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Giles' translation of Sun-tzu (part 4)

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


     [Only about a third of the chapter, comprising ss. ss. 1-13, 
deals with "terrain," the subject being more fully treated in ch. 
XI.  The  "six calamities" are discussed in SS. 14-20,  and the 
rest of the chapter is again a mere string of desultory remarks, 
though not less interesting, perhaps, on that account.]
     1.  Sun Tzu said:  We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, 
to wit:  (1)  Accessible ground;
     [Mei Yao-ch`en says:  "plentifully provided with roads and 
means of communications."]
(2)  entangling ground;
     [The same commentator says:  "Net-like country,  venturing 
into which you become entangled."]
(3)  temporizing ground;
     [Ground which allows you to "stave off" or "delay."]
(4)  narrow passes; (5)  precipitous heights; (6) positions at a 
great distance from the enemy.
     [It is hardly necessary to point out the faultiness of this 
classification.  A strange lack of logical perception is shown in 
the   Chinaman's unquestioning acceptance of glaring   cross-
divisions such as the above.]
     2.  Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is 
     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.
     [The general meaning of the last phrase is doubtlessly,  as 
Tu Yu says, "not to allow the enemy to cut your communications."  
In view of Napoleon's dictum, "the secret of war lies in the 
communications,"  [1]  we could wish that Sun Tzu had done more 
than skirt the edge of this important subject here and in I.  ss. 
10,  VII. ss. 11.  Col. Henderson says:  "The line of supply may 
be said to be as vital to the existence of an army as the heart 
to the life of a human being.  Just as the duelist who finds his 
adversary's point menacing him with certain death, and his own 
guard astray,  is compelled to conform to his   adversary's 
movements,  and to content himself with warding off his thrusts, 
so the commander whose communications are suddenly threatened 
finds himself in a false position, and he will be fortunate if he 
has not to change all his plans, to split up his force into more 
or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferior numbers 
on ground which he has not had time to prepare, and where defeat 
will not be an ordinary failure, but will entail the ruin or 
surrender of his whole army." [2]
Then you will be able to fight with advantage.
     4.  Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy 
is called ENTANGLING.
     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.
     [Tu Mu says:  "Each side finds it inconvenient to move,  and 
the situation remains at a deadlock."]
     7.  In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should 
offer us an attractive bait,
     [Tu Yu says, "turning their backs on us and pretending to 
flee."   But this is only one of the lures which might induce us 
to quit our position.]
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 advantage.
     8.  With regard to NARROW PASSES, if you can occupy them 
first,  let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of 
the enemy.
     [Because then, as Tu Yu observes, "the initiative will lie 
with us,  and by making sudden and unexpected attacks we shall 
have the enemy at our mercy."]
     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 garrisoned.
     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.
     [Ts`ao Kung says:  "The particular advantage of securing 
heights and defiles is that your actions cannot then be dictated 
by the enemy."   [For the enunciation of the grand principle 
alluded to,  see VI.  ss. 2].  Chang Yu tells the following 
anecdote of P`ei Hsing-chien (A.D. 619-682), who was sent on a 
punitive expedition against the Turkic tribes.  "At night he 
pitched his camp as usual, and it had already been completely 
fortified by wall and ditch, when suddenly he gave orders that 
the army should shift its quarters to a hill near by.  This was 
highly displeasing to his officers, who protested loudly against 
the extra fatigue which it would entail on the men.  P`ei Hsing-
chien,  however, paid no heed to their remonstrances and had the 
camp moved as quickly as possible.  The same night,  a terrific 
storm came on, which flooded their former place of encampment to 
the depth of over twelve feet.  The recalcitrant officers were 
amazed at the sight, and owned that they had been in the wrong.  
'How did you know what was going to happen?' they asked.  P`ei 
Hsing-chien replied:  'From this time forward be content to obey 
orders without asking unnecessary questions.'  From this it may 
be seen,"  Chang Yu continues, "that high and sunny places are 
advantageous not only for fighting, but also because they are 
immune from disastrous floods."]
     11.  If the enemy has occupied them before you,  do not 
follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away.
     [The turning point of Li Shih-min's campaign in 621 A.D. 
against the two rebels, Tou Chien-te, King of Hsia,  and Wang 
Shih-ch`ung,  Prince of Cheng, was his seizure of the heights of 
Wu-lao,  in spike of which Tou Chien-te persisted in his attempt 
to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was defeated and taken prisoner.  
See CHIU T`ANG, ch. 2, fol. 5 verso, and also ch. 54.]
     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,
     [The point is that we must not think of undertaking a long 
and wearisome march, at the end of which, as Tu Yu says,  "we 
should be exhausted and our adversary fresh and keen."]
and fighting will be to your disadvantage.
     13.  These six are the principles connected with Earth.
     [Or perhaps,  "the principles relating to ground."   See, 
however, I. ss. 8.]
The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful 
to study them.
     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) 
     15.  Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled 
against another ten times its size, the result will be the FLIGHT 
of the former.
     16.  When the common soldiers are too strong and their 
officers too weak, the result is INSUBORDINATION.
     [Tu Mu cites the unhappy case of T`ien Pu [HSIN T`ANG SHU, 
ch. 148], who was sent to Wei in 821 A.D. with orders to lead an 
army against Wang T`ing-ts`ou.  But the whole time he was in 
command,  his soldiers treated him with the utmost contempt,  and 
openly flouted his authority by riding about the camp on donkeys, 
several thousands at a time.  T`ien Pu was powerless to put a 
stop to this conduct, and when, after some months had passed,  he 
made an attempt to engage the enemy, his troops turned tail and 
dispersed in every direction.  After that, the unfortunate man 
committed suicide by cutting his throat.]
When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too 
weak, the result is COLLAPSE.
     [Ts`ao Kung says:  "The officers are energetic and want to 
press on, the common soldiers are feeble and suddenly collapse."]
     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 no he is in a position to fight, the result is RUIN.
     [Wang Hsi`s note is:  "This means, the general is angry 
without cause,  and at the same time does not appreciate the 
ability of his subordinate officers; thus he arouses fierce 
resentment and brings an avalanche of ruin upon his head."]
     18.  When the general is weak and without authority;  when 
his orders are not clear and distinct;
     [Wei Liao Tzu (ch. 4) says:  "If the commander gives his 
orders with decision, the soldiers will not wait to hear them 
twice;  if his moves are made without vacillation,  the soldiers 
will not be in two minds about doing their duty."  General Baden-
Powell says,  italicizing the words:  "The secret of getting 
successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell--in 
the clearness of the instructions they receive."  [3]  Cf.  also 
Wu Tzu ch. 3:  "the most fatal defect in a military leader is 
difference;  the worst calamities that befall an army arise from 
when there are no fixes duties assigned to officers and men,
     [Tu Mu says:  "Neither officers nor men have any regular 
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.
     [Chang Yu paraphrases the latter part of the sentence and 
continues:   "Whenever there is fighting to be done, the keenest 
spirits should be appointed to serve in the front ranks, both in 
order to strengthen the resolution of our own men and to 
demoralize the enemy."  Cf. the primi ordines of Caesar  ("De 
Bello Gallico," V. 28, 44, et al.).]
     20.  These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be 
carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible 
     [See supra, ss. 13.]
     21.  The natural formation of the country is the soldier's 
best ally;
     [Ch`en Hao says:  "The advantages of weather and season are 
not equal to those connected with ground."]
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 general.
     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 
     [Cf. VIII. ss. 3 fin.  Huang Shih-kung of the Ch`in dynasty, 
who is said to have been the patron of Chang Liang and to have 
written the SAN LUEH, has these words attributed to him:   "The 
responsibility of setting an army in motion must devolve on the 
general alone;  if advance and retreat are controlled from the 
Palace,  brilliant results will hardly be achieved.  Hence the 
god-like ruler and the enlightened monarch are content to play a 
humble part in furthering their country's cause [lit., kneel down 
to push the chariot wheel]."  This means that "in matters lying 
outside the zenana, the decision of the military commander must 
be absolute."  Chang Yu also quote the saying:  "Decrees from the 
Son of Heaven do not penetrate the walls of a camp."]
     24.  The general who advances without coveting fame and 
retreats without fearing disgrace,
     [It was Wellington, I think, who said that the hardest thing 
of all for a soldier is to retreat.]
whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service 
for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
     [A noble presentiment, in few words, of the Chinese  "happy 
warrior."   Such a man, says Ho Shih, "even if he had to suffer 
punishment, would not regret his conduct."]
     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.
     [Cf.  I. ss. 6.  In this connection, Tu Mu draws for us an 
engaging picture of the famous general Wu Ch`i,  from whose 
treatise on war I have frequently had occasion to quote:   "He 
wore the same clothes and ate the same food as the meanest of his 
soldiers,  refused to have either a horse to ride or a mat to 
sleep on, carried his own surplus rations wrapped in a parcel, 
and shared every hardship with his men.  One of his soldiers was 
suffering from an abscess, and Wu Ch`i himself sucked out the 
virus.  The soldier's mother, hearing this, began wailing and 
lamenting.  Somebody asked her, saying:  'Why do you cry?   Your 
son is only a common soldier, and yet the commander-in-chief 
himself has sucked the poison from his sore.'  The woman replied, 
'Many years ago,  Lord Wu performed a similar service for my 
husband, who never left him afterwards, and finally met his death 
at the hands of the enemy.  And now that he has done the same for 
my son, he too will fall fighting I know not where.'"  Li Ch`uan 
mentions the Viscount of Ch`u, who invaded the small state of 
Hsiao during the winter.  The Duke of Shen said to him:  "Many of 
the soldiers are suffering severely from the cold."  So he made a 
round of the whole army, comforting and encouraging the men;  and 
straightway they felt as if they were clothed in garments lined 
with floss silk.]
     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 practical purpose.
     [Li Ching once said that if you could make your soldiers 
afraid of you, they would not be afraid of the enemy.  Tu Mu 
recalls an instance of stern military discipline which occurred 
in 219 A.D., when Lu Meng was occupying the town of Chiang-ling.  
He had given stringent orders to his army not to molest the 
inhabitants nor take anything from them by force.  Nevertheless, 
a certain officer serving under his banner, who happened to be a 
fellow-townsman,  ventured to appropriate a bamboo hat belonging 
to one of the people, in order to wear it over his regulation 
helmet as a protection against the rain.  Lu Meng considered that 
the fact of his being also a native of Ju-nan should not be 
allowed to palliate a clear breach of discipline, and accordingly 
he ordered his summary execution, the tears rolling down his 
face,  however,  as he did so.  This act of severity filled the 
army with wholesome awe, and from that time forth even articles 
dropped in the highway were not picked up.]
     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.
