10 Greatest Books on the Art of War

There are 10 great books on the art of war in Chinese history:

The Art of War (孙子兵法), by Sun Tzu, about 500BC;

Sun Bin’s Art of War (孙膑兵法), by Sun Bin, about 400BC;

Wuzi (吴子), by Wu Qi, about 500BC;

Six Secret Strategies (六韬), allegedly by Jiangshang (姜尙), about 1000BC;

Wei Liaozi (尉缭子), by Wei Liaozi (尉缭子), about 400BC;

The Strategies of the Sima (司马法), by Jiang Shang (姜尙), about 1000BC, the oldest book of war in China;

Plant Taibai’s (Venus) Secret Strategies (太白阴经), by Li Quan (李筌), about 700AD during the Tang Dynasty;

Tiger Seal’s Military Strategies (虎钤经), by Xu Dong (许洞), about 1000AB during the Song Dynasty;

Jixiao’s New Book (纪效新书), by Qi Jiguang (戚继光 1528-1588) during the Ming Dynasty;

Military Traning (练兵实纪), by Qi Jiguang (戚继光 1528-1588) during the Ming Dynasty.

Ming Dynasty General Qi Jiguang

Of the 10, two were produced by Ming General Qi Jiguang.

There are a total of 14 volumes in Jixiao New Book, covering topics from military personnel selection, training, disciplines to the use of weapons, creation of battle formations, set up of camps and fighting techniques.

A Coastal Defence Formation from Jixiao’s New Book
A Land Battle Formation from Jixiao’s New Book

One of General Qi Jiguang’s great military achievements was to purge the Japanese pirates, who were often led by Chinese criminals, that ravaged China’s east coastal areas.

General Qi Jiguang’s Three Strategies

In the late 16th century, Tartars from the north kept raiding Chinese villages and towns.

Qi Jiguang presented 3 options for the solution.

The least desirable: To strengthen the defense capability of the northern border, which is a task that can be accomplished with 30,000 troops;

The second-best option: To confront the enemies and destroy them, which can be done with 50,000 troops;

The best option: To drive the war to the enemies’ own territory and beyond to resolve the problem once and for all, but it will need a strong force of 100,000 men.

Pity, the emperor and the cabinet at the time were not in the mood for escalating the war, largely due to the tight financial situation, so General Qi Jiguang only got 30,000 soldiers to build a dozen of military posts along the northern frontier.

The peace resumed, but it didn’t last very long. In the middle 17th, the entire China lost to Manchus and other Tartar tribes.

Now it’s a lesson from history: DRIVE THE WAR TO THE WARMONGERS’ OWN LAND no matter how far it might be.

Classic Chinese Wisdom on Three Strategies

To ride a trend is the best strategy;
To follow a trend is the second best option;
To create a trend is the least desirable action.

Edited on 6 March 2022


8 Apr 2022

One would think a trend setter would be a good thing to be.

All Things Chinese:

When you need to set a trend, it usually implies the conditions for the trend in question are not fully presented. That is why Daoism and Chinese chan Buddhism advocate a life attitude called “随缘” (take the ride of the trend).

25 thought on “A Ming Dynasty General’s Art of War”
  1. Hi Awen,

    Happy New Year of the rabbit. There is always a confusion between a lunar new year and a lunisolar new year. The Chinese lunar and solar calendar occurred during pre-Shang period. Which one came first, lunar or lunisolar calender? If the Chinese had created lunisolar calender, would they be aware of planetary motion or astronomy and what mathematical method would they use to solve the planetary motion?


    1. Happy Rabbit Year Gary.
      The archaeological digging in the late 1970s from a 9,000-year-old Jiahu Cultural site in Henan Province found Chinese began to survey the sky at least 11,000 years ago – evidenced by the discovery of Jiahu observatory ruin and the holed bone instruments utilized to measure the sun shadows and other heavenly bodies. Coupled with ancient Chinese mathematics, by the 4th century BC, Chinese astronomers were able to compile a star catalogue that reflects the positions and movements of the major heavenly bodies in our sky.

