The memorial museum of Sunzi, the author of Art of War

Long before the First Emperor Qin drove his army from the west in Xian to reach the east coast area and united China in 221BC, there were two highly developed kingdoms in the region, one in Shaoxing (near Hangzhou) and another in Suzhou (near Shanghai).

It was the Spring and Autumn Era (770BC-476BC), a brilliant period in Chinese history. In the north, around the Yellow River basin, Confucius probed the human condition and Lao Tzu inquired about the universal truth; in the south down the Yangtze River Delta, Suzhou kingdom Wu drafted a Development Control Plan for the city, the first in the world, and Shaoxing kingdom Yue established a superior metallurgical industry.

Understandably, as two strong powers neighbouring each other and both seeking further expansion, wars broke out, which lasted for decades.

Sword of Goujian
Sword of Goujian

It was for these wars, Goujian, King of Yue in Shaoxing, crafted the best sword in China known as Sword of Goujian, and Sun Tzu in Suzhou, a military consultant to King of Wu, composed the Art of War.

Art of War
Art of War

The Art of War is the oldest book on military strategy and the first to understand the vital importance of laying a strategic plan before taking military action and altering the plan according to changed conditions in the fields.

It has made a huge impact on Chinese military thinking throughout history. Lately, its influence has been extended to areas like business management and competitive sports and beyond.

The book is composed of thirteen chapters and devoted to thirteen major aspects of warfare. Following is a brief introduction to each chapter:


Joseph Muela:

You like Sun Tzu, All Things Chinese​? The history of him is very vague. Some historians say he never existed! :O

All Things Chinese: 

Ya, I do 😉

There are several Art of Wars from different authors in Chinese history, just like there are several different I Chings compiled by different persons. Some authors’ identities might be a bit vague, but not Sun Tzu. He wrote his Art of War in Suzhou and played an important role in Wu Kingdom’s development.

Architecture Technology:

China also lost just about every war after he wrote his book.

Joseph Muela:

I wouldn’t say that, but I have heard stories that the Wu empire lost after the book was written. That fotesnt the book is bad, but it does make you feel like the book isn’t as powerful as it sounds.

All Things Chinese: 

When Sun Tzu wrote his Art of War, China was split into seven major kingdoms. Centuries later, China reunited, how can you say China lost just about every war after he wrote that book?

In the next 2,000 years, despite being repeatedly invaded, each time China was able to drive invaders out and regain the independence and unity, how can you say China lost just about every war after he wrote that book?

Architecture Technology: 

It is a good read for martial artist and business owners or even stockbrokers who in the war of money. I practice martial arts myself and find it a good read as some things are great concepts, but I wouldn’t take everything away from this book.

All Things Chinese: 

Wu kingdom was just a small city-state centered in Suzhou. After Sun Tzu, a Qi native joined Wu where he wrote his Art of War, the Wu kingdom won nearly every battle against neighbouring Chu kingdom in today’s Hubei and Yue kingdom in today’s Zhejiang.

But after both old Wu King and Sun Tzu passed away, the political climate in Wu was vastly different. The new king was a hopeless womanizer who killed and banished his royal advisers when they tried to stop him from taking and keeping Xishi, a pretty female spy from Yue, as the result, he lost his kingdom and his own life.

Why Sun Tzu’s art of war no longer worked for Wu?

Firstly, any good military strategy needs a capable leader to implement it.

Secondly, the Wu kingdom did not own exclusively the copyright of the Art of War (there was no such thing called “copyright” in ancient China, which actually helped spread knowledge and the culture). After the book was published (by hand copying on bamboo slips or fabrics), Wu’s enemies had an equal opportunity as Wu to learn the art of war. In fact, it was the “honey trap”, one of the 36 strategies listed in the book, that helped the Yue Kingdom to corrupt the Wu king and subdued the Wu Kingdom.

Finally, military tactics and strategies are just part of the factors in war. The economy, technology and, especially, politics also play important, sometimes, crucial roles in a military campaign.

As Sun Tzu stated in his Art of War: It is possible for you to know how to win a battle, but it is not possible for you to determine whether you will win a battle. (胜可知, 而不可为).

Ultimately it is the nature of the war that determines the final outcome. Without popular support from people, no war can claim victory in the long run. And this support not only should come from within but beyond, including from the targeted state.

As the new Wu king mistreated his officials and advisers, cared little about the kingdom’s economy and the people’s welfare, but spent nearly all his time and a huge amount of the kingdom’s wealth to please his loved woman, he, naturally, lost popular support. In such a situation, no military strategy could save him.