     [That is,  Ts`ao Kung says, "the issue in this case is 
     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.
     [Cf. III. ss. 13 (1).]
     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.
     [The reason being, according to Tu Mu, that he has taken his 
measures so thoroughly as to ensure victory beforehand.  "He does 
not move recklessly," says Chang Yu, "so that when he does move, 
he makes no mistakes."]
     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.
     [Li Ch`uan sums up as follows:  "Given a knowledge of three 
things--the affairs of men, the seasons of heaven and the natural 
advantages of earth--,  victory will invariably crown   your 
[1]  See "Pensees de Napoleon 1er," no. 47.
[2]  "The Science of War," chap. 2.
[3]  "Aids to Scouting," p. xii.
[Go to Index]


     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) desperate ground.
     2.  When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is 
dispersive ground.
     [So called because the soldiers, being near to their homes 
and anxious to see their wives and children, are likely to seize 
the opportunity afforded by a battle and scatter in every 
direction.  "In their advance," observes Tu Mu, "they will lack 
the valor of desperation, and when they retreat, they will find 
harbors of refuge."]
     3.  When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no 
great distance, it is facile ground.
     [Li Ch`uan and Ho Shih say "because of the facility for 
retreating,"   and   the   other   commentators   give    similar 
explanations.  Tu Mu remarks:  "When your army has crossed the 
border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make 
it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home."]
     4.  Ground the possession of which imports great advantage 
to either side, is contentious ground.
     [Tu Mu defines the ground as ground "to be contended for."  
Ts`ao Kung says:   "ground on which the few and the weak can 
defeat the many and the strong," such as "the neck of a pass," 
instanced   by Li Ch`uan.  Thus,  Thermopylae was   of   this 
classification because the possession of it, even for a few days 
only,  meant holding the entire invading army in check and thus 
gaining invaluable time.  Cf. Wu Tzu, ch. V.  ad init.:   "For 
those who have to fight in the ratio of one to ten,  there is 
nothing better than a narrow pass."  When Lu Kuang was returning 
from his triumphant expedition to Turkestan in 385 A.D., and had 
got as far as I-ho, laden with spoils, Liang Hsi,  administrator 
of Liang-chou, taking advantage of the death of Fu Chien, King of 
Ch`in,  plotted against him and was for barring his way into the 
province.  Yang Han,  governor of Kao-ch`ang,  counseled him, 
saying:   "Lu Kuang is fresh from his victories in the west,  and 
his soldiers are vigorous and mettlesome.  If we oppose him in 
the shifting sands of the desert, we shall be no match for him, 
and we must therefore try a different plan.  Let us hasten to 
occupy the defile at the mouth of the Kao-wu pass, thus cutting 
him off from supplies of water,  and when his troops are 
prostrated with thirst, we can dictate our own terms without 
moving.  Or if you think that the pass I mention is too far off, 
we could make a stand against him at the I-wu pass,  which is 
nearer.  The cunning and resource of Tzu-fang himself would be 
expended in vain against the enormous strength of these two 
positions."   Liang Hsi,  refusing to act on this advice,  was 
overwhelmed and swept away by the invader.]
     5.  Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is 
open ground.
     [There are various interpretations of the Chinese adjective 
for this type of ground.  Ts`ao Kung says it means   "ground 
covered with a network of roads," like a chessboard.  Ho Shih 
suggested:  "ground on which intercommunication is easy."]
     6.  Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states,
     [Ts`au Kung defines this as:  "Our country adjoining the 
enemy's and a third country conterminous with both."  Meng Shih 
instances the small principality of Cheng, which was bounded on 
the north-east by Ch`i, on the west by Chin, and on the south by 
so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his 
     [The belligerent who holds this dominating position can 
constrain most of them to become his allies.]
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 ground.
     [Wang Hsi explains the name by saying that "when an army has 
reached such a point, its situation is serious."]
     8.  Mountain forests,
     [Or simply "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.
     [The situation, as pictured by Ts`ao Kung, is very similar 
to the "hemmed-in ground" except that here escape is no longer 
possible:   "A lofty mountain in front, a large river behind, 
advance impossible, retreat blocked."  Ch`en Hao says:  "to be on 
'desperate ground' is like sitting in a leaking boat or crouching 
in a burning house."   Tu Mu quotes from Li Ching a vivid 
description of the plight of an army thus entrapped:  "Suppose an 
army invading hostile territory without the aid of local guides: 
--  it falls into a fatal snare and is at the enemy's mercy.  A 
ravine on the left,  a mountain on the right,  a pathway so 
perilous that the horses have to be roped together and the 
chariots carried in slings, no passage open in front, retreat cut 
off behind,  no choice but to proceed in single file.  Then, 
before there is time to range our soldiers in order of battle, 
the enemy is overwhelming strength suddenly appears on the scene. 
Advancing, we can nowhere take a breathing-space; retreating,  we 
have no haven of refuge.  We seek a pitched battle, but in vain; 
yet standing on the defensive, none of us has a moment's respite. 
If we simply maintain our ground, whole days and months will 
crawl by;  the moment we make a move, we have to sustain the 
enemy's attacks on front and rear.  The country is wild, 
destitute of water and plants; the army is lacking in the 
necessaries of life, the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, 
all the resources of strength and skill unavailing, the pass so 
narrow that a single man defending it can check the onset of ten 
thousand;  all means of offense in the hands of the enemy,  all 
points of vantage already forfeited by ourselves:--in this 
terrible plight, even though we had the most valiant soldiers and 
the keenest of weapons, how could they be employed with the 
slightest effect?"  Students of Greek history may be reminded of 
the awful close to the Sicilian expedition, and the agony of the 
Athenians under Nicias and Demonsthenes.  [See Thucydides,  VII. 
78 sqq.].]
     11.  On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not.  On facile 
ground, halt not.  On contentious ground, attack not.
     [But rather let all your energies be bent on occupying the 
advantageous position first.  So Ts`ao Kung.  Li Ch`uan and 
others,  however,  suppose the meaning to be that the enemy has 
already forestalled us, sot that it would be sheer madness to 
attack.  In the SUN TZU HSU LU, when the King of Wu inquires what 
should be done in this case, Sun Tzu replies:  "The rule with 
regard to contentious ground is that those in possession have the 
advantage over the other side.  If a position of this kind is 
secured first by the enemy, beware of attacking him.  Lure him 
away by pretending to flee--show your banners and sound your 
drums--make a dash for other places that he cannot afford to 
lose--trail brushwood and raise a dust--confound his ears and 
eyes--detach a body of your best troops, and place it secretly in 
ambuscade.  Then your opponent will sally forth to the rescue."]
     12.  On open ground, do not try to block the enemy's way.
     [Because the attempt would be futile, and would expose the 
blocking   force itself to serious risks.  There   are   two 
interpretations available here.  I follow that of Chang Yu.  The 
other is indicated in Ts`ao Kung's brief note:   "Draw closer 
together"--i.e.,  see that a portion of your own army is not cut 
On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your 
     [Or perhaps, "form alliances with neighboring states."]
     13.  On serious ground, gather in plunder.
     [On this, Li Ch`uan has the following delicious note:  "When 
an army penetrates far into the enemy's country, care must be 
taken not to alienate the people by unjust treatment.  Follow the 
example of the Han Emperor Kao Tsu,  whose march into Ch`in 
territory was marked by no violation of women or looting of 
valuables.  [Nota bene:  this was in 207 B.C., and may well cause 
us to blush for the Christian armies that entered Peking in 1900 
A.D.]   Thus he won the hearts of all.  In the present passage, 
then,  I think that the true reading must be, not 'plunder,'  but 
'do not plunder.'"  Alas, I fear that in this instance the worthy 
commentator's feelings outran his judgment.  Tu Mu, at least, has 
no such illusions.  He says:  "When encamped on 'serious ground,' 
there being no inducement as yet to advance further,  and no 
possibility of retreat,  one ought to take measures for a 
protracted resistance by bringing in provisions from all sides, 
and keep a close watch on the enemy."]
In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.
     [Or, in the words of VIII. ss. 2, "do not encamp.]
     14.  On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.
     [Ts`au   Kung says:   "Try the effect of some   unusual 
artifice;"  and Tu Yu amplifies this by saying:   "In such a 
position,  some scheme must be devised which will suit the 
circumstances,  and if we can succeed in deluding the enemy,  the 
peril may be escaped."  This is exactly what happened on the 
famous occasion when Hannibal was hemmed in among the mountains 
on the road to Casilinum, and to all appearances entrapped by the 
dictator Fabius.  The stratagem which Hannibal devised to baffle 
his foes was remarkably like that which T`ien Tan had also 
employed with success exactly 62 years before.  [See IX. ss.  24, 
note.]  When night came on, bundles of twigs were fastened to the 
horns of some 2000 oxen and set on fire, the terrified animals 
being then quickly driven along the mountain side towards the 
passes which were beset by the enemy.  The strange spectacle of 
these rapidly moving lights so alarmed and discomfited the Romans 
that they withdrew from their position,  and Hannibal's army 
passed safely through the defile.  [See Polybius, III.  93,  94; 
Livy, XXII. 16 17.]
On desperate ground, fight.
     [For,  as Chia Lin remarks:  "if you fight with all your 
might,  there is a chance of life; where as death is certain if 
you cling to your corner."]
     15.  Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how 
to drive a wedge between the enemy's front and rear;
     [More literally,  "cause the front and rear to lose touch 
with each other."]
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 disorder.
     17.  When it was to their advantage, they made a forward 
move; when otherwise, they stopped still.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en connects this with the foregoing:   "Having 
succeeded in thus dislocating the enemy, they would push forward 
in order to secure any advantage to be gained; if there was no 
advantage to be gained, they would remain where they were."]
     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."
     [Opinions differ as to what Sun Tzu had in mind.  Ts`ao Kung 
thinks it is "some strategical advantage on which the enemy is 
depending."   Tu Mu says:  "The three things which an enemy is 
anxious to do, and on the accomplishment of which his success 
depends,  are:   (1) to capture our favorable positions;  (2)  to 
ravage our cultivated land; (3) to guard his own communications." 
Our object then must be to thwart his plans in these three 
directions and thus render him helpless.  [Cf. III. ss. 3.]   By 
boldly seizing the initiative in this way, you at once throw the 
other side on the defensive.]
     19.  Rapidity is the essence of war:
     [According to Tu Mu,  "this is a summary of   leading 
principles in warfare," and he adds:  "These are the profoundest 
truths of military science,  and the chief business of the 
general."   The following anecdotes, told by Ho Shih,  shows the 
importance attached to speed by two of China's greatest generals. 
