Taoism Information Page

Giles' translation of Sun-tzu (part 2)

Index to the Translation

Title Page
01 ~ Laying Plans
02 ~ Waging War
03 ~ Attack by Stratagem
04 ~ Tactical Dispositions
05 ~ Energy
06 ~ Weak Points and Strong
07 ~ Maneuvering
08 ~ Variation in Tactics
09 ~ The Army on the March
10 ~ Terrain
11 ~ The Nine Situations
12 ~ The Attack by Fire
13 ~ The Use of Spies


     [Ts`ao Kung explains the Chinese meaning of the words for 
the title of this chapter:  "marching and countermarching on the 
part of the two armies with a view to discovering each other's 
condition."   Tu Mu says:  "It is through the dispositions of an 
army that its condition may be discovered.  Conceal   your 
dispositions, and your condition will remain secret, which leads 
to victory,;  show your dispositions, and your condition will 
become patent, which leads to defeat."  Wang Hsi remarks that the 
good general can "secure success by modifying his tactics to meet 
those of the enemy."]
     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 himself.
     [That is, of course, by a mistake on the enemy's part.]
     3.  Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against 
     [Chang Yu says this is done,  "By concealing the disposition 
of his troops, covering up his tracks, and taking unremitting 
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.
     [I retain the sense found in a similar passage in ss.  1-3, 
in spite of the fact that the commentators are all against me.  
The meaning they give,  "He who cannot conquer takes   the 
defensive," is plausible enough.]
     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;
     [Literally,  "hides under the ninth earth,"  which is a 
metaphor indicating the utmost secrecy and concealment, so that 
the enemy may not know his whereabouts."]
he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost 
heights of heaven.
     [Another metaphor, implying that he falls on his adversary 
like a thunderbolt, against which there is no time to prepare.  
This is the opinion of most of the commentators.]
Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the 
other, a victory that is complete.
     8.  To see victory only when it is within the ken of the 
common herd is not the acme of excellence.
     [As Ts`ao Kung remarks, "the thing is to see the plant 
before it has germinated," to foresee the event before the action 
has begun.  Li Ch`uan alludes to the story of Han Hsin who,  when 
about to attack the vastly superior army of Chao,  which was 
strongly entrenched in the city of Ch`eng-an,  said to his 
officers:  "Gentlemen, we are going to annihilate the enemy,  and 
shall meet again at dinner."  The officers hardly took his words 
seriously,  and gave a very dubious assent.  But Han Hsin had 
already worked out in his mind the details of a clever stratagem, 
whereby,  as he foresaw, he was able to capture the city and 
inflict a crushing defeat on his adversary."]
     9.  Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and 
conquer and the whole Empire says, "Well done!"
     [True excellence being, as Tu Mu says:  "To plan secretly, 
to move surreptitiously, to foil the enemy's intentions and balk 
his schemes, so that at last the day may be won without shedding 
a drop of blood."  Sun Tzu reserves his approbation for things 
                    "the world's coarse thumb
               And finger fail to plumb."]
     10.  To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength;
     ["Autumn" hair" is explained as the fur of a hare, which is 
finest in autumn, when it begins to grow afresh.  The phrase is a 
very common one in Chinese writers.]
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.
     [Ho Shih gives as real instances of strength,  sharp sight 
and quick hearing:  Wu Huo, who could lift a tripod weighing 250 
stone;  Li Chu, who at a distance of a hundred paces could see 
objects no bigger than a mustard seed; and Shih K`uang, a blind 
musician who could hear the footsteps of a mosquito.]
     11.  What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who 
not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
     [The last half is literally "one who, conquering, excels in 
easy conquering."   Mei Yao-ch`en says:  "He who only sees the 
obvious, wins his battles with difficulty; he who looks below the 
surface of things, wins with ease."]
     12.  Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for 
wisdom nor credit for courage.