Aquil A Rahman:

I think the caption points to the core of the art of war.

To subdue the enemy without fighting involves thinking, intense and strategic thinking, like the game of Go or even the practice of Tai Chi.
A punch that one doesn’t have to throw.

It’s been years since I’ve read the art of war…..

Winning war is not just and handbook for killing, but a Supreme way of maintaining peace and balance.

All Things Chinese: 

I love how you put it: Winning war is not just a handbook for killing, but a supreme way of maintaining peace and balance.

Joseph Muela:

Ah, okay. Interesting information. I agree, specifically when you said, “it is possible to know how to win a war, but not possible to determine if you will win a battle.”

I learned a lot of books on war, success, romanticism, etc, so I know the theories and strategies, but I am not good at any.

No copyright is also true. I’ve read that the true original art if a war was destroyed so we only have copies other people wrote and commentaries.

All Things Chinese:

It may be a blessing that you never need to utilize the art of war because you don’t have anyone in your life that you must fight against. Art of war is not a strategy to deal with family members and friends — romance and friendship require sincerity and honesty.

Chapter One: Laying A Plan

Paper was invented by Chinese in the 1st century, yet The Art of War was written by Sun Tzu 600 years earlier, so it was initially penned on bamboo slips.

It explains how to plan a war based on 5 key elements or conditions that define a competitive position, and the ways to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, advantages and constraints in comparison to your opponents.


Universal condition: justification of the mission;
Celestial condition: timing;
Terrestrial condition: location;
The human condition: leadership;
Technic condition: weapons.


Eric Horrobin:

They use this book at the west point military academy in the U.S. it is a very prestigious military school, considered the tip in the U.S.

Mile HsiangYang Lee:

Really? I did not know that. I used it for my master program in public administration + public policy 😃 Just 1 of my books 😇


It would have been nice if he wrote the Art of Peace. Sadly it probably wouldn’t have sold as many copies.

All Things Chinese:

Order often needs to be achieved through chaos (a reshuffle) and peace sometimes has to be attained through war (a violent shake-up).

Without the Red Army and Alliance force’s fierce battles, we could all live under Nazi’s fascist rule, just a case in point.

When the book was written 2,500 years ago, there was no printing, no bookstores, no copyright and no royalties. In short, by then books were written for spreading knowledge.


Understood. My comments were more aimed at today’s world. 2500 years later and there are too many who prefer war over peace. Also, more of these battles are fought over economics and not human rights.

Mile HsiangYang Lee:

Art of Peace, Eh? 😮 Why didn’t I think of that? 😐 Probably, only Dalai Lama did or Pope Francis 😉

All Things Chinese: 

According to my observation, those talking about peace all the time are often the ones waging the nastiest wars [like the lamas]. 

Eric Horrobin: 

It is all about greed and false power.


I promised I haven’t started any wars. Ever. Though your words are true. Look back on the church and the crusades.

All Things Chinese: 

Haaaa, I believe you 100% and your comments are spot on … about the motivation of the wars, about some religious leaders. It’s not just church … 🧐

Renato Silva Abranches:

Minha cara este livro 😊 e segundo a lenda este livro ficou escondido no Japão por um bom tempo, diz a lenda que foi um monge que achou escondido lá em meados do século 2 depois de Cristo 😊

All Things Chinese: 

I’m not sure about Sunzi’s Art of War, but there are quite a few priceless books burned by Manchus when they invaded and ruled China during the late 17th and early 20th centuries but preserved by the Japanese.


July 20, 2020
Quite so. We see it every day as new wars are being planned constantly.

All Things Chinese
There are two major war groups in today’s world with their respective strengths:

Group 1:
Universal condition: justification of the mission;
Celestial condition: timing;
Terrestrial condition: location;
Human condition: leadership.

Group 2:
Technic condition: weapons.

I just wish the folks in group 2 planning wars can do a thorough SWOP and fully understand the current discussions.

Chapter Two: Waging A War

It explains how to understand the economic nature of military confrontation and how cost-effectiveness determines the outcome of a campaign.


There is no instance in history that a state could benefit from prolonged warfare. Thus the wise object for military action should be of gaining victory, not taking lengthy campaigns.

Chapter Three: Strategic Offensive Operation

It identifies different kinds of offensive strategies, with capturing your enemy’s heart being the best and conquering your enemy’s land the least.


To fight and conquer cannot be defined as supreme success; the real victory is to win without fighting. Thus the first choice of offensive operation should be to foil your enemy’s plans; the next best is to break your enemy’s unity; the next in order is to destroy your enemy’s force; as to invade and occupy your enemy’s territory should be used as the last resort.