In 227 A.D.,  Meng Ta, governor of Hsin-ch`eng under the Wei 
Emperor Wen Ti, was meditating defection to the House of Shu, and 
had entered into correspondence with Chu-ko Liang, Prime Minister 
of that State.  The Wei general Ssu-ma I was then military 
governor of Wan, and getting wind of Meng Ta's treachery, he at 
once set off with an army to anticipate his revolt,  having 
previously cajoled him by a specious message of friendly import.  
Ssu-ma's officers came to him and said:  "If Meng Ta has leagued 
himself with Wu and Shu,  the matter should be thoroughly 
investigated before we make a move."  Ssu-ma I replied:  "Meng Ta 
is an unprincipled man, and we ought to go and punish him at 
once, while he is still wavering and before he has thrown off the 
mask."  Then, by a series of forced marches, be brought his army 
under the walls of Hsin-ch`eng with in a space of eight days.  
Now Meng Ta had previously said in a letter to Chu-ko Liang:  
"Wan is 1200 LI from here.  When the news of my revolt reaches 
Ssu-ma I, he will at once inform his imperial master, but it will 
be a whole month before any steps can be taken, and by that time 
my city will be well fortified.  Besides, Ssu-ma I is sure not to 
come himself, and the generals that will be sent against us are 
not worth troubling about."  The next letter, however, was filled 
with consternation:  "Though only eight days have passed since I 
threw off my allegiance, an army is already at the city-gates.  
What miraculous rapidity is this!"  A fortnight later,  Hsin-
ch`eng had fallen and Meng Ta had lost his head.   [See 
CHIN SHU,  ch. 1, f. 3.]  In 621 A.D., Li Ching was sent from 
K`uei-chou in Ssu-ch`uan to reduce the successful rebel Hsiao 
Hsien,  who had set up as Emperor at the modern Ching-chou Fu in 
Hupeh.  It was autumn, and the Yangtsze being then in flood, 
Hsiao Hsien never dreamt that his adversary would venture to come 
down through the gorges, and consequently made no preparations.  
But Li Ching embarked his army without loss of time, and was just 
about to start when the other generals implored him to postpone 
his departure until the river was in a less dangerous state for 
navigation.  Li Ching replied:  "To the soldier,  overwhelming 
speed is of paramount importance,  and he must never miss 
opportunities.  Now is the time to strike, before Hsiao Hsien 
even knows that we have got an army together.  If we seize the 
present moment when the river is in flood, we shall appear before 
his capital with startling suddenness, like the thunder which is 
heard before you have time to stop your ears against it.  [See 
VII. ss. 19, note.]  This is the great principle in war.  Even if 
he gets to know of our approach, he will have to levy his 
soldiers in such a hurry that they will not be fit to oppose us.  
Thus the full fruits of victory will be ours."  All came about as 
he predicted,  and Hsiao Hsien was obliged to surrender,  nobly 
stipulating that his people should be spared and he alone suffer 
the penalty of death.]
take advantage of the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by 
unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
     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 with food.
     [Cf.  supra, ss. 13.  Li Ch`uan does not venture on a note 
     22. Carefully study the well-being of your men,
     [For  "well-being", Wang Hsi means, "Pet them,  humor them, 
give them plenty of food and drink,  and look after them 
and do not overtax them.  Concentrate your energy and hoard your 
     [Ch`en recalls the line of action adopted in 224 B.C. by the 
famous   general Wang Chien,  whose military genius   largely 
contributed to the success of the First Emperor.  He had invaded 
the Ch`u State, where a universal levy was made to oppose him. 
But, being doubtful of the temper of his troops, he declined all 
invitations to fight and remained strictly on the defensive.  In 
vain did the Ch`u general try to force a battle:  day after day 
Wang Chien kept inside his walls and would not come out,  but 
devoted his whole time and energy to winning the affection and 
confidence of his men.  He took care that they should be well 
fed,  sharing his own meals with them, provided facilities for 
bathing,  and employed every method of judicious indulgence to 
weld them into a loyal and homogenous body.  After some time had 
elapsed, he told off certain persons to find out how the men were 
amusing themselves.  The answer was, that they were contending 
with one another in putting the weight and long-jumping.  When 
Wang Chien heard that they were engaged in these athletic 
pursuits,  he knew that their spirits had been strung up to the 
required pitch and that they were now ready for fighting.  By 
this time the Ch`u army, after repeating their challenge again 
and again,  had marched away eastwards in disgust.  The Ch`in 
general immediately broke up his camp and followed them, and in 
the battle that ensued they were routed with great slaughter.  
Shortly afterwards, the whole of Ch`u was conquered by Ch`in, and 
the king Fu-ch`u led into captivity.]
Keep your army continually on the move,
     [In order that the enemy may never know exactly where you 
are.  It has struck me, however, that the true reading might be 
"link your army together."]
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.
     [Chang Yu quotes his favorite Wei Liao Tzu (ch. 3):  "If one 
man were to run amok with a sword in the market-place,  and 
everybody else tried to get our of his way, I should not allow 
that this man alone had courage and that all the rest were 
contemptible cowards.  The truth is, that a desperado and a man 
who sets some value on his life do not meet on even terms."]
Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.
     [Chang Yu says:  "If they are in an awkward place together, 
they will surely exert their united strength to get out of it."]
     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;
     [Literally, "without asking, you will get."]
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 feared.
     [The superstitious, "bound in to saucy doubts and fears," 
degenerate into cowards and "die many times before their deaths." 
Tu Mu quotes Huang Shih-kung:  "'Spells and incantations should 
be strictly forbidden,  and no officer allowed to inquire by 
divination into the fortunes of an army, for fear the soldiers' 
minds should be seriously perturbed.'   The meaning is,"  he 
continues,  "that if all doubts and scruples are discarded,  your 
men will never falter in their resolution until they die."]
     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 
     [Chang Yu has the best note on this passage:   "Wealth and 
long   life are things for which all men have a   natural 
inclination.  Hence, if they burn or fling away valuables,  and 
sacrifice their own lives, it is not that they dislike them,  but 
simply that they have no choice."  Sun Tzu is slyly insinuating 
that,  as soldiers are but human, it is for the general to see 
that temptations to shirk fighting and grow rich are not thrown 
in their way.]
     28.  On the day they are ordered out to battle,  your 
soldiers may weep,
     [The word in the Chinese is "snivel."  This is taken to 
indicate more genuine grief than tears alone.]
those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying down 
letting the tears run down their cheeks.
     [Not because they are afraid, but because, as Ts`ao Kung 
says,  "all have embraced the firm resolution to do or die."   We 
may remember that the heroes of the Iliad were equally childlike 
in showing their emotion.  Chang Yu alludes to the mournful 
parting at the I River between Ching K`o and his friends,  when 
the former was sent to attempt the life of the King of Ch`in 
(afterwards First Emperor) in 227 B.C.  The tears of all flowed 
down like rain as he bade them farewell and uttered the following 
lines:   "The shrill blast is blowing, Chilly the burn;  Your 
champion is going--Not to return." [1] ]
But let them once be brought to bay, and they will display the 
courage of a Chu or a Kuei.
     [Chu was the personal name of Chuan Chu, a native of the Wu 
State and contemporary with Sun Tzu himself, who was employed by 
Kung-tzu Kuang, better known as Ho Lu Wang, to assassinate his 
sovereign Wang Liao with a dagger which he secreted in the belly 
of a fish served up at a banquet.  He succeeded in his attempt, 
but was immediately hacked to pieced by the king's bodyguard.  
This was in 515 B.C.  The other hero referred to, Ts`ao Kuei  (or 
Ts`ao Mo), performed the exploit which has made his name famous 
166 years earlier, in 681 B.C.  Lu had been thrice defeated by 
Ch`i,  and was just about to conclude a treaty surrendering a 
large slice of territory, when Ts`ao Kuei suddenly seized Huan 
Kung, the Duke of Ch`i, as he stood on the altar steps and held a 
dagger against his chest.  None of the duke's retainers dared to 
move   a muscle,  and Ts`ao Kuei proceeded to demand   full 
restitution, declaring the Lu was being unjustly treated because 
she was a smaller and a weaker state.  Huan Kung, in peril of his 
life, was obliged to consent, whereupon Ts`ao Kuei flung away his 
dagger   and quietly resumed his place amid the   terrified 
assemblage without having so much as changed color.  As was to be 
expected,  the Duke wanted afterwards to repudiate the bargain, 
but his wise old counselor Kuan Chung pointed out to him the 
impolicy of breaking his word, and the upshot was that this bold 
stroke regained for Lu the whole of what she had lost in three 
pitched battles.]
     29.  The skillful tactician may be likened to the SHUAI-JAN. 
Now the SHUAI-JAN is a snake that is found in the Ch`ang 
     ["Shuai-jan" means "suddenly" or "rapidly," and the snake in 
question was doubtless so called owing to the rapidity of its 
movements.  Through this passage, the term in the Chinese has now 
come to be used in the sense of "military maneuvers."]
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,
     [That is, as Mei Yao-ch`en says, "Is it possible to make the 
front and rear of an army each swiftly responsive to attack on 
the other,  just as though they were part of a single living 
I should answer, Yes.  For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh are 
     [Cf. VI. ss. 21.]
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.
     [The meaning is:  If two enemies will help each other in a 
time of common peril, how much more should two parts of the same 
army,  bound together as they are by every tie of interest and 
fellow-feeling.  Yet it is notorious that many a campaign has 
been ruined through lack of cooperation, especially in the case 
of allied armies.]
     31.  Hence it is not enough to put one's trust in the 
tethering of horses, and the burying of chariot wheels in the 
     [These quaint devices to prevent one's army from running 
away recall the Athenian hero Sophanes, who carried the anchor 
with him at the battle of Plataea, by means of which he fastened 
himself firmly to one spot.  [See Herodotus, IX. 74.]  It is not 
enough,  says Sun Tzu,  to render flight impossible by such 
mechanical means.  You will not succeed unless your men have 
tenacity and unity of purpose, and, above all,  a spirit of 
sympathetic cooperation.  This is the lesson which can be learned 
from the SHUAI-JAN.]
     32.  The principle on which to manage an army is to set up 
one standard of courage which all must reach.
     [Literally,  "level the courage [of all] as though [it were 
that of]  one."  If the ideal army is to form a single organic 
whole,  then it follows that the resolution and spirit of its 
component parts must be of the same quality, or at any rate must 
not fall below a certain standard.  Wellington's seemingly 
ungrateful description of his army at Waterloo as "the worst he 
had ever commanded" meant no more than that it was deficient in 
this important particular--unity of spirit and courage.  Had he 
not foreseen the Belgian defections and carefully kept those 
troops in the background, he would almost certainly have lost the 
     33.  How to make the best of both strong and weak--that is a 
question involving the proper use of ground.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en's paraphrase is:  "The way to eliminate the 
differences of strong and weak and to make both serviceable is to 
utilize accidental features of the ground."   Less reliable 
troops,  if posted in strong positions, will hold out as long as 
better troops on more exposed terrain.  The advantage of position 
neutralizes the inferiority in stamina and courage.   Col. 
