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SUN TZU ON THE ART OF WAR
THE OLDEST MILITARY TREATISE IN THE WORLD
Translated from the Chinese
By LIONEL GILES, M.A. (1910)
[This is the basic text of Sun Tzu on the Art of War. It was
extracted from Mr. Giles' complete work as titled above. The
commentary itself, which, of course includes this work embedded
within it, has been released as Project Gutenberg's eBook #132.]
I. LAYING PLANS
1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the
2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to
ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be
3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to
be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to
determine the conditions obtaining in the field.
4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The
Commander; (5) Method and discipline.
5,6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with
their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their
lives, undismayed by any danger.
7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and
8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security;
open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.
9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely,
benevolence, courage and strictness.
10. By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of
the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among
the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach
the army, and the control of military expenditure.
11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who
knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will
12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the
military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in
13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral
(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and
(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
(5) Which army is stronger?
(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and
14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory
15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will
conquer: let such a one be retained in command! The general that
hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer
defeat:--let such a one be dismissed!
16. While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of
any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
17. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify
18. All warfare is based on deception.
19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our
forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the
enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him
believe we are near.
20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush
21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in
superior strength, evade him.
22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.
Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are
united, separate them.
24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not
25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be
26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in
his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle
makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations
lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no
calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can
foresee who is likely to win or lose.
II. WAGING WAR
1. Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war, where there are in the
field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a
hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to
carry them a thousand li, the expenditure at home and at the front,
including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and
paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total
of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising
an army of 100,000 men.
2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in
coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be
damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your
3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State
will not be equal to the strain.
4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your
strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will
spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however
wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness
has never been seen associated with long delays.
6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from
7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of
war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying
8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are
his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.
9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy.
Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.
10. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained
by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army
at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.
11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go
up; and high prices cause the people's substance to be drained
12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be
afflicted by heavy exactions.
13,14. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the
homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of
their income will be dissipated; while government expenses for
broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows
and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen
and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total
15. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy.
One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of
one's own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is
equivalent to twenty from one's own store.
16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to
anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they
must have their rewards.
17. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have
been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own
flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the
chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured
soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.
18. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one's own
19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy
20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter
of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation
shall be in peace or in peril.
III. ATTACK BY STRATAGEM
1. Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all
is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and
destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an
army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment
or a company entire than to destroy them.
2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme
excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's
resistance without fighting.
3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's
plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's
forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the
field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled
4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be
avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various
implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling
up of mounds over against the walls will take three months
5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his
men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that
one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains
untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.
6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without
any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to
them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the
7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the
Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be
complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one,
to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as
numerous, to divide our army into two.
9. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in
numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we
can flee from him.
10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force,
in the end it must be captured by the larger force.
11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is
complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is
defective, the State will be weak.
12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon
13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being
ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling
14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he
administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which
obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's
15. (3) By employing the officers of his army without
discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of
adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the
16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure
to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing
anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.
17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for
(1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to
(2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior
(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit
throughout all its ranks.
(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy
(5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered
with by the sovereign.
18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you
need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself
but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a
defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will
succumb in every battle.
IV. TACTICAL DISPOSITIONS
1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves
beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an
opportunity of defeating the enemy.
2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but
the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy
3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat,
but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
4. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able
to do it.
5. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to
defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.
6. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength;
attacking, a superabundance of strength.
7. The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret
recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in attack flashes forth
from the topmost heights of heaven. Thus on the one hand we have
ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is
8. To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd
is not the acme of excellence.
9. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer
and the whole Empire says, "Well done!"
10. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the
sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of
thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only
wins, but excels in winning with ease.
12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor
credit for courage.
13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes
is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means
conquering an enemy that is already defeated.
14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which
makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating
15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks
battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined
to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly
adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to
17. In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement;
secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly,
Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory.
18. Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity
to Measurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of
chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances.
19. A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound's
weight placed in the scale against a single grain.
20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of
pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.
1. Sun Tzu said: The control of a large force is the same principle
as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up
2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise
different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question
of instituting signs and signals.
3. To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt of the
enemy's attack and remain unshaken-- this is effected by maneuvers
direct and indirect.
4. That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed
against an egg--this is effected by the science of weak points and
5. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining
battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure
6. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as
Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like
the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four
seasons, they pass away to return once more.
7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations
of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be
8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red,
white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than
can ever been seen.
9. There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt,
sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than
can ever be tasted.
10. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack--the
direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to
an endless series of maneuvers.
11. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It
is like moving in a circle--you never come to an end. Who can
exhaust the possibilities of their combination?
12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will
even roll stones along in its course.
13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a
falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and
prompt in his decision.
15. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision,
to the releasing of a trigger.
16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming
disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos,
your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof
17. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated
fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates
18. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question
of subdivision; concealing courage under a show of timidity
presupposes a fund of latent energy; masking strength with weakness
is to be effected by tactical dispositions.
19. Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move
maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will
act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at
20. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a
body of picked men he lies in wait for him.
21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy,
and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability
to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.
22. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men become as it
were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a
log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when
on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if
round-shaped, to go rolling down.
23. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the
momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet
in height. So much on the subject of energy.
VI. WEAK POINTS AND STRONG
1. Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the
coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second
in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive
2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy,
but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.
3. By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to
approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make
it impossible for the enemy to draw near.
4. If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; if well
supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he
can force him to move.
5. Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march
swiftly to places where you are not expected.
6. An army may march great distances without distress, if it
marches through country where the enemy is not.
7. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack
places which are undefended.You can ensure the safety of your
defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.
8. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not
know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent
does not know what to attack.
9. O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be
invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy's
fate in our hands.
10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for
the enemy's weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if
your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.
11. If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement
even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch.
All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged
12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from
engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely
traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd
and unaccountable in his way.
13. By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining invisible
ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy's
must be divided.
14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up
into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate
parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy's
15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a
superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.
16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for
then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at
several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in
many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given
point will be proportionately few.
17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his
rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should
he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he
strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends
reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.
18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against
possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary
to make these preparations against us.
19. Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may
concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.
20. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will
be impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to
succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to
support the van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the
army are anything under a hundred LI apart, and even the nearest
are separated by several LI!
21. Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our
own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of
victory. I say then that victory can be achieved.
22. Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him
from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the
likelihood of their success.
23. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or
inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his
24. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you
may know where strength is superabundant and where it is
25. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can
attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will
be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the
machinations of the wisest brains.
26. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own
tactics--that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.
27. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none
can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory,
but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of
29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural
course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.
30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at
what is weak.
31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground
over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation
to the foe whom he is facing.
32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in
warfare there are no constant conditions.
33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and
thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born
34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not
always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each
other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its
periods of waning and waxing.
1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the
2. Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he must
blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching
3. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is
nothing more difficult. The difficulty of tactical maneuvering
consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune
4. Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after enticing the
enemy out of the way, and though starting after him, to contrive to
reach the goal before him, shows knowledge of the artifice of
5. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined
multitude, most dangerous.
6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an
advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other
hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the
sacrifice of its baggage and stores.
7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and
make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double
the usual distance at a stretch, doing a hundred LI in order to
wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will
fall into the hands of the enemy.
8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall
behind, and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its
9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver the enemy, you
will lose the leader of your first division, and only half your
force will reach the goal.
10. If you march thirty LI with the same object, two-thirds of your
army will arrive.
11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is
lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is
12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the
designs of our neighbors.
13. 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.
14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless
we make use of local guides.
15. In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed.
16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be
decided by circumstances.
17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of
18. In raiding and plundering be like fire, is immovability like a
19. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you
move, fall like a thunderbolt.
20. When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be divided
amongst your men; when you capture new territory, cut it up into
allotments for the benefit of the soldiery.
21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation. Such
is the art of maneuvering.
23. The Book of Army Management says: On the field of battle, the
spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of
gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough:
hence the institution of banners and flags.
24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears
and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.
25. The host thus forming a single united body, is it impossible
either for the brave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to
retreat alone. This is the art of handling large masses of
26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and
drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of
influencing the ears and eyes of your army.
27. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit; a commander-in-chief
may be robbed of his presence of mind.
28. Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it
has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only on
returning to camp.
29. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is
keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return.
This is the art of studying moods.
30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and
hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art of retaining
31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to
wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be
well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of
husbanding one's strength.
32. To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in
perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm
and confident array:--this is the art of studying
33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy,
nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.
34. Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not attack
soldiers whose temper is keen.
35. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with
an army that is returning home.
36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a
desperate foe too hard.
37. Such is the art of warfare.
VIII. VARIATION IN TACTICS
1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the
sovereign, collects his army and concentrates his forces
2. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high
roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in
dangerously isolated positions. In hemmed-in situations, you must
resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight.