Chapter Four: Disposition

Chinese calligraphy in Kaiti script – Art of War by Sun Tzu (545BC – 470BC)

It explains how to advance your strength, which should not be achieved by creating opportunities but by recognizing and seizing opportunities when they emerge.


Whether you can avoid being defeated by your enemy depends on how you act; whether you can defeat your enemy depends on how your enemy acts.

Therefore, it is possible for you to know how to win a war, but it is not possible for you to know whether you will win a war.


Guido Stepken:

Napoleon must have had a French edition of Sun Tsu’s war treatise. Otherwise, some of his operations wouldn’t have been so successful. After having read Sun Tsu I directly recognized Napoleons military moves.

In Germany, we had General von Clausewitz, who did also write a military treatise. Standard lecture at German Bundeswehr. Until I noticed, that General von Clausewitz did steal his work 1:1 from Sun Tsu. Even the paragraphs are the same.

Then I confronted the von Clausewitz society (kind of foundation) with my findings. They heavily denied it.

Surprisingly Napoleon and Hitler finally miserably failed. Why? They were pretty successful until an event happened, that Sun Tse had left out in his treatise: Snow. Both miserably failed to occupy Russia in winter. Something, Sun Tse didn’t write about, probably it was much warmer in China at that time he lived.

Under Hitler, all higher military grades, especially SS leaders, had to study Sun Tsu’s “Art of war”, e.g. at Ordensburg Vogelsang (Western Germany, near Aachen), a SS academy. Standard lecture!

That information I got 20 years back from an old guy, 90 years old at that time.

All Things Chinese: 

Really? That’s interesting… I thought they were only obsessed with and inspired by Lamanism, just like Mongols at the time when they burned and ruled half of the world and Manchus when they trashed and ruled the entire China ~_^

Guido Stepken:

Dschingis Khan conquered Europe. In 1227 they suddenly stopped, 100 km before Berlin. Dschingis Khan died, so they returned.

If he wouldn’t die, Berlin now would speak Chinese.

I am very aware of that fact. Most people in Germany never have heard of that.

All Things Chinese: 

No, if he wouldn’t die, Berlin now would speak Mongol and worship Lamaism’s strange deities.

Mongols and China are two different states right from the beginning. They have a different ethnic origins, culture and language. The main reason for the Chinese to build the Great Wall was to defend China from the Mongols’ invasion.

But the Great Wall was broken and China was invaded and ruled by the Mongols for 100 years which enabled Khans to conquer half of Europe.

Chinese, in fact, never invaded Europe or any other continent even when they had the capacity to do so, such as in the early 15th century when the Ming Dynasty sent fleets to tour half of the world.

Guido Stepken:

Inner Mongolia is the Han dynasty controlled and Chinese speaking … 😉

Mile HsiangYang Lee:

There are 6 million Mongols in China in Inner Mongolia. There are 3 million Mongols in the Main Mongolia Republic. There are other Mongol states in the Russia Federation like the Republic of Buryatia (Buryat tribe of Mongol people), Republic of Tuva (Ruva tribe of the Mongol people) + the Republic of Kalymkia. Even Kazakhs of Kazakhstan are a Mongol tribe. So is Kyrgyz of Kyrgyzstan. The Gurkha people in Gurkha land in India + Nepal are Descendents of Mongol tribes. Many of them are employed as warrior soldiers in the British army, Singapore Special Police, even Now. They are known for their bravery + fearlessness + loyalty.

The Ural – Altaic people are related in language + culture + warrior attitude. The Mongol is related to Turkic speaking people, e.g. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Turkestan (Xinjiang Province in east China), Dagestan (in Central Russia), Tartarstan (in central Russia), Chechniya etc. They could understand each other fairly well.

Mongols ruled the world in ancient times. They were helped by Chinese traitors, Turkic speaking people in Central Asia + Asia Minor, Korean traitors, Mongol speaking people. The Mongols in Nepal are Hindus. Mongols in Central Asia are Moslems. Mongols in Mongolia are Tibetan Buddhists. I hope this helps. After Mongols declined, the Turkic empire rose – 1st with Seljuk Turks in east Turkey. Subsequently, the Ottoman Turks rose building the Ottoman Islamic Caliphate.

People in Inner Mongolia, some speak Chinese, many just don’t, particularly those who are practicing nomadic lifestyle + don’t go to school.

All Things Chinese:

Inner Mongolia was beyond the Great Wall while the Wall was built by First Emperor Qin which is before Han. As I’ve already said, the purpose to build the wall was no other but to stop Mongol invasion.

