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Volume Two - The Art of War


Part 27

Sun Tzu said: Managing a big army is in principle the same as managing a small one: it is a matter of organization. Directing a large army is the same as directing a small troop: it is a matter of strict and impartial command. What makes the whole army under attack not suffer defeat is a matter of adopting normal and special tactics. Troops thrown against the enemy like a grindstone against eggs is a matter of staying clear of the enemy's main forces and striking at his weak points.

Part 28

During a war, the general should adopt the normal way of confronting the enemy, while using special tactics to take the enemy by surprise. He who is adept in such tactics can apply them in ways as infinite as heaven and earth and as the never-ending flow of river. They terminate, but soon begin again, like the sun and moon in motion; they die away, but then they regenerate like the seasons in sequence. There are only five musical notes, but their varied combinations bring about melodies more pleasing and wonderful than ever heard. There are only five basic colours, but their variations and blending produce colours more beautiful and splendid than ever seen. There are only five cardinal tastes, but their mixture yields flavours more delicious and savoury than ever tasted*.

Similarly military formations are not more than the application of special and normal tactics, but their variations and combinations will give rise to an infinite series of manoeuvres. Both special and normal tactics are interdependent and mutually reproductive like a cyclical movement that has neither a beginning nor an end. Who can know its infinitude?

* In ancient China, the people considered that there were five musical notes, namely: gong, shang, jue, zhi and yu; five basic colours, namely: blue, yellow, red, white and black; and five cardinal tastes, namely: sour, salty, pungent, bitter and sweet.

Part 29

A torrent that flows swiftly can float heavy boulders. It is because of the strong momentum of the water. A hawk that flies as quickly as it strikes can destroy its prey. It is because of the timeliness and speediness of its strike.

Similarly, a general who is skilled in war can exploit his own vantage position and launch a swift and sharp attack. His potential is like a crossbow that is fully drawn, and his swiftness is like a shaft that is shot off.

Part 30

In the tumult of battle your army should stay calm. In the chaos of war, where there is no sense of direction, your men should appear to be milling about in circles but remain invulnerable.

Part 31

Disorder comes from order, cowardice stems from courage, and weakness is born of strength. Order or disorder depends on organization, courage or cowardice on circumstances, strength or weakness on dispositions.

Part 32

Therefore, he who is adept at moving the enemy about can put on a deceitful appearance, according to which the enemy will act. He can lure the enemy with something profitable, which the enemy is certain to take. He can drive the enemy about with small advantages and awaits the enemy in strength.

Part 33

The general who is skilled in war always capitalizes on the situation of war and never makes excessive demand on his subordinates. Therefore such a general can select the right men and fully exploit the favourable situation. He who skilled in exploiting the situation directs his men in battles like rolling logs or rocks. The nature of logs or rocks is that they will remain unmoved if the ground is flat; they will roll forward if the ground is slanting, if they are square, they Will stop there; if they are round, they will roll forward.

Thus, the force of the skilful general is just like the momentum of a round rock rolling down a mountain of ten thousand feet high. This is the meaning of potential.

Weakness and Strength

Part 34

Sun Tzu said: He who occupies the battlefield first and awaits the enemy will be at ease; he who arrives later and makes war in haste will be weary. Thus, he who is skilled in war always leads the enemy by the nose, and will not be manipulated by the enemy.

Give the enemy inducement and you can make him come into your trap. Threaten him with danger and you can stop him from approaching you. Therefore, the general should tire the enemy while he is at ease, starve the enemy while he is well fed, and make the enemy move while he is stationary.

Part 35

Appear at the place to which the enemy won't come; attack a place where the enemy does not expect you. If you can lead your troops to march a thousand li and without fatigue, it is because you march in the area where the enemy has not set up defences.
That you are certain to take what you attack is because the enemy cannot fortify it. That you are certain of success in holding what you defend is because the enemy cannot attack it.

So with those who are adept in attack, the enemy docs not know where and how to defend; and with those who are adept in defence, the enemy does not know where and how to attack. Be extremely subtle, so subtle that no one can find any trace; be extremely mysterious, so mysterious that no one can hear any information. If one can do so, one can hold the enemy's fate in one's hands.

