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The Art of War - Chapter 7. Manuevering

1. Introduction

2. The Text of Sun Tzu

3. The Commentators

4. Appreciations of Sun Tzu

5. Apologies for War

6. Bibliography

7. Footnotes

8. Chapter 1. Laying Plans

9. Chapter 2. Waging War

10. Chapter 3. Attack By Stratagem

11. Chapter 4. Tactical Disposition

12. Chapter 5. Energy

13. Chapter 6. Weak Points and Strong

14. Chapter 7. Manuevering

15. Chapter 8. Variations in Tactics

16. Chapter 9. The Army on the March

17. Chapter 10. Terrain

18. Chapter 11. The Nine Situations

19. Chapter 12. The Attack by Fire

20. Chapter 13. The Use of Spies


1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands
from the sovereign.
2. Having collected an army and concentrated his forces, he
must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before
pitching his camp.

["Chang Yu says: "the establishment of harmony and
confidence between the higher and lower ranks before venturing
into the field;" and he quotes a saying of Wu Tzu (chap. 1 ad
init.): "Without harmony in the State, no military expedition
can be undertaken; without harmony in the army, no battle array
can be formed." In an historical romance Sun Tzu is represented
as saying to Wu Yuan: "As a general rule, those who are waging
war should get rid of all the domestic troubles before proceeding
to attack the external foe."]

3. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there
is nothing more difficult.

[I have departed slightly from the traditional
interpretation of Ts`ao Kung, who says: "From the time of
receiving the sovereign's instructions until our encampment over
against the enemy, the tactics to be pursued are most difficult."
It seems to me that the tactics or maneuvers can hardly be said
to begin until the army has sallied forth and encamped, and
Ch`ien Hao's note gives color to this view: "For levying,
concentrating, harmonizing and entrenching an army, there are
plenty of old rules which will serve. The real difficulty comes
when we engage in tactical operations." Tu Yu also observes that
"the great difficulty is to be beforehand with the enemy in
seizing favorable position."]

The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the
devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.

[This sentence contains one of those highly condensed and
somewhat enigmatical expressions of which Sun Tzu is so fond.
This is how it is explained by Ts`ao Kung: "Make it appear that
you are a long way off, then cover the distance rapidly and
arrive on the scene before your opponent." Tu Mu says:
"Hoodwink the enemy, so that he may be remiss and leisurely while
you are dashing along with utmost speed." Ho Shih gives a
slightly different turn: "Although you may have difficult ground
to traverse and natural obstacles to encounter this is a drawback
which can be turned into actual advantage by celerity of
movement." Signal examples of this saying are afforded by the
two famous passages across the Alps--that of Hannibal, which laid
Italy at his mercy, and that of Napoleon two thousand years
later, which resulted in the great victory of Marengo.]

4. Thus, to take a long and circuitous route, after
enticing the enemy out of the way, and though starting after him,
to contrive to reach the goal before him, shows knowledge of the
artifice of DEVIATION.

[Tu Mu cites the famous march of Chao She in 270 B.C. to
relieve the town of O-yu, which was closely invested by a Ch`in
army. The King of Chao first consulted Lien P`o on the
advisability of attempting a relief, but the latter thought the
distance too great, and the intervening country too rugged and
difficult. His Majesty then turned to Chao She, who fully
admitted the hazardous nature of the march, but finally said:
"We shall be like two rats fighting in a whole--and the pluckier
one will win!" So he left the capital with his army, but had
only gone a distance of 30 LI when he stopped and began
throwing up entrenchments. For 28 days he continued
strengthening his fortifications, and took care that spies should
carry the intelligence to the enemy. The Ch`in general was
overjoyed, and attributed his adversary's tardiness to the fact
that the beleaguered city was in the Han State, and thus not
actually part of Chao territory. But the spies had no sooner
departed than Chao She began a forced march lasting for two days
and one night, and arrive on the scene of action with such
astonishing rapidity that he was able to occupy a commanding
position on the "North hill" before the enemy had got wind of his
movements. A crushing defeat followed for the Ch`in forces, who
were obliged to raise the siege of O-yu in all haste and retreat
across the border.]

5. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an
undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.

[I adopt the reading of the T`UNG TIEN, Cheng Yu-hsien and
the T`U SHU, since they appear to apply the exact nuance required
in order to make sense. The commentators using the standard text
take this line to mean that maneuvers may be profitable, or they
may be dangerous: it all depends on the ability of the general.]

6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to
snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late.
On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose
involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores.

[Some of the Chinese text is unintelligible to the Chinese
commentators, who paraphrase the sentence. I submit my own
rendering without much enthusiasm, being convinced that there is
some deep-seated corruption in the text. On the whole, it is
clear that Sun Tzu does not approve of a lengthy march being
undertaken without supplies. Cf. infra, ss. 11.]

7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats,
and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering
double the usual distance at a stretch,

[The ordinary day's march, according to Tu Mu, was 30 LI;
but on one occasion, when pursuing Liu Pei, Ts`ao Ts`ao is said
to have covered the incredible distance of 300 _li_ within
twenty-four hours.]

doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of
all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.
8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will
fall behind, and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will
reach its destination.

[The moral is, as Ts`ao Kung and others point out: Don't
march a hundred LI to gain a tactical advantage, either with or
without impedimenta. Maneuvers of this description should be
confined to short distances. Stonewall Jackson said: "The
hardships of forced marches are often more painful than the
dangers of battle." He did not often call upon his troops for
extraordinary exertions. It was only when he intended a
surprise, or when a rapid retreat was imperative, that he
sacrificed everything for speed. [1] ]

9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver the enemy,
you will lose the leader of your first division, and only half
your force will reach the goal.

[Literally, "the leader of the first division will be

10. If you march thirty LI with the same object, two-thirds
of your army will arrive.

[In the T`UNG TIEN is added: "From this we may know the
difficulty of maneuvering."]

11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-
train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of
supply it is lost.

[I think Sun Tzu meant "stores accumulated in depots." But
Tu Yu says "fodder and the like," Chang Yu says "Goods in
general," and Wang Hsi says "fuel, salt, foodstuffs, etc."]

12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted
with the designs of our neighbors.
13. 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.
14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account
unless we make use of local guides.

[ss. 12-14 are repeated in chap. XI. ss. 52.]

15. In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed.

[In the tactics of Turenne, deception of the enemy,
especially as to the numerical strength of his troops, took a
very prominent position. [2] ]

16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must
be decided by circumstances.
17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind,

[The simile is doubly appropriate, because the wind is not
only swift but, as Mei Yao-ch`en points out, "invisible and
leaves no tracks."]

your compactness that of the forest.

[Meng Shih comes nearer to the mark in his note: "When
slowly marching, order and ranks must be preserved"--so as to
guard against surprise attacks. But natural forest do not grow
in rows, whereas they do generally possess the quality of density
or compactness.]

18. In raiding and plundering be like fire,

[Cf. SHIH CHING, IV. 3. iv. 6: "Fierce as a blazing fire
which no man can check."]

is immovability like a mountain.

[That is, when holding a position from which the enemy is
trying to dislodge you, or perhaps, as Tu Yu says, when he is
trying to entice you into a trap.]

19. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and
when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

[Tu Yu quotes a saying of T`ai Kung which has passed into a
proverb: "You cannot shut your ears to the thunder or your eyes
to the lighting--so rapid are they." Likewise, an attack should
be made so quickly that it cannot be parried.]

20. When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be
divided amongst your men;

[Sun Tzu wishes to lessen the abuses of indiscriminate
plundering by insisting that all booty shall be thrown into a
common stock, which may afterwards be fairly divided amongst

when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for the
benefit of the soldiery.

[Ch`en Hao says "quarter your soldiers on the land, and let
them sow and plant it." It is by acting on this principle, and
harvesting the lands they invaded, that the Chinese have
succeeded in carrying out some of their most memorable and
triumphant expeditions, such as that of Pan Ch`ao who penetrated
to the Caspian, and in more recent years, those of Fu-k`ang-an
and Tso Tsung-t`ang.]