    2. Hi Gary,

      Regarding the mathematical method for calculating the planetary motion, the Chinese by the name Zeng Zi (or Chen Zi, 505 BC – 440 BC) who lived during the last Western Zhou Dynasty or the beginning of the Warring States discovered the method of linear interpolation to calculate the planetary motion of the moon, sun, and other planets. We do not know whether he got this idea from the Zhou-Bi Suan-Jing (Mathematics classics of Zhou-Gnomons). And I am not sure if this is correct; may be Awen could help elaborate more about the mathematical method.

      1. Thanks for your wonderful explanation.
        As far as I know, the only lunar calendar currently used is the Islamic calendar based on the relationship between the earth and the moon which was created 1445 years ago. However, it is believed ancient Egyptians compiled a lunar calendar 6000 years ago but later they abandoned it in favour of solar calendars.
        Today’s popular yet less practical Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar created by ancient Romans based on the Egyptian calendar.
        So I would say lunar calendars appeared earlier than solar calendars. For one thing, it’s much easier to observe the moon’s impact than the sun.
        Historically, China had over a hundred different calendars, but commonly consider Yellow Emperor’s Calendar (黄历) the earliest which is also known as the Chinese Calendar. It is based on yin-yang theory and the most direct and potent yin-yang forces in our world are the moon and the sun, therefore Chinese calendar is a lunar-solar combined calendar. The tools and references for the calendar include 10 celestial terms, 12 terrestrial branches, 5 major planets, 3 Celestial Enclosures (三垣) near the leading star Polaris and 28 constellations. The mathematics involves Chordal Graphs, Interpolation and Remainder Theorem, just to mention a few, employed to calculate, for example, the starting point of the calendar.
        The references to the lunisolar calendars are found on various excavated Oracle Bones.
        A box unearthed in the 1970s from a Warring States tomb has 28 constellations painted on the cover, and the positions of the constellations were found to have appeared in the sky in 3000 BC. This means the lunisolar calendar was formulated at least 5,000 years ago. In fact, Black Rabbit Year 2023 is Chinese year 4721.
        Sima Qian noted in Records of the Grand Historian (史记): During Yellow Emperor’s era, the movements of the stars and planets were measured, calendars were established, thus the order of Five Agents was discovered, the law of the yin-yang transformation was detected, and the discrepancies between the actual movements of the heavenly bodies and the calenders were fixed (神农以前尚矣。盖黄帝考定星历,建立五行,起消息,正闰馀).
        Since the Yellow Emperor, Chinese calendar faithfully reflects the sun’s movement with 24 seasonal turning points and marks the moon’s movement with months. It is a highly advanced calendar system as you can conveniently know the relationships between the Earth and both the sun and the moon on any given day.

        1. Hi Awen,
          Thanks for your informative details between lunar and lunisolar calendars. If lunisolar calendar started at least 5000 years ago, the lunar calendar must be much ealier! It is well-known that the Chinese had used gnomon to measure and predict the seasons before 4000 BC. Did the Chinese use algebraic techniques or geometry to calculate the movements of the planets at the time? It had been said or belived that the methods of false position or interpolation were used in China around at least 2700 BC and why some scholars disputed the date and suggested that the date shoud be around the Han dynasty between 200 BC and 200 AD? Did Chinese discover or invent these methods independently from the Egytians or the Babylonians or through transmission or parallel development? Was it a matter of record keeping before the invention of true paper in China during the Han dynasty?

          Regarding the 28 constellation or 28-xiu, the Chinese astronomers had already systematically inplemented the 7-19 intercalation procedure for almost a century before anyone else. The 7-19 intercalation is also known as a Metonic cycle attributed to a Greek mathmatician, who discovered this cycle about a century after a Chinese astronomer. You may be right that the jury will be out that 28-xiu may originate in China or at least a parallel or independent development.