Part 36

The offensive one takes can be so strong that the enemy cannot defend just because one strikes at the enemy's weak point. One can withdraw without being overtaken by the enemy just because one moves so swiftly that the enemy cannot pursue. If we intend to fight, the enemy, though holding fast to his position with ramparts high and ditches deep, is compelled to fight with us because we attack where he must succour. If we do not intend to fight with him, even though we set up little defence, the enemy will not intrude upon us because we divert him from going where he wishes.

Part 37

If we expose the enemy's disposition and hide ours, we can concentrate our troops and divide the enemy's forces. If we concentrate our forces at one place while the enemy disperses his forces at ten places, then we are ten to one when we launch an attack on him at one place, which means our forces are numerically superior. If we are able to use many to strike a few, naturally it well be easy enough for us to deal with, because the enemy there is small and weak.

The spot our forces intend to attack must not be known to the enemy. In this way, he must take precautions at many places against our attack, because he does not understand where we shall strike; when he takes precautions at many places, his troops at any given spot will be fewer.

Part 38

If the enemy takes precautions in the front, his rear will be weak; if he takes precautions in the rear, his front will be fragile; if his left gets strengthened, his right will be weakened; if his right is well prepared, his left will be easily destroyed; if he strengthens everywhere, he will be weak everywhere. One who has few must take precautions against possible attacks everywhere; one who has many compels the enemy to prepare against his attacks.

Part 39

If a general knows both the place and time of a battle to come, he can lead his troops to go even a thousand li away for a decisive battle. If he knows neither the place nor the time of a battle to come, then his left wing cannot help his right, and his right wing cannot save his left; the troop in the front cannot .turn back to help the rear, and the rear cannot go forward to relieve the front, let alone looking after the more distant portions of the troops tens of li apart and even the nearest several li away.
My opinion is that the troops of the state Yue* are many, but from the above mentioned principle, can you say for sure that it will help Yue win a battle?

So a victory may be made. Even if the enemy's troops are many, we can find a way to make them unable to fight.

* the state Yue: Wu and Yue were two states in ancient China, Sun Tzu himself helped Wu against Yue.

Part 40

If you consider and analyse the enemy's situation and his plan to battle, you can have a clear understanding of his chances of success. If you agitate the enemy, you can know the patterns of his attack and defence. If you lure the enemy, you can find out his vulnerable points. If you count up the number of the enemy's soldiers and horses, you can know his strengths and inadequacies.

Accordingly, the highest of the military art of deceiving the enemy is to conceal your dispositions, In this way, the most penetrating spies of the enemy cannot pry in, even the wise man may not conspire against you. Even if you make public that you have won victory by taking appropriate tactics in conformity to the enemy's changing situation, they are still unable to comprehend it. Though everyone knows the tactics by which you have won victory, yet they are unable to know how it was applied to defeat the enemy. Therefore the way to defeat the enemy should not follow the beaten track, but change constantly according to the enemy's changing situation.

Part 41

Military tactics are like flowing water. Flowing water always moves from high to low, and military tactics always avoid the enemy's strong points and attack his weak points. Whereas the course of flowing water is decided by the different landforms, the way to win victory in a battle is decided by altering the tactics according to enemy's changing situation.

Accordingly, the way to fight never remains constant and water never flows in the same way. Whoever can win victory by taking appropriate tactics according to the enemy's different situations is one who directs military operations with great skill. It is just like Wuxing* (the five elements), of which none is forever dominant, and the four seasons, of which none can last forever; and the days, which are, sometimes long and sometimes short; and the moon, which sometimes waxes and sometimes wanes.

*Wuxing: Classic Chinese philosophy calls Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth the five elements. The five elements represent five states of forces of expansion or condensation.

Fighting for Military Advantage

Sun Tzu said: In military operations the general receives his commands from the sovereign, then he assembles soldiers to form units, and mobilizes them to confront the enemy. During the whole process nothing is more difficult than to fight for a favourable position with the enemy.