21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.

[Chang Yu quotes Wei Liao Tzu as saying that we must not
break camp until we have gained the resisting power of the enemy
and the cleverness of the opposing general. Cf. the "seven
comparisons" in I. ss. 13.]

22. He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of

[See supra, SS. 3, 4.]

Such is the art of maneuvering.

[With these words, the chapter would naturally come to an
end. But there now follows a long appendix in the shape of an
extract from an earlier book on War, now lost, but apparently
extant at the time when Sun Tzu wrote. The style of this
fragment is not noticeable different from that of Sun Tzu
himself, but no commentator raises a doubt as to its

23. The Book of Army Management says:

[It is perhaps significant that none of the earlier
commentators give us any information about this work. Mei Yao-
Ch`en calls it "an ancient military classic," and Wang Hsi, "an
old book on war." Considering the enormous amount of fighting
that had gone on for centuries before Sun Tzu's time between the
various kingdoms and principalities of China, it is not in itself
improbable that a collection of military maxims should have been
made and written down at some earlier period.]

On the field of battle,

[Implied, though not actually in the Chinese.]

the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution
of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly
enough: hence the institution of banners and flags.
24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby
the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular

[Chang Yu says: "If sight and hearing converge
simultaneously on the same object, the evolutions of as many as a
million soldiers will be like those of a single man."!]

25. The host thus forming a single united body, is it
impossible either for the brave to advance alone, or for the
cowardly to retreat alone.

[Chuang Yu quotes a saying: "Equally guilty are those who
advance against orders and those who retreat against orders." Tu
Mu tells a story in this connection of Wu Ch`i, when he was
fighting against the Ch`in State. Before the battle had begun,
one of his soldiers, a man of matchless daring, sallied forth by
himself, captured two heads from the enemy, and returned to camp.
Wu Ch`i had the man instantly executed, whereupon an officer
ventured to remonstrate, saying: "This man was a good soldier,
and ought not to have been beheaded." Wu Ch`i replied: "I fully
believe he was a good soldier, but I had him beheaded because he
acted without orders."]

This is the art of handling large masses of men.
26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires
and drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a
means of influencing the ears and eyes of your army.

[Ch`en Hao alludes to Li Kuang-pi's night ride to Ho-yang at
the head of 500 mounted men; they made such an imposing display
with torches, that though the rebel leader Shih Ssu-ming had a
large army, he did not dare to dispute their passage.]

27. A whole army may be robbed of its spirit;

["In war," says Chang Yu, "if a spirit of anger can be made
to pervade all ranks of an army at one and the same time, its
onset will be irresistible. Now the spirit of the enemy's
soldiers will be keenest when they have newly arrived on the
scene, and it is therefore our cue not to fight at once, but to
wait until their ardor and enthusiasm have worn off, and then
strike. It is in this way that they may be robbed of their keen
spirit." Li Ch`uan and others tell an anecdote (to be found in
the TSO CHUAN, year 10, ss. 1) of Ts`ao Kuei, a protege of Duke
Chuang of Lu. The latter State was attacked by Ch`i, and the
duke was about to join battle at Ch`ang-cho, after the first roll
of the enemy's drums, when Ts`ao said: "Not just yet." Only
after their drums had beaten for the third time, did he give the
word for attack. Then they fought, and the men of Ch`i were
utterly defeated. Questioned afterwards by the Duke as to the
meaning of his delay, Ts`ao Kuei replied: "In battle, a
courageous spirit is everything. Now the first roll of the drum
tends to create this spirit, but with the second it is already on
the wane, and after the third it is gone altogether. I attacked
when their spirit was gone and ours was at its height. Hence our
victory." Wu Tzu (chap. 4) puts "spirit" first among the "four
important influences" in war, and continues: "The value of a
whole army--a mighty host of a million men--is dependent on one
man alone: such is the influence of spirit!"]

a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.