Henderson says:  "With all respect to the text books, and to the 
ordinary tactical teaching, I am inclined to think that the study 
of ground is often overlooked, and that by no means sufficient 
importance is attached to the selection of positions...  and to 
the immense advantages that are to be derived, whether you are 
defending or attacking, from the proper utilization of natural 
features." [2] ]
     34.  Thus the skillful general conducts his army just as 
though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.
     [Tu Mu says:  "The simile has reference to the ease with 
which he does it."]
     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,
     [Literally, "to deceive their eyes and ears."]
and thus keep them in total ignorance.
     [Ts`ao Kung gives us one of his excellent apophthegms:  "The 
troops must not be allowed to share your schemes in the 
beginning;  they may only rejoice with you over their happy 
outcome."  "To mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy," is one 
of the first principles in war, as had been frequently pointed 
out.  But how about the other process--the mystification of one's 
own men?  Those who may think that Sun Tzu is over-emphatic on 
this point would do well to read Col.  Henderson's remarks on 
Stonewall Jackson's Valley campaign:  "The infinite pains,"  he 
says,  "with which Jackson sought to conceal, even from his most 
trusted staff officers, his movements, his intentions,  and his 
thoughts,  a commander less thorough would have   pronounced 
useless"--etc.  etc. [3]  In the year 88 A.D., as we read in ch. 
47 of the HOU HAN SHU, "Pan Ch`ao took the field with 25,000 men 
from Khotan and other Central Asian states with the object of 
crushing Yarkand.  The King of Kutcha replied by dispatching his 
chief commander to succor the place with an army drawn from the 
kingdoms of Wen-su, Ku-mo, and Wei-t`ou, totaling 50,000 men.  
Pan Ch`ao summoned his officers and also the King of Khotan to a 
council of war, and said:  'Our forces are now outnumbered and 
unable to make head against the enemy.  The best plan, then,  is 
for us to separate and disperse, each in a different direction.  
The King of Khotan will march away by the easterly route, and I 
will then return myself towards the west.  Let us wait until the 
evening drum has sounded and then start.'  Pan Ch`ao now secretly 
released the prisoners whom he had taken alive, and the King of 
Kutcha was thus informed of his plans.  Much elated by the news, 
the latter set off at once at the head of 10,000 horsemen to bar 
Pan Ch`ao's retreat in the west, while the King of Wen-su rode 
eastward with 8000 horse in order to intercept the King of 
Khotan.  As soon as Pan Ch`ao knew that the two chieftains had 
gone,  he called his divisions together, got them well in hand, 
and at cock-crow hurled them against the army of Yarkand, as it 
lay encamped.  The barbarians, panic-stricken, fled in confusion, 
and were closely pursued by Pan Ch`ao.  Over 5000 heads were 
brought back as trophies, besides immense spoils in the shape of 
horses and cattle and valuables of every description.  Yarkand 
then capitulating, Kutcha and the other kingdoms drew off their 
respective forces.  From that time forward, Pan Ch`ao's prestige 
completely overawed the countries of the west."  In this case, we 
see that the Chinese general not only kept his own officers in 
ignorance of his real plans, but actually took the bold step of 
dividing his army in order to deceive the enemy.]
     37.  By altering his arrangements and changing his plans,
     [Wang Hsi thinks that this means not using the same 
stratagem twice.]
he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge.
     [Chang Yu,  in a quotation from another work,  says:   "The 
axiom,  that war is based on deception, does not apply only to 
deception of the enemy.  You must deceive even your own soldiers. 
Make them follow you, but without letting them know why."]
By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes,  he prevents 
the enemy from anticipating his purpose.
     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 hand.
     [Literally, "releases the spring" (see V. ss. 15), that is, 
takes some decisive step which makes it impossible for the army 
to return--like Hsiang Yu, who sunk his ships after crossing a 
river.  Ch`en Hao, followed by Chia Lin, understands the words 
less well as "puts forth every artifice at his command."]
     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.
     [Tu Mu says:   "The army is only cognizant of orders to 
advance or retreat;  it is ignorant of the ulterior ends of 
attacking and conquering."]
     40.  To muster his host and bring it into danger:--this may 
be termed the business of the general.
     [Sun Tzu means that after mobilization there should be no 
delay in aiming a blow at the enemy's heart.  Note how he returns 
again and again to this point.  Among the warring states of 
ancient China, desertion was no doubt a much more present fear 
and serious evil than it is in the armies of today.]
     41.  The different measures suited to the nine varieties of 
     [Chang Yu says:  "One must not be hide-bound in interpreting 
the rules for 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 means dispersion.
     [Cf. supra, ss. 20.]
     43.  When you leave your own country behind, and take your 
army across neighborhood territory, you find yourself on critical 
     [This "ground" is curiously mentioned in VIII. ss. 2, but it 
does not figure among the Nine Situations or the Six Calamities 
in chap. X.  One's first impulse would be to translate it distant 
ground," but this, if we can trust the commentators, is precisely 
what is not meant here.  Mei Yao-ch`en says it is "a position not 
far enough advanced to be called 'facile,' and not near enough to 
home to be 'dispersive,' but something between the two."  Wang Hsi 
says:  "It is ground separated from home by an interjacent state, 
whose territory we have had to cross in order to reach it.  
Hence,  it is incumbent on us to settle our business there 
quickly."   He adds that this position is of rare occurrence, 
which is the reason why it is not included among the Nine 
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 
     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.
     [This end, according to Tu Mu, is best attained by remaining 
on the defensive, and avoiding battle.  Cf. supra, ss. 11.]
On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection 
between all parts of my army.
     [As Tu Mu says, the object is to guard against two possible 
contingencies:   "(1)  the desertion of our own troops;  (2)  a 
sudden attack on the part of the enemy."  Cf. VII. ss. 17.  Mei 
Yao-ch`en says:  "On the march, the regiments should be in close 
touch;  in an encampment, there should be continuity between the 
     47.  On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.
     [This is Ts`ao Kung's interpretation.  Chang Yu adopts it, 
saying:   "We must quickly bring up our rear, so that head and 
tail may both reach the goal."  That is, they must not be allowed 
to straggle up a long way apart.  Mei Yao-ch`en offers another 
equally plausible explanation:  "Supposing the enemy has not yet 
reached the coveted position, and we are behind him,  we should 
advance with all speed in order to dispute its possession."  
Ch`en Hao,  on the other hand, assuming that the enemy has had 
time to select his own ground, quotes VI. ss. 1, where Sun Tzu 
warns us against coming exhausted to the attack.  His own idea of 
the situation is rather vaguely expressed:   "If there is a 
favorable position lying in front of you, detach a picked body of 
troops to occupy it, then if the enemy, relying on their numbers, 
come up to make a fight for it, you may fall quickly on their 
rear with your main body, and victory will be assured."  It was 
thus,  he adds, that Chao She beat the army of Ch`in.  (See p. 
     48.  On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my 
defenses.   On   ground of intersecting highways,   I   would 
consolidate my alliances.
     49.  On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous 
stream of supplies.
     [The commentators take this as referring to forage and 
plunder,  not, as one might expect, to an unbroken communication 
with a home base.]
On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road.
     50.  On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat.
     [Meng Shih says:  "To make it seem that I meant to defend 
the position,  whereas my real intention is to burst suddenly 
through the enemy's lines."  Mei Yao-ch`en says:  "in order to 
make my soldiers fight with desperation."   Wang Hsi says, 
"fearing lest my men be tempted to run away."  Tu Mu points out 
that this is the converse of VII. ss. 36, where it is the enemy 
who is surrounded.  In 532 A.D., Kao Huan, afterwards Emperor and 
canonized as Shen-wu, was surrounded by a great army under Erh-
chu Chao and others.  His own force was comparatively small, 
consisting only of 2000 horse and something under 30,000 foot.  
The lines of investment had not been drawn very closely together, 
gaps being left at certain points.  But Kao Huan,  instead of 
trying to escape,  actually made a shift to block all the 
remaining outlets himself by driving into them a number of oxen 
and donkeys roped together.  As soon as his officers and men saw 
that there was nothing for it but to conquer or die,  their 
spirits rose to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation,  and they 
charged with such desperate ferocity that the opposing ranks 
broke and crumbled under their onslaught.]
On desperate ground,  I would proclaim to my soldiers the 
hopelessness of saving their lives.
     Tu Yu says:  "Burn your baggage and impedimenta, throw away 
your stores and provisions, choke up the wells,  destroy your 
cooking-stoves,  and make it plain to your men that they cannot 
survive, but must fight to the death."  Mei Yao-ch`en says:  "The 
only chance of life lies in giving up all hope of it."   This 
concludes what Sun Tzu has to say about  "grounds"  and the 
"variations" corresponding to them.  Reviewing the passages which 
bear on this important subject, we cannot fail to be struck by 
the desultory and unmethodical fashion in which it is treated.  
Sun Tzu begins abruptly in VIII. ss. 2 to enumerate  "variations" 
before touching on "grounds" at all, but only mentions five, 
namely nos. 7, 5, 8 and 9 of the subsequent list, and one that is 
not included in it.  A few varieties of ground are dealt with in 
the earlier portion of chap. IX, and then chap. X sets forth six 
new grounds, with six variations of plan to match.  None of these 
is   mentioned   again,  though the first is hardly   to   be 
distinguished from ground no. 4 in the next chapter.  At last, in 
chap. XI, we come to the Nine Grounds par excellence, immediately 
followed by the variations.  This takes us down to ss.  14.  In 
SS. 43-45, fresh definitions are provided for nos. 5, 6, 2, 8 and 
9  (in the order given), as well as for the tenth ground noticed 
in chap. VIII; and finally, the nine variations are enumerated 
once more from beginning to end, all, with the exception of 5,  6 
and 7, being different from those previously given.  Though it is 
impossible to account for the present state of Sun Tzu's text,  a 
few suggestive facts maybe brought into prominence:   (1)  Chap. 
VIII,  according to the title, should deal with nine variations, 
whereas only five appear.  (2) It is an abnormally short chapter. 
(3) Chap. XI is entitled The Nine Grounds.  Several of these are 
defined twice over, besides which there are two distinct lists of 
the corresponding variations.  (4) The length of the chapter is 
disproportionate, being double that of any other except IX.  I do 
not propose to draw any inferences from these facts, beyond the 
general conclusion that Sun Tzu's work cannot have come down to 
us in the shape in which it left his hands:   chap.  VIII is 
obviously defective and probably out of place, while XI seems to 
contain matter that has either been added by a later hand or 
ought to appear elsewhere.]
