You are here > Home > Quick Navigation > Literature > Works

Volume One - The Art of War

Preliminary Calculations

Part 1

Sun Tzu said: What is war? It may be described as one of the most important affairs to the state. It is the ground* of death or life of both soldiers and people, and the way* that governs the survival or the ruin of the state. So we must deliberately examine and study it.

* ground: battlefield.
* way: in ancient Chinese language 'way' means law, principle, or reason.

Part 2

Therefore we should analyse and compare the conditions of ourselves and an enemy from five factors in order to forecast if we will win before the beginning of war. The five factors are as follows: the first is way; the second, heaven; the third, earth; the fourth, generals or commanders, and the firth, law.

What is the way? The way may make the people in complete accord with their ruler in their goals and cause them to share weal and woe fearlessly during the war. What is the heaven? The heaven means day and night, cold and heat, and the sequence of the seasons.

What is the earth? The earth signifies whether the battleground is distant or near, whether the terrain is strategically difficult or secure, vast or narrow, and whether conditions are favourable or unfavourable to the chance of survival.

What is the general or commander? The general or commander may be one who is a high ranking military officer with five virtues: intelligence, trustworthiness, benevolence, courage, and sternness.

What is the law? The law refers to the military establishment, the assignment of officers at all levels, and the allocation and use of military supplies.

Part 3

Whoever leads soldiers to fight must be familiar with the above-mentioned five factors. Only he who thoroughly understands them can win victory. If he is not well versed in these, he may be defeated. Therefore, in order to analyse and compare the conditions of the opposing sides according to a scheme to determine whether our side will win or not, the following questions should be asked:

  • Which ruler is the one who is popular with the people?
  • Which general is the one who has ability?
  • Which side has the more favourable climate and the advantageous terrain?
  • Whose discipline is more effective?
  • Which side possesses military superiority?
  • Which side has soldiers and officers that are better trained?
  • Whose system of rewards and punishments is fairer and clearer?

We may forecast the outcome of a battle if we have a careful consideration of them.

Part 4

The general who adopts my schemes or stratagems will surely win while commanding at the front, and will surely retain his general's position. If he does not adopt my advice, he will certainly suffer defeat at the front, and will not keep his post.

Part 5

The general, having paid attention to my useful schemes or stratagems, must establish his force which will help him realize his plan. What is force? It means that a general should formulate his tactics according to what is expedient.

Part 6

Any military operation takes deception as its basic quality. A commander who is competent should pretend to be incompetent, he who is ready to use military force should pretend to delay his action; he whose troops draw near the enemy should make it seem as if his troops were still far away; and he whose troops are far away from the enemy should let the enemy believe he is drawing near. A good commander must offer a bait to allure the enemy who covets small advantages, capture the enemy when he is in disorder, take precautions against the enemy who has good preparation and substantial strength, evade for a time the enemy while he is strong, enrage the enemy who is hot-tempered, pretend to be weak in order to make the enemy arrogant or haughty, wear the enemy out if he has taken a good rest, set one party against another within the enemy if they are united. A commander must understand how to attack where the enemy is unprepared, and hit when it is unexpected. All the above-mentioned is the key to military victory, but it is never possible to formulate a fixed plan beforehand.

Part 7

It gives a general greater advantage to win to make military decisions in the temple* even before fighting a battle, and less advantage if he makes no military decision in the temple before doing battle. He who plans and prepares carefully will find himself in a favourable position and win victory; he who does so carelessly will find himself in an unfavourable position and win no victory. How much worse off it is for those who do not prepare carefully at all. In this way, we can see clearly who may win and who may lose.

*make military decision in the temple: doing battle is a matter of vital importance to the nation , the generals must hold a ceremony for military actions and forecasting the outcome of war.

Waging War

Part 8

Sun Tzu said: When you dispatch troops for a battle, you must consider you will require one thousand swift war chariots, one thousand heavy war chariots and one hundred thousand soldiers. Besides, you will require enough provisions for them to cover a thousand miles. Therefore it will spend one thousand pieces of gold a day for the expenditure both at home and on the front, for the entertainment of advisers and counsellors, for the maintenance cost of materials such as glue and lacquer, chariots and armours. After you have had enough money, your hundred thousand bold warriors can go out to battle.

