4). We must start after him in order to ensure his marching thither; we
must arrive before him in order to capture the place without trouble.
Taken thus, the present passage lends some support to Mei Yao-ch’en’s
interpretation of § 47.]

67. Walk in the path defined by rule,
[Chia Lin says: "Victory is the only thing that matters, and this
cannot be achieved by adhering to conventional canons." It is
unfortunate that this variant rests on very slight authority, for the
sense yielded is certainly much more satisfactory. Napoleon, as we
know, according to the veterans of the old school whom he defeated, won
his battles by violating every accepted canon of warfare.]

and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive
[Tu Mu says: "Conform to the enemy’s tactics until a favourable
opportunity offers; then come forth and engage in a battle that shall
prove decisive."]

68. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy
gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running
hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.
[As the hare is noted for its extreme timidity, the comparison hardly
appears felicitous. But of course Sun Tzŭ was thinking only of its
speed. The words have been taken to mean: You must flee from the enemy
as quickly as an escaping hare; but this is rightly rejected by Tu Mu.]

[1] Giles’ Biographical Dictionary, no. 399.
[2] "The Science of War," p. 333.
[3] "Stonewall Jackson," vol. I, p. 421.

[Rather more than half the chapter (§§ 1-13) is devoted to the subject
of fire, after which the author branches off into other topics.]

1. Sun Tzŭ said: There are five ways of attacking with fire. The first
is to burn soldiers in their camp;
[So Tu Mu. Li Ch’uan says: "Set fire to the camp, and kill the
soldiers" (when they try to escape from the flames). Pan Ch’ao, sent on
a diplomatic mission to the King of Shan-shan [see XI. § 51, note],
found himself placed in extreme peril by the unexpected arrival of an
envoy from the Hsiung-nu [the mortal enemies of the Chinese]. In
consultation with his officers, he exclaimed: "Never venture, never
win! [1] The only course open to us now is to make an assault by fire
on the barbarians under cover of night, when they will not be able to
discern our numbers. Profiting by their panic, we shall exterminate
them completely; this will cool the King’s courage and cover us with
glory, besides ensuring the success of our mission.’ The officers all
replied that it would be necessary to discuss the matter first with the
Intendant. Pan Ch’ao then fell into a passion: ‘It is today,’ he cried,
‘that our fortunes must be decided! The Intendant is only a humdrum
civilian, who on hearing of our project will certainly be afraid, and
everything will be brought to light. An inglorious death is no worthy
fate for valiant warriors.’ All then agreed to do as he wished.
Accordingly, as soon as night came on, he and his little band quickly
made their way to the barbarian camp. A strong gale was blowing at the
time. Pan Ch’ao ordered ten of the party to take drums and hide behind
the enemy’s barracks, it being arranged that when they saw flames shoot
up, they should begin drumming and yelling with all their might. The
rest of his men, armed with bows and crossbows, he posted in ambuscade
at the gate of the camp. He then set fire to the place from the
windward side, whereupon a deafening noise of drums and shouting arose
on the front and rear of the Hsiung-nu, who rushed out pell-mell in
frantic disorder. Pan Ch’ao slew three of them with his own hand, while
his companions cut off the heads of the envoy and thirty of his suite.
The remainder, more than a hundred in all, perished in the flames. On
the following day, Pan Ch’ao, divining his thoughts, said with uplifted
hand: ‘Although you did not go with us last night, I should not think,
Sir, of taking sole credit for our exploit.’ This satisfied Kuo Hsun,
and Pan Ch’ao, having sent for Kuang, King of Shan-shan, showed him the
head of the barbarian envoy. The whole kingdom was seized with fear and
trembling, which Pan Ch’ao took steps to allay by issuing a public
proclamation. Then, taking the king’s sons as hostage, he returned to
make his report to Tou Ku." _Hou Han Shu_, ch. 47, ff. 1, 2.] ]

the second is to burn stores;
[Tu Mu says: "Provisions, fuel and fodder." In order to subdue the
rebellious population of Kiangnan, Kao Keng recommended Wen Ti of the
Sui dynasty to make periodical raids and burn their stores of grain, a
policy which in the long run proved entirely successful.]

the third is to burn baggage-trains;
[An example given is the destruction of Yuan Shao’s wagons and
impedimenta by Ts’ao Ts’ao in 200 A.D.]

the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;
[Tu Mu says that the things contained in "arsenals" and "magazines" are
the same. He specifies weapons and other implements, bullion and
clothing. Cf. VII. § 11.]

the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.
[Tu Yu says in the _T’ung Tien:_ "To drop fire into the enemy’s camp.
The method by which this may be done is to set the tips of arrows
alight by dipping them into a brazier, and then shoot them from
powerful crossbows into the enemy’s lines."]