     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 
     [Chang Yu alludes to the conduct of Pan Ch`ao's devoted 
followers in 73 A.D.  The story runs thus in the HOU HAN SHU, ch. 
47:  "When Pan Ch`ao arrived at Shan-shan, Kuang, the King of the 
country, received him at first with great politeness and respect; 
but shortly afterwards his behavior underwent a sudden change, 
and he became remiss and negligent.  Pan Ch`ao spoke about this 
to the officers of his suite:  'Have you noticed,' he said, 'that 
Kuang's polite intentions are on the wane?  This must signify 
that envoys have come from the Northern barbarians,  and that 
consequently he is in a state of indecision, not knowing with 
which side to throw in his lot.  That surely is the reason.  The 
truly wise man, we are told, can perceive things before they have 
come to pass;  how much more, then,  those that are already 
manifest!'   Thereupon he called one of the natives who had been 
assigned to his service, and set a trap for him, saying:   'Where 
are those envoys from the Hsiung-nu who arrived some day ago?'  
The man was so taken aback that between surprise and fear he 
presently blurted out the whole truth.  Pan Ch`ao,  keeping his 
informant carefully under lock and key, then summoned a general 
gathering of his officers, thirty-six in all, and began drinking 
with them.  When the wine had mounted into their heads a little, 
he tried to rouse their spirit still further by addressing them 
thus:   'Gentlemen,  here we are in the heart of an isolated 
region,  anxious to achieve riches and honor by some great 
exploit.  Now it happens that an ambassador from the Hsiung-no 
arrived in this kingdom only a few days ago, and the result is 
that the respectful courtesy extended towards us by our royal 
host has disappeared.  Should this envoy prevail upon him to 
seize our party and hand us over to the Hsiung-no, our bones will 
become food for the wolves of the desert.  What are we to do?'  
With one accord, the officers replied:  'Standing as we do in 
peril of our lives, we will follow our commander through life and 
death.'  For the sequel of this adventure, see chap. XII. ss.  1, 
     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.
     [These three sentences are repeated from VII. SS. 12-14  -- 
in order to emphasize their importance, the commentators seem to 
think.  I prefer to regard them as interpolated here in order to 
form an antecedent to the following words.  With regard to local 
guides, Sun Tzu might have added that there is always the risk of 
going   wrong,   either   through   their   treachery   or   some 
misunderstanding such as Livy records (XXII. 13):  Hannibal,  we 
are told, ordered a guide to lead him into the neighborhood of 
Casinum,  where there was an important pass to be occupied;  but 
his Carthaginian accent, unsuited to the pronunciation of Latin 
names,  caused the guide to understand Casilinum instead of 
Casinum,  and turning from his proper route, he took the army in 
that direction, the mistake not being discovered until they had 
almost arrived.]
     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.
     [Mei Tao-ch`en constructs one of the chains of reasoning 
that are so much affected by the Chinese:   "In attacking a 
powerful state,  if you can divide her forces, you will have a 
superiority in strength; if you have a superiority in strength, 
you will overawe the enemy; if you overawe the enemy,  the 
neighboring states will be frightened; and if the neighboring 
states are frightened, the enemy's allies will be prevented from 
joining her."  The following gives a stronger meaning:  "If the 
great state has once been defeated (before she has had time to 
summon her allies), then the lesser states will hold aloof and 
refrain from massing their forces."  Ch`en Hao and Chang Yu take 
the sentence in quite another way.  The former says:   "Powerful 
though a prince may be, if he attacks a large state, he will be 
unable to raise enough troops, and must rely to some extent on 
external aid;  if he dispenses with this, and with overweening 
confidence in his own strength, simply tries to intimidate the 
enemy, he will surely be defeated."  Chang Yu puts his view thus: 
"If we recklessly attack a large state, our own people will be 
discontented and hang back.  But if (as will then be the case) 
our display of military force is inferior by half to that of the 
enemy,  the other chieftains will take fright and refuse to join 
     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.
     [The train of thought, as said by Li Ch`uan, appears to be 
this:   Secure against a combination of his enemies,  "he can 
afford to reject entangling alliances and simply pursue his own 
secret designs, his prestige enable him to dispense with external 
Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their 
     [This paragraph, though written many years before the Ch`in 
State became a serious menace, is not a bad summary of the policy 
by which the famous Six Chancellors gradually paved the way for 
her final triumph under Shih Huang Ti.  Chang Yu,  following up 
his previous note,  thinks that Sun Tzu is condemning this 
attitude of cold-blooded selfishness and haughty isolation.]
     56.  Bestow rewards without regard to rule,
     [Wu Tzu (ch. 3) less wisely says:  "Let advance be richly 
rewarded and retreat be heavily punished."]
issue orders
     [Literally, "hang" or post up."]
without regard to previous arrangements;
     ["In order to prevent treachery,"  says Wang Hsi.  The 
general meaning is made clear by Ts`ao Kung's quotation from the 
SSU-MA FA:  "Give instructions only on sighting the enemy;  give 
rewards when you see deserving deeds."  Ts`ao Kung's paraphrase:  
"The final instructions you give to your army should not 
correspond with those that have been previously posted up."  
Chang Yu simplifies this into "your arrangements should not be 
divulged beforehand."  And Chia Lin says:  "there should be no 
fixity in your rules and arrangements."  Not only is there danger 
in letting your plans be known, but war often necessitates the 
entire reversal of them at the last moment.]
and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to 
do with but a single man.
     [Cf. supra, ss. 34.]
     57.  Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let 
them know your design.
     [Literally, "do not tell them words;" i.e. do not give your 
reasons for any order.  Lord Mansfield once told a junior 
colleague to "give no reasons" for his decisions, and the maxim 
is even more applicable to a general than to a judge.]
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.
     [These words of Sun Tzu were once quoted by Han Hsin in 
explanation of the tactics he employed in one of his most 
brilliant battles, already alluded to on p. 28.  In 204 B.C.,  he 
was sent against the army of Chao, and halted ten miles from the 
mouth of the Ching-hsing pass, where the enemy had mustered in 
full force.  Here, at midnight, he detached a body of 2000 light 
cavalry, every man of which was furnished with a red flag.  Their 
instructions were to make their way through narrow defiles and 
keep a secret watch on the enemy.  "When the men of Chao see me 
in full flight,"  Han Hsin said,  "they will abandon their 
fortifications and give chase.  This must be the sign for you to 
rush in, pluck down the Chao standards and set up the red banners 
of Han in their stead."  Turning then to his other officers,  he 
remarked:   "Our adversary holds a strong position, and is not 
likely to come out and attack us until he sees the standard and 
drums of the commander-in-chief, for fear I should turn back and 
escape through the mountains."  So saying, he first of all sent 
out a division consisting of 10,000 men, and ordered them to form 
in line of battle with their backs to the River Ti.  Seeing this 
maneuver,  the whole army of Chao broke into loud laughter.  By 
this time it was broad daylight, and Han Hsin,  displaying the 
generalissimo's flag, marched out of the pass with drums beating, 
and was immediately engaged by the enemy.  A great battle 
followed, lasting for some time; until at length Han Hsin and his 
colleague Chang Ni, leaving drums and banner on the field,  fled 
to the division on the river bank, where another fierce battle 
was raging.  The enemy rushed out to pursue them and to secure 
the trophies, thus denuding their ramparts of men; but the two 
generals succeeded in joining the other army, which was fighting 
with the utmost desperation.  The time had now come for the 2000 
horsemen to play their part.  As soon as they saw the men of Chao 
following up their advantage, they galloped behind the deserted 
walls,  tore up the enemy's flags and replaced them by those of 
Han.  When the Chao army looked back from the pursuit, the sight 
of these red flags struck them with terror.  Convinced that the 
Hans had got in and overpowered their king, they broke up in wild 
disorder, every effort of their leader to stay the panic being in 
vain.  Then the Han army fell on them from both sides and 
completed the rout, killing a number and capturing the rest, 
amongst whom was King Ya himself....  After the battle, some of 
Han Hsin's officers came to him and said:  "In the ART OF WAR we 
are told to have a hill or tumulus on the right rear, and a river 
or marsh on the left front.  [This appears to be a blend of Sun 
Tzu and T`ai Kung.  See IX ss. 9, and note.]   You,  on the 
contrary, ordered us to draw up our troops with the river at our 
back.  Under these conditions, how did you manage to gain the 
victory?"   The general replied:  "I fear you gentlemen have not 
studied the Art of War with sufficient care.  Is it not written 
there:  'Plunge your army into desperate straits and it will come 
off in safety; place it in deadly peril and it will survive'?  
Had I taken the usual course, I should never have been able to 
bring my colleague round.  What says the Military Classic--'Swoop 
down on the market-place and drive the men off to fight.'   [This 
passage does not occur in the present text of Sun Tzu.]  If I had 
not placed my troops in a position where they were obliged to 
fight for their lives, but had allowed each man to follow his own 
discretion,  there would have been a general debandade,  and it 
would have been impossible to do anything with them."   The 
officers admitted the force of his argument, and said:   "These 
are higher tactics than we should have been capable of."   [See 
CH`IEN HAN SHU, ch. 34, ff. 4, 5.] ]
     59.  For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm's 
way that is capable of striking a blow for victory.
     [Danger has a bracing effect.]
     60.  Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating 
ourselves to the enemy's purpose.
     [Ts`ao Kung says:  "Feign stupidity"--by an appearance of 
yielding and falling in with the enemy's wishes.  Chang Yu's note 
makes the meaning clear:  "If the enemy shows an inclination to 
advance, lure him on to do so; if he is anxious to retreat, delay 
on purpose that he may carry out his intention."  The object is 
to make him remiss and contemptuous before we deliver our 
     61.  By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank,
     [I understand the first four words to mean "accompanying the 
enemy in one direction."  Ts`ao Kung says:  "unite the soldiers 
and make for the enemy."  But such a violent displacement of 
characters is quite indefensible.]
we shall succeed in the long run
     [Literally, "after a thousand LI."]
in killing the commander-in-chief.
     [Always a great point with the Chinese.]
     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,
     [These were tablets of bamboo or wood, one half of which was 
issued as a permit or passport by the official in charge of a 
gate.  Cf. the "border-warden" of LUN YU III. 24, who may have 
had similar duties.  When this half was returned to him, within a 
fixed period,  he was authorized to open the gate and let the 
traveler through.]
and stop the passage of all emissaries.
     [Either to or from the enemy's country.]
     64.  Be stern in the council-chamber,
     [Show no weakness, and insist on your plans being ratified 
by the sovereign.]
so that you may control the situation.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en understands the whole sentence to mean:  Take 
the   strictest   precautions   to   ensure   secrecy   in   your 
     65.  If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
     66.  Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear,
     [Cf. supra, ss. 18.]
and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.
