"Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories." -- Sun Tzu
Sun Wu (), style name Changqing (??), better known as Sun Tzu or Sunzi (; pronounced ), was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who is traditionally believed and 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 The 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.
Historians have questioned whether or not Sun Tzu was an authentic historical figure. Traditional accounts place him in the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722—481 BC) as a military general serving under King Helü of Wu, who lived c. 544...496 BC. Scholars accepting his historicity place his supposed writing The Art of War in the Warring States Period (476—221 BC), based on the descriptions of warfare in the text. 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 thought that Sun Wu was in fact Sun Bin until Sun Bin's own treatise was discovered in 1972.)
"All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.""All war is based on deception.""All war is deception.""All warfare is based on deception.""Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate.""Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?""Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.""For them to perceive the advantage of defeating the enemy, they must also have their rewards.""For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.""He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.""He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.""Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.""If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.""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 longevity.""If you are far from the enemy, make him believe you are near.""If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.""In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.""Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.""It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.""It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results.""Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.""Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge.""Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent; of all rewards none more liberal than those given to secret agents; of all matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations.""Opportunities multiply as they are seized.""Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.""Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.""Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.""Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.""Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.""Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.""The enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution.""The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.""The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.""The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.""The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.""The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.""The skilful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man.""The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.""There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.""There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.""Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.""Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.""To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.""To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.""Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.""When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.""You have to believe in yourself."
According to traditional sources, such as the 2nd century BC biography written by Sima Qian, Sun Tzu was born in Qi during the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722—481 BC) and became a heroic general for the king of Wu, King Helü. His victories then inspired him to write The Art of War. The period was a time of constant war among seven nations (Zhao, Qi, Qin, Chu, Han, Wei and Yan) seeking to control a vast expanse of fertile territory in Eastern China.
One legend of Sun Tzu's life goes as follows: 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.
Sima's biography claims that Sun Tzu later proved on the battlefield that his theories were effective, that he had a successful military career, and that he wrote The Art of War based on his tested expertise. His descendant, Sun Bin, also became a famous scholar of the military arts.
The Art of War is attributed to Sun Tzu, and it was originally called ???? (), or simply ?? Sun Tzu. It presents a philosophy of war for managing conflicts and winning battles. Contrary to popular belief, it contains not only the writings of the original author, but also commentary and clarifications from later military philosophers, such as Li Quan and Du Mu. It is accepted as a masterpiece on strategy and frequently cited and referred to by generals and theorists since its publication, translation and distribution the world over.
Of the texts written before the unification of China in the 2nd century BC, six major works survived, including The Art of War. During the Song Dynasty in the early 1st millennium AD, the six works were combined with a Tang Dynasty text into a collection called the Seven Military Classics. As a central part of that compilation, The Art of War formed the foundations of orthodox military theory in China. Illustrating this point, the book was required reading to pass the tests needed for imperial appointment to military positions.
In the book, Sun Tzu uses language that may be unusual in a text on warfare and strategy. For example, the 11th chapter states that a leader must be "serene and inscrutable" and capable of comprehending "unfathomable plans". The meaning of such statements are clearer when interpreted in the context of Taoist thought and practice. Sun Tzu viewed the ideal general as an enlightened Taoist master, which has led to The Art of War being considered a prime example of Taoist strategy. The Art of War is distinguished from similar Western works, such as Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz's On War, by this spiritual dimension. Awareness of the Taoist viewpoint in The Art of War is essential to understanding its intended meaning.
The book is not only popular among military theorists, but it has also become increasingly popular among political leaders and those in business management. Despite its title, The Art of War addresses strategy in a broad fashion, touching upon public administration and planning. The text outlines theories of battle but also advocates diplomacy and cultivating relationships with other nations as essential to the health of a state. In fact, it is still in use to this very day by the army as a basis of strategies.
In the early 1970s, scholars uncovered a collection of ancient texts written on unusually well-preserved bamboo slips. Among them were The Art of War and Sun Bin's Military Methods. Although Han Dynasty bibliographies noted the latter publication as extant and written by a descendant of Sun, it had since been lost. The finding of Sun Bin's work was therefore considered to be extremely important, because of Sun Bin's relationship to Sun Tzu, and the work's illustration of military thought in late Chinese antiquity. The discovery as a whole expanded the total known Chinese military works by hundreds. However, Sun Bin's treatise is the only known additional text surviving from the ancient period or bearing a close association with Sun Tzu.