Part 9

In military operations a long-drawn-out victory will make the whole army dull and tired out, and dampen the spirit and enthusiasm of the soldiers; a drawn-out siege of a city will exhaust their strength; a protracted campaign abroad will deplete the financial resources of the state. If the army is tired out, the soldiers' enthusiasm is dampened and their strength exhausted, and the state's treasury is depleted, the neighbouring princes will take advantage of your difficulty and attack you and do you harm. By that time, not even an able or wise counsellor can steer clear of danger to safety.

Though we have heard of criticism of a hasty campaign, we have never seen the cleverness in prolonging a war, and we have never heard a protracted war can benefit a country. It is obvious that he who doesn't fully understand the dangers inherent in military operations cannot fully master the method of conducting the army in a profitable way.

Part 10

He who is adept in military operations never raises an army twice nor provides food again and again. He brings along military supplies from his own country, and obtains provisions in the enemy state. In this way, the whole army can be sufficiently provided with food.

Part 11

Generally, transporting supplies to a distant place will impoverish the state that dispatches troops to wage war. At the same time, it will render the common people destitute. Besides, the prices of commodities normally soar near the battleground or the area where the troops are stationed; and the high price will drain away the common people's financial resources; and the financial exhaustion will lead to urgent exactions. With such financial depletion, every household in the country is stripped bare, about seven-tenths of the people's wealth is sent, and six-tenths of the state's revenue is dissipated, with chariots broken, horses worn out, weapons lost or worn, including armours and helmets.arrows and crossbows, halberds and bucklers, spears and shields, draught oxen and heavy wagons and the like.

Part 12

Hence a wise commander should strive to get provisions in the enemy state. The consumption of one zhong* of food from the enemy is equivalent to twenty zhong from his own land; and the consumption of one dan* of enemy fodder to twenty dan of his.

*zhong: ancient Chinese unit of dry measure for food.
*dan: ancient Chinese unit of dry measure for grain.

Part 13

If you want to slay the enemy, you must first rouse the hatred of your soldiers for the enemy, if you want to obtain the enemy's property, you must first give your soldiers material reward. If your army captures ten chariots in a chariot battle, you must reward the first who took the enemy's chariot. Replace the enemy's flags and banners with your own and mix the captured chariots with yours. At the same time, you should treat the captives well and know how to choose them for the right positions. As the saving goes, 'The more times you defeat the enemy the stronger you will be!'

Part 14

Military operations should aim at speedy victory and not prolonged campaigns.
Therefore, the commander who is versed in the art of war is the man to determine the people's fate and to control the security of the nation.

Offensive Strategy

Part 15

Sun Tzu said: The general principle of war is that making the whole state surrender is better than destroying it* subjugating the entire enemy's army is better than crushing it* making a battalion, a company or a five-man squad surrender is better than destroying them.

Therefore, winning one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not real excellence, winning a victory and subduing the enemy without fighting is the highest excellence.

Part 16

Thus, the best policy for the military operations is to gain victory by means of strategy. Next best policy is to disintegrate the enemy's alliances by means of diplomacy; the inferior way is to launch an attack on the enemy; the worst way is to storm cities and seize territory.

Besieging cities is only the last resort, because it takes about three months to make mantelets and shielded vehicles ready and to prepare the necessary arms and equipment; and it takes another three months to pile up earthen mounds against the city walls. If the commander cannot control his impatience and orders his soldiers to swarm up the city wall like ants, the result will be that one-third of them will be killed while the city remains untaken. This is, in fact, the calamity of attacking cities.

A commander, who is well versed in military operations makes the enemy surrender without fighting, captures the enemy's city without storming it, and destroys the enemy's state without protracted military operations. He must gain complete victory all-under-heaven. Therefore, the principle of winning victories by way of stratagem is to triumph without wearing out the troops.

Part 17

Therefore, the law of using troops is to surround the enemy when your strength is ten times his; to storm the enemy when your strength is five times; to attack the enemy from two sides when you are twice as strong; to resist him if you equal your enemy; to know the way of retreat if you are less strong and to avoid the enemy if you are much weaker.

If the weaker battles on stubbornly without taking its strength into account, it will surely be conquered by the stronger.

Part 18

The general assists the ruler in governing a nation. If he assists the ruler to govern the nation well, the nation will surely be powerful; if he does not assist the ruler to govern the nation well, it will certainly be weak.