The reason why it is most difficult is that the general must make a circuitous route direct and turn disadvantage into advantage. He can deceive the enemy by taking a devious route and tempt the enemy with a bait, so that his own troops arrive at the battle ground earlier, though they set out later than the enemy. Only doing this can he know the artifice of "making a circuitous route direct."

Part 43

There is not only advantage but also danger in fighting for a favourable position. If you strive for a favourable position in battle, bringing along the whole impedimenta, naturally, you will be slowed down. If you leave the impedimenta behind, naturally, it will be lost.

So if your army buckles on armour and hastily makes for a favourable position in battle, stopping neither day nor night and marching at double speed, as a result, after running a hundred li, the main generals of the army will be captured; those who are strong and vigorous will get there first, those who are feeble and tired will straggle behind. In this way, only one-tenth of the army will arrive on time. If they run fifty li to pursue a favourable position, the general of the vanguards will suffer setbacks, and only half of the army will arrive there on time. If they run thirty li to fight for a good position, only two-thirds will arrive.

Everyone knows that the army will be defeated by the enemy if it has no impedimenta, food and military provisions.

Part 44

A commander who does not understand the plots and schemes of the princes cannot enter into alliances with them. He who is not familiar with different topographical features of mountains and forests, hazardous defiles, marshes and swamps cannot conduct the march of an army. He who does not hire local guides cannot gain a favourable position for battle.

Part 45

In military operations, you may gain victory with military stratagem, you should take action when conditions are favourable, and you may divide or concentrate the army according to circumstances. So you should be as swift as strong wind while taking action; you should be as stable as silent forests which the wind cannot shake while you move slowly; you should be as fierce and violent as raging flames while raiding the enemy's state; you should be as firm as high mountains while being stationed there; you should be as inscrutable as something behind the clouds, and you should strike as suddenly as thunderclap. You must divide your forces and plunder the enemy's countryside, and separate them for the defence of the newly captured territory. You must weigh the pros and cons before you move. He who masters the tactic of deviation first will win victory. This is how to fight for military advantage.

Part 46

The book Military Management says, 'Gongs and drums are used in battle because voices are not heard; banners and flags are used because soldiers cannot see one another clearly.'
Accordingly, they usually use gongs, drums, flags and banners as instruments to unify the army.

When the soldiers have been unified, the courageous cannot advance alone, and the cowardly cannot retreat by himself. This is the rule for directing a large army.

So fires and drums are usually used as signals in night battles, while banners and flags are employed in day battles. What it does is just to adapt to the soldiers' ability to hear and to see.

Part 47

You should deflate the enemy's fighting spirit and shake the general's morale. Normally, at the beginning of war the spirit of the enemy is keen and irresistible. A certain period later, it will decline and slacken. In the final stages of war it will become feeble, and the soldiers are in no mood to fight.

Part 48

The skilful commander always avoids the enemy when his morale is high and irresistible, and attacks him when he is slack, tired and reluctant to fight. If he does so he can master the soldiers' morale. He keeps a highly disciplined army to fight the confused enemy army, and confronts the clamorous enemy troops with his own troops in serenity. If he does so, he can have a good grasp of the soldiers' morale. He takes his troops close to the battlefield to wait for the enemy still coming from afar, leads his troops that has had a full rest against the exhausted enemy, and brings his well-fed troops upon the enemy soldiers that are hungry. If he does this, he has good control of military strength.

The skilful commander never meets a head-on enemy that lines up in good order with banners high, nor attacks an enemy with battle formation strong and impressive. This shows that he has a clear understanding of the flexible use of tactics.

Part 49

Here are some principles of military operations. Never launch an upward attack on the enemy who occupies high ground; nor meet the enemy head-on when there are hills backing him; nor follow on his heels in hot pursuit when he pretends to flee; nor attack troops that are fresh and strong. Never swallow a bait offered by the enemy, nor thwart the enemy that withdraws from the front. To a surrounded enemy you should leave a way for his escape, and do not press too hard the enemy that is in a desperate corner. Such are the ways of military operations.