[Chang Yu says: "Presence of mind is the general's most
important asset. It is the quality which enables him to
discipline disorder and to inspire courage into the panic-
stricken." The great general Li Ching (A.D. 571-649) has a
saying: "Attacking does not merely consist in assaulting walled
cities or striking at an army in battle array; it must include
the art of assailing the enemy's mental equilibrium."]

28. Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning;

[Always provided, I suppose, that he has had breakfast. At
the battle of the Trebia, the Romans were foolishly allowed to
fight fasting, whereas Hannibal's men had breakfasted at
their leisure. See Livy, XXI, liv. 8, lv. 1 and 8.]

by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is
bent only on returning to camp.
29. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its
spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined
to return. This is the art of studying moods.
30. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of
disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art of
retaining self-possession.
31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from
it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to
be well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of
husbanding one's strength.
32. To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are
in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in
calm and confident array:--this is the art of studying
33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against
the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.
34. Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not
attack soldiers whose temper is keen.
35. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy.

[Li Ch`uan and Tu Mu, with extraordinary inability to see a
metaphor, take these words quite literally of food and drink that
have been poisoned by the enemy. Ch`en Hao and Chang Yu
carefully point out that the saying has a wider application.]

Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.

[The commentators explain this rather singular piece of
advice by saying that a man whose heart is set on returning home
will fight to the death against any attempt to bar his way, and
is therefore too dangerous an opponent to be tackled. Chang Yu
quotes the words of Han Hsin: "Invincible is the soldier who
hath his desire and returneth homewards." A marvelous tale is
told of Ts`ao Ts`ao's courage and resource in ch. 1 of the SAN
KUO CHI: In 198 A.D., he was besieging Chang Hsiu in Jang, when
Liu Piao sent reinforcements with a view to cutting off Ts`ao's
retreat. The latter was obliged to draw off his troops, only to
find himself hemmed in between two enemies, who were guarding
each outlet of a narrow pass in which he had engaged himself. In
this desperate plight Ts`ao waited until nightfall, when he bored
a tunnel into the mountain side and laid an ambush in it. As
soon as the whole army had passed by, the hidden troops fell on
his rear, while Ts`ao himself turned and met his pursuers in
front, so that they were thrown into confusion and annihilated.
Ts`ao Ts`ao said afterwards: "The brigands tried to check my
army in its retreat and brought me to battle in a desperate
position: hence I knew how to overcome them."]

36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.

[This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to
escape. The object, as Tu Mu puts it, is "to make him believe
that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting
with the courage of despair." Tu Mu adds pleasantly: "After
that, you may crush him."]

Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

[Ch`en Hao quotes the saying: "Birds and beasts when
brought to bay will use their claws and teeth." Chang Yu says:
"If your adversary has burned his boats and destroyed his
cooking-pots, and is ready to stake all on the issue of a battle,
he must not be pushed to extremities." Ho Shih illustrates the
meaning by a story taken from the life of Yen-ch`ing. That
general, together with his colleague Tu Chung-wei was surrounded
by a vastly superior army of Khitans in the year 945 A.D. The
country was bare and desert-like, and the little Chinese force
was soon in dire straits for want of water. The wells they bored
ran dry, and the men were reduced to squeezing lumps of mud and
sucking out the moisture. Their ranks thinned rapidly, until at
last Fu Yen-ch`ing exclaimed: "We are desperate men. Far better
to die for our country than to go with fettered hands into
captivity!" A strong gale happened to be blowing from the
northeast and darkening the air with dense clouds of sandy dust.
To Chung-wei was for waiting until this had abated before
deciding on a final attack; but luckily another officer, Li Shou-
cheng by name, was quicker to see an opportunity, and said:
"They are many and we are few, but in the midst of this sandstorm
our numbers will not be discernible; victory will go to the
strenuous fighter, and the wind will be our best ally."
Accordingly, Fu Yen-ch`ing made a sudden and wholly unexpected
onslaught with his cavalry, routed the barbarians and succeeded
in breaking through to safety.]

37. Such is the art of warfare.

[1] See Col. Henderson, op. cit. vol. I. p. 426.

[2] For a number of maxims on this head, see "Marshal Turenne"
(Longmans, 1907), p. 29.

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