Sun Tzu

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If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles... if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Sun Tzu 孫子; Sūn Zǐ; (c. 6th century BCE) was a Chinese general, military strategist, and author of The Art of War, an immensely influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy; also known as Sun Wu (孫武; Sūn Wǔ), and Chang Qing (長卿; Cháng Qīng).

The Art of War[edit]

Quotations from translations of the book The Art of War (6th century BC)

Ch. 1[edit]

  • 兵者,詭道也。故能而示之不能,用而示之不用,近而示之遠,遠而示之近,
    • All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear 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.
    • Ch. 1
    • Variant translations
    • A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective.
  • 實而備之,強而避之,怒而撓之,卑而驕之,佚而勞之,親而離之,出其不意,攻其不備。
    • If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
    • Ch. 1
  • 乱而取之
    • Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
    • Ch. 1
  • 卑则骄之
    • Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
    • Ch. 1
  • 孙子曰:国之上下,死生之地,存亡之道,不可不察也。
    • The art of war is of vital importance to the State. 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.
    • Ch. 1
  • 夫未战而庙算胜者,得算多也;未战而庙算不胜者,得算少也。
    • The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.
    • Ch. 1
  • 将听吾计,用之必胜,留之;将不听吾计,用之必败,去之;
    • 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!
    • Ch. 1
  • 怒而挠之
    • If your opponent is of choleric temperament, seek to irritate him.
    • Ch. 1

Ch. 2[edit]

  • 故兵貴勝,不貴久。
    • What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.
    • Ch. 2
  • 近于师者贵卖,贵卖则百姓财竭
    • Where the army is, prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is exhausted.
    • Ch. 2
  • 兵久而国利者,未之有也。
    • There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.
    • Ch. 2

Ch. 3[edit]

  • 知彼知己,百戰不殆;不知彼而知己,一勝一負;不知彼,不知己,每戰必殆
    • It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
    • Ch. 3, the last sentence.
    • Variant translations
    • If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
    • Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.
    • Literal translation: Know [the] other, know [the] self, hundred battles without danger; not knowing [the] other but know [the] self, one win one loss; not knowing [the] other, not knowing [the] self, every battle must [be] lost.
  • 故用兵之法,十則圍之,五則攻之,倍則分之, 敵則能戰之,少則能守之,不若則能避之。
    • It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy's strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, be able to divide them; if equal, engage them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.
    • Ch. 3
  • 是故百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵,善之善者也。
    • For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
    • Ch. 3
    • Variant translations
    • Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
    • The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities... It is best to win without fighting.
Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.
  • 古之所善戰者,勝於易勝者也。
    • What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
    • Ch. 3
  • 知可战与不可战者胜。
    • He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.
    • Ch. 3
  • 以虞待不虞者胜。
    • He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.
    • Ch. 3
  • 凡用兵之法,全國為上;破國次之;全軍為上,破軍次之;全旅為上,破旅次之;全卒為上,破卒次之;全伍為上,破伍次之。
    • In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.
    • Ch. 3
    • Variant translations
    • It is best to keep one’s own state intact; to crush the enemy’s state is only second best.
  • 是故上攻伐谋
    • Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.
    • Ch. 3

Ch. 4[edit]

  • 是故勝兵先勝而後求戰,敗兵先戰而後求勝。
    • Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
    • Ch. 4
  • 故善战者,立于不败之地,而不失敌之败也。
    • The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
    • Ch. 4
  • 是故勝兵先勝而後求戰,敗兵先戰而後求勝。
    • Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
    • Ch. 4
  • 见胜不过众人之所识,非善之善者也。
    • To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.
    • Ch. 4
  • 守则不足,攻则有余
    • One defends when his strength is inadequate, he attacks when it is abundant.
    • Ch. 4
  • 不可胜在己,可胜在敌。
    • Being unconquerable lies with yourself; being conquerable lies with your enemy.
    • Ch. 4

Ch. 5[edit]

  • 治众如治寡,分数是也。
    • Management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organization.
    • Ch. 5
  • 积水之激,至于漂石者,势也。鸷鸟之疾,至于毁折者,节也。
    • When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.
    • Ch. 5
  • 鸷鸟之疾,至于毁折者,节也。
    • The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
    • Ch. 5
  • 故善战者,求之于势,不责于人。
    • A skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.
    • Ch. 5
  • 故善战者,求之于势,不责于人。
    • The expert in battle seeks his victory from strategic advantage and does not demand it from his men.
    • Ch. 5

