Sun Tzu c. 4th century b.c.-
(Also known as Sun Wu and Master Sun) Chinese treatise writer.
Sun Tzu's only known work is The Art of War, also referred to as the Sun Tzu, the oldest existing military treatise in the world and often considered the finest. Its penetrating principles of human behavior and rules of conduct for military leaders are set forth in a relatively short book of approximately 6000 Chinese characters. It is divided into thirteen chapters, with each chapter treating a different topic, such as calculating the strength of the enemy's forces, planning attacks, the nature of force, and the use of spies. The Art of War, has been prized for thousands of years by the Chinese and was, and continues to be, enormously influential on Chinese and Japanese military thought; it was the source for Mao Tse-tung's strategies and tactics. Since the early twentieth century The Art of War has been popular in the West as well, with the publication of many studies that apply its principles to areas other than warfare, particularly to business.
Scholars believe that Sun Tzu probably lived in the fourth century b.c. They also have some indications tha he was born in the state of Ch'i, that he prospered in Wu, where he became a general, and that he led his troops to major victories against the Ch'i, Ch'u, and Ch'in. If these facts are accurate, Sun Tzu lived during the Warring States period, which spanned the years 403 b.c. to 221 b.c. Other claims have been made that Sun Tzu lived during the closing years of the Spring and Autumn period, which lasted from 722 b.c. to 481 b.c. Also, there has long been controversy concerning whether Sun Tzu was the sole author of The Art of War or whether it was a joint effort of some kind, possibly the work of a school, perhaps spanning many generations. Some scholars have even contended that Sun Tzu is a mythical character who never existed as an individual.
Scholars do not know when The Art of War was first set down in writing, although the most accepted time span is between 400 b.c. and 320 b.c. The text, for the most part, has been well preserved. It was first introduced to Western readers in 1772 through J. J. M. Amiot's French translation. Lionel Giles was the first to translate the work into a wide-circulation English edition in 1910. Its popularity rose considerably with the critically acclaimed 1963 translation by Samuel B. Griffith. In 1972 scholars were rewarded with a major discovery when archeologists unearthing a tomb dating from the Han dynasty also turned up a copy of The Art of War on bamboo strips more than a thousand years older than any previously known copy. This text, known as the Yin Chueh Shan text, dates from between 140 b.c. and 118 b.c. Although it is essentially the same text as the later version, its discovery helped to clarify certain contested manuscript questions.
The main theme of The Art of War is effective military strategy. The author, therefore, stresses the importance of analyzing all aspects of the situation at hand before engaging in warfare, for the outcome of the war will be either the survival or the destruction of the nation. The work also asserts the idea that all warfare is based on deception; the necessity of adapting to existing conditions; the adage that a good general is prudent but not hesitant; and the notion that to be victorious you must thoroughly know yourself and your enemy. Although specific wartime situations are sometimes mentioned in the text, they are treated somewhat broadly. For instance, the author discusses tactics for fighting on mountainous terrain rather than techniques used in a particular mountain battle. Because The Art of War emphasizes general principles over specifics, it is adaptable to many different situations.
In his foreword to Griffith's celebrated translation, the British military historian B. H. Liddell Hart highly praises Sun Tzu; this evaluation is representative of the critical acclaim Sun Tzu typically garners. Liddell Hart writes: “Sun Tzu's essays on ‘The Art of War’ form the earliest of known treatises on the subject, but have never been surpassed in comprehensiveness and depth of understanding. They might well be termed the concentrated essence of wisdom on the conduct of war.” Scholars including Griffith, Ralph D. Sawyer, and Mei-Chün Sawyer provide background on the Warring States period and describe how warfare changed in Sun Tzu's age, when the feudal social structure was being replaced by a different type of society—one that offered more opportunity for the talented individual. Roger T. Ames discusses the textual history of The Art of War and the controversy over its authorship, a matter also investigated by Griffith and the Sawyers. Some scholars suggest that the text as we know it today may be the result of the labors of several writers, not necessarily a single author. Other critics have countered that the work could have been written only by someone who understood warfare thoroughly and practiced the outlined tenets, and that the text reads as if it is the work of a single author. Ames offers a comprehensive analysis on the concept of strategic advantage and of the ways that Sun Tzu's understanding of it differed from the views of later authors. Dennis and Ching Ping Bloodworth compare and contrast Sun Tzu's philosophy with the philosophies of Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian political theorist who wrote The Prince, and Karl von Clausewitz, the Prussian army officer and military theorist who, in his On War proposed the doctrines of total war and war as an instrument of policy. Ronald Glasberg also compares and contrasts The Art of War to The Prince. Griffith and the Bloodworths explain how Sun Tzu's guidelines for military strategy are still being used in modern China, for example in their interactions with the United States government. In recent years editions of The Art of War have also proliferated in the business world, with volumes tailored for use in the fields of management, marketing, career guidance, corporate politics, investing, and negotiating.