Tactical Variables

Part 50

Sun Tzu said: In military operations, the general receives his commands from the sovereign, then he assembles soldiers to form units. In leading his troops, do not encamp or station where it is difficult for the army to pass through; ally with the local princes where the highway extends in all directions; do not linger where it is uninhabitable; venture into an enclosed region with shrewdness and stratagem; fight a desperate battle where there is no way to advance or retreat. There are some roads which should not be followed; some enemy troops which should not be attacked. There are some cities which should not be captured, some territories which should not be seized, and some orders from the sovereign which need not be obeyed.

Part 51

All the above are the tactical variables which a general or commander should thoroughly understand. Only if he knows them well can he know military operations. If he does not have a clear understanding of their real values, he cannot use a territory to his advantage though he is well acquainted with its topography. If a general docs not know the tactical variables, he will not be able to bring the soldiers' fighting capacity into play, in spite of his knowing the five advantages*.

*five advantages: "There are some roads which should not be followed; ... and some orders from the sovereign which need not be obeyed."

Part 52

A wise general must give his consideration to both favourable factors and unfavourable factors. He should take full account of the unfavourable factors when he finds himself in a favourable position. Only then can he succeed in his plans. He should take full account of the favourable conditions while in an unfavourable position. Only then can he resolve the difficulties.

If you want to subdue the hostile princes, threaten them with what they fear most; if you want to make them do what you desire, trouble them with busy work; if you want to lead the enemy by the nose, give them small advantages.

Part 53

In military operations, the following is a useful rule. Never rely on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on your own readiness to meet him. Do not expect that the enemy may not launch an attack, but count on the fact that you have made yourself invincible.

Part 54

There are five fatal weaknesses of a general. He who is brave but not resourceful and only knows how to put up a desperate fight will easily be killed; he who is cowardly on the eve of a battle will easily be captured; he who is quick-tempered will easily be provoked into rash moves; he who has too delicate a sense of honour is liable to be shamed and driven to reckless action; he who is too benevolent and loves his people is liable to become hesitant and passive.
These five fatal weaknesses are all the general's faults which will be ruinous to military operations. The destruction of the whole army and the slaughter of the commanders are the inevitable results of these five fatal weaknesses. Therefore generals must not treat them lightly.

The Army on the March

Part 55

Sun Tzu said: A general must observe the following when he deploys troops for battle and investigate the opponent's situation.

Be sure to stay near the valleys when going through mountains; select a place on high ground facing the sunlight for the military camps and do not ascend to fight a battle on high ground. This is the law for taking military position in mountains.

After crossing a river you must stay far away from it. If the enemy attacks from across the river, do not meet him in the water. Instead, it is advantageous to allow half of the enemy's troops to get across and then strike them. If you wish to fight with the enemy, do not go to meet him near a river. Instead, select a place on high ground facing the sunlight for the camps and never encamp in the lower reaches of a river. This is the law for taking up military position in the region of rivers.

Be sure to cross salt marshes quickly with no delay. On encountering the enemy's troops in a salt marsh, keep to those places with plenty of grass with trees to the rear. This is the law for taking up military position in the region of salt marshes.

Be sure to select an easily accessible place on level ground to pitch camps, with heights to the right and rear, so that the low ground is in front and the high ground be- hind. This is the law for taking up military position on level ground.

These are the very four laws for encamping and disposing troops which enabled the Yellow Emperor* to conquer the four other emperors* in ancient times.

*Yellow Emperor: It was said that the Yellow Emperor was the first father of Han nation.
*four other emperors: leaders of four tribes in the time of the Yellow Emperor.

Part 56

All commanders prefer to station their troops on high ground rather than on low land, in the sunlight rather than in the shade and where food crops can grow and the ground is protected. The troops can be free from diseases and this guarantees victory. If you find hills or dikes, you should station your troops on the sunnyside, with the hills or dikes at your back. Such military advantages are afforded by the suitable ground on which you station your troops.

Part 57

If heavy rain falls in the upper reaches of a river and forms torrents rushing down to the lower course, never cross the river but wait until the flood subsides.