2. In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available.
[T’sao Kung thinks that "traitors in the enemy’s camp" are referred to.
But Ch’en Hao is more likely to be right in saying: "We must have
favourable circumstances in general, not merely traitors to help us."
Chia Lin says: "We must avail ourselves of wind and dry weather."]

the material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.
[Tu Mu suggests as material for making fire: "dry vegetable matter,
reeds, brushwood, straw, grease, oil, etc." Here we have the material
cause. Chang Yu says: "vessels for hoarding fire, stuff for lighting

3. There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, and special
days for starting a conflagration.
4. The proper season is when the weather is very dry; the special days
are those when the moon is in the constellations of the Sieve, the
Wall, the Wing or the Cross-bar;
[These are, respectively, the 7th, 14th, 27th, and 28th of the
Twenty-eight Stellar Mansions, corresponding roughly to Sagittarius,
Pegasus, Crater and Corvus.]

for these four are all days of rising wind.
5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possible
6. (1) When fire breaks out inside the enemy’s camp, respond at once
with an attack from without.
7. (2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy’s soldiers remain
quiet, bide your time and do not attack.
[The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the enemy into
confusion. If this effect is not produced, it means that the enemy is
ready to receive us. Hence the necessity for caution.]

8. (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it
up with an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay where you are.
[Ts’ao Kung says: "If you see a possible way, advance; but if you find
the difficulties too great, retire."]

9. (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do
not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a
favourable moment.
[Tu Mu says that the previous paragraphs had reference to the fire
breaking out (either accidentally, we may suppose, or by the agency of
incendiaries) inside the enemy’s camp. "But," he continues, "if the
enemy is settled in a waste place littered with quantities of grass, or
if he has pitched his camp in a position which can be burnt out, we
must carry our fire against him at any seasonable opportunity, and not
await on in hopes of an outbreak occurring within, for fear our
opponents should themselves burn up the surrounding vegetation, and
thus render our own attempts fruitless." The famous Li Ling once
baffled the leader of the Hsiung-nu in this way. The latter, taking
advantage of a favourable wind, tried to set fire to the Chinese
general’s camp, but found that every scrap of combustible vegetation in
the neighbourhood had already been burnt down. On the other hand,
Po-ts’ai, a general of the Yellow Turban rebels, was badly defeated in
184 A.D. through his neglect of this simple precaution. "At the head of
a large army he was besieging Ch’ang-she, which was held by Huang-fu
Sung. The garrison was very small, and a general feeling of nervousness
pervaded the ranks; so Huang-fu Sung called his officers together and
said: "In war, there are various indirect methods of attack, and
numbers do not count for everything. [The commentator here quotes Sun
Tzŭ, V. §§ 5, 6 and 10.] Now the rebels have pitched their camp in the
midst of thick grass which will easily burn when the wind blows. If we
set fire to it at night, they will be thrown into a panic, and we can
make a sortie and attack them on all sides at once, thus emulating the
achievement of T’ien Tan.’ [See p. 90.] That same evening, a strong
breeze sprang up; so Huang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind
reeds together into torches and mount guard on the city walls, after
which he sent out a band of daring men, who stealthily made their way
through the lines and started the fire with loud shouts and yells.
Simultaneously, a glare of light shot up from the city walls, and
Huang-fu Sung, sounding his drums, led a rapid charge, which threw the
rebels into confusion and put them to headlong flight." [_Hou Han Shu_,
ch. 71.]
10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack from
the leeward.
[Chang Yu, following Tu Yu, says: "When you make a fire, the enemy will
retreat away from it; if you oppose his retreat and attack him then, he
will fight desperately, which will not conduce to your success." A
rather more obvious explanation is given by Tu Mu: "If the wind is in
the east, begin burning to the east of the enemy, and follow up the
attack yourself from that side. If you start the fire on the east side,
and then attack from the west, you will suffer in the same way as your

11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze
soon falls.
[Cf. Lao Tzŭ’s saying: "A violent wind does not last the space of a
morning." (_Tao Te Ching_, chap. 23.) Mei Yao-ch’en and Wang Hsi say:
"A day breeze dies down at nightfall, and a night breeze at daybreak.
This is what happens as a general rule." The phenomenon observed may be
correct enough, but how this sense is to be obtained is not apparent.]

