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The Art of War - Chapter 10. Terrain

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


[Only about a third of the chapter, comprising ss. ss. 1-13,
deals with "terrain," the subject being more fully treated in ch.
XI. The "six calamities" are discussed in SS. 14-20, and the
rest of the chapter is again a mere string of desultory remarks,
though not less interesting, perhaps, on that account.]

1. Sun Tzu said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain,
to wit: (1) Accessible ground;

[Mei Yao-ch`en says: "plentifully provided with roads and
means of communications."]

(2) entangling ground;

[The same commentator says: "Net-like country, venturing
into which you become entangled."]

(3) temporizing ground;

[Ground which allows you to "stave off" or "delay."]

(4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a
great distance from the enemy.

[It is hardly necessary to point out the faultiness of this
classification. A strange lack of logical perception is shown in
the Chinaman's unquestioning acceptance of glaring cross-
divisions such as the above.]

2. Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is
3. With regard to ground of this nature, be before the
enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots, and carefully
guard your line of supplies.

[The general meaning of the last phrase is doubtlessly, as
Tu Yu says, "not to allow the enemy to cut your communications."
In view of Napoleon's dictum, "the secret of war lies in the
communications," [1] we could wish that Sun Tzu had done more
than skirt the edge of this important subject here and in I. ss.
10, VII. ss. 11. Col. Henderson says: "The line of supply may
be said to be as vital to the existence of an army as the heart
to the life of a human being. Just as the duelist who finds his
adversary's point menacing him with certain death, and his own
guard astray, is compelled to conform to his adversary's
movements, and to content himself with warding off his thrusts,
so the commander whose communications are suddenly threatened
finds himself in a false position, and he will be fortunate if he
has not to change all his plans, to split up his force into more
or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferior numbers
on ground which he has not had time to prepare, and where defeat
will not be an ordinary failure, but will entail the ruin or
surrender of his whole army." [2]

Then you will be able to fight with advantage.
4. Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy
is called ENTANGLING.
5. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is
unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy
is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then,
return being impossible, disaster will ensue.
6. When the position is such that neither side will gain by
making the first move, it is called TEMPORIZING ground.

[Tu Mu says: "Each side finds it inconvenient to move, and
the situation remains at a deadlock."]

7. In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should
offer us an attractive bait,

[Tu Yu says, "turning their backs on us and pretending to
flee." But this is only one of the lures which might induce us
to quit our position.]

it will be advisable not to stir forth, but rather to retreat,
thus enticing the enemy in his turn; then, when part of his army
has come out, we may deliver our attack with advantage.
8. With regard to NARROW PASSES, if you can occupy them
first, let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of
the enemy.

[Because then, as Tu Yu observes, "the initiative will lie
with us, and by making sudden and unexpected attacks we shall
have the enemy at our mercy."]

9. Should the army forestall you in occupying a pass, do
not go after him if the pass is fully garrisoned, but only if it
is weakly garrisoned.
10. With regard to PRECIPITOUS HEIGHTS, if you are
beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and
sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up.

[Ts`ao Kung says: "The particular advantage of securing
heights and defiles is that your actions cannot then be dictated
by the enemy." [For the enunciation of the grand principle
alluded to, see VI. ss. 2]. Chang Yu tells the following
anecdote of P`ei Hsing-chien (A.D. 619-682), who was sent on a
punitive expedition against the Turkic tribes. "At night he
pitched his camp as usual, and it had already been completely
fortified by wall and ditch, when suddenly he gave orders that
the army should shift its quarters to a hill near by. This was
highly displeasing to his officers, who protested loudly against
the extra fatigue which it would entail on the men. P`ei Hsing-
chien, however, paid no heed to their remonstrances and had the
camp moved as quickly as possible. The same night, a terrific
storm came on, which flooded their former place of encampment to
the depth of over twelve feet. The recalcitrant officers were
amazed at the sight, and owned that they had been in the wrong.
'How did you know what was going to happen?' they asked. P`ei
Hsing-chien replied: 'From this time forward be content to obey
orders without asking unnecessary questions.' From this it may
be seen," Chang Yu continues, "that high and sunny places are
advantageous not only for fighting, but also because they are
immune from disastrous floods."]