When you encounter these dangerous situations, never approach them but avert them quickly: a deep ravine with a violent torrent; a deep gully with dangerous cliffs around; a hemmed-in position as perilous as a prison where it is easy to enter it but difficult to get out, a position which is overgrown with grass and thickets; a low-lying marshy land and a narrow pass between two precipitous mountains.

Keep away from these positions and let the enemy approach them; face them and cause the enemy to put his back against them.

If you find near your camp dangerous defiles, lowlying land overgrown with reeds, or forested mountains with dense tangled undergrowth, you must have a thorough search to see if there are ambushes laid or spies hiding.

Part 58

If the enemy's troops are near your camps and yet they remain composed, it is because their position is advantageous to them. If they are far away from you and yet dare to come and challenge you to battle, it is because they want to seduce you to make an advance. If the enemy stations his troops in a convenient place, it is because there are practical advantages in doing so.

Part 59

When you find the trees moving, the enemy is advancing towards you. When you find a lot of obstacles hidden among the undergrowth, you know that is the enemy's deception. Birds rising in flight shows there are troops in ambush. Frightened animals scurrying about is a sign of the enemy's imminent attack. Clouds of dust gushing out in high straight columns tells you that the enemy's chariots are approaching. When the dust stays low and is widespread, it is a sign that the enemy's infantry is drawing near. But if the dust is scattered around, it shows that the enemy is cutting firewood. When the dust is low and small and rise intermittently, it indicates that the enemy is going to pitch camps.

Part 60

When the enemy's messenger speaks humbly while his war preparations continue, the enemy is going to advance. When the enemy speaks uncompromisingly and threatens to advance, he is going to retreat. When the enemy's light chariots set out first and take position on both wings, it signifies that the enemy is arranging his battle formation. When the enemy asks for a truce without advance appointment, it means that he must have been plotting. When the generals of the enemy busily move about to arrange the positions of foot-soldiers and armed vehicles, that shows the enemy is expecting to launch a decisive attack. When half of the enemy's troops advances and half retreats, that means that the enemy is trying to decoy you.

Part 61

When you find the enemy's soldiers leaning on their weapons, you can reason that they have been famished. When you find the enemy's soldiers drink the water they draw before carrying it to the camp, it means that they have been suffering from thirst. And when the enemy sees some profit but does not try to obtain it, it is because he has been completely exhausted. When birds wheel above the enemy's campsite, it suggests that the camp must be unoccupied and the enemy has fled. Clamour from the enemy's camp at night shows that the enemy's troops are terrified and insecure. Disturbance in the enemy's camp means his generals have lost their prestige and authority. When banners and flags are shifted about, confusion must have appeared in the enemy's camp. When lower officers become irritable, they have been weary of war. If the enemy feeds his horses with grain, kills beasts of draught as food for the soldiers, destroys his cooking utensils, and shows no intention to return to the camp, that is to say, he has already determined to fight to death.

Part 62

When soldiers gather together in small groups and complain in a murmur, it betokens that the general has lost their support. A commander who rewards his soldiers too often is in a predicament. He who punishes his soldiers too frequently is in serious distress. If he treats his soldiers violently at first and then fears that they will betray him, he is extremely unintelligent. If the enemy sends a messenger to express his`thanks in a mild tone, it indicates that the enemy wishes for a truce.

Part 63

If the enemy's troops come angrily to meet you and confront yours for a long time, neither fighting nor retreating, you must watch cautiously what they are going to do.

Part 64

Having more soldiers in war does not give absolute superiority. Never advance recklessly by sheer force, but concentrate your troops through a correct assessment of the enemy's disposition and you will defeat the enemy. He who lacks careful thought and strategy and underestimates the enemy will surely be captured by the opponent.

Part 65

When soldiers are rashly punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not obey you. Such troops are naturally very difficult for you to command if the soldiers have become attached to you, but you exercise no strict and impartial discipline, you still cannot command them to fight.

You should command your troops with civility and humanity, unify and control them with martial discipline, and you will be invincible. If orders are strictly observed to discipline and instruct the troops,the soldiers will be obedient. Otherwise they will be disobedient. If orders are observed constantly and conscientiously, both the commander and the soldiers will benefit and trust each other.

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