     [Tu Mu explains this very well:  "Inasmuch as his victories 
are gained over circumstances that have not come to light,  the 
world as large knows nothing of them, and he wins no reputation 
for wisdom; inasmuch as the hostile state submits before there 
has been any bloodshed, he receives no credit for courage."]
     13.  He wins his battles by making no mistakes.
     [Ch`en Hao says:   "He plans no superfluous marches,  he 
devises no futile attacks."  The connection of ideas is thus 
explained by Chang Yu:  "One who seeks to conquer by sheer 
strength, clever though he may be at winning pitched battles,  is 
also liable on occasion to be vanquished; whereas he who can look 
into the future and discern conditions that are not yet manifest, 
will never make a blunder and therefore invariably win."]
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 the enemy.
     [A  "counsel of perfection"  as Tu Mu truly   observes.  
"Position" need not be confined to the actual ground occupied by 
the troops.  It includes all the arrangements and preparations 
which a wise general will make to increase the safety of his 
     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.
     [Ho Shih thus expounds the paradox:  "In warfare, first lay 
plans which will ensure victory, and then lead your army to 
battle;  if you will not begin with stratagem but rely on brute 
strength alone, victory will no longer be assured."]
     16.  The consummate leader cultivates the moral law,  and 
strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his 
power to control success.
     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 
     [It is not easy to distinguish the four terms very clearly 
in the Chinese.  The first seems to be surveying and measurement 
of the ground, which enable us to form an estimate of the enemy's 
strength,  and to make calculations based on the data thus 
obtained; we are thus led to a general weighing-up, or comparison 
of the enemy's chances with our own; if the latter turn the 
scale,  then victory ensues.  The chief difficulty lies in third 
term,   which in the Chinese some commentators take as   a 
calculation of NUMBERS, thereby making it nearly synonymous with 
the second term.  Perhaps the second term should be thought of as 
a consideration of the enemy's general position or condition, 
while the third term is the estimate of his numerical strength.  
On the other hand,  Tu Mu says:   "The question of relative 
strength having been settled, we can bring the varied resources 
of cunning into play."  Ho Shih seconds this interpretation,  but 
weakens it.  However, it points to the third term as being a 
calculation of numbers.]
     19.  A victorious army opposed to a routed one,  is as a 
pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain.
     [Literally, "a victorious army is like an I (20 oz.) weighed 
against a SHU (1/24 oz.); a routed army is a SHU weighed against 
an I."   The point is simply the enormous advantage which a 
disciplined force, flushed with victory, has over one demoralized 
by defeat."  Legge, in his note on Mencius, I. 2. ix.  2,  makes 
the I to be 24 Chinese ounces, and corrects Chu Hsi's statement 
that it equaled 20 oz. only.  But Li Ch`uan of the T`ang dynasty 
here gives the same figure as Chu Hsi.]
     20.  The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting 
of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.
[Go to Index]


     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 their numbers.
     [That is,  cutting up the army into regiments,  companies, 
etc.,  with subordinate officers in command of each.  Tu Mu 
reminds us of Han Hsin's famous reply to the first Han Emperor, 
who once said to him:  "How large an army do you think I could 
lead?"   "Not more than 100,000 men, your Majesty."   "And you?" 
asked the Emperor.  "Oh!" he answered, "the more the better."]
     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.
     [We now come to one of the most interesting parts of Sun 
Tzu's treatise, the discussion of the CHENG and the CH`I."  As it 
is by no means easy to grasp the full significance of these two 
terms,   or   to render them consistently by   good   English 
equivalents;  it may be as well to tabulate some of   the 
commentators'  remarks on the subject before proceeding further. 