     [Ch`en Hao`s explanation:  "If I manage to seize a favorable 
position,  but the enemy does not appear on the scene,  the 
advantage thus obtained cannot be turned to any practical 
account.  He who intends therefore, to occupy a position of 
importance to the enemy,  must begin by making an   artful 
appointment,  so to speak, with his antagonist, and cajole him 
into going there as well."  Mei Yao-ch`en explains that this 
"artful appointment"  is to be made through the medium of the 
enemy's own spies,  who will carry back just the amount of 
information that we choose to give them.  Then, having cunningly 
disclosed our intentions, "we must manage, though starting after 
the enemy,  to arrive before him (VII. ss. 4).  We must start 
after him in order to ensure his marching thither; we must arrive 
before him in order to capture the place without trouble.  Taken 
thus,  the present passage lends some support to Mei Yao-ch`en's 
interpretation of ss. 47.]
     67.  Walk in the path defined by rule,
     [Chia Lin says:  "Victory is the only thing that matters, 
and this cannot be achieved by adhering to conventional canons."  
It is unfortunate that this variant rests on very slight 
authority,   for the sense yielded is certainly much   more 
satisfactory.  Napoleon, as we know, according to the veterans of 
the old school whom he defeated, won his battles by violating 
every accepted canon of warfare.]
and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a 
decisive battle.
     [Tu Mu says:   "Conform to the enemy's tactics until a 
favorable opportunity offers; then come forth and engage in a 
battle that shall prove decisive."]
     68.  At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden,  until 
the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity 
of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to 
oppose you.
     [As the hare is noted for its extreme timidity,  the 
comparison hardly appears felicitous.  But of course Sun Tzu was 
thinking only of its speed.  The words have been taken to mean:  
You must flee from the enemy as quickly as an escaping hare;  but 
this is rightly rejected by Tu Mu.]
[1]  Giles' Biographical Dictionary, no. 399.
[2]  "The Science of War," p. 333.
[3]  "Stonewall Jackson," vol. I, p. 421.
[Go to Index]


     [Rather more than half the chapter (SS. 1-13) is devoted to 
the subject of fire, after which the author branches off into 
other topics.]
     1.  Sun Tzu said:  There are five ways of attacking with 
fire.  The first is to burn soldiers in their camp;
     [So Tu Mu.  Li Ch`uan says:  "Set fire to the camp, and kill 
the soldiers"  (when they try to escape from the flames).  Pan 
Ch`ao, sent on a diplomatic mission to the King of Shan-shan [see 
XI.  ss. 51, note], found himself placed in extreme peril by the 
unexpected arrival of an envoy from the Hsiung-nu  [the mortal 
enemies of the Chinese].  In consultation with his officers,  he 
exclaimed:  "Never venture, never win! [1]  The only course open 
to us now is to make an assault by fire on the barbarians under 
cover of night,  when they will not be able to discern our 
numbers.  Profiting by their panic, we shall exterminate them 
completely;  this will cool the King's courage and cover us with 
glory,  besides ensuring the success of our mission.'   the 
officers all replied that it would be necessary to discuss the 
matter first with the Intendant.  Pan Ch`ao then fell into a 
passion:   'It is today,' he cried, 'that our fortunes must be 
decided!   The Intendant is only a humdrum civilian,  who on 
hearing of our project will certainly be afraid, and everything 
will be brought to light.  An inglorious death is no worthy fate 
for valiant warriors.'   All then agreed to do as he wished.  
Accordingly,  as soon as night came on, he and his little band 
quickly made their way to the barbarian camp.  A strong gale was 
blowing at the time.  Pan Ch`ao ordered ten of the party to take 
drums and hide behind the enemy's barracks, it being arranged 
that when they saw flames shoot up, they should begin drumming 
and yelling with all their might.  The rest of his men,  armed 
with bows and crossbows, he posted in ambuscade at the gate of 
the camp.  He then set fire to the place from the windward side, 
whereupon a deafening noise of drums and shouting arose on the 
front and rear of the Hsiung-nu, who rushed out pell-mell in 
frantic disorder.  Pan Ch`ao slew three of them with his own 
hand,  while his companions cut off the heads of the envoy and 
thirty of his suite.  The remainder, more than a hundred in all, 
perished in the flames.  On the following day,  Pan Ch`ao, 
divining his thoughts, said with uplifted hand:  'Although you 
did not go with us last night, I should not think, Sir, of taking 
sole credit for our exploit.'  This satisfied Kuo Hsun, and Pan 
Ch`ao,  having sent for Kuang, King of Shan-shan, showed him the 
head of the barbarian envoy.  The whole kingdom was seized with 
fear and trembling,  which Pan Ch`ao took steps to allay by 
issuing a public proclamation.  Then, taking the king's sons as 
hostage, he returned to make his report to Tou Ku."  HOU HAN SHU, 
ch. 47, ff. 1, 2.] ]
the second is to burn stores;
     [Tu Mu says:  "Provisions, fuel and fodder."  In order to 
subdue   the   rebellious population of Kiangnan,   Kao   Keng 
recommended Wen Ti of the Sui dynasty to make periodical raids 
and burn their stores of grain, a policy which in the long run 
proved entirely successful.]
the third is to burn baggage trains;
     [An example given is the destruction of Yuan Shao`s wagons 
and impedimenta by Ts`ao Ts`ao in 200 A.D.]
the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;
     [Tu Mu says that the things contained in  "arsenals"  and 
"magazines"  are the same.  He specifies weapons and other 
implements, bullion and clothing.  Cf. VII. ss. 11.]
the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.
     [Tu Yu says in the T`UNG TIEN:  "To drop fire into the 
enemy's camp.  The method by which this may be done is to set the 
tips of arrows alight by dipping them into a brazier,  and then 
shoot them from powerful crossbows into the enemy's lines."]
     2.  In order to carry out an attack, we must have means 
     [T`sao Kung thinks that "traitors in the enemy's camp"  are 
referred to.  But Ch`en Hao is more likely to be right in saying: 
"We must have favorable circumstances in general,  not merely 
traitors to help us."  Chia Lin says:  "We must avail ourselves 
of wind and dry weather."]
the material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.
     [Tu Mu suggests as material for making fire:  "dry vegetable 
matter, reeds, brushwood, straw, grease, oil, etc."  Here we have 
the material cause.  Chang Yu says:  "vessels for hoarding fire, 
stuff for lighting fires."]
     3.  There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, 
and special days for starting a conflagration.
     4.  The proper season is when the weather is very dry;  the 
special days are those when the moon is in the constellations of 
the Sieve, the Wall, the Wing or the Cross-bar;
     [These are, respectively, the 7th, 14th, 27th, and 28th of 
the Twenty-eight Stellar Mansions,  corresponding roughly to 
Sagittarius, Pegasus, Crater and Corvus.]
for these four are all days of rising wind.
     5.  In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet 
five possible developments:
     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.
     [The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the 
enemy into confusion.  If this effect is not produced, it means 
that the enemy is ready to receive us.  Hence the necessity for 
     8.  (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, 
follow it up with an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay 
where you are.
     [Ts`ao Kung says:  "If you see a possible way, advance;  but 
if you find the difficulties too great, retire."]
     9.  (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from 
without, do not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your 
attack at a favorable moment.
     [Tu Mu says that the previous paragraphs had reference to 
the fire breaking out (either accidentally, we may suppose, or by 
the agency of incendiaries) inside the enemy's camp.  "But,"  he 
continues,  "if the enemy is settled in a waste place littered 
with quantities of grass, or if he has pitched his camp in a 
position which can be burnt out, we must carry our fire against 
him at any seasonable opportunity, and not await on in hopes of 
an outbreak occurring within, for fear our opponents should 
themselves burn up the surrounding vegetation, and thus render 
our own attempts fruitless."  The famous Li Ling once baffled the 
leader of the Hsiung-nu in this way.  The latter,  taking 
advantage of a favorable wind, tried to set fire to the Chinese 
general's camp,  but found that every scrap of combustible 
vegetation in the neighborhood had already been burnt down.  On 
the other hand, Po-ts`ai, a general of the Yellow Turban rebels, 
was badly defeated in 184 A.D. through his neglect of this simple 
precaution.  "At the head of a large army he was besieging 
Ch`ang-she,  which was held by Huang-fu Sung.  The garrison was 
very small,  and a general feeling of nervousness pervaded the 
ranks;  so Huang-fu Sung called his officers together and said:  
"In war,  there are various indirect methods of attack,  and 
numbers do not count for everything.  [The commentator here 
quotes Sun Tzu, V. SS. 5, 6 and 10.]  Now the rebels have pitched 
their camp in the midst of thick grass which will easily burn 
when the wind blows.  If we set fire to it at night, they will be 
thrown into a panic, and we can make a sortie and attack them on 
all sides at once, thus emulating the achievement of T`ien Tan.'  
[See p. 90.]  That same evening, a strong breeze sprang up;  so 
Huang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind reeds together into 
torches and mount guard on the city walls, after which he sent 
out a band of daring men, who stealthily made their way through 
the lines and started the fire with loud shouts and yells.  
Simultaneously, a glare of light shot up from the city walls, and 
Huang-fu Sung,  sounding his drums, led a rapid charge,  which 
threw the rebels into confusion and put them to headlong flight." 
[HOU HAN SHU, ch. 71.] ]
     10.  (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it.  Do 
not attack from the leeward.
     [Chang Yu, following Tu Yu, says:  "When you make a fire, 
the enemy will retreat away from it; if you oppose his retreat 
and attack him then, he will fight desperately, which will not 
conduce to your success."  A rather more obvious explanation is 
given by Tu Mu:  "If the wind is in the east, begin burning to 
the east of the enemy, and follow up the attack yourself from 
that side.  If you start the fire on the east side,  and then 
attack from the west, you will suffer in the same way as your 
     11.  A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long,  but a 
night breeze soon falls.
     [Cf.  Lao Tzu's saying:  "A violent wind does not last the 
space of a morning."  (TAO TE CHING, chap. 23.)   Mei Yao-ch`en 
and Wang Hsi say:  "A day breeze dies down at nightfall,  and a 
night breeze at daybreak.  This is what happens as a general 
rule."   The phenomenon observed may be correct enough,  but how 
this sense is to be obtained is not apparent.]
     12.  In every army, the five developments connected with 
fire must be known, the movements of the stars calculated, and a 
watch kept for the proper days.
     [Tu Mu says:  "We must make calculations as to the paths of 
the stars,  and watch for the days on which wind will rise, 
before making our attack with fire."  Chang Yu seems to interpret 
the text differently:  "We must not only know how to assail our 
opponents with fire, but also be on our guard against similar 
attacks from them."]