Ch. 6[edit]

  • 微乎微乎,至于无形;神乎神乎,至于无声;故能为敌之司命。
    • Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate.
    • Alternative translation: Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is master of his enemy's fate.
    • Alternative translation: O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands.
    • Ch. 6
  • 人皆知我所以勝之形,而莫知我所以制勝之形。
    • All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
    • Ch. 6
  • 故形兵之极,至于无形,无形,则深间不能窥,上智不能谋。
    • The ultimate in disposing one's troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you.
    • Ch. 6
  • 故善战者,至人而不至于人。
    • And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.
    • Ch. 6
  • 故敌逸能劳之,饱能饥之,安能动之。出其所不趋,趋其所不意。
    • When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him; when well fed, to starve him; when at rest, to make him move. Appear at places to which he must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you.
    • Ch. 6

Ch 7-10[edit]

  • 围兵必阙
    • To a surrounded enemy, you must leave a way of escape.
    • Ch. 7
  • 数赏者,窘也;数罚者,困也;
    • Too frequent rewards indicate that the general is at the end of his resources; too frequent punishments that he is in acute distress.
    • Ch. 9
  • 令素行以教其民,则民服。令不素行以教其民,则民不服。令素行者,与民相得也。
    • A leader leads by example not by force.
    • Ch. 9
  • 将弱不严,教道不明,将之过也。
    • If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.
    • Ch. 10
  • 故战道必胜,主曰无战,必战可也;战道不胜,主曰必战,无战可也;
    • 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 bidding. (Ch. 10, 23)
    • Ch. 10
  • 进不邀功,退不避罪,唯人是保,而利合于主,国之宝也。
    • The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
    • Ch. 10
  • 視卒如愛子,故可與之俱死。
    • Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.
    • Ch. 10

Ch. 11-13[edit]

  • 吾士无余财,非恶货也。无余命,非恶寿也。
    • If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they are disinclined to longevity.
    • Ch. 11
  • 兵之情主速,乘敌所不及,由不虞之途,攻其所不备也。
    • Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.
    • Ch. 11
  • 施无法之赏,悬无政之令。犯三军之众,若使一人。
    • Bestow rewards without respect to customary practice; publish orders without respect to precedent. Thus you may employ the entire army as you would one man.
    • Ch. 11
  • 敌间之来间我者,因而利之,导而舍之,故反间可得而用也;
    • It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.
    • Ch. 13
  • 故明君贤将,能以上智为间者,必成大功。
    • Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge.
    • Ch. 13
  • 故三军之事,莫亲于间,赏莫厚于间,事莫密于间,
    • Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent; of all rewards none more liberal than those given to secret agents; of all matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations.
    • Ch. 13
  • 此(译注:用间)兵之要,三军之所恃而动也。
    • Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.
    • Ch. 13


Disputed[edit]

  • Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.
    • This has appeared as a variant of Sun Tzu's assertion to "leave a way of escape." Tu Mu, commenting on Sun Tzu, advises, "Show him there is a road to safety..." Ch. 7; it has also recently appeared on the internet attributed to Scipio Africanus, but without citation.


Misattributed[edit]

