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The Art of War - Chapter 1. Laying Plans

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


[Ts`ao Kung, in defining the meaning of the Chinese for the
title of this chapter, says it refers to the deliberations in the
temple selected by the general for his temporary use, or as we
should say, in his tent. See. ss. 26.]

1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to
the State.
2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to
safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on
no account be neglected.
3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant
factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when
seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.
4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth;
(4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

[It appears from what follows that Sun Tzu means by "Moral
Law" a principle of harmony, not unlike the Tao of Lao Tzu in its
moral aspect. One might be tempted to render it by "morale,"
were it not considered as an attribute of the ruler in ss. 13.]

5, 6. The MORAL LAW causes the people to be in complete
accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless
of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzu as saying: "Without constant
practice, the officers will be nervous and undecided when
mustering for battle; without constant practice, the general will
be wavering and irresolute when the crisis is at hand."]

7. HEAVEN signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and

[The commentators, I think, make an unnecessary mystery of
two words here. Meng Shih refers to "the hard and the soft,
waxing and waning" of Heaven. Wang Hsi, however, may be right in
saying that what is meant is "the general economy of Heaven,"
including the five elements, the four seasons, wind and clouds,
and other phenomena.]

8. EARTH comprises distances, great and small; danger and
security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and
9. The COMMANDER stands for the virtues of wisdom,
sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.

[The five cardinal virtues of the Chinese are (1) humanity
or benevolence; (2) uprightness of mind; (3) self-respect, self-
control, or "proper feeling;" (4) wisdom; (5) sincerity or good
faith. Here "wisdom" and "sincerity" are put before "humanity or
benevolence," and the two military virtues of "courage" and
"strictness" substituted for "uprightness of mind" and "self-
respect, self-control, or 'proper feeling.'"]

10. By METHOD AND DISCIPLINE are to be understood the
marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the
graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads
by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military
11. These five heads should be familiar to every general:
he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will
12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to
determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of
a comparison, in this wise: --
13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the
Moral law?

[I.e., "is in harmony with his subjects." Cf. ss. 5.]

(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and

[See ss. 7,8]

(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

[Tu Mu alludes to the remarkable story of Ts`ao Ts`ao (A.D.
155-220), who was such a strict disciplinarian that once, in
accordance with his own severe regulations against injury to
standing crops, he condemned himself to death for having allowed
him horse to shy into a field of corn! However, in lieu of
losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice
by cutting off his hair. Ts`ao Ts`ao's own comment on the
present passage is characteristically curt: "when you lay down a
law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed the
offender must be put to death."]

(5) Which army is stronger?

[Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch`en puts it,
freely rendered, "ESPIRIT DE CORPS and 'big battalions.'"]

(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

[Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzu as saying: "Without constant
practice, the officers will be nervous and undecided when
mustering for battle; without constant practice, the general will
be wavering and irresolute when the crisis is at hand."]

(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in
reward and punishment?

[On which side is there the most absolute certainty that
merit will be properly rewarded and misdeeds summarily punished?]

14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast
victory or defeat.
15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon
it, will conquer: --let such a one be retained in command! The
general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will
suffer defeat: --let such a one be dismissed!

[The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzu's
treatise was composed expressly for the benefit of his patron Ho
Lu, king of the Wu State.]

16. While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself
also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary
17. According as circumstances are favorable, one should
modify one's plans.

[Sun Tzu, as a practical soldier, will have none of the
"bookish theoric." He cautions us here not to pin our faith to
abstract principles; "for," as Chang Yu puts it, "while the main
laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of
all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in
attempting to secure a favorable position in actual warfare." On
the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, commanding the
cavalry, went to the Duke of Wellington in order to learn what
his plans and calculations were for the morrow, because, as he
explained, he might suddenly find himself Commander-in-chief and
would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment. The
Duke listened quietly and then said: "Who will attack the first
tomorrow -- I or Bonaparte?" "Bonaparte," replied Lord Uxbridge.
"Well," continued the Duke, "Bonaparte has not given me any idea
of his projects; and as my plans will depend upon his, how can
you expect me to tell you what mine are?" [1] ]

18. All warfare is based on deception.

[The truth of this pithy and profound saying will be
admitted by every soldier. Col. Henderson tells us that
Wellington, great in so many military qualities, was especially
distinguished by "the extraordinary skill with which he concealed
his movements and deceived both friend and foe."]

19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when
using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we
must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we
must make him believe we are near.
20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder,
and crush him.

[All commentators, except Chang Yu, say, "When he is in
disorder, crush him." It is more natural to suppose that Sun Tzu
is still illustrating the uses of deception in war.]

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If
he is in superior strength, evade him.
22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to
irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

[Wang Tzu, quoted by Tu Yu, says that the good tactician
plays with his adversary as a cat plays with a mouse, first
feigning weakness and immobility, and then suddenly pouncing upon

23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.

[This is probably the meaning though Mei Yao-ch`en has the
note: "while we are taking our ease, wait for the enemy to tire
himself out." The YU LAN has "Lure him on and tire him out."]

If his forces are united, separate them.

[Less plausible is the interpretation favored by most of the
commentators: "If sovereign and subject are in accord, put
division between them."]

24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are
not expected.
25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be
divulged beforehand.
26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many
calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.

[Chang Yu tells us that in ancient times it was customary
for a temple to be set apart for the use of a general who was
about to take the field, in order that he might there elaborate
his plan of campaign.]

The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations
beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few
calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It
is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to
win or lose.

[1] "Words on Wellington," by Sir. W. Fraser.

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