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The Art of War - Chapter 9. The Army on the March

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


[The contents of this interesting chapter are better
indicated in ss. 1 than by this heading.]

1. Sun Tzu said: We come now to the question of encamping
the army, and observing signs of the enemy. Pass quickly over
mountains, and keep in the neighborhood of valleys.

[The idea is, not to linger among barren uplands, but to
keep close to supplies of water and grass. Cf. Wu Tzu, ch. 3:
"Abide not in natural ovens," i.e. "the openings of valleys."
Chang Yu tells the following anecdote: Wu-tu Ch`iang was a
robber captain in the time of the Later Han, and Ma Yuan was sent
to exterminate his gang. Ch`iang having found a refuge in the
hills, Ma Yuan made no attempt to force a battle, but seized all
the favorable positions commanding supplies of water and forage.
Ch`iang was soon in such a desperate plight for want of
provisions that he was forced to make a total surrender. He did
not know the advantage of keeping in the neighborhood of

2. Camp in high places,

[Not on high hills, but on knolls or hillocks elevated above
the surrounding country.]

facing the sun.

[Tu Mu takes this to mean "facing south," and Ch`en Hao
"facing east." Cf. infra, SS. 11, 13.

Do not climb heights in order to fight. So much for mountain
3. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it.

["In order to tempt the enemy to cross after you," according
to Ts`ao Kung, and also, says Chang Yu, "in order not to be
impeded in your evolutions." The T`UNG TIEN reads, "If THE ENEMY
crosses a river," etc. But in view of the next sentence, this is
almost certainly an interpolation.]

4. When an invading force crosses a river in its onward
march, do not advance to meet it in mid-stream. It will be best
to let half the army get across, and then deliver your attack.

[Li Ch`uan alludes to the great victory won by Han Hsin over
Lung Chu at the Wei River. Turning to the CH`IEN HAN SHU, ch.
34, fol. 6 verso, we find the battle described as follows: "The
two armies were drawn up on opposite sides of the river. In the
night, Han Hsin ordered his men to take some ten thousand sacks
filled with sand and construct a dam higher up. Then, leading
half his army across, he attacked Lung Chu; but after a time,
pretending to have failed in his attempt, he hastily withdrew to
the other bank. Lung Chu was much elated by this unlooked-for
success, and exclaiming: "I felt sure that Han Hsin was really a
coward!" he pursued him and began crossing the river in his turn.
Han Hsin now sent a party to cut open the sandbags, thus
releasing a great volume of water, which swept down and prevented
the greater portion of Lung Chu's army from getting across. He
then turned upon the force which had been cut off, and
annihilated it, Lung Chu himself being amongst the slain. The
rest of the army, on the further bank, also scattered and fled in
all directions.]

5. If you are anxious to fight, you should not go to meet
the invader near a river which he has to cross.

[For fear of preventing his crossing.]

6. Moor your craft higher up than the enemy, and facing the

[See supra, ss. 2. The repetition of these words in
connection with water is very awkward. Chang Yu has the note:
"Said either of troops marshaled on the river-bank, or of boats
anchored in the stream itself; in either case it is essential to
be higher than the enemy and facing the sun." The other
commentators are not at all explicit.]

Do not move up-stream to meet the enemy.

[Tu Mu says: "As water flows downwards, we must not pitch
our camp on the lower reaches of a river, for fear the enemy
should open the sluices and sweep us away in a flood. Chu-ko Wu-
hou has remarked that 'in river warfare we must not advance
against the stream,' which is as much as to say that our fleet
must not be anchored below that of the enemy, for then they would
be able to take advantage of the current and make short work of
us." There is also the danger, noted by other commentators, that
the enemy may throw poison on the water to be carried down to

So much for river warfare.
7. In crossing salt-marshes, your sole concern should be to
get over them quickly, without any delay.

[Because of the lack of fresh water, the poor quality of the
herbage, and last but not least, because they are low, flat, and
exposed to attack.]