Li Ch`uan:  "Facing the enemy is CHENG, making lateral diversion 
is CH`I.  Chia Lin:  "In presence of the enemy,  your troops 
should be arrayed in normal fashion, but in order to secure 
victory abnormal maneuvers must be employed."   Mei Yao-ch`en:  
"CH`I is active, CHENG is passive; passivity means waiting for an 
opportunity, activity beings the victory itself."  Ho Shih:   "We 
must cause the enemy to regard our straightforward attack as one 
that is secretly designed, and vice versa; thus CHENG may also be 
CH`I,  and CH`I may also be CHENG."  He instances the famous 
exploit of Han Hsin, who when marching ostensibly against Lin-
chin (now Chao-i in Shensi), suddenly threw a large force across 
the Yellow River in wooden tubs,  utterly disconcerting his 
opponent. [Ch`ien Han Shu, ch. 3.]  Here, we are told, the march 
on Lin-chin was CHENG, and the surprise maneuver was CH`I."  
Chang Yu gives the following summary of opinions on the words:  
"Military writers do not agree with regard to the meaning of CH`I 
and CHENG.  Wei Liao Tzu [4th cent. B.C.] says:  'Direct warfare 
favors frontal attacks, indirect warfare attacks from the rear.'  
Ts`ao Kung says:  'Going straight out to join battle is a direct 
operation;   appearing on the enemy's rear is an   indirect 
maneuver.'  Li Wei-kung [6th and 7th cent. A.D.] says:  'In war, 
to march straight ahead is CHENG; turning movements, on the other 
hand, are CH`I.'  These writers simply regard CHENG as CHENG, and 
CH`I as CH`I;  they do not note that the two are mutually 
interchangeable and run into each other like the two sides of a 
circle [see infra, ss. 11].  A comment on the T`ang Emperor T`ai 
Tsung goes to the root of the matter:  'A CH`I maneuver may be 
CHENG, if we make the enemy look upon it as CHENG; then our real 
attack will be CH`I, and vice versa.  The whole secret lies in 
confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.'"  
To put it perhaps a little more clearly:  any attack or other 
operation is CHENG, on which the enemy has had his attention 
fixed;  whereas that is CH`I," which takes him by surprise or 
comes from an unexpected quarter.  If the enemy perceives a 
movement which is meant to be CH`I,"  it immediately becomes 
     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 strong.
     5.  In all fighting, the direct method may be used for 
joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to 
secure victory.
     [Chang Yu says:  "Steadily develop indirect tactics,  either 
by pounding the enemy's flanks or falling on his rear."   A 
brilliant example of  "indirect tactics"  which decided   the 
fortunes of a campaign was Lord Roberts' night march round the 
Peiwar Kotal in the second Afghan war. [1]
     6.  Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhausible 
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.
     [Tu Yu and Chang Yu understand this of the permutations of 
CH`I and CHENG."  But at present Sun Tzu is not speaking of CHENG 
at all,  unless, indeed, we suppose with Cheng Yu-hsien that a 
clause relating to it has fallen out of the text.  Of course,  as 
has already been pointed out, the two are so inextricably 
interwoven in all military operations, that they cannot really be 
considered apart.  Here we simply have an expression,   in 
figurative language, of the almost infinite resource of a great 
     7.  There are not more than five musical notes,  yet the 
combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can 
ever be heard.
     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.
     [The Chinese here is tricky and a certain key word in the 
context it is used defies the best efforts of the translator.  Tu 
Mu defines this word as "the measurement or estimation of 
distance."  But this meaning does not quite fit the illustrative 
simile in ss. 15.  Applying this definition to the falcon,  it 
seems to me to denote that instinct of SELF RESTRAINT which keeps 
the bird from swooping on its quarry until the right moment, 
together with the power of judging when the right moment has 
arrived.  The analogous quality in soldiers is the highly 
important one of being able to reserve their fire until the very 
instant at which it will be most effective.  When the  "Victory" 
went into action at Trafalgar at hardly more than drifting pace, 
she was for several minutes exposed to a storm of shot and shell 
before replying with a single gun.  Nelson coolly waited until he 
was within close range, when the broadside he brought to bear 
worked fearful havoc on the enemy's nearest ships.]