     13.  Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show 
intelligence; those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an 
accession of strength.
     14.  By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not 
robbed of all his belongings.
     [Ts`ao Kung's note is:  "We can merely obstruct the enemy's 
road or divide his army, but not sweep away all his accumulated 
stores."  Water can do useful service, but it lacks the terrible 
destructive power of fire.  This is the reason,  Chang Yu 
concludes, why the former is dismissed in a couple of sentences, 
whereas the attack by fire is discussed in detail.  Wu Tzu  (ch. 
4)  speaks thus of the two elements:  "If an army is encamped on 
low-lying marshy ground, from which the water cannot run off, and 
where the rainfall is heavy, it may be submerged by a flood.  If 
an army is encamped in wild marsh lands thickly overgrown with 
weeds and brambles, and visited by frequent gales,  it may be 
exterminated by fire."]
     15.  Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles 
and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of 
enterprise;  for the result is waste of time and   general 
     [This is one of the most perplexing passages in Sun Tzu.  
Ts`ao Kung says:   "Rewards for good service should not be 
deferred a single day."   And Tu Mu:   "If you do not take 
opportunity   to   advance and reward   the   deserving,   your 
subordinates will not carry out your commands, and disaster will 
ensue."   For several reasons, however, and in spite of the 
formidable array of scholars on the other side,  I prefer the 
interpretation suggested by Mei Yao-ch`en alone, whose words I 
will quote:  "Those who want to make sure of succeeding in their 
battles and assaults must seize the favorable moments when they 
come and not shrink on occasion from heroic measures:  that is to 
say, they must resort to such means of attack of fire, water and 
the like.  What they must not do, and what will prove fatal,  is 
to sit still and simply hold to the advantages they have got."]
     16.  Hence the saying:  The enlightened ruler lays his plans 
well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
     [Tu Mu quotes the following from the SAN LUEH, ch. 2:   "The 
warlike prince controls his soldiers by his authority, kits them 
together by good faith, and by rewards makes them serviceable.  
If faith decays,  there will be disruption;  if rewards are 
deficient, commands will not be respected."]
     17.  Move not unless you see an advantage;  use not your 
troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless 
the position is critical.
     [Sun Tzu may at times appear to be over-cautious,  but he 
never goes so far in that direction as the remarkable passage in 
the TAO TE CHING, ch. 69.  "I dare not take the initiative,  but 
prefer to act on the defensive; I dare not advance an inch,  but 
prefer to retreat a foot."]
     18.  No ruler should put troops into the field merely to 
gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply 
out of pique.
     19.  If it is to your advantage, make a forward move;  if 
not, stay where you are.
     [This is repeated from XI. ss. 17.  Here I feel convinced 
that it is an interpolation, for it is evident that ss. 20 ought 
to follow immediately on ss. 18.]
     20.  Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be 
succeeded by content.
     21.  But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never 
come again into being;
     [The Wu State was destined to be a melancholy example of 
this saying.]
nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.
     22.  Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good 
general full of caution.  This is the way to keep a country at 
peace and an army intact.
[1]   "Unless you enter the tiger's lair, you cannot get hold of 
the tiger's cubs."
[Go to Index]


     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.
     [Cf. II. ss. ss. 1, 13, 14.]
There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop 
down exhausted on the highways.
     [Cf.  TAO TE CHING,  ch.  30:   "Where troops have been 
quartered, brambles and thorns spring up.  Chang Yu has the note: 
"We may be reminded of the saying:  'On serious ground, gather in 
plunder.'   Why then should carriage and transportation cause 
exhaustion on the highways?--The answer is, that not victuals 
alone,  but all sorts of munitions of war have to be conveyed to 
the army.  Besides, the injunction to 'forage on the enemy'  only 
means that when an army is deeply engaged in hostile territory, 
scarcity of food must be provided against.  Hence, without being 
solely dependent on the enemy for corn, we must forage in order 
that there may be an uninterrupted flow of supplies.  Then, 
again, there are places like salt deserts where provisions being 
unobtainable, supplies from home cannot be dispensed with."]
As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in 
their labor.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en says:  "Men will be lacking at the plough-
tail."  The allusion is to the system of dividing land into nine 
parts, each consisting of about 15 acres, the plot in the center 
being cultivated on behalf of the State by the tenants of the 
other eight.  It was here also, so Tu Mu tells us,  that their 
cottages were built and a well sunk, to be used by all in common. 
[See II. ss. 12, note.]  In time of war, one of the families had 
to serve in the army, while the other seven contributed to its 
support.  Thus,  by a levy of 100,000 men (reckoning one able-
bodied soldier to each family) the husbandry of 700,000 families 
would be affected.]
     2.  Hostile armies may face each other for years,  striving 
for the victory which is decided in a single day.  This being so, 
to remain in ignorance of the enemy's condition simply because 
one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors 
and emoluments,
     ["For spies" is of course the meaning, though it would spoil 
the effect of this curiously elaborate exordium if spies were 
actually mentioned at this point.]
is the height of inhumanity.
     [Sun Tzu's agreement is certainly ingenious.  He begins by 
adverting to the frightful misery and vast expenditure of blood 
and treasure which war always brings in its train.  Now,  unless 
you are kept informed of the enemy's condition, and are ready to 
strike at the right moment, a war may drag on for years.  The 
only way to get this information is to employ spies, and it is 
impossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless they are properly 
paid for their services.  But it is surely false economy to 
grudge a comparatively trifling amount for this purpose,  when 
every day that the war lasts eats up an incalculably greater sum. 
This grievous burden falls on the shoulders of the poor,  and 
hence Sun Tzu concludes that to neglect the use of spies is 
nothing less than a crime against humanity.]
     3.  One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help 
to his sovereign, no master of victory.
     [This idea, that the true object of war is peace,  has its 
root in the national temperament of the Chinese.  Even so far 
back as 597 B.C., these memorable words were uttered by Prince 
Chuang of the Ch`u State:  "The [Chinese] character for 'prowess' 
is made up of [the characters for] 'to stay'  and  'a spear' 
(cessation of hostilities).  Military prowess is seen in the 
repression   of   cruelty,  the calling in of   weapons,   the 
preservation of the appointment of Heaven, the firm establishment 
of merit,  the bestowal of happiness on the people,  putting 
harmony between the princes, the diffusion of wealth."]
     4.  Thus,  what enables the wise sovereign and the good 
general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the 
reach of ordinary men, is FOREKNOWLEDGE.
     [That is, knowledge of the enemy's dispositions, and what he 
means to do.]
     5.  Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; 
it cannot be obtained inductively from experience,
     [Tu Mu's note is:  "[knowledge of the enemy]  cannot be 
gained by reasoning from other analogous cases."]
nor by any deductive calculation.
     [Li   Ch`uan says:   "Quantities like   length,   breadth, 
distance and magnitude, are susceptible of exact mathematical 
determination; human actions cannot be so calculated."]
     6.  Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be 
obtained from other men.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en has rather an interesting note:   "Knowledge 
of the spirit-world is to be obtained by divination;  information 
in natural science may be sought by inductive reasoning; the laws 
of the universe can be verified by mathematical calculation:  but 
the dispositions of an enemy are ascertainable through spies and 
spies alone."]
     7.  Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes:  
(1)  Local spies;  (2) inward spies; (3)  converted spies;  (4) 
doomed spies; (5) surviving spies.
     8.  When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can 
discover the secret system.  This is called "divine manipulation 
of the threads."  It is the sovereign's most precious faculty.
     [Cromwell,  one of the greatest and most practical of all 
cavalry leaders,  had officers styled  'scout masters,'  whose 
business it was to collect all possible information regarding the 
enemy, through scouts and spies, etc., and much of his success in 
war was traceable to the previous knowledge of the enemy's moves 
thus gained." [1] ]
     9.  Having LOCAL SPIES means employing the services of the 
inhabitants of a district.
     [Tu Mu says:  "In the enemy's country, win people over by 
kind treatment, and use them as spies."]
     10.  Having INWARD SPIES, making use of officials of the 
     [Tu Mu enumerates the following classes as likely to do good 
service in this respect:  "Worthy men who have been degraded from 
office,  criminals who have undergone punishment; also,  favorite 
concubines who are greedy for gold, men who are aggrieved at 
being in subordinate positions, or who have been passed over in 
the distribution of posts, others who are anxious that their side 
should be defeated in order that they may have a chance of 
displaying their ability and talents, fickle turncoats who always 
want to have a foot in each boat.  Officials of these several 
kinds," he continues, "should be secretly approached and bound to 
one's interests by means of rich presents.  In this way you will 
be able to find out the state of affairs in the enemy's country, 
ascertain the plans that are being formed against you,  and 
moreover disturb the harmony and create a breach between the 
sovereign and his ministers."  The necessity for extreme caution, 
however,  in dealing with  "inward spies,"  appears from   an 
historical incident related by Ho Shih:  "Lo Shang, Governor of 
I-Chou, sent his general Wei Po to attack the rebel Li Hsiung of 
Shu in his stronghold at P`i.  After each side had experienced a 
number of victories and defeats, Li Hsiung had recourse to the 
services of a certain P`o-t`ai, a native of Wu-tu.  He began to 
have him whipped until the blood came, and then sent him off to 
Lo Shang, whom he was to delude by offering to cooperate with him 
from inside the city, and to give a fire signal at the right 
moment for making a general assault.  Lo Shang,  confiding in 
these promises, march out all his best troops, and placed Wei Po 
and others at their head with orders to attack at P`o-t`ai's 
bidding.  Meanwhile, Li Hsiung's general, Li Hsiang, had prepared 
an ambuscade on their line of march; and P`o-t`ai, having reared 
long scaling-ladders against the city walls,  now lighted the 
beacon-fire.  Wei Po's men raced up on seeing the signal and 
began climbing the ladders as fast as they could,  while others 
were drawn up by ropes lowered from above.  More than a hundred 
of Lo Shang's soldiers entered the city in this way, every one of 
whom was forthwith beheaded.  Li Hsiung then charged with all his 
forces,  both inside and outside the city, and routed the enemy 
completely."  [This happened in 303 A.D.  I do not know where Ho 
Shih got the story from.  It is not given in the biography of Li 
Hsiung or that of his father Li T`e, CHIN SHU, ch. 120, 121.]
     11.  Having CONVERTED SPIES, getting hold of the enemy's 
spies and using them for our own purposes.