8. If forced to fight in a salt-marsh, you should have
water and grass near you, and get your back to a clump of trees.

[Li Ch`uan remarks that the ground is less likely to be
treacherous where there are trees, while Tu Mu says that they
will serve to protect the rear.]

So much for operations in salt-marches.
9. In dry, level country, take up an easily accessible
position with rising ground to your right and on your rear,

[Tu Mu quotes T`ai Kung as saying: "An army should have a
stream or a marsh on its left, and a hill or tumulus on its

so that the danger may be in front, and safety lie behind. So
much for campaigning in flat country.
10. These are the four useful branches of military

[Those, namely, concerned with (1) mountains, (2) rivers,
(3) marshes, and (4) plains. Compare Napoleon's "Military
Maxims," no. 1.]

which enabled the Yellow Emperor to vanquish four several

[Regarding the "Yellow Emperor": Mei Yao-ch`en asks, with
some plausibility, whether there is an error in the text as
nothing is known of Huang Ti having conquered four other
Emperors. The SHIH CHI (ch. 1 ad init.) speaks only of his
victories over Yen Ti and Ch`ih Yu. In the LIU T`AO it is
mentioned that he "fought seventy battles and pacified the
Empire." Ts`ao Kung's explanation is, that the Yellow Emperor
was the first to institute the feudal system of vassals princes,
each of whom (to the number of four) originally bore the title of
Emperor. Li Ch`uan tells us that the art of war originated under
Huang Ti, who received it from his Minister Feng Hou.]

11. All armies prefer high ground to low.

["High Ground," says Mei Yao-ch`en, "is not only more
agreement and salubrious, but more convenient from a military
point of view; low ground is not only damp and unhealthy, but
also disadvantageous for fighting."]

and sunny places to dark.
12. If you are careful of your men,

[Ts`ao Kung says: "Make for fresh water and pasture, where
you can turn out your animals to graze."]

and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of
every kind,

[Chang Yu says: "The dryness of the climate will prevent
the outbreak of illness."]

and this will spell victory.
13. When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the sunny
side, with the slope on your right rear. Thus you will at once
act for the benefit of your soldiers and utilize the natural
advantages of the ground.
14. When, in consequence of heavy rains up-country, a river
which you wish to ford is swollen and flecked with foam, you must
wait until it subsides.
15. Country in which there are precipitous cliffs with
torrents running between, deep natural hollows,

[The latter defined as "places enclosed on every side by
steep banks, with pools of water at the bottom.]

confined places,

[Defined as "natural pens or prisons" or "places surrounded
by precipices on three sides--easy to get into, but hard to get
out of."]

tangled thickets,

[Defined as "places covered with such dense undergrowth that
spears cannot be used."]


[Defined as "low-lying places, so heavy with mud as to be
impassable for chariots and horsemen."]

and crevasses,

[Defined by Mei Yao-ch`en as "a narrow difficult way between
beetling cliffs." Tu Mu's note is "ground covered with trees and
rocks, and intersected by numerous ravines and pitfalls." This
is very vague, but Chia Lin explains it clearly enough as a
defile or narrow pass, and Chang Yu takes much the same view. On
the whole, the weight of the commentators certainly inclines to
the rendering "defile." But the ordinary meaning of the Chinese
in one place is "a crack or fissure" and the fact that the
meaning of the Chinese elsewhere in the sentence indicates
something in the nature of a defile, make me think that Sun Tzu
is here speaking of crevasses.]

should be left with all possible speed and not approached.
16. While we keep away from such places, we should get the
enemy to approach them; while we face them, we should let the
enemy have them on his rear.
17. If in the neighborhood of your camp there should be any
hilly country, ponds surrounded by aquatic grass, hollow basins
filled with reeds, or woods with thick undergrowth, they must be
carefully routed out and searched; for these are places where men
in ambush or insidious spies are likely to be lurking.

[Chang Yu has the note: "We must also be on our guard
against traitors who may lie in close covert, secretly spying out
our weaknesses and overhearing our instructions."]

18. When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he
is relying on the natural strength of his position.

[Here begin Sun Tzu's remarks on the reading of signs, much
of which is so good that it could almost be included in a modern
manual like Gen. Baden-Powell's "Aids to Scouting."]

19. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he
is anxious for the other side to advance.

[Probably because we are in a strong position from which he
wishes to dislodge us. "If he came close up to us, says Tu Mu,
"and tried to force a battle, he would seem to despise us, and
there would be less probability of our responding to the

20. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is
tendering a bait.
21. Movement amongst the trees of a forest shows that the
enemy is advancing.

[Ts`ao Kung explains this as "felling trees to clear a
passage," and Chang Yu says: "Every man sends out scouts to
climb high places and observe the enemy. If a scout sees that
the trees of a forest are moving and shaking, he may know that
they are being cut down to clear a passage for the enemy's

The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of thick grass
means that the enemy wants to make us suspicious.

[Tu Yu's explanation, borrowed from Ts`ao Kung's, is as
follows: "The presence of a number of screens or sheds in the
midst of thick vegetation is a sure sign that the enemy has fled
and, fearing pursuit, has constructed these hiding-places in
order to make us suspect an ambush." It appears that these
"screens" were hastily knotted together out of any long grass
which the retreating enemy happened to come across.]

22. The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an

[Chang Yu's explanation is doubtless right: "When birds
that are flying along in a straight line suddenly shoot upwards,
it means that soldiers are in ambush at the spot beneath."]

Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming.
23. When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the
sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low, but spread over
a wide area, it betokens the approach of infantry.

["High and sharp," or rising to a peak, is of course
somewhat exaggerated as applied to dust. The commentators
explain the phenomenon by saying that horses and chariots, being
heavier than men, raise more dust, and also follow one another in
the same wheel-track, whereas foot-soldiers would be marching in
ranks, many abreast. According to Chang Yu, "every army on the
march must have scouts some way in advance, who on sighting dust
raised by the enemy, will gallop back and report it to the
commander-in-chief." Cf. Gen. Baden-Powell: "As you move along,
say, in a hostile country, your eyes should be looking afar for
the enemy or any signs of him: figures, dust rising, birds
getting up, glitter of arms, etc." [1] ]

When it branches out in different directions, it shows that
parties have been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust
moving to and fro signify that the army is encamping.

[Chang Yu says: "In apportioning the defenses for a
cantonment, light horse will be sent out to survey the position
and ascertain the weak and strong points all along its
circumference. Hence the small quantity of dust and its

24. Humble words and increased preparations are signs that
the enemy is about to advance.

["As though they stood in great fear of us," says Tu Mu.
"Their object is to make us contemptuous and careless, after
which they will attack us." Chang Yu alludes to the story of
T`ien Tan of the Ch`i-mo against the Yen forces, led by Ch`i
Chieh. In ch. 82 of the SHIH CHI we read: "T`ien Tan openly
said: 'My only fear is that the Yen army may cut off the noses
of their Ch`i prisoners and place them in the front rank to fight
against us; that would be the undoing of our city.' The other
side being informed of this speech, at once acted on the
suggestion; but those within the city were enraged at seeing
their fellow-countrymen thus mutilated, and fearing only lest
they should fall into the enemy's hands, were nerved to defend
themselves more obstinately than ever. Once again T`ien Tan sent
back converted spies who reported these words to the enemy:
"What I dread most is that the men of Yen may dig up the
ancestral tombs outside the town, and by inflicting this
indignity on our forefathers cause us to become faint-hearted.'
Forthwith the besiegers dug up all the graves and burned the
corpses lying in them. And the inhabitants of Chi-mo, witnessing
the outrage from the city-walls, wept passionately and were all
impatient to go out and fight, their fury being increased
tenfold. T`ien Tan knew then that his soldiers were ready for
any enterprise. But instead of a sword, he himself too a
mattock in his hands, and ordered others to be distributed
amongst his best warriors, while the ranks were filled up with
their wives and concubines. He then served out all the remaining
rations and bade his men eat their fill. The regular soldiers
were told to keep out of sight, and the walls were manned with
the old and weaker men and with women. This done, envoys were
dispatched to the enemy's camp to arrange terms of surrender,
whereupon the Yen army began shouting for joy. T`ien Tan also
collected 20,000 ounces of silver from the people, and got the
wealthy citizens of Chi-mo to send it to the Yen general with the
prayer that, when the town capitulated, he would allow their
homes to be plundered or their women to be maltreated. Ch`i
Chieh, in high good humor, granted their prayer; but his army now
became increasingly slack and careless. Meanwhile, T`ien Tan got
together a thousand oxen, decked them with pieces of red silk,
painted their bodies, dragon-like, with colored stripes, and
fastened sharp blades on their horns and well-greased rushes on
their tails. When night came on, he lighted the ends of the
rushes, and drove the oxen through a number of holes which he had
pierced in the walls, backing them up with a force of 5000 picked
warriors. The animals, maddened with pain, dashed furiously
into the enemy's camp where they caused the utmost confusion and
dismay; for their tails acted as torches, showing up the hideous
pattern on their bodies, and the weapons on their horns killed or
wounded any with whom they came into contact. In the meantime,
the band of 5000 had crept up with gags in their mouths, and now
threw themselves on the enemy. At the same moment a frightful
din arose in the city itself, all those that remained behind
making as much noise as possible by banging drums and hammering
on bronze vessels, until heaven and earth were convulsed by the
uproar. Terror-stricken, the Yen army fled in disorder, hotly
pursued by the men of Ch`i, who succeeded in slaying their
general Ch`i Chien.... The result of the battle was the ultimate
recovery of some seventy cities which had belonged to the Ch`i

Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are
signs that he will retreat.
25. When the light chariots come out first and take up a
position on the wings, it is a sign that the enemy is forming for
26. Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant
indicate a plot.

[The reading here is uncertain. Li Ch`uan indicates "a
treaty confirmed by oaths and hostages." Wang Hsi and Chang Yu,
on the other hand, simply say "without reason," "on a frivolous

27. When there is much running about

[Every man hastening to his proper place under his own
regimental banner.]

and the soldiers fall into rank, it means that the critical
moment has come.
28. When some are seen advancing and some retreating, it is
a lure.
29. When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears, they
are faint from want of food.
30. If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking
themselves, the army is suffering from thirst.

[As Tu Mu remarks: "One may know the condition of a whole
army from the behavior of a single man."]

31. If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes
no effort to secure it, the soldiers are exhausted.
32. If birds gather on any spot, it is unoccupied.

[A useful fact to bear in mind when, for instance, as Ch`en
Hao says, the enemy has secretly abandoned his camp.]

Clamor by night betokens nervousness.

33. If there is disturbance in the camp, the general's
authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about,
sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means that the
men are weary.

[Tu Mu understands the sentence differently: "If all the
officers of an army are angry with their general, it means that
they are broken with fatigue" owing to the exertions which he has
demanded from them.]

34. When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its
cattle for food,

[In the ordinary course of things, the men would be fed on
grain and the horses chiefly on grass.]

and when the men do not hang their cooking-pots over the camp-
fires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may
know that they are determined to fight to the death.

[I may quote here the illustrative passage from the HOU HAN
SHU, ch. 71, given in abbreviated form by the P`EI WEN YUN FU:
"The rebel Wang Kuo of Liang was besieging the town of Ch`en-
ts`ang, and Huang-fu Sung, who was in supreme command, and Tung
Cho were sent out against him. The latter pressed for hasty
measures, but Sung turned a deaf ear to his counsel. At last the
rebels were utterly worn out, and began to throw down their
weapons of their own accord. Sung was not advancing to the
attack, but Cho said: 'It is a principle of war not to pursue
desperate men and not to press a retreating host.' Sung
answered: 'That does not apply here. What I am about to attack
is a jaded army, not a retreating host; with disciplined troops I
am falling on a disorganized multitude, not a band of desperate
men.' Thereupon he advances to the attack unsupported by his
colleague, and routed the enemy, Wang Kuo being slain."]