  • To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.
    • This is sometimes attributed to Sun Tzu in combination with the above quote, as well as alone, but it too has not been sourced to any published translation of The Art of War, though it is similar in concept to his famous statement in Ch. 3 : "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles..."
  • Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
    • Probably apocryphal. This quotation does not appear in any print translation of Sun Tzu. The first citation in Google Books is from 2002; no citation in Google Books occurs in a translation of Sun Tzu.
  • The true objective of war is peace.
    • This attributed to Sun Tzu and his book The Art of War. Actually James Clavell’s foreword in The Art of War states, “’the true object of war is peace.’” Therefore the quote is stated by James Clavell, but the true origin of Clavell's quotation is unclear. Nonetheless the essence of the quote, that a long war exhausts a state and therefore ultimately seeking peace is in the interest of the warring state, is true, as Sun Tzu in Chapter II Waging Wars says that "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on." This has been interpreted by Lionel Giles as "Only one who knows the disastrous effects of a long war can realize the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it to a close."
    • Dr. Hiroshi Hatanaka, President of Kobe College, Nishinomiya, Hyōgo, Japan is recorded as saying "the real objective of war is peace" in Pacific Stars and Stripes Ryukyu Edition, Tokyo, Japan (10 February 1949), Page 2, Column 2.
  • Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
    • Sun Tzu among many other military thinkers and leaders believed in fate and determination from the correct application of theory, the state of the opponent's and one's own power, and a code for the general and a code for the soldier to follow, rather than the Machiavellian type of intuition that evokes an evolution of opportunism that brought great historical consequences as it dominated over the classical and medieval ethical doctrines. Thus this statement is contrary to Sun Tzu principles. Nevertheless, there is a possible relation to the quote: Quickness is the essence of the war.
  • In peace, prepare for war. In war, prepare for peace.
    • Sometimes erroneously prepended to the opening line "The art of war is of vital importance to the State", but appears to be a variation of the Roman motto "Si vis pacem, para bellum". It's not clear who first misattributed this phrase to Sun Tzu. The earliest appearance of the phrase in Google Books is 1920, when it appeared in a pharmaceutical journal, but no attribution was given then.

Quotes about Sun Tzu[edit]

  • 吳王曰:「將軍罷休就舍,寡人不願下觀。」孫子曰:「王徒好其言,不能用其實。」於是闔廬知孫子能用兵,卒以為將。西破彊楚,入郢,北威齊晉,顯名諸侯,孫子與有力焉。
    • The King of Wu said,"Enough, general. Retire to your hostel, We do not wish to come down and observe." Sun Tzu said, "The king only loves the words, he cannot make use of the reality." After this, Ho-lu knew that Sun Tzu could command troops and in the end appointed him commander. [Later when Wu] defeated mighty Ch’u to its west and entered its capital Ying awed Ch'i and Chin to its north and spread its fame among the feudal lords, it was due in part to Sun Tzu.
      • translated by Tsai-fa Cheng, Zongli Lu, William H. Nienhauser, Jr., and Robert Reynolds, in The Grand Scribe’s Records, edited by William H. Nienhauser, Jr.
    • Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, 孫子吳起列傳
  • 諸將效首虜,(休)畢賀,因問信曰:「兵法右倍山陵,前左水澤,今者將軍令臣等反背水陳,曰破趙會食,臣等不服。然竟以勝,此何術也?」信曰:「此在兵法,顧諸君不察耳。兵法不曰『陷之死地而後生,置之亡地而後存』?且信非得素拊循士大夫也,此所謂『驅市人而戰之』,其勢非置之死地,使人人自為戰;今予之生地,皆走,寧尚可得而用之乎!」諸將皆服曰:「善。非臣所及也。」
    • After the various commanders presented the heads [of the enemies] and the captives, they all offered their congratulations. They took the advantage to ask [Han] Hsin and said, “The Art of War says ‘keep the hills to your right and your back; keep the waters to the front or at your left.’’ Now you, General, on the contrary ordered your subjects to draw up in array with our backs against the river and said, ‘We will defeat Chao and feast together.’ Your servants were not convinced. However, we won with this in the end. What strategy was this?” [Han] Hsin said, “This is in The Art of War, however, you gentlemen did not notice it. Doesn’t The Art of War say ‘They will survive after being trapped in a fatal situation and will live on after being placed in a hopeless position? Furthermore, I do not have well-trained officers. This is what is called ‘Drive the street rabble and have them fight.’ The circumstances were that I had to put them in a fatal situation and made every person fight for his life. If I had put them in a safe situation, they would have had already run away. How could they have been held and employed?” The various commanders were all convinced and said, “Well put. It is of [a level] that we could not reach.”
      • translation by ‎Wang Jing, in The Grand Scribe’s Records, edited by William H. Nienhauser, Jr.
    • On Battle of Jingxing
    • Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, 淮陰侯列傳


  • Sun Tzu’s success teaches us that a successful general is one who fully calculates his approach and plans to fight in a battle. However, the average reader is not able to identify Sun Tzu’s teachings on a deeper or philosophical level. This is my reason for writing and exegeses on the Art of War.
    • Cao Cao, 《孫子略解》 Concise Explanations of Sun Tzu

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