     [By means of heavy bribes and liberal promises detaching 
them from the enemy's service, and inducing them to carry back 
false information as well as to spy in turn on their own 
countrymen.  On the other hand, Hsiao Shih-hsien says that we 
pretend not to have detected him, but contrive to let him carry 
away a false impression of what is going on.  Several of the 
commentators accept this as an alternative definition; but that 
it is not what Sun Tzu meant is conclusively proved by his 
subsequent remarks about treating the converted spy generously 
(ss. 21 sqq.).  Ho Shih notes three occasions on which converted 
spies were used with conspicuous success:  (1) by T`ien Tan in 
his defense of Chi-mo (see supra, p. 90); (2) by Chao She on his 
march to O-yu (see p. 57); and by the wily Fan Chu in 260 B.C., 
when Lien P`o was conducting a defensive campaign against Ch`in.  
The King of Chao strongly disapproved of Lien P`o's cautious and 
dilatory methods,  which had been unable to avert a series of 
minor disasters, and therefore lent a ready ear to the reports of 
his spies,  who had secretly gone over to the enemy and were 
already in Fan Chu's pay.  They said:  "The only thing which 
causes Ch`in anxiety is lest Chao Kua should be made general.  
Lien P`o they consider an easy opponent, who is sure to be 
vanquished in the long run."  Now this Chao Kua was a sun of the 
famous Chao She.  From his boyhood, he had been wholly engrossed 
in the study of war and military matters, until at last he came 
to believe that there was no commander in the whole Empire who 
could stand against him.  His father was much disquieted by this 
overweening conceit,  and the flippancy with which he spoke of 
such a serious thing as war, and solemnly declared that if ever 
Kua was appointed general, he would bring ruin on the armies of 
Chao.  This was the man who, in spite of earnest protests from 
his own mother and the veteran statesman Lin Hsiang-ju, was now 
sent to succeed Lien P`o.  Needless to say, he proved no match 
for the redoubtable Po Ch`i and the great military power of 
Ch`in.  He fell into a trap by which his army was divided into 
two and his communications cut; and after a desperate resistance 
lasting 46 days, during which the famished soldiers devoured one 
another, he was himself killed by an arrow, and his whole force, 
amounting,  it is said, to 400,000 men, ruthlessly put to the 
     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.
     [Tu Yu gives the best exposition of the meaning:   "We 
ostentatiously do thing calculated to deceive our own spies,  who 
must be led to believe that they have been unwittingly disclosed. 
Then,  when these spies are captured in the enemy's lines,  they 
will make an entirely false report, and the enemy will take 
measures accordingly,  only to find that we do something quite 
different.  The spies will thereupon be put to death."   As an 
example of doomed spies, Ho Shih mentions the prisoners released 
by Pan Ch`ao in his campaign against Yarkand.  (See p. 132.)   He 
also refers to T`ang Chien, who in 630 A.D. was sent by T`ai 
Tsung to lull the Turkish Kahn Chieh-li into fancied security, 
until Li Ching was able to deliver a crushing blow against him.  
Chang Yu says that the Turks revenged themselves by killing T`ang 
Chien, but this is a mistake, for we read in both the old and the 
New   T`ang History  (ch.  58,  fol.  2 and ch.  89,  fol.  8 
respectively)  that he escaped and lived on until 656.  Li I-chi 
played a somewhat similar part in 203 B.C., when sent by the King 
of Han to open peaceful negotiations with Ch`i.  He has certainly 
more claim to be described a "doomed spy", for the king of Ch`i, 
being subsequently attacked without warning by Han Hsin,  and 
infuriated by what he considered the treachery of Li I-chi, 
ordered the unfortunate envoy to be boiled alive.]
     13.  SURVIVING SPIES, finally, are those who bring back news 
from the enemy's camp.
     [This is the ordinary class of spies, properly so called, 
forming a regular part of the army.  Tu Mu says:  "Your surviving 
spy must be a man of keen intellect, though in outward appearance 
a fool; of shabby exterior, but with a will of iron.  He must be 
active,  robust,  endowed with physical strength and courage; 
thoroughly accustomed to all sorts of dirty work, able to endure 
hunger and cold, and to put up with shame and ignominy."  Ho Shih 
tells the following story of Ta`hsi Wu of the Sui dynasty:  "When 
he was governor of Eastern Ch`in, Shen-wu of Ch`i made a hostile 
movement upon Sha-yuan.  The Emperor T`ai Tsu [? Kao Tsu]  sent 
Ta-hsi Wu to spy upon the enemy.  He was accompanied by two other 
men.  All three were on horseback and wore the enemy's uniform.  
When it was dark, they dismounted a few hundred feet away from 
the enemy's camp and stealthily crept up to listen,  until they 
succeeded in catching the passwords used in the army.  Then they 
got on their horses again and boldly passed through the camp 
under the guise of night-watchmen; and more than once,  happening 
to come across a soldier who was committing some breach of 
discipline,  they actually stopped to give the culprit a sound 
cudgeling!  Thus they managed to return with the fullest possible 
information about the enemy's dispositions, and received warm 
commendation from the Emperor, who in consequence of their report 
was able to inflict a severe defeat on his adversary."]
     14.  Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more 
intimate relations to be maintained than with spies.
     [Tu Mu and Mei Yao-ch`en point out that the spy is 
privileged to enter even the general's private sleeping-tent.]
None should be more liberally rewarded.  In no other business 
should greater secrecy be preserved.
     [Tu Mu gives a graphic touch:  all communication with spies 
should be carried "mouth-to-ear."  The following remarks on spies 
may be quoted from Turenne, who made perhaps larger use of them 
than any previous commander:  "Spies are attached to those who 
give them most,  he who pays them ill is never served.  They 
should never be known to anybody; nor should they know one 
another.  When they propose anything very material, secure their 
persons,  or have in your possession their wives and children as 
hostages for their fidelity.  Never communicate anything to them 
but what is absolutely necessary that they should know. [2] ]
     15.  Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain 
intuitive sagacity.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en says:  "In order to use them, one must know 
fact from falsehood, and be able to discriminate between honesty 
and double-dealing."   Wang Hsi in a different interpretation 
thinks more along the lines of  "intuitive perception"  and 
"practical   intelligence."    Tu Mu strangely   refers   these 
attributes to the spies themselves:  "Before using spies we must 
assure ourselves as to their integrity of character and the 
extent of their experience and skill."  But he continues:   "A 
brazen face and a crafty disposition are more dangerous than 
mountains or rivers; it takes a man of genius to penetrate such." 
So that we are left in some doubt as to his real opinion on the 
     16.  They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and 
     [Chang   Yu says:   "When you have attracted   them   by 
substantial offers, you must treat them with absolute sincerity; 
then they will work for you with all their might."]
     17.  Without subtle ingenuity of mind,  one cannot make 
certain of the truth of their reports.
     [Mei Yao-ch`en says:   "Be on your guard against   the 
possibility of spies going over to the service of the enemy."]
     18.  Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind 
of business.
     [Cf. VI. ss. 9.]
     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.
     [Word for word, the translation here is:  "If spy matters 
are heard before [our plans] are carried out," etc.  Sun Tzu's 
main point in this passage is:  Whereas you kill the spy himself 
"as a punishment for letting out the secret,"  the object of 
killing the other man is only, as Ch`en Hao puts it, "to stop his 
mouth"  and prevent news leaking any further.  If it had already 
been repeated to others, this object would not be gained.  Either 
way,  Sun Tzu lays himself open to the charge of inhumanity, 
though Tu Mu tries to defend him by saying that the man deserves 
to be put to death, for the spy would certainly not have told the 
secret unless the other had been at pains to worm it out of 
     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-
     [Literally  "visitors",  is equivalent, as Tu Yu says,  to 
"those whose duty it is to keep the general supplied with 
information,"  which naturally necessitates frequent interviews 
with him.]
and door-keepers and sentries of the general in command.  Our 
spies must be commissioned to ascertain these.
     [As the first step, no doubt towards finding out if any of 
these important functionaries can be won over by bribery.]
     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 
     [Tu Yu says:  "through conversion of the enemy's spies we 
learn the enemy's condition."  And Chang Yu says:  "We must tempt 
the converted spy into our service, because it is he that knows 
which of the local inhabitants are greedy of gain, and which of 
the officials are open to corruption."]
     23.  It is owing to his information, again,  that we can 
cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy.
     [Chang Yu says, "because the converted spy knows how the 
enemy can best be deceived."]
     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.
     [As explained in ss. 22-24.  He not only brings information 
himself,  but makes it possible to use the other kinds of spy to 
Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the 
utmost liberality.
     26. Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty
     [Sun Tzu means the Shang dynasty, founded in 1766 B.C.  Its 
name was changed to Yin by P`an Keng in 1401.
was due to I Chih
     [Better known as I Yin, the famous general and statesman 
who took part in Ch`eng T`ang's campaign against Chieh Kuei.]
who had served under the Hsia.  Likewise, the rise of the Chou 
dynasty was due to Lu Ya
     [Lu Shang rose to high office under the tyrant Chou Hsin, 
whom he afterwards helped to overthrow.  Popularly known as T`ai 
Kung,  a title bestowed on him by Wen Wang, he is said to have 
composed a treatise on war, erroneously identified with the 
who had served under the Yin.
     [There is less precision in the Chinese than I have thought 
it well to introduce into my translation, and the commentaries on 
the passage are by no means explicit.  But, having regard to the 
context,  we can hardly doubt that Sun Tzu is holding up I Chih 
and Lu Ya as illustrious examples of the converted spy,  or 
something closely analogous.  His suggestion is, that the Hsia 
and Yin dynasties were upset owing to the intimate knowledge of 
their weaknesses and shortcoming which these former ministers 
were able to impart to the other side.  Mei Yao-ch`en appears to 
resent any such aspersion on these historic names:  "I Yin and Lu 
Ya,"  he says, "were not rebels against the Government.  Hsia 
could not employ the former, hence Yin employed him.  Yin could 
not employ the latter, hence Hou employed him.  Their great 
achievements were all for the good of the people."  Ho Shih is 
also indignant:  "How should two divinely inspired men such as I 
and Lu have acted as common spies?  Sun Tzu's mention of them 
simply means that the proper use of the five classes of spies is 
a matter which requires men of the highest mental caliber like I 
and Lu, whose wisdom and capacity qualified them for the task.  
The above words only emphasize this point."  Ho Shih believes 
then that the two heroes are mentioned on account of their 
supposed skill in the use of spies.  But this is very weak.]
     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.
     [Tu Mu closes with a note of warning:  "Just as water, which 
carries a boat from bank to bank, may also be the means of 
sinking it, so reliance on spies, while production of great 
results, is oft-times the cause of utter destruction."]
Spies are a most important element in water, because on them 
depends an army's ability to move.
     [Chia Lin says that an army without spies is like a man with 
ears or eyes.]
[1]  "Aids to Scouting," p. 2.
[2]  "Marshal Turenne," p. 311.
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