35. The sight of men whispering together in small knots or
speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank
and file.
36. Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the
end of his resources;

[Because, when an army is hard pressed, as Tu Mu says, there
is always a fear of mutiny, and lavish rewards are given to keep
the men in good temper.]

too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress.

[Because in such case discipline becomes relaxed, and
unwonted severity is necessary to keep the men to their duty.]

37. To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at
the enemy's numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.

[I follow the interpretation of Ts`ao Kung, also adopted by
Li Ch`uan, Tu Mu, and Chang Yu. Another possible meaning set
forth by Tu Yu, Chia Lin, Mei Tao-ch`en and Wang Hsi, is: "The
general who is first tyrannical towards his men, and then in
terror lest they should mutiny, etc." This would connect the
sentence with what went before about rewards and punishments.]

38. When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths,
it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.

[Tu Mu says: "If the enemy open friendly relations be
sending hostages, it is a sign that they are anxious for an
armistice, either because their strength is exhausted or for some
other reason." But it hardly needs a Sun Tzu to draw such an
obvious inference.]

39. If the enemy's troops march up angrily and remain
facing ours for a long time without either joining battle or
taking themselves off again, the situation is one that demands
great vigilance and circumspection.

[Ts`ao Kung says a maneuver of this sort may be only a ruse
to gain time for an unexpected flank attack or the laying of an

40. If our troops are no more in number than the enemy,
that is amply sufficient; it only means that no direct attack can
be made.

[Literally, "no martial advance." That is to say, CHENG
tactics and frontal attacks must be eschewed, and stratagem
resorted to instead.]

What we can do is simply to concentrate all our available
strength, keep a close watch on the enemy, and obtain

[This is an obscure sentence, and none of the commentators
succeed in squeezing very good sense out of it. I follow Li
Ch`uan, who appears to offer the simplest explanation: "Only the
side that gets more men will win." Fortunately we have Chang Yu
to expound its meaning to us in language which is lucidity
itself: "When the numbers are even, and no favorable opening
presents itself, although we may not be strong enough to deliver
a sustained attack, we can find additional recruits amongst our
sutlers and camp-followers, and then, concentrating our forces
and keeping a close watch on the enemy, contrive to snatch the
victory. But we must avoid borrowing foreign soldiers to help
us." He then quotes from Wei Liao Tzu, ch. 3: "The nominal
strength of mercenary troops may be 100,000, but their real value
will be not more than half that figure."]

41. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his
opponents is sure to be captured by them.

[Ch`en Hao, quoting from the TSO CHUAN, says: "If bees and
scorpions carry poison, how much more will a hostile state! Even
a puny opponent, then, should not be treated with contempt."]

42. If soldiers are punished before they have grown
attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless
submissive, then will be practically useless. If, when the
soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not
enforced, they will still be unless.
43. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first
instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron

[Yen Tzu [B.C. 493] said of Ssu-ma Jang-chu: "His civil
virtues endeared him to the people; his martial prowess kept his
enemies in awe." Cf. Wu Tzu, ch. 4 init.: "The ideal commander
unites culture with a warlike temper; the profession of arms
requires a combination of hardness and tenderness."]

This is a certain road to victory.

44. If in training soldiers commands are habitually
enforced, the army will be well-disciplined; if not, its
discipline will be bad.
45. If a general shows confidence in his men but always
insists on his orders being obeyed,

[Tu Mu says: "A general ought in time of peace to show
kindly confidence in his men and also make his authority
respected, so that when they come to face the enemy, orders may
be executed and discipline maintained, because they all trust and
look up to him." What Sun Tzu has said in ss. 44, however, would
lead one rather to expect something like this: "If a general is
always confident that his orders will be carried out," etc."]

the gain will be mutual.

[Chang Yu says: "The general has confidence in the men
under his command, and the men are docile, having confidence in
him. Thus the gain is mutual" He quotes a pregnant sentence
from Wei Liao Tzu, ch. 4: "The art of giving orders is not to
try to rectify minor blunders and not to be swayed by petty
doubts." Vacillation and fussiness are the surest means of
sapping the confidence of an army.]

[1] "Aids to Scouting," p. 26.

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