Part 19

A ruler may bring great misfortune upon his army in three ways. Firstly, if he orders an advance not knowing that his army cannot go forward, or orders a retreat while being ignorant that his army cannot fall back, his orders will, of course, tie down the army. Secondly, if he interferes with the administration of the army without understanding the internal affairs of it, his action will, of course, baffle his officers and soldiers. Thirdly, when he interferes with the direction of the army without knowing the principles of military stratagem, it will, of course, raise doubts and misgivings in the minds of the officers and soldiers. This necessarily leads to their confusion and suspicion. Then, the princes will take the advantage of it and rise in revolt. This is what is meant by the saying, throwing his own army into confusion and paving the way for the enemy's victory.

Part 20

There are five circumstances which can make the commander win victory. He who knows when he may fight and when he may not will win; he who knows how to adopt the appropriate military art according to the number of his own troops and his enemy's will win; he whose general and soldiers can fight with one heart and mind will win; he who is well prepared while his enemy is unprepared will win; he who is a wise and able general and whom the sovereign does not interfere with will win. It is in these five circumstances that the way to victory is known.

Part 21

So it is said that if you know both the, enemy and yourself, you will fight a hundred battles without danger of defeat; if you are ignorant of the enemy but only know yourself, your chances of winning and losing are equal; if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will certainly be defeated in every battle.


Part 22

Sun Tzu said: In the past the skilful warriors first freed themselves from defeat by the enemy, and then awaited opportunities to destroy the enemy. To be invincible depends on one's initiative* to defeat the enemy depends on the enemy's errors.
Therefore, those skilled in war can make themselves invincible but cannot manipulate the defeat of the enemy. That is why it is said one may foretell a victory but cannot be sure to gain victory as one wishes.

Part 23

When there is no chance of winning, assume a defensive position; when there is a chance of victory, launch an attack. If the favourable conditions are insufficient, you should defend yourselves; if the favourable conditions are abundant, you should make an attack. Those skilled in defence should hide themselves as if under the ninefold earth; those skilled in attack should strike at the enemy as if from the ninefold heavens. Thus, they can, on the one hand, protect themselves and, on the other hand, win a complete victory.

Part 24

A foresight of victory that does not exceed ordinary people's common sense, is not the acme of excellence. A victory that is won through fierce fighting and is universally praised is not the acme of excellence. He who can lift a very light hair is not the one with unusual strength; he who can see both the sun and the moon is not the one with keen sight; he who can hear a thunderclap is not the one with acute hearing.

lt was said in ancient times that those skilled in war always defeated the enemy that could easily be conquered. That is just the point; those skilled in war and win victories have neither the reputation for their wisdom nor the merit for their valour. The reason why they are bound to win is that they have planned for the certainty of their victory and the enemy is already destined to defeat. As a result, he who is skilled in war always finds himself in an invincible position and, at the same time, he will be sure to miss no military opportunities to conquer the enemy.

Thus, a victorious army is one that will not fight with the enemy until it is assured of the conditions for winning, while a defeated army is one that starts the fight first and expects to have victory later. He who is adept in military operations always understands the principles of war and adopts the correct policies, so that victory is entirely in his hands.

Part 25

There are five important elements in the military rules: the first is the topographic analysis and survey; the second is the calculation of manpower and material resources; the third, the calculation of numerical strength; the fourth, a comparison of military strength of one's own and of the enemy's; and the fifth, a foresight of victory or defeat.

An excellent general should understand how to analyse and assess the terrain according to the physical features of a battlefield; how to calculate the manpower and material resources of both his side and the enemy according to the topographic analysis and survey; how to calculate the numerical strengths of both sides according to the manpower and material resources; how to compare the military strengths of his side and the enemy according to the numerical strengths, and how to estimate the outcome, win or lose, according to the military strengths of the opposing sides.

Part 26

A victorious army is like one yi* balanced against one zhu*, while a defeated army is like one zhu balanced against one yi. The former has an obvious advantage over the latter. A general who will certainly win commands his men to fight with a force like the bursting of pent-up waters pouring down from a stream ten thousand feet high. This is the disposition of actual military strength.

*yi: an ancient Chinese unit of weight, one yi is 24 liang. (1 liang=50 grams)
*zhu: an Chinese unit of weight, one zhu is equal to 1/24 liang.

Quick Navigation

New Article