     14.  Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his 
onset, and prompt in his decision.
     [The word "decision" would have reference to the measurement 
of distance mentioned above, letting the enemy get near before 
striking.  But I cannot help thinking that Sun Tzu meant to use 
the word in a figurative sense comparable to our own idiom "short 
and sharp."   Cf. Wang Hsi's note, which after describing the 
falcon's mode of attack,  proceeds:  "This is just how the 
'psychological moment' should be seized in war."]
     15.  Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; 
decision, to the releasing of a trigger.
     [None of the commentators seem to grasp the real point of 
the simile of energy and the force stored up in the bent cross-
bow until released by the finger on the 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 against defeat.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en says:  "The subdivisions of the army having 
been previously fixed, and the various signals agreed upon,  the 
separating and joining, the dispersing and collecting which will 
take place in the course of a battle, may give the appearance of 
disorder when no real disorder is possible.  Your formation may 
be without head or tail, your dispositions all topsy-turvy,  and 
yet a rout of your forces quite out of the question."]
     17.  Simulated disorder postulates perfect   discipline, 
simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates 
     [In order to make the translation intelligible,  it is 
necessary to tone down the sharply paradoxical form of the 
original.  Ts`ao Kung throws out a hint of the meaning in his 
brief note:   "These things all serve to destroy formation and 
conceal one's condition."  But Tu Mu is the first to put it quite 
plainly:   "If you wish to feign confusion in order to lure the 
enemy on, you must first have perfect discipline; if you wish to 
display timidity in order to entrap the enemy,  you must have 
extreme courage; if you wish to parade your weakness in order to 
make   the   enemy over-confident,  you must   have   exceeding 
     18.  Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a 
question of subdivision;
     [See supra, ss. 1.]
concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of 
latent energy;
     [The commentators strongly understand a certain Chinese word 
here differently than anywhere else in this chapter.  Thus Tu Mu 
says:   "seeing that we are favorably circumstanced and yet make 
no move, the enemy will believe that we are really afraid."]
masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical 
     [Chang Yu relates the following anecdote of Kao Tsu,  the 
first Han Emperor:  "Wishing to crush the Hsiung-nu, he sent out 
spies   to report on their condition.  But the   Hsiung-nu, 
forewarned,  carefully concealed all their able-bodied men and 
well-fed horses, and only allowed infirm soldiers and emaciated 
cattle to be seen.  The result was that spies one and all 
recommended the Emperor to deliver his attack.  Lou Ching alone 
opposed them, saying:  "When two countries go to war,  they are 
naturally inclined to make an ostentatious display of their 
strength.  Yet our spies have seen nothing but old age and 
infirmity.  This is surely some ruse on the part of the enemy, 
and it would be unwise for us to attack."  The Emperor,  however, 
disregarding this advice, fell into the trap and found himself 
surrounded at Po-teng."]
     19.  Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the 
move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the 
enemy will act.
     [Ts`ao Kung's note is "Make a display of weakness and want." 
Tu Mu says:  "If our force happens to be superior to the enemy's, 
weakness may be simulated in order to lure him on;  but if 
inferior, he must be led to believe that we are strong, in order 
that he may keep off.  In fact, all the enemy's movements should 
be determined by the signs that we choose to give him."  Note the 
following anecdote of Sun Pin, a descendent of Sun Wu:   In 341 
B.C.,  the Ch`i State being at war with Wei, sent T`ien Chi and 
Sun Pin against the general P`ang Chuan, who happened to be a 
deadly personal enemy of the later.  Sun Pin said:   "The Ch`i 
State has a reputation for cowardice, and therefore our adversary 
despises us.  Let us turn this circumstance to   account."  
Accordingly,  when the army had crossed the border into Wei 
territory,  he gave orders to show 100,000 fires on the first 
night,  50,000 on the next, and the night after only 20,000.  