Historically, Mongols didn’t speak Chinese and were not part of Chinese civilization. It was during Manchu’s reign from the late 17th, Mongolia became part of the Qing dynasty that covered the entire China and extended to Xizang. Mongols and Manchus are quite similar, ethnically and culturally, and both were/are fanatic followers of Xizang Lamaism (also known as Tibetan Buddhism). In the nearly 300 years of the period between the late 17th and the turn of the 20th century, the three jointly ruled China and collectively ruined Chinese civilization, politically, technologically, economically, culturally and spiritually. And the negative influence lingers to this day.

After the Manchus lost their power, Mongolia and Xizang (Tibet) left China again. While Manchus felt homeless and went on helping the Japanese to invade and conquer China before and during WWII, Tibet (Xizang) kept going on with its surf system and the top lamas walked closely with Nazi Germany, and Mongolia eventually split into two with one part having joint China after the WWII.

Chapter Five: Power of Force

Chinese calligraphy – Art of War by Sun Tzu (545BC – 470BC)

It explores how to grow your own strength and overpower your enemy.


In all battles, be honest and upfront when communicating with your people in order to unite your own force; be eccentric and secretive when dealing with your enemies in order to breach their containment and cut through their defensive ring.

Chapter Six, Strength and Weakness

Chinese calligraphy – Art of War by Sun Tzu (545BC – 470BC)

It investigates how to exploit your enemy’s weakness to advance your own strength.


You should attack your enemies at the point where they do not think they need to defend; to defend your position at the spot where your enemies do not know how to attack. Therefore the best tactical disposition is of no disposition, thus it is invisible and cannot be attacked.

Chapter Seven: Maneuvering

It describes the dangers of direct confrontation and explores the best approaches to tackle your enemy’s attacks.


Soldiers’ spirit is keenest in the morning; sluggish during the day and retreating when night falls. Therefore, avoid an army when its spirit is keen, attack an army when it becomes listless and withdrawing – this is the art of handling the energy level.


Keep your discipline and stay calm, awaiting the moment when your enemy is in trouble and disarray – this is the art of dealing with the heart.


To be near the target while your enemy is still far from it; to wait at ease while your enemy is toiling his way across. – this is the art of managing physical strength.


Refrain from intercepting your enemy who is in perfect order; avoid attacking your opponent who is at a composed position – this is the art of coping with the situation.

Chapter Eight: Variation in Tactics

Chinese calligraphy in Running Script style – Art of War by Sun Tzu (545BC – 470BC)

It explains how to respond to shifting circumstances in war.


Do not rely on the likelihood that your enemy may not come, but on your readiness to intercept the enemy; Do not depend on the chance that your enemy may not attack, but on your preparation to make your position unassailable.


In wars, there are certain roads that must not be followed, certain armies which must not be assailed, certain cities which must not be besieged, certain positions which must not be contested and certain commands from the head of the state which must not be obeyed.

Chapter Nine: On the Move

Calligraphy by contemporary Chinese calligrapher Zhang Kezhi – Art of War by Sun Tzu (545BC – 470BC)

It elaborates that when you are trying to move into more competitive theatres of war, how to comprehend your enemy’s true intention, evaluate and justify the altered circumstance and determine the right time to build your momentum.

敌近而静者,恃其险也; 远而挑战者,欲人之进也; 其所居易者,利也; 辞卑而备者,进也; 辞强而进驱者,退也; 轻车先出居其侧者,陈也; 无约而请和者,谋也; 奔走而陈兵者,期也; 半进半退者,诱也; 见利而不进者,劳也; 军扰者,将不重也;数赏者,窘也;数罚者,困也; 来委谢者,欲休息也

If your enemy is near but remains quiet, he must be in a good position to launch a sudden strike;

If your enemy is in a distance but tries to provoke a fight, he is luring you to enter his optimal position;

If there is easy access to your enemy’s site, it is more likely to be bait;

If your enemy’s humble gesture is coupled with his intensive preparation for war, it is a sign that he is about to attack;

If your enemy’s aggressive language is coupled with the forceful advance of his troops, it is a signal that he is going to retreat;

If your enemy’s vanguards appear and take up a position on the wings, it indicates that a big battle is coming;

If peace is proposed but action to sign a treaty is not followed, it suggests that a nasty plot is hidden;

If your enemy soldiers fall into rank in a hurry, you shall understand the critical moment is approaching;

If some of your enemies are advancing and some of your enemies are retreating, you should realize traps might be forming;

If your detractor refrains from taking advantage of his position, it suggests he must be exhausted;

If your enemy’s troops have poor discipline, it implies its general’s authority has been weakened;

If the rewards are over-generous and fairly frequent among your enemy troops, you should know they are about to run out of their resource;

If the punishments are constant and harsh among your enemy ranks, you can be sure they are in great distress;

If there are too many compliments expressed by your enemy’s envoys, it is an indication that your foe is keen to have a truce.

