The oldest military treatise in the world, translated from Chinese in 1910
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise that is attributed to Sun Tzu (also referred to as “Sunzi” and “Sun Wu”), a high ranking military general and strategist of the Kingdom of Wu who was active in the late-sixth century BC, during the late Spring and Autumn period. (Some scholars believe that the Art of War was not completed until the subsequent Warring States period.)
Composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare, it is said to be the definitive work on military strategies and tactics of its time, and is still read for its military insights.The Art of War is one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy in the world. It has been the most famous and influential of China’s Seven Military Classics: “for the last two thousand years it remained the most important military treatise in Asia, where even the common people knew it by name.”
It has had an influence on Eastern military thinking, business tactics, and beyond.
Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of positioning in military strategy, and that the decision to position an army must be based on both objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective beliefs of other, competitive actors in that environment. He thought that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through an established list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment, but in a changing environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations.
Memorable quotes from the book:
A leader leads by example not by force.
Swift as the wind
Quiet as the forest
Conquer like the fire
Steady as the mountain
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
722 to 481 BC
Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who is traditionally believed, and who is most likely, to have authored the Art of War, an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy. Sun Tzu has had a significant impact on Chinese and Asian history and culture, both as an author of the Art of War and through legend. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Sun Tzu’s Art of War grew in popularity and saw practical use in Western society, and his work has continued to influence both Asian and Western culture and politics.
One of the more well-known stories about Sun Tzu, taken from the Shiji, illustrates Sun Tzu’s temperament as follows: Before hiring Sun Tzu, the King of Wu tested Sun Tzu’s skills by commanding him to train a harem of 180 concubines into soldiers. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, appointing the two concubines most favored by the king as the company commanders. When Sun Tzu first ordered the concubines to face right, they giggled. In response, Sun Tzu said that the general, in this case himself, was responsible for ensuring that soldiers understood the commands given to them. Then, he reiterated the command, and again the concubines giggled. Sun Tzu then ordered the execution of the king’s two favored concubines, to the king’s protests.
He explained that if the general’s soldiers understood their commands but did not obey, it was the fault of the officers.
Sun Tzu also said that once a general was appointed, it was their duty to carry out their mission, even if the king protested. After both concubines were killed, new officers were chosen to replace them. Afterwards, both companies performed their maneuvers flawlessly Traditional accounts state that his descendant, Sun Bin, also wrote a treatise on military tactics, titled Sun Bin’s Art of War. Both Sun Wu and Sun Bin were referred to as Sun Tzu in classical Chinese writings, and some historians believed that Sun Wu was in fact Sun Bin until Sun Bin’s own treatise was discovered in 1972.