11. If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not
follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away.

[The turning point of Li Shih-min's campaign in 621 A.D.
against the two rebels, Tou Chien-te, King of Hsia, and Wang
Shih-ch`ung, Prince of Cheng, was his seizure of the heights of
Wu-lao, in spike of which Tou Chien-te persisted in his attempt
to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was defeated and taken prisoner.
See CHIU T`ANG, ch. 2, fol. 5 verso, and also ch. 54.]

12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy,
and the strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to
provoke a battle,

[The point is that we must not think of undertaking a long
and wearisome march, at the end of which, as Tu Yu says, "we
should be exhausted and our adversary fresh and keen."]

and fighting will be to your disadvantage.

13. These six are the principles connected with Earth.

[Or perhaps, "the principles relating to ground." See,
however, I. ss. 8.]

The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful
to study them.
14. Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not
arising from natural causes, but from faults for which the
general is responsible. These are: (1) Flight; (2)
insubordination; (3) collapse; (4) ruin; (5) disorganization; (6)
15. Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled
against another ten times its size, the result will be the FLIGHT
of the former.
16. When the common soldiers are too strong and their
officers too weak, the result is INSUBORDINATION.

[Tu Mu cites the unhappy case of T`ien Pu [HSIN T`ANG SHU,
ch. 148], who was sent to Wei in 821 A.D. with orders to lead an
army against Wang T`ing-ts`ou. But the whole time he was in
command, his soldiers treated him with the utmost contempt, and
openly flouted his authority by riding about the camp on donkeys,
several thousands at a time. T`ien Pu was powerless to put a
stop to this conduct, and when, after some months had passed, he
made an attempt to engage the enemy, his troops turned tail and
dispersed in every direction. After that, the unfortunate man
committed suicide by cutting his throat.]

When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too
weak, the result is COLLAPSE.

[Ts`ao Kung says: "The officers are energetic and want to
press on, the common soldiers are feeble and suddenly collapse."]

17. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate,
and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a
feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell
whether or no he is in a position to fight, the result is RUIN.

[Wang Hsi`s note is: "This means, the general is angry
without cause, and at the same time does not appreciate the
ability of his subordinate officers; thus he arouses fierce
resentment and brings an avalanche of ruin upon his head."]

18. When the general is weak and without authority; when
his orders are not clear and distinct;

[Wei Liao Tzu (ch. 4) says: "If the commander gives his
orders with decision, the soldiers will not wait to hear them
twice; if his moves are made without vacillation, the soldiers
will not be in two minds about doing their duty." General Baden-
Powell says, italicizing the words: "The secret of getting
successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell--in
the clearness of the instructions they receive." [3] Cf. also
Wu Tzu ch. 3: "the most fatal defect in a military leader is
difference; the worst calamities that befall an army arise from

when there are no fixes duties assigned to officers and men,

[Tu Mu says: "Neither officers nor men have any regular

and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the
result is utter DISORGANIZATION.
19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's
strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or
hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to
place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be ROUT.

[Chang Yu paraphrases the latter part of the sentence and
continues: "Whenever there is fighting to be done, the keenest
spirits should be appointed to serve in the front ranks, both in
order to strengthen the resolution of our own men and to
demoralize the enemy." Cf. the primi ordines of Caesar ("De
Bello Gallico," V. 28, 44, et al.).]

20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be
carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible

[See supra, ss. 13.]

