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The Art of War - The Text of Sun Tzu

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 Text of Sun Tzu

I have found it difficult to glean much about the history of
Sun Tzu's text. The quotations that occur in early authors go to
show that the "13 chapters" of which Ssu-ma Ch`ien speaks were
essentially the same as those now extant. We have his word for
it that they were widely circulated in his day, and can only
regret that he refrained from discussing them on that account.
Sun Hsing-yen says in his preface: --

During the Ch`in and Han dynasties Sun Tzu's ART OF WAR
was in general use amongst military commanders, but they seem
to have treated it as a work of mysterious import, and were
unwilling to expound it for the benefit of posterity. Thus
it came about that Wei Wu was the first to write a commentary
on it.

As we have already seen, there is no reasonable ground to
suppose that Ts`ao Kung tampered with the text. But the text
itself is often so obscure, and the number of editions which
appeared from that time onward so great, especially during the
T`ang and Sung dynasties, that it would be surprising if numerous
corruptions had not managed to creep in. Towards the middle of
the Sung period, by which time all the chief commentaries on Sun
Tzu were in existence, a certain Chi T`ien-pao published a work
in 15 CHUAN entitled "Sun Tzu with the collected commentaries of
ten writers." There was another text, with variant readings put
forward by Chu Fu of Ta-hsing, which also had supporters among
the scholars of that period; but in the Ming editions, Sun Hsing-
yen tells us, these readings were for some reason or other no
longer put into circulation. Thus, until the end of the 18th
century, the text in sole possession of the field was one derived
from Chi T`ien-pao's edition, although no actual copy of that
important work was known to have survived. That, therefore, is
the text of Sun Tzu which appears in the War section of the great
Imperial encyclopedia printed in 1726, the KU CHIN T`U SHU CHI
CH`ENG. Another copy at my disposal of what is practically the
same text, with slight variations, is that contained in the
"Eleven philosophers of the Chou and Ch`in dynasties" [1758].
And the Chinese printed in Capt. Calthrop's first edition is
evidently a similar version which has filtered through Japanese
channels. So things remained until Sun Hsing-yen [1752-1818], a
distinguished antiquarian and classical scholar, who claimed to
be an actual descendant of Sun Wu, [36] accidentally discovered a
copy of Chi T`ien-pao's long-lost work, when on a visit to the
library of the Hua-yin temple. [37] Appended to it was the I
SHUO of Cheng Yu-Hsien, mentioned in the T`UNG CHIH, and also
believed to have perished. This is what Sun Hsing-yen designates
as the "original edition (or text)" -- a rather misleading name,
for it cannot by any means claim to set before us the text of Sun
Tzu in its pristine purity. Chi T`ien-pao was a careless
compiler, and appears to have been content to reproduce the
somewhat debased version current in his day, without troubling to
collate it with the earliest editions then available.
Fortunately, two versions of Sun Tzu, even older than the newly
discovered work, were still extant, one buried in the T`UNG TIEN,
Tu Yu's great treatise on the Constitution, the other similarly
enshrined in the T`AI P`ING YU LAN encyclopedia. In both the
complete text is to be found, though split up into fragments,
intermixed with other matter, and scattered piecemeal over a
number of different sections. Considering that the YU LAN takes
us back to the year 983, and the T`UNG TIEN about 200 years
further still, to the middle of the T`ang dynasty, the value of
these early transcripts of Sun Tzu can hardly be overestimated.
Yet the idea of utilizing them does not seem to have occurred to
anyone until Sun Hsing-yen, acting under Government instructions,
undertook a thorough recension of the text. This is his own
account: --

Because of the numerous mistakes in the text of Sun Tzu
which his editors had handed down, the Government ordered
that the ancient edition [of Chi T`ien-pao] should be used,
and that the text should be revised and corrected throughout.
It happened that Wu Nien-hu, the Governor Pi Kua, and Hsi, a
graduate of the second degree, had all devoted themselves to
this study, probably surpassing me therein. Accordingly, I
have had the whole work cut on blocks as a textbook for
military men.

The three individuals here referred to had evidently been
occupied on the text of Sun Tzu prior to Sun Hsing-yen's
commission, but we are left in doubt as to the work they really
accomplished. At any rate, the new edition, when ultimately
produced, appeared in the names of Sun Hsing-yen and only one co-
editor Wu Jen-shi. They took the "original edition" as their
basis, and by careful comparison with older versions, as well as
the extant commentaries and other sources of information such as
the I SHUO, succeeded in restoring a very large number of
doubtful passages, and turned out, on the whole, what must be
accepted as the closes approximation we are ever likely to get to
Sun Tzu's original work. This is what will hereafter be
denominated the "standard text."
The copy which I have used belongs to a reissue dated 1877.
it is in 6 PEN, forming part of a well-printed set of 23 early
philosophical works in 83 PEN. [38] It opens with a preface by
Sun Hsing-yen (largely quoted in this introduction), vindicating
the traditional view of Sun Tzu's life and performances, and
summing up in remarkably concise fashion the evidence in its
favor. This is followed by Ts`ao Kung's preface to his edition,
and the biography of Sun Tzu from the SHIH CHI, both translated
above. Then come, firstly, Cheng Yu-hsien's I SHUO, [39] with
author's preface, and next, a short miscellany of historical and
bibliographical information entitled SUN TZU HSU LU, compiled by
Pi I-hsun. As regards the body of the work, each separate
sentence is followed by a note on the text, if required, and then
by the various commentaries appertaining to it, arranged in
chronological order. These we shall now proceed to discuss
briefly, one by one.

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