12. In every army, the five developments connected with fire must be
known, the movements of the stars calculated, and a watch kept for the
proper days.
[Tu Mu says: "We must make calculations as to the paths of the stars,
and watch for the days on which wind will rise, before making our
attack with fire." Chang Yu seems to interpret the text differently:
"We must not only know how to assail our opponents with fire, but also
be on our guard against similar attacks from them."]

13. Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show intelligence;
those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an accession of
14. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not robbed of
all his belongings.
[Ts’ao Kung’s note is: "We can merely obstruct the enemy’s road or
divide his army, but not sweep away all his accumulated stores." Water
can do useful service, but it lacks the terrible destructive power of
fire. This is the reason, Chang Yu concludes, why the former is
dismissed in a couple of sentences, whereas the attack by fire is
discussed in detail. Wu Tzŭ (ch. 4) speaks thus of the two elements:
"If an army is encamped on low-lying marshy ground, from which the
water cannot run off, and where the rainfall is heavy, it may be
submerged by a flood. If an army is encamped in wild marsh lands
thickly overgrown with weeds and brambles, and visited by frequent
gales, it may be exterminated by fire."]

15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed
in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the
result is waste of time and general stagnation.
[This is one of the most perplexing passages in Sun Tzŭ. Ts’ao Kung
says: "Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day."
And Tu Mu: "If you do not take opportunity to advance and reward the
deserving, your subordinates will not carry out your commands, and
disaster will ensue." For several reasons, however, and in spite of the
formidable array of scholars on the other side, I prefer the
interpretation suggested by Mei Yao-ch’en alone, whose words I will
quote: "Those who want to make sure of succeeding in their battles and
assaults must seize the favourable moments when they come and not shrink
on occasion from heroic measures: that is to say, they must resort to
such means of attack of fire, water and the like. What they must not
do, and what will prove fatal, is to sit still and simply hold to the
advantages they have got."]

16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead;
the good general cultivates his resources.
[Tu Mu quotes the following from the _San Lueh_, ch. 2: "The warlike
prince controls his soldiers by his authority, kits them together by
good faith, and by rewards makes them serviceable. If faith decays,
there will be disruption; if rewards are deficient, commands will not
be respected."]

17. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless
there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is
[Sun Tzŭ may at times appear to be over-cautious, but he never goes so
far in that direction as the remarkable passage in the _Tao Te Ching_,
ch. 69. "I dare not take the initiative, but prefer to act on the
defensive; I dare not advance an inch, but prefer to retreat a foot."]

18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own
spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.
19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where
you are.
[This is repeated from XI. § 17. Here I feel convinced that it is an
interpolation, for it is evident that § 20 ought to follow immediately
on § 18.]

20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by
21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again
into being;
[The Wu State was destined to be a melancholy example of this saying.]

nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.
22. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full
of caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army
[1] "Unless you enter the tiger’s lair, you cannot get hold of the
tiger’s cubs."

1. Sun Tzŭ said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching
them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on
the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a
thousand ounces of silver.
[Cf. II. §§ 1, 13, 14.]

There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down
exhausted on the highways.
[Cf. _Tao Te Ching_, ch. 30: "Where troops have been quartered,
brambles and thorns spring up. Chang Yu has the note: "We may be
reminded of the saying: ‘On serious ground, gather in plunder.’ Why
then should carriage and transportation cause exhaustion on the
highways?—The answer is, that not victuals alone, but all sorts of
munitions of war have to be conveyed to the army. Besides, the
injunction to ‘forage on the enemy’ only means that when an army is
deeply engaged in hostile territory, scarcity of food must be provided
against. Hence, without being solely dependent on the enemy for corn,
we must forage in order that there may be an uninterrupted flow of
supplies. Then, again, there are places like salt deserts where
provisions being unobtainable, supplies from home cannot be dispensed

As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their
[Mei Yao-ch’en says: "Men will be lacking at the plough-tail." The
allusion is to the system of dividing land into nine parts, each
consisting of about 15 acres, the plot in the center being cultivated
on behalf of the State by the tenants of the other eight. It was here
also, so Tu Mu tells us, that their cottages were built and a well
sunk, to be used by all in common. [See II. § 12, note.] In time of
war, one of the families had to serve in the army, while the other
seven contributed to its support. Thus, by a levy of 100,000 men
(reckoning one able-bodied soldier to each family) the husbandry of
700,000 families would be affected.]

2. Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the
victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in
ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the
outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honours and emoluments,
["For spies" is of course the meaning, though it would spoil the effect
of this curiously elaborate exordium if spies were actually mentioned
at this point.]

is the height of inhumanity.
[Sun Tzŭ’s agreement is certainly ingenious. He begins by adverting to
the frightful misery and vast expenditure of blood and treasure which
war always brings in its train. Now, unless you are kept informed of
the enemy’s condition, and are ready to strike at the right moment, a
war may drag on for years. The only way to get this information is to
employ spies, and it is impossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless
they are properly paid for their services. But it is surely false
economy to grudge a comparatively trifling amount for this purpose,
when every day that the war lasts eats up an incalculably greater sum.
This grievous burden falls on the shoulders of the poor, and hence Sun
Tzŭ concludes that to neglect the use of spies is nothing less than a
crime against humanity.]

3. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his
sovereign, no master of victory.
[This idea, that the true object of war is peace, has its root in the
national temperament of the Chinese. Even so far back as 597 B.C.,
these memorable words were uttered by Prince Chuang of the Ch’u State:
"The [Chinese] character for ‘prowess’ is made up of [the characters
for] ‘to stay’ and ‘a spear’ (cessation of hostilities). Military
prowess is seen in the repression of cruelty, the calling in of
weapons, the preservation of the appointment of Heaven, the firm
establishment of merit, the bestowal of happiness on the people,
putting harmony between the princes, the diffusion of wealth."]

4. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike
and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is
[That is, knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions, and what he means to

5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be
obtained inductively from experience,
[Tu Mu’s note is: "[knowledge of the enemy] cannot be gained by
reasoning from other analogous cases."]

nor by any deductive calculation.
[Li Ch’uan says: "Quantities like length, breadth, distance and
magnitude, are susceptible of exact mathematical determination; human
actions cannot be so calculated."]

6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from
other men.
[Mei Yao-ch’en has rather an interesting note: "Knowledge of the
spirit-world is to be obtained by divination; information in natural
science may be sought by inductive reasoning; the laws of the universe
can be verified by mathematical calculation: but the dispositions of an
enemy are ascertainable through spies and spies alone."]

7. Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local
spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5)
surviving spies.
8. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the
secret system. This is called "divine manipulation of the threads." It
is the sovereign’s most precious faculty.
[Cromwell, one of the greatest and most practical of all cavalry
leaders, had officers styled ‘scout masters,’ whose business it was to
collect all possible information regarding the enemy, through scouts
and spies, etc., and much of his success in war was traceable to the
previous knowledge of the enemy’s moves thus gained." [1] ]

9. Having _local spies_ means employing the services of the inhabitants
of a district.
[Tu Mu says: "In the enemy’s country, win people over by kind
treatment, and use them as spies."]

10. Having _inward spies_, making use of officials of the enemy.
[Tu Mu enumerates the following classes as likely to do good service in
this respect: "Worthy men who have been degraded from office, criminals
who have undergone punishment; also, favourite concubines who are greedy
for gold, men who are aggrieved at being in subordinate positions, or
who have been passed over in the distribution of posts, others who are
anxious that their side should be defeated in order that they may have
a chance of displaying their ability and talents, fickle turncoats who
always want to have a foot in each boat. Officials of these several
kinds," he continues, "should be secretly approached and bound to one’s
interests by means of rich presents. In this way you will be able to
find out the state of affairs in the enemy’s country, ascertain the
plans that are being formed against you, and moreover disturb the
harmony and create a breach between the sovereign and his ministers."
The necessity for extreme caution, however, in dealing with "inward
spies," appears from an historical incident related by Ho Shih: "Lo
Shang, Governor of I-Chou, sent his general Wei Po to attack the rebel
Li Hsiung of Shu in his stronghold at P’i. After each side had
experienced a number of victories and defeats, Li Hsiung had recourse
to the services of a certain P’o-t’ai, a native of Wu-tu. He began to
have him whipped until the blood came, and then sent him off to Lo
Shang, whom he was to delude by offering to cooperate with him from
inside the city, and to give a fire signal at the right moment for
making a general assault. Lo Shang, confiding in these promises, march
out all his best troops, and placed Wei Po and others at their head
with orders to attack at P’o-t’ai’s bidding. Meanwhile, Li Hsiung’s
general, Li Hsiang, had prepared an ambuscade on their line of march;
and P’o-t’ai, having reared long scaling-ladders against the city
walls, now lighted the beacon-fire. Wei Po’s men raced up on seeing the
signal and began climbing the ladders as fast as they could, while
others were drawn up by ropes lowered from above. More than a hundred
of Lo Shang’s soldiers entered the city in this way, every one of whom
was forthwith beheaded. Li Hsiung then charged with all his forces,
both inside and outside the city, and routed the enemy completely."
[This happened in 303 A.D. I do not know where Ho Shih got the story
from. It is not given in the biography of Li Hsiung or that of his
father Li T’e, _Chin Shu_, ch. 120, 121.]