Chapter Ten: Forms of Terrain

It looks at the six types of ground positions and their certain advantages and disadvantages.


When a ground can be easily accessed by both sides, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots before your enemy troop, and carefully guard your line of supplies.

When a ground that can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy, you should only mount an attack when your enemy is unprepared.

When the ground is such that neither side will gain by making the first move, you should refrain from initiating a fight.

When the ground is accessed through narrow passes, you should wait for your enemy to advance.

When the ground is steep and high, you should not leave your position if you occupy it before your enemy, or you should entice your enemy away from his position if he arrives there before you.

When the ground is far away from your base and your strength is not greater than your enemy, you should not engage the battle.

Chapter Eleven: Common Battlefields

Calligraphy by contemporary Chinese calligrapher Zhang Kezhi – Art of War by Sun Tzu (545BC – 470BC)

It illustrates some common battlegrounds in a campaign, and the principles to effectively handle them.


A battlefield in your own territory is holding ground, on which you should avoid fighting.

A battlefield in a nearby hostile territory is a shallow ground, on which you should keep advancing.

A battlefield with strategic importance is contentious ground, on which you must not initiate attacks.

A battlefield that is easily accessible by all parties in the war is an open ground, on which you must not block your enemy’s passage.

A battlefield that is key to the commanding position is an intersecting highway, on which you need to form a joint force with your allies.

A battlefield in the heart of hostile territory is a significant ground, on which you ought to attack your enemy with the force of the storm.

A battlefield situated in a mountain, a marsh or other difficult terrain, is tough ground, on which you must not linger.

A battlefield that can only be reached through narrow gorges is an edging ground, on which you should mount a strategic campaign.

A battlefield that is a matter of life or death to the survival of your campaign or your troop is a crucial ground, on which you must fight to your last breath.

Chapter Twelve: Attack by Fire

It examines how to use natural conditions to aid attack and counterattack.


Those attacking with fire are smart, those attacking using water are strong.

Chapter Thirteen: Intelligence

It explains the vital importance of intelligence collection to the effectiveness and outcome of your military campaign.


Information on your enemy cannot be gained via divination, from experience, or through reasoning. It can only be obtained through agents.


There are five types of agents: local agents hired from your enemy territories; inside agents within your enemy’s ranks; double agents converted from your enemy spies; sacrificed agents who give themselves away for the purpose of confusing your enemy; surviving agents who bring back information from the enemy’s camp.

When all five types of intelligence agents are at work, you have a key to access divine manipulation of the war.

Empty Town – One of 36 War Strategies in Art of War

Singer: Yu Kuizhi as Zhuge Liang

I was initially a hermit Daoist
Using yin-yang to know the world

I reflect the past incidents and current events
See the Han will become one of the tripod legs

Sitting on the watchtower, I play qin at leisure
Pity the man who knows my music is not near

It was a classic example of the ancient Chinese art of war.

One day during the Three Kingdom’s era in the 3rd century, the superpower Wei Kingdom sent 150,000-strong troops towards the border of the Shu Kingdom and borne down on West City from two directions.

When Zhuge Liang, the PM of Shu, received the report, it was too late to either summon reinforcement or evacuate the field depot.

So he ordered to throw open all city gates, while sitting on the city wall with a pair of office juniors playing qin, entertaining the mighty enemy force with his solo concert.

“Hi, buddy,” in the interval, Zhu Geliang urged the military leader of Wei troops, “look, the city is empty and I’m virtually alone, what are you waiting for, come to get me!”

“That’s too good to be true!” The Wei military leader reckoned it could only be a trick. He paused, hesitated and lingered until Shu’s relief force approached.

Wei troops had to struggle with a hasty retreat.


War is hell in all its forms.

All Things Chinese
Medical surgery is also a form of war on the human body. It’s the last resort.

300 years ago, when Manchus invaded China, the resistance wars organised by the Chinese government of the Ming didn’t last long, otherwise, there could be more brilliant classic Chinese technology and arts for the world to share. Fortunately, in WWII humanity won the resistance wars against Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia, otherwise, there might be no Britain, France and China, along with their cultural heritage.

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