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The Art of War - Apologies for War

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

Apologies for War

Accustomed as we are to think of China as the greatest
peace-loving nation on earth, we are in some danger of forgetting
that her experience of war in all its phases has also been such
as no modern State can parallel. Her long military annals
stretch back to a point at which they are lost in the mists of
time. She had built the Great Wall and was maintaining a huge
standing army along her frontier centuries before the first Roman
legionary was seen on the Danube. What with the perpetual
collisions of the ancient feudal States, the grim conflicts with
Huns, Turks and other invaders after the centralization of
government, the terrific upheavals which accompanied the
overthrow of so many dynasties, besides the countless rebellions
and minor disturbances that have flamed up and flickered out
again one by one, it is hardly too much to say that the clash of
arms has never ceased to resound in one portion or another of the
No less remarkable is the succession of illustrious captains
to whom China can point with pride. As in all countries, the
greatest are fond of emerging at the most fateful crises of her
history. Thus, Po Ch`i stands out conspicuous in the period when
Ch`in was entering upon her final struggle with the remaining
independent states. The stormy years which followed the break-up
of the Ch`in dynasty are illuminated by the transcendent genius
of Han Hsin. When the House of Han in turn is tottering to its
fall, the great and baleful figure of Ts`ao Ts`ao dominates the
scene. And in the establishment of the T`ang dynasty,one of the
mightiest tasks achieved by man, the superhuman energy of Li
Shih-min (afterwards the Emperor T`ai Tsung) was seconded by the
brilliant strategy of Li Ching. None of these generals need fear
comparison with the greatest names in the military history of
In spite of all this, the great body of Chinese sentiment,
from Lao Tzu downwards, and especially as reflected in the
standard literature of Confucianism, has been consistently
pacific and intensely opposed to militarism in any form. It is
such an uncommon thing to find any of the literati defending
warfare on principle, that I have thought it worth while to
collect and translate a few passages in which the unorthodox view
is upheld. The following, by Ssu-ma Ch`ien, shows that for all
his ardent admiration of Confucius, he was yet no advocate of
peace at any price: --

Military weapons are the means used by the Sage to
punish violence and cruelty, to give peace to troublous
times, to remove difficulties and dangers, and to succor
those who are in peril. Every animal with blood in its veins
and horns on its head will fight when it is attacked. How
much more so will man, who carries in his breast the
faculties of love and hatred, joy and anger! When he is
pleased, a feeling of affection springs up within him; when
angry, his poisoned sting is brought into play. That is the
natural law which governs his being.... What then shall be
said of those scholars of our time, blind to all great
issues, and without any appreciation of relative values, who
can only bark out their stale formulas about "virtue" and
"civilization," condemning the use of military weapons? They
will surely bring our country to impotence and dishonor and
the loss of her rightful heritage; or, at the very least,
they will bring about invasion and rebellion, sacrifice of
territory and general enfeeblement. Yet they obstinately
refuse to modify the position they have taken up. The truth
is that, just as in the family the teacher must not spare the
rod, and punishments cannot be dispensed with in the State,
so military chastisement can never be allowed to fall into
abeyance in the Empire. All one can say is that this power
will be exercised wisely by some, foolishly by others, and
that among those who bear arms some will be loyal and others
rebellious. [58]