11. Having _converted spies_, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and
using them for our own purposes.
[By means of heavy bribes and liberal promises detaching them from the
enemy’s service, and inducing them to carry back false information as
well as to spy in turn on their own countrymen. On the other hand,
Hsiao Shih-hsien says that we pretend not to have detected him, but
contrive to let him carry away a false impression of what is going on.
Several of the commentators accept this as an alternative definition;
but that it is not what Sun Tzŭ meant is conclusively proved by his
subsequent remarks about treating the converted spy generously (§ 21
sqq.). Ho Shih notes three occasions on which converted spies were used
with conspicuous success: (1) by T’ien Tan in his defence of Chi-mo
(see _supra_, p. 90); (2) by Chao She on his march to O-yu (see p. 57);
and by the wily Fan Chu in 260 B.C., when Lien P’o was conducting a
defensive campaign against Ch’in. The King of Chao strongly disapproved
of Lien P’o’s cautious and dilatory methods, which had been unable to
avert a series of minor disasters, and therefore lent a ready ear to
the reports of his spies, who had secretly gone over to the enemy and
were already in Fan Chu’s pay. They said: "The only thing which causes
Ch’in anxiety is lest Chao Kua should be made general. Lien P’o they
consider an easy opponent, who is sure to be vanquished in the long
run." Now this Chao Kua was a son of the famous Chao She. From his
boyhood, he had been wholly engrossed in the study of war and military
matters, until at last he came to believe that there was no commander
in the whole Empire who could stand against him. His father was much
disquieted by this overweening conceit, and the flippancy with which he
spoke of such a serious thing as war, and solemnly declared that if
ever Kua was appointed general, he would bring ruin on the armies of
Chao. This was the man who, in spite of earnest protests from his own
mother and the veteran statesman Lin Hsiang-ju, was now sent to succeed
Lien P’o. Needless to say, he proved no match for the redoubtable Po
Ch’i and the great military power of Ch’in. He fell into a trap by
which his army was divided into two and his communications cut; and
after a desperate resistance lasting 46 days, during which the famished
soldiers devoured one another, he was himself killed by an arrow, and
his whole force, amounting, it is said, to 400,000 men, ruthlessly put
to the sword.]

12. Having _doomed spies_, doing certain things openly for purposes of
deception, and allowing our own spies to know of them and report them
to the enemy.
[Tu Yu gives the best exposition of the meaning: "We ostentatiously do
things calculated to deceive our own spies, who must be led to believe
that they have been unwittingly disclosed. Then, when these spies are
captured in the enemy’s lines, they will make an entirely false report,
and the enemy will take measures accordingly, only to find that we do
something quite different. The spies will thereupon be put to death."
As an example of doomed spies, Ho Shih mentions the prisoners released
by Pan Ch’ao in his campaign against Yarkand. (See p. 132.) He also
refers to T’ang Chien, who in 630 A.D. was sent by T’ai Tsung to lull
the Turkish Kahn Chieh-li into fancied security, until Li Ching was
able to deliver a crushing blow against him. Chang Yu says that the
Turks revenged themselves by killing T’ang Chien, but this is a
mistake, for we read in both the old and the New T’ang History (ch. 58,
fol. 2 and ch. 89, fol. 8 respectively) that he escaped and lived on
until 656. Li I-chi played a somewhat similar part in 203 B.C., when
sent by the King of Han to open peaceful negotiations with Ch’i. He has
certainly more claim to be described a "doomed spy", for the king of