Sun Tzu [The Art of War] (treatise) c. 400 B.C.-c. 320 B.C.
Sun Tzu on the Art of War: The Oldest Military Treatise in the World [translated by Lionel Giles] 1910
The Art of War [translated by Samuel B. Griffith] 1963
The Art of Strategy [translated by R. L. Wing] 1988
The Art of War [translated by Thomas Cleary] 1988
The Art of Warfare [translated by Roger T. Ames] 1993
Sun Tzu: The New Translation [translated by J. H. Huang] 1993
The Complete Art of War [translated by Ralph D. Sawyer] 1996
The Art of War: In Sun Tzu's Own Words [translated by Gary Gagliardi] 1999
The Art of War: The Denma Translation [translated by The Denma Translation Group] 2001
The Art of War: Sun Tzu: In Plain English [translated by D. E. Tarver] 2002
(The entire section is 126 words.)
SOURCE: Griffith, Samuel B. Introduction to The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, translated by Samuel B. Griffith, pp. 1-56. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.
[In the following essay, Griffith discusses problems with determining the authorship of The Art of War, discrepancies in the size of the work, the nature of warfare in Sun Tzu's time, and Sun Tzu's influence on Mao Tse-Tung.]
Over the centuries countless Chinese critics have devoted a great deal of attention to examination of literary works ascribed to the ‘classical’ period, an era usually defined as extending from 551 b.c., the probable birth year of Confucius, to 249 b.c., when King Chao of Ch'in liquidated the Chou dynasty.
One of the principal results of this scholarly endeavour has been to confirm, or more often to disprove, traditional claims relating to the authenticity of the works in question. The Art of War has not escaped the careful attention of dozens of these learned analysts, who generally agree that The Thirteen Chapters could not have been composed about 500 b.c., as the Grand Historiographer Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien alleged, but belongs to a later age.
The first to doubt the reliability of Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien's biography of Sun Wu was an eleventh-century Sung scholar, Yeh Cheng-tsê, who concluded that Sun Wu never existed and...
(The entire section is 19539 words.)
SOURCE: Bloodworth, Dennis and Ching Ping. “Western Approaches” and “From the Top.” In The Chinese Machiavelli: 3,000 Years of Chinese Statecraft, pp. 306-21. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.
[In the following excerpt, Bloodworth and Bloodworth compare and contrast Sun-Tzu's philosophy with those of Machiavelli and Clausewitz and contend that the roots of modern Chinese military policy can be found in Sun-Tzu's instructions.]
The Italian world of Machiavelli was a distorted miniature of the Chinese world of Han Fei and Sun Tzu—a jigsaw puzzle of warring states that formed a single culture rather than a single realm, within which all foreigners were looked upon as outer barbari. Cesare Borgia strutted across the scene like a treacherous and unprincipled hegemon, “maintaining such relations with kings and princes that they have either to help him graciously or go carefully in doing him harm.” He pacified the unruly Romagna by appointing a callous but efficient minister to cow it into obedience, and when his unpopular severities were no longer required, won the people over to himself by having the scapegoat cut in two and the bits left out in the piazza at Cesena for all to see. As ruthless as the First Emperor of Ch'in, he killed off the ruling families of the cities he seized, so that they could not plot against him.
Machiavelli himself was a pragmatist, a...
(The entire section is 5507 words.)
SOURCE: Glasberg, Ronald. “Toward a Cross-Cultural Language of Power: Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Machiavelli's The Prince as Exemplary Texts.” Comparative Civilizations Review no. 27 (fall 1992): 31-50.
[In the following essay, Glasberg outlines the profound philosophical differences that exist between The Art of War and Machiavelli's The Prince.]
In attempting to grasp the fundamental assumptions of any civilization, one has to go beyond the purely theoretical sphere associated with philosophy, religion, science and the arts and turn to what might be called the practical-theoretical sphere associated with a civilization's understanding of power. After all, power is eminently a matter of practice because it is associated with getting things done by manipulating individuals or groups to do the bidding of other individuals or groups. While the historical study of war demonstrates an extreme form of this attempt at manipulation, one must also recognize that sociopolitical institutions and cultural values function in a manipulative capacity and, hence, are expressions of power within a given civilization. If the task is to bring this complex manifold into some kind of theoretical focus, a useful point of departure is to find exemplary texts on the use of power and, by way of comparison, shed some light on how power functions and is understood in different civilizations. An...
(The entire section is 7490 words.)
SOURCE: Ames, Roger T. Introduction to The Art of Warfare: The First English Translation Incorporating the Recently Discovered Yin-Ch'üeh-Shan Texts, translated by Roger T. Ames, pp. 3-35. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.
[In the following excerpt, Ames traces the complex manuscript history of The Art of War.]