P`ang Chuan pursued them hotly, saying to himself:  "I knew these 
men of Ch`i were cowards:  their numbers have already fallen away 
by more than half."  In his retreat, Sun Pin came to a narrow 
defile,  with he calculated that his pursuers would reach after 
dark.  Here he had a tree stripped of its bark,  and inscribed 
upon it the words:  "Under this tree shall P`ang Chuan die."  
Then, as night began to fall, he placed a strong body of archers 
in ambush near by, with orders to shoot directly they saw a 
light.  Later on, P`ang Chuan arrived at the spot, and noticing 
the tree, struck a light in order to read what was written on it. 
His body was immediately riddled by a volley of arrows, and his 
whole army thrown into confusion.  [The above is Tu Mu's version 
of the story; the SHIH CHI, less dramatically but probably with 
more historical truth, makes P`ang Chuan cut his own throat with 
an exclamation of despair, after the rout of his army.] ]
He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.
     20.  By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march;  then 
with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.
     [With an emendation suggested by Li Ching, this then reads, 
"He lies in wait with the main body of his troops."]
     21.  The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined 
energy, and does not require too much from individuals.
     [Tu Mu says:  "He first of all considers the power of his 
army in the bulk; afterwards he takes individual talent into 
account,  and uses each men according to his capabilities.  He 
does not demand perfection from the untalented."]
Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined 
     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.
     [Ts`au Kung calls this "the use of natural or inherent 
     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.
     [The chief lesson of this chapter, in Tu Mu's opinion,  is 
the paramount importance in war of rapid evolutions and sudden 
rushes.  "Great results," he adds, "can thus be achieved with 
small forces."]
[1]  "Forty-one Years in India," chapter 46.
[Go to Index]


     [Chang Yu attempts to explain the sequence of chapters as 
follows:   "Chapter IV, on Tactical Dispositions, treated of the 
offensive and the defensive; chapter V, on Energy,  dealt with 
direct and indirect methods.  The good general acquaints himself 
first with the theory of attack and defense, and then turns his 
attention to direct and indirect methods.  He studies the art of 
varying and combining these two methods before proceeding to the 
subject of weak and strong points.  For the use of direct or 
indirect methods arises out of attack and defense,  and the 
perception of weak and strong points depends again on the above 
methods.  Hence the present chapter comes immediately after the 
chapter on Energy."]
     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.
     [One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own 
terms or fights not at all. [1] ]
     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.
     [In the first case, he will entice him with a bait; in the 
second,  he will strike at some important point which the enemy 
will have to defend.]
     4.  If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him;
     [This passage may be cited as evidence against Mei Yao-
Ch`en's interpretation of I. ss. 23.]
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.
     [Ts`ao Kung sums up very well:  "Emerge from the void  [q.d. 
like  "a bolt from the blue"], strike at vulnerable points,  shun 
places that are defended, attack in unexpected quarters."]
     7.  You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you 
only attack places which are undefended.
     [Wang Hsi explains "undefended places" as "weak points; that 
is to say,  where the general is lacking in capacity,  or the 
soldiers in spirit; where the walls are not strong enough, or the 
precautions not strict enough; where relief comes too late,  or 
provisions are too scanty, or the defenders are variance amongst 
You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold 
positions that cannot be attacked.
     [I.e.,  where there are none of the weak points mentioned 
above.   There   is rather a nice point involved   in   the 
interpretation of this later clause.  Tu Mu, Ch`en Hao, and Mei 
Yao-ch`en assume the meaning to be:  "In order to make your 
defense quite safe, you must defend EVEN those places that are 
not likely to be attacked;" and Tu Mu adds:   "How much more, 
then,  those that will be attacked."  Taken thus,  however,  the 
clause   balances   less well with the   preceding--always   a 
consideration in the highly antithetical style which is natural 
to the Chinese.  Chang Yu, therefore, seems to come nearer the 
mark in saying:  "He who is skilled in attack flashes forth from 
the topmost heights of heaven [see IV.  ss.  7],  making it 
impossible for the enemy to guard against him.  This being so, 
the places that I shall attack are precisely those that the enemy 
cannot defend....  He who is skilled in defense hides in the most 
secret recesses of the earth, making it impossible for the enemy 
to estimate his whereabouts.  This being so, the places that I 
shall hold are precisely those that the enemy cannot attack."]