The next piece is taken from Tu Mu's preface to his
commentary on Sun Tzu: --

War may be defined as punishment, which is one of the
functions of government. It was the profession of Chung Yu
and Jan Ch`iu, both disciples of Confucius. Nowadays, the
holding of trials and hearing of litigation, the imprisonment
of offenders and their execution by flogging in the market-
place, are all done by officials. But the wielding of huge
armies, the throwing down of fortified cities, the hauling of
women and children into captivity, and the beheading of
traitors -- this is also work which is done by officials.
The objects of the rack and of military weapons are
essentially the same. There is no intrinsic difference
between the punishment of flogging and cutting off heads in
war. For the lesser infractions of law, which are easily
dealt with, only a small amount of force need be employed:
hence the use of military weapons and wholesale decapitation.
In both cases, however, the end in view is to get rid of
wicked people, and to give comfort and relief to the good....
Chi-sun asked Jan Yu, saying: "Have you, Sir, acquired
your military aptitude by study, or is it innate?" Jan Yu
replied: "It has been acquired by study." [59] "How can
that be so," said Chi-sun, "seeing that you are a disciple of
Confucius?" "It is a fact," replied Jan Yu; "I was taught by
Confucius. It is fitting that the great Sage should exercise
both civil and military functions, though to be sure my
instruction in the art of fighting has not yet gone very
Now, who the author was of this rigid distinction
between the "civil" and the "military," and the limitation of
each to a separate sphere of action, or in what year of which
dynasty it was first introduced, is more than I can say.
But, at any rate, it has come about that the members of the
governing class are quite afraid of enlarging on military
topics, or do so only in a shamefaced manner. If any are
bold enough to discuss the subject, they are at once set down
as eccentric individuals of coarse and brutal propensities.
This is an extraordinary instance in which, through sheer
lack of reasoning, men unhappily lose sight of fundamental
When the Duke of Chou was minister under Ch`eng Wang, he
regulated ceremonies and made music, and venerated the arts
of scholarship and learning; yet when the barbarians of the
River Huai revolted, [60] he sallied forth and chastised
them. When Confucius held office under the Duke of Lu, and a
meeting was convened at Chia-ku, [61] he said: "If pacific
negotiations are in progress, warlike preparations should
have been made beforehand." He rebuked and shamed the
Marquis of Ch`i, who cowered under him and dared not proceed
to violence. How can it be said that these two great Sages
had no knowledge of military matters?

We have seen that the great Chu Hsi held Sun Tzu in high
esteem. He also appeals to the authority of the Classics: --

Our Master Confucius, answering Duke Ling of Wei, said:
"I have never studied matters connected with armies and
battalions." [62] Replying to K`ung Wen-tzu, he said: I
have not been instructed about buff-coats and weapons." But
if we turn to the meeting at Chia-ku, we find that he used
armed force against the men of Lai, so that the marquis of
Ch`i was overawed. Again, when the inhabitants of Pi
revolted, the ordered his officers to attack them, whereupon
they were defeated and fled in confusion. He once uttered
the words: "If I fight, I conquer." [63] And Jan Yu also
said: "The Sage exercises both civil and military
functions." [64] Can it be a fact that Confucius never
studied or received instruction in the art of war? We can
only say that he did not specially choose matters connected
with armies and fighting to be the subject of his teaching.

Sun Hsing-yen, the editor of Sun Tzu, writes in similar
strain: --

Confucius said: "I am unversed in military matters."
[65] He also said: "If I fight, I conquer." Confucius
ordered ceremonies and regulated music. Now war constitutes
one of the five classes of State ceremonial, [66] and must
not be treated as an independent branch of study. Hence, the
words "I am unversed in" must be taken to mean that there are
things which even an inspired Teacher does not know. Those
who have to lead an army and devise stratagems, must learn
the art of war. But if one can command the services of a
good general like Sun Tzu, who was employed by Wu Tzu-hsu,
there is no need to learn it oneself. Hence the remark added
by Confucius: "If I fight, I conquer."
The men of the present day, however, willfully interpret
these words of Confucius in their narrowest sense, as though
he meant that books on the art of war were not worth reading.
With blind persistency, they adduce the example of Chao Kua,
who pored over his father's books to no purpose, [67] as a
proof that all military theory is useless. Again, seeing
that books on war have to do with such things as opportunism
in designing plans, and the conversion of spies, they hold
that the art is immoral and unworthy of a sage. These people
ignore the fact that the studies of our scholars and the
civil administration of our officials also require steady
application and practice before efficiency is reached. The
ancients were particularly chary of allowing mere novices to
botch their work. [68] Weapons are baneful [69] and fighting
perilous; and useless unless a general is in constant
practice, he ought not to hazard other men's lives in battle.
[70] Hence it is essential that Sun Tzu's 13 chapters should
be studied.
Hsiang Liang used to instruct his nephew Chi [71] in the
art of war. Chi got a rough idea of the art in its general
bearings, but would not pursue his studies to their proper
outcome, the consequence being that he was finally defeated
and overthrown. He did not realize that the tricks and
artifices of war are beyond verbal computation. Duke Hsiang
of Sung and King Yen of Hsu were brought to destruction by
their misplaced humanity. The treacherous and underhand
nature of war necessitates the use of guile and stratagem
suited to the occasion. There is a case on record of
Confucius himself having violated an extorted oath, [72] and
also of his having left the Sung State in disguise. [73] Can
we then recklessly arraign Sun Tzu for disregarding truth and

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