3. There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be
not attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which
must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be
4. The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that
accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his
5. The general who does not understand these, may be well
acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not
be able to turn his knowledge to practical account.
6. So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of
varying his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five
Advantages, will fail to make the best use of his men.
7. Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of advantage
and of disadvantage will be blended together.
8. If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may
succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes.
9. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are
always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from
10. Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them; and
make trouble for them, and keep them constantly engaged; hold out
specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point.
11. The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the
enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on
the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we
have made our position unassailable.
12. There are five dangerous faults which may affect a
(1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;
(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
(4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and
13. These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the
conduct of war.
14. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will
surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a
subject of meditation.
IX. THE ARMY ON THE MARCH
1. Sun Tzu said: We come now to the question of encamping the army,
and observing signs of the enemy. Pass quickly over mountains, and
keep in the neighborhood of valleys.
2. Camp in high places, facing the sun. Do not climb heights in
order to fight. So much for mountain warfare.
3. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it.
4. When an invading force crosses a river in its onward march, do
not advance to meet it in mid-stream. It will be best to let half
the army get across, and then deliver your attack.
5. If you are anxious to fight, you should not go to meet the
invader near a river which he has to cross.
6. Moor your craft higher up than the enemy, and facing the sun. Do
not move up-stream to meet the enemy. So much for river
7. In crossing salt-marshes, your sole concern should be to get
over them quickly, without any delay.
8. If forced to fight in a salt-marsh, you should have water and
grass near you, and get your back to a clump of trees. So much for
operations in salt-marches.
9. In dry, level country, take up an easily accessible position
with rising ground to your right and on your rear, so that the
danger may be in front, and safety lie behind. So much for
campaigning in flat country.
10. These are the four useful branches of military knowledge which
enabled the Yellow Emperor to vanquish four several
11. All armies prefer high ground to low and sunny places to
12. If you are careful of your men, and camp on hard ground, the
army will be free from disease of every kind, and this will spell
13. When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the sunny side, with
the slope on your right rear. Thus you will at once act for the
benefit of your soldiers and utilize the natural advantages of the
14. When, in consequence of heavy rains up-country, a river which
you wish to ford is swollen and flecked with foam, you must wait
until it subsides.
15. Country in which there are precipitous cliffs with torrents
running between, deep natural hollows, confined places, tangled
thickets, quagmires and crevasses, should be left with all possible
speed and not approached.
16. While we keep away from such places, we should get the enemy to
approach them; while we face them, we should let the enemy have
them on his rear.
17. If in the neighborhood of your camp there should be any hilly
country, ponds surrounded by aquatic grass, hollow basins filled
with reeds, or woods with thick undergrowth, they must be carefully
routed out and searched; for these are places where men in ambush
or insidious spies are likely to be lurking.
18. When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is
relying on the natural strength of his position.
19. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is
anxious for the other side to advance.
20. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is tendering a
21. Movement amongst the trees of a forest shows that the enemy is
advancing. The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of
thick grass means that the enemy wants to make us suspicious.
22. The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an
ambuscade. Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is
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. 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.
24. Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the
enemy is about to advance. 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
26. Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a
27. When there is much running about and the soldiers fall into
rank, it means that the critical moment has come.
28. When some are seen advancing and some retreating, it is a
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.
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. Clamor by night
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
34. When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle
for food, 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.
35. The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking
in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and
36. Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of
his resources; too many punishments betray a condition of dire
37. To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the
enemy's numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.
38. When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a
sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.
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
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.
What we can do is simply to concentrate all our available strength,
keep a close watch on the enemy, and obtain reinforcements.
41. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his
opponents is sure to be captured by them.
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
43. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with
humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline. 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
45. If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on
his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual.
1. Sun Tzu said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit:
(1) Accessible ground; (2) entangling ground; (3) temporizing
ground; (4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions
at a great distance from the enemy.
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 supplies. 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 temporizing ground.
7. In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should offer
us an attractive bait, 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
8. With regard to narrow passes, if you can occupy them first, let
them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the
9. Should the army 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.
11. If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him,
but retreat and try to entice him away.
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
battle, and fighting will be to your disadvantage.
13. These six are the principles connected with Earth. The general
who has attained a responsible post must be careful to study
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) disorganization; (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. When the officers are too
strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is
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
not he is in a position to fight, the result is ruin.
18. When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders
are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixes duties assigned
to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly
haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.
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 rout.
20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully
noted by the general who has attained a responsible post.
21. The natural formation of the country is the soldier's best
ally; 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
22. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge
into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor
practices 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.
24. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats
without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his
country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the
25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you
into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons,
and they will stand by you even unto death.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
XI. THE NINE SITUATIONS
1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war recognizes 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)
2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is
3. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great
distance, it is facile ground.
4. Ground the possession of which imports great advantage to either
side, is contentious ground.
5. Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is open
6. Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states, so that
he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his command, is
a 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
8. Mountain 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 ground.
10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by
fighting without delay, is desperate ground.
11. On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground,
halt not. On contentious ground, attack not.
12. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy's way. On the
ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies.
13. On serious ground, gather in plunder. In difficult ground, keep
steadily on the march.
14. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem. On desperate ground,
15. Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how to drive
a wedge between the enemy's front and rear; 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 united, they managed to keep them in
17. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when
otherwise, they stopped still.
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."
19. Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy's
unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack
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
22. Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax
them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your
army continually on the move, 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. Officers and men alike will
put forth their uttermost strength.
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
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 marshaled, the soldiers will be
constantly on the qui vive; without waiting to be asked, they will
do your will; 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
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
28. On the day they are ordered out to battle, your soldiers may
weep, those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying
down letting the tears run down their cheeks. But let them once be
brought to bay, and they will display the courage of a Chu or a
29. The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the
shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the ChUng mountains. 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, I should
answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh are enemies; 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.
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.
32. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one
standard of courage which all must reach.
33. How to make the best of both strong and weak--that is a
question involving the proper use of ground.
34. Thus the skillful general conducts his army just as though he
were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.
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, and thus keep them in total
37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, he keeps
the enemy without definite knowledge. By shifting his camp and
taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating
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
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
nothing knows whither he is going.
40. To muster his host and bring it into danger:--this may be
termed the business of the general.
41. The different measures suited to 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 studied.
42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that
penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way
43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your army
across neighborhood territory, you find yourself on critical
ground. 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. On facile ground, I would see that there is close
connection between all parts of my army.
47. On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.
48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defenses. On
ground of intersecting highways, I would consolidate my
49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of
supplies. On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the
50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat. On
desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness
of saving their lives.
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.
52. We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring 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.
53. To be ignored 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.
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. Thus he is able
to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms.
56. Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without
regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a
whole army as though you had to do with but a single man.
57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them
know your design. 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.
59. For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm's way
that is capable of striking a blow for victory.
60. Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating
ourselves to the enemy's purpose.
61. By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank, we shall succeed
in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief.
62. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer
63. On the day that you take up your command, block the frontier
passes, destroy the official tallies, and stop the passage of all
64. Be stern in the council-chamber, so that you may control the
65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear, and
subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.
67. Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate yourself to
the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle.
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
XII. THE ATTACK BY FIRE
1. Sun Tzu said: There are five ways of attacking with fire. The
first is to burn soldiers in their camp; the second is to burn
stores; the third is to burn baggage trains; the fourth is to burn
arsenals and magazines; the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst
2. In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available.
The material for raising fire should always be kept in
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; for these four are all days of
5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five
6. (1) When fire breaks out inside to 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.
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
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 favorable moment.
10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack
from the leeward.
11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze
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.
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 strength.
14. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not robbed
of all his belongings.
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
16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well
ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
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 critical.
18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his
own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of
19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay
where you are.
20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded
21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again
into being; 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
XIII. THE USE OF SPIES
1. Sun Tzu 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. There will be commotion at
home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways.
As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their
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 honors and emoluments,
is the height of inhumanity.
3. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his
sovereign, no master of victory.
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 foreknowledge.
5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it
cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any
6. Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from
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.
9. Having local spies means employing the services of the
inhabitants of a district.
10. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the
11. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy's spies and
using them for our own purposes.
12. Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes
of deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report
them to the enemy.
13. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from
the enemy's camp.
14. Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more intimate
relations to be maintained than with spies. None should be more
liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater secrecy be
15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive
16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and
17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of
the truth of their reports.
18. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of
19. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time
is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the
secret was told.
20. Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to
assassinate an individual, it is always necessary to begin by
finding out the names of the attendants, the aides-de-camp, and
door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must
be commissioned to ascertain these.
21. The enemy's spies who have come to spy on us must be sought
out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus
they will become converted spies and available for our
22. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that
we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies.
23. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the
doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy.
24. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be
used on appointed occasions.
25. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is
knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in
the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential
that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality.
26. Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I Chih who had
served under the Hsia. Likewise, the rise of the Chou dynasty was
due to Lu Ya who had served under the Yin.
27. Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who
will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of
spying and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a most
important element in water, because on them depends an army's
ability to move.
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