     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.
     [An aphorism which puts the whole art of war in a nutshell.]
     9.  O divine art of subtlety and secrecy!  Through you we 
learn to be invisible, through you inaudible;
     [Literally,  "without form or sound," but it is said of 
course with reference to the enemy.]
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 to relieve.
     [Tu Mu says:  "If the enemy is the invading party,  we can 
cut his line of communications and occupy the roads by which he 
will have to return; if we are the invaders, we may direct our 
attack against the sovereign himself."  It is clear that Sun Tzu, 
unlike certain generals in the late Boer war, was no believer in 
frontal attacks.]
     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.
     [This   extremely   concise   expression   is   intelligibly 
paraphrased by Chia Lin:  "even though we have constructed 
neither wall nor ditch."  Li Ch`uan says:  "we puzzle him by 
strange and unusual dispositions;" and Tu Mu finally clinches the 
meaning by three illustrative anecdotes--one of Chu-ko Liang, who 
when occupying Yang-p`ing and about to be attacked by Ssu-ma I, 
suddenly struck his colors, stopped the beating of the drums, and 
flung open the city gates, showing only a few men engaged in 
sweeping and sprinkling the ground.  This unexpected proceeding 
had the intended effect; for Ssu-ma I,  suspecting an ambush, 
actually drew off his army and retreated.  What Sun Tzu is 
advocating here,  therefore, is nothing more nor less than the 
timely use of "bluff."]
     13.  By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining 
invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated,  while 
the enemy's must be divided.
     [The conclusion is perhaps not very obvious, but Chang Yu 
(after Mei Yao-ch`en) rightly explains it thus:  "If the enemy's 
dispositions are visible,  we can make for him in one body; 
whereas,  our own dispositions being kept secret, the enemy will 
be obliged to divide his forces in order to guard against attack 
from every quarter."]
     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 few.
     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;
     [Sheridan once explained the reason of General Grant's 
victories by saying that "while his opponents were kept fully 
employed wondering what he was going to do, HE was thinking most 
of what he was going to do himself."]
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.
     [In Frederick the Great's INSTRUCTIONS TO HIS GENERALS we 
read:   "A defensive war is apt to betray us into too frequent 
detachment.  Those generals who have had but little experience 
attempt to protect every point, while those who are better 
acquainted with their profession, having only the capital object 
in view, guard against a decisive blow, and acquiesce in small 
misfortunes to avoid greater."]
     18.  Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against 
possible   attacks;  numerical strength,  from compelling   our 
adversary to make these preparations against us.
     [The highest generalship, in Col. Henderson's words, is  "to 
compel the enemy to disperse his army, and then to concentrate 
superior force against each fraction in turn."]
     19.  Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we 
may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.
     [What Sun Tzu evidently has in mind is that nice calculation 
of distances and that masterly employment of strategy which 
enable a general to divide his army for the purpose of a long and 
rapid march, and afterwards to effect a junction at precisely the 
right spot and the right hour in order to confront the enemy in 
overwhelming strength.  Among many such successful junctions 
which military history records, one of the most dramatic and 
decisive was the appearance of Blucher just at the critical 
moment on the field of Waterloo.]
     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!