Scholars have expressed doubt in Sun Tzu's historicity and the traditional dating of The Art of War. The skepticism is fueled by factors that include historical inaccuracies and anachronisms in the text, as well as the unlikelihood of the execution of the king's favorite concubines. Increasing skepticism, which sometimes cause scholars to completely deny the existence of a historical figure named Sun Wu (Sun Tzu), has led to acrimonious debate between skeptics and traditionalists, especially in China. Attribution of The Art of Wars authorship varies among scholars, and have included people and movements including Sun; Chu scholar Wu Zixu; an unknown author; a school of thought in Qi or Wu; Sun Bin, and others.
Traditionalists attribute the authorship of The Art of War to the historical figure Sun Wu, who is chronicled in the Records of the Grand Historian and the Spring and Autumn Annals. He was reputedly active in the late 6th century BC, beginning c. 512 BC. The appearance of features from The Art of War in other historical texts is considered to be proof of his historicity and authorship. Certain strategic concepts, such as terrain classification, are attributed to Sun Tzu. Their use in other works, such as by the compilers of The Methods of the Sima, is considered proof of Sun Tzu's historical priority.
Scholars that identify issues with the traditionalist view point to anachronisms in The Art of War that include terms, technology, philosophical ideas, events, and military techniques. There is a disparity between the large scale wars and sophisticated techniques detailed in the text, and the more primitive small scale battles that predominated the 6th century BC. There is also a lack of early contemporary evidence supporting the centuries-later accounts of Sun. For example, there is no corroborating support for his role in the wars between Wu and Yue in the Zuo Zhuan, which is considered the authoritative record of the period. Regardless of Sun Tzu's historicity and the actual authorship of The Art of War, the figure of Sun Tzu and his traditionally attributed work have been influential.
Sun Tzu's The Art of War has influenced many notable figures. Traditional histories recount that the first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang, considered the book invaluable in ending the Age of Warring States. The Art of War was introduced in Japan c. AD 760, and the book quickly became popular among Japanese generals. The work also significantly influenced the unification of Japan. Mastery of its teachings was honored among the samurai, and its teachings were both exhorted and exemplified by influential daimyo and shogun such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Historians popularly recount how French emperor Napoleon studied Sun's military writings and used them to successfully wage war against the rest of Europe. The emperor's disregard for central principles such as attentiveness to temporal conditions is largely credited for his eventual defeat in Russia. Admiral of the Fleet T?g? Heihachir?, who led Japan's forces to victory against Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, was an avid reader of The Art of War.
Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong partially credited his victory over Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang in 1949 to The Art of War. The work strongly influenced Mao's writings about guerrilla warfare, which further influenced communist insurgencies around the world.
General Vo Nguyen Giap, the military mastermind behind victories over French and the American forces in Vietnam, was an avid student and practitioner of Sun Tzu's ideas. America's defeat here, more than any other event, brought Sun Tzu to the attention of American military thought leaders. Ho Chi Minh translated the work for his Vietnamese officers to study.
The Department of the Army in the United States, through its Command and General Staff College, has directed all units to maintain libraries within their respective headquarters for the continuing education of personnel in the art of war. The Art of War is mentioned as an example of works to be maintained at each individual unit, and staff duty officers are obliged to prepare short papers for presentation to other officers on their readings.
Sun Tzu's The Art of War is listed on the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program (formerly known as the Commandant's Reading List).
During the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s, both General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and General Colin Powell practiced Sun Tzu's principles of deception, speed, and attacking the enemy's weakness.
Mark McNeilly writes in Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare that a modern interpretation of Sun and his importance throughout Chinese history is critical in understanding China's push to becoming a superpower in the 21st century. Modern Chinese scholars explicitly rely on historical strategic lessons and The Art of War in developing their theories, seeing a direct relationship between their modern struggles and those of China in Sun Tzu's time. There is a great perceived value in Sun Tzu's teachings and other traditional Chinese writers, which are used regularly in developing the strategies of the Chinese state and its leaders.
In 1996, a 13-episode TV series titled Sun Wu (???? - ??????) was produced, starring Sun Yanjun as Sun Tzu.
In 2008, producer Zhang Jizhong adapted Sun Tzu's life story into a 40-episode historical drama TV series titled Bing Sheng (??; also called The Ultimate Master of War: Sun Tzu), starring Zhu Yawen as Sun Tzu.