THE “NEW” SUN-TZU
The Sun-tzu, or “Master Sun,” is the longest existing and most widely studied military classic in human history. Quite appropriately, it dates back to the Warring States period (c. 403-221 b.c.), a formative phase in Chinese civilization when contributions in literature and philosophy were rivaled in magnitude and sophistication only by developments in an increasingly efficient military culture.
Over the course of the preceding Spring and Autumn period (c. 722-481 b.c.), scores of small, semiautonomous states had joined in an ongoing war of survival, leaving in its wake only the dozen or so “central states” (chung-kuo) from which present-day “China” takes its actual Chinese-language name. By the fifth century b.c., it had become clear to all contenders that the only alternative to winning was to perish. And as these rivals for the throne of a unified China grew fewer, the stakes and the brutality of warfare increased exponentially.
During this period, warfare was transformed...
(The entire section is 8819 words.)
SOURCE: Sawyer, Ralph D. and Mei-Chün Sawyer. “General Introduction and Historical Background of the Classics.” In The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, translated by Ralph D. Sawyer and Mei-Chün Sawyer, pp. 1-18. Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Sawyer and Sawyer provide historical background to Chinese warfare and the evolution of weapons.]
Military thought, the complex product of both violent war and intellectual analysis, suffered from disparagement and disrepute during almost all the past two millennia in Imperial China. Ignoring the original teachings of Confucius, self-styled Confucians eschewed—whether sincerely or hypocritically—the profession of arms and all aspects of military involvement from the Han dynasty on, growing more vociferous in their condemnation with the passing of centuries.1 However, regardless of these people's civilized and cultured self-perception, the nation could not be without armies or generals, particularly in the face of constant “barbarian” threats and ongoing conflicts with volatile nomadic peoples. Accordingly, a number of early military treatises continued to be valued and studied and thereby managed to survive, while the turmoil of frequent crises inevitably fostered generations of professional military figures and additional strategic studies. Yet compared to the Confucian classics and various other...
(The entire section is 13376 words.)
SOURCE: Ames, Roger T. “Shih (Strategic Advantage/Political Purchase).” In The “Art of Rulership”: A Study of Ancient Chinese Political Thought, pp. 65-107. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
[In the following excerpt, Ames analyzes the concept of strategic advantage as described in The Art of War and traces how the concept changes in later works.]
The next concept to be analyzed in this exploration of the political philosophy of The Art of Rulership [Book Nine of the Huai Nan Tzu] is shih, “strategic advantage.” This concept has long been associated with the rise of the Legalist school as one of its three cardinal precepts: fa (“penal law”), shih (“strategic advantage/political purchase”), and shu (“art/techniques of rulership”). In spite of its central importance, the historical development of shih prior to its adoption by the early Legalist thinkers has not, to my knowledge, been examined in any depth; as a consequence, the full range of this concept has yet to be clearly delineated. Because it gradually accrued a wide though not unrelated range of meanings, it has often suffered the common fate of being interpreted in early texts with all its later connotations. If the meaning of shih as used in the earliest sources can be determined with some accuracy, this definition can be used as a starting point...
(The entire section is 23755 words.)
SOURCE: Sawyer, Ralph D. and Mei-Chün Lee Sawyer. Introduction to The Complete Art of War, by Sun Tzu and Sun Pin, translated by Ralph D. Sawyer and Mei-Chün Lee Sawyer, pp. 1-36. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Sawyer and Sawyer offer historical background to Sun-Tzu's era and discuss the fundamentals of his writings.]
SUN TZU AND HIS ERA
THE SPRING AND AUTUMN PERIOD
The state of Chou, which had righteously overthrown the debauched Shang to found its own dynasty in 1045 b.c. upon an avowed foundation of moral virtue and benevolence, established its authority by dispatching royal clan groups to both enemy and unsettled domains. Within a few generations, however, the Chou began experiencing nomadic pressure in the north and west; therefore, the quest for allies, resources, and political strength had to be redirected toward the south and southeast. Several early Chou kings enthusiastically undertook military campaigns to the south with mixed results, and King Chao, the fifth to reign, even perished mysteriously, leading to the oft-repeated charge that the state of Ch'u had murdered him. While members of the ruling clans originally emigrated to these areas for defensive purposes, this southern offensive essentially became cultural in nature. The peoples around initial Chou enclaves gradually became sinicized, particularly...
(The entire section is 14547 words.)
Cleary, Thomas. “Translator's Preface.” In The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, pp. vii-viii. Boston: Shambhala, 1988.
Emphasizes the importance of understanding the Taoist aspects of The Art of War.
———. “Translator's Introduction: The Art of War and the I Ching: Strategy and Change.” In Mastering the Art of War, by Zhuge Liang and Liu Ji, pp. 10-29. Boston: Shambhala, 1989.
Provides parallels between the I Ching and The Art of War on the topics of contention and army management.
(The entire section is 78 words.)