     [The Chinese of this last sentence is a little lacking in 
precision,  but the mental picture we are required to draw is 
probably that of an army advancing towards a given rendezvous in 
separate columns, each of which has orders to be there on a fixed 
date.  If the general allows the various detachments to proceed 
at haphazard,  without precise instructions as to the time and 
place of meeting, the enemy will be able to annihilate the army 
in detail.  Chang Yu's note may be worth quoting here:  "If we do 
not know the place where our opponents mean to concentrate or the 
day on which they will join battle, our unity will be forfeited 
through our preparations for defense, and the positions we hold 
will be insecure.  Suddenly happening upon a powerful foe,  we 
shall be brought to battle in a flurried condition, and no mutual 
support will be possible between wings,  vanguard or rear, 
especially if there is any great distance between the foremost 
and hindmost divisions of the army."]
     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.
     [Alas for these brave words!  The long feud between the two 
states ended in 473 B.C. with the total defeat of Wu by Kou Chien 
and its incorporation in Yueh.  This was doubtless long after Sun 
Tzu's death.  With his present assertion compare IV.  ss.  4.  
Chang Yu is the only one to point out the seeming discrepancy, 
which he thus goes on to explain:  "In the chapter on Tactical 
Dispositions it is said, 'One may KNOW how to conquer without 
being able to DO it,' whereas here we have the statement that 
'victory'  can be achieved.'  The explanation is,  that in the 
former chapter,  where the offensive and defensive are under 
discussion,  it is said that if the enemy is fully prepared,  one 
cannot make certain of beating him.  But the present passage 
refers particularly to the soldiers of Yueh who, according to Sun 
Tzu's calculations,  will be kept in ignorance of the time and 
place of the impending struggle.  That is why he says here 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.
     [An alternative reading offered by Chia Lin is:   "Know 
beforehand all plans conducive to our success and to the enemy's 
     23.  Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or 
     [Chang Yu tells us that by noting the joy or anger shown by 
the enemy on being thus disturbed, we shall be able to conclude 
whether his policy is to lie low or the reverse.  He instances 
the action of Cho-ku Liang, who sent the scornful present of a 
woman's head-dress to Ssu-ma I, in order to goad him out of his 
Fabian tactics.]
Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable 
     24.  Carefully compare the opposing army with your own,  so 
that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is 
     [Cf. IV. ss. 6.]
     25.  In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you 
can attain is to conceal them;
     [The piquancy of the paradox evaporates in translation.  
Concealment is perhaps not so much actual invisibility (see supra 
ss. 9) as "showing no sign" of what you mean to do, of the plans 
that are formed in your brain.]
conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying 
of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest 
     [Tu Mu explains:  "Though the enemy may have clever and 
capable officers, they will not be able to lay any plans against 
     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.
     [I.e., everybody can see superficially how a battle is won; 
what they cannot see is the long series of plans and combinations 
which has preceded the battle.]
     28.  Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one 
victory,  but let your methods be regulated by the infinite 
variety of circumstances.
     [As Wang Hsi sagely remarks:  "There is but one root-
principle underlying victory, but the tactics which lead up to it 
are infinite in number."  With this compare Col. Henderson:  "The 
rules of strategy are few and simple.  They may be learned in a 
week.  They may be taught by familiar illustrations or a dozen 
diagrams.  But such knowledge will no more teach a man to lead an 
army like Napoleon than a knowledge of grammar will teach him to 
write like Gibbon."]
     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.
     [Like water, taking the line of least resistance.]
     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 captain.
     34.  The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are 
not always equally predominant;
     [That   is,   as   Wang   Hsi   says:    "they   predominate 
the four seasons make way for each other in turn.
     [Literally, "have no invariable seat."]
There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning 
and waxing.
     [Cf.  V.  ss. 6.  The purport of the passage is simply to 
illustrate the want of fixity in war by the changes constantly 
taking place in Nature.  The comparison is not very happy, 
however,  because the regularity of the phenomena which Sun Tzu 
mentions is by no means paralleled in war.]
[1]   See Col. Henderson's biography of Stonewall Jackson,  1902 
ed., vol. II, p. 490.
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