21. The natural formation of the country is the soldier's
best ally;

[Ch`en Hao says: "The advantages of weather and season are
not equal to those connected with ground."]

but a power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the
forces of victory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties,
dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great general.
22. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his
knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them
not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.
23. If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must
fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not
result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler's

[Cf. VIII. ss. 3 fin. Huang Shih-kung of the Ch`in dynasty,
who is said to have been the patron of Chang Liang and to have
written the SAN LUEH, has these words attributed to him: "The
responsibility of setting an army in motion must devolve on the
general alone; if advance and retreat are controlled from the
Palace, brilliant results will hardly be achieved. Hence the
god-like ruler and the enlightened monarch are content to play a
humble part in furthering their country's cause [lit., kneel down
to push the chariot wheel]." This means that "in matters lying
outside the zenana, the decision of the military commander must
be absolute." Chang Yu also quote the saying: "Decrees from the
Son of Heaven do not penetrate the walls of a camp."]
24. The general who advances without coveting fame and
retreats without fearing disgrace,

[It was Wellington, I think, who said that the hardest thing
of all for a soldier is to retreat.]

whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service
for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

[A noble presentiment, in few words, of the Chinese "happy
warrior." Such a man, says Ho Shih, "even if he had to suffer
punishment, would not regret his conduct."]

25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will
follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own
beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

[Cf. I. ss. 6. In this connection, Tu Mu draws for us an
engaging picture of the famous general Wu Ch`i, from whose
treatise on war I have frequently had occasion to quote: "He
wore the same clothes and ate the same food as the meanest of his
soldiers, refused to have either a horse to ride or a mat to
sleep on, carried his own surplus rations wrapped in a parcel,
and shared every hardship with his men. One of his soldiers was
suffering from an abscess, and Wu Ch`i himself sucked out the
virus. The soldier's mother, hearing this, began wailing and
lamenting. Somebody asked her, saying: 'Why do you cry? Your
son is only a common soldier, and yet the commander-in-chief
himself has sucked the poison from his sore.' The woman replied,
'Many years ago, Lord Wu performed a similar service for my
husband, who never left him afterwards, and finally met his death
at the hands of the enemy. And now that he has done the same for
my son, he too will fall fighting I know not where.'" Li Ch`uan
mentions the Viscount of Ch`u, who invaded the small state of
Hsiao during the winter. The Duke of Shen said to him: "Many of
the soldiers are suffering severely from the cold." So he made a
round of the whole army, comforting and encouraging the men; and
straightway they felt as if they were clothed in garments lined
with floss silk.]

26. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your
authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your
commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then
your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are
useless for any practical purpose.

[Li Ching once said that if you could make your soldiers
afraid of you, they would not be afraid of the enemy. Tu Mu
recalls an instance of stern military discipline which occurred
in 219 A.D., when Lu Meng was occupying the town of Chiang-ling.
He had given stringent orders to his army not to molest the
inhabitants nor take anything from them by force. Nevertheless,
a certain officer serving under his banner, who happened to be a
fellow-townsman, ventured to appropriate a bamboo hat belonging
to one of the people, in order to wear it over his regulation
helmet as a protection against the rain. Lu Meng considered that
the fact of his being also a native of Ju-nan should not be
allowed to palliate a clear breach of discipline, and accordingly
he ordered his summary execution, the tears rolling down his
face, however, as he did so. This act of severity filled the
army with wholesome awe, and from that time forth even articles
dropped in the highway were not picked up.]

27. If we know that our own men are in a condition to
attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we
have gone only halfway towards victory.

[That is, Ts`ao Kung says, "the issue in this case is

28. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are
unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we
have gone only halfway towards victory.

[Cf. III. ss. 13 (1).]

29. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also
know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware
that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we
have still gone only halfway towards victory.
30. Hence the experienced soldier, once in motion, is never
bewildered; once he has broken camp, he is never at a loss.

[The reason being, according to Tu Mu, that he has taken his
measures so thoroughly as to ensure victory beforehand. "He does
not move recklessly," says Chang Yu, "so that when he does move,
he makes no mistakes."]

31. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know
yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know
Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.

[Li Ch`uan sums up as follows: "Given a knowledge of three
things--the affairs of men, the seasons of heaven and the natural
advantages of earth--, victory will invariably crown your

[1] See "Pensees de Napoleon 1er," no. 47.

[2] "The Science of War," chap. 2.

[3] "Aids to Scouting," p. xii.

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