          1. Evidently, they used both algebraic techniques and geometry to calculate the planet movements.
            The unearthed Oracle Bone scripts confirms Chinese began to use the decimal numeral system 4000 years ago at the latest.
            The Zhoubi Mathematics (周髀算经), a Chinese astronomical and mathematical work compiled during the Warring State, explained how to apply fractional operations and Pythagorean theorem in cosmology.
            According to Rites of Zhou (周礼), a Warring States book on Zhou Dynasty’s bureaucracy and organizational theory, Nine Figure (九数, that includes math, algebra and geometry ) was one of the six essential knowledges and skills that the elites of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC) must master, along with rites presentation, music, archery, riding and calligraphy.
            All these suggest that by 3000 years ago the subjects of algebraic and geometry had already developed to its maturity in China.

            1. One quick question about the combinatorial analysis. Was Pascal triangle or Yang Hui’ triangle attributed to the 11th century Chinese mathematician Jia Xian influenced by the Indian and Persian mathematicians since the Chinese themselves already knew the combinarial analysis back in 2000 BC during Yu the Great?

        2. Thanks for your informative response. If the Chinese knew the relationships between the earth, moon, and the sun, when were the Chinese aware of the earth that orbits the sun, during the Warring States or earlier? Thanks

          1. Historically there is no argument between Heliocentrism and Geocentrism in China, because the ancient Chinese believed neither the sun nor the earth is the centre of the cosmos. Both of them, including the moon and all other heavely bodies, are just part of the universe in constant movement along their own obits.
            However, viewing the sky from the earth, Polaris is the star that changes least in terms of its position to the earth, so the ancient Chinese built a model in which all celestial objects, including the sun the moon and the earth, are rotating around Polaris.
            Polariscentrism was most likely established 5,000 years ago, since 2,697 BC, the year of Yellow Emperor’s coronation, was the beginning of the Yellow Calendar. Using ten Heavenly Stems and twelve Earthly Branches to mark each year starting with Wood Rat, 60 years make a circle known as one Wood Rat Circle (一甲子). The 78th circles were completed in 1983 and the current circle will end in 2043, which will also be the final year of the big circle The Great Triple (大三元).

            1. Thanks for explaination. If the Chinese knew that the planets, moon, earth, and sun or other planets rotate around the polaris, why did the Chinese not recognize the spericity of the earth early since they also calculated that it took the jupiter 12 years to orbit the sun about 2000 BC?

              1. In fact, ancient Chinese also knew the earth is in a spherical shape. Zhang Heng of the East Han (206–220) built a water-power based sphere to visually illustrate earth’s position in the cosmos.
                According to his model, the cosmos is like an egg, with celestial layers wrapped around the Earth core.
                However, to ancient Chinese, viewing the earth as a spherical and rotating object is just one perspective to look at our world, and a quite superficial perspective.
                A square earth covered by a dome-shaped heaven (天圆地方) is a more common descripton, which reflects the fundamental nature between the two — Earth the space that is solid and stable while Heave the time that is diffusing and fluid. The interplay between the space and the time forms the universe.

                1. Hi Awen,

                  Thanks for your response. How ancient was it when the Chinese figured out the spherical earth, during the Western Zhou dynasty or the Warring States or earlier? There were some accounts that the debate about the spherical earth occurred in early Warring States or western Zhou dynasty and some claimed that they were aware of it from the lunar or solar eclipse many centuries BC.

                  1. The tangible evidence I can think of right now is Zhang Heng’s model. It is very likely he built his model based on cosmological theories developed centuries or even millenniums earlier.
                    Further, if ancient Chinese could make Paloris instead of the Earth as the reference point for a constantly moving cosmos, there is no reason not to suggest they would view the Earth the same as other celestial bodies.
                    Just like what you point out, by the time they realized the true reason behind the solar and lunar eclipses, it only makes sense to conclude that they must also have figured out the physical spherical shape of the Earth.

                    1. Thanks for your explantion of the planetary motion. If polaris is used as reference point where all planets revolve around it, most scientists seem to agree with this theory, and it dispute Copernicus’s theory of sun center. When did the Chinese know this, about 3000 BC ago or earlier?

                    2. To be precise, ancient Chinese did not think the cosmos revolve around Polaris. Based on their observation, they found the Big Dipper completes an annual circle by turning around the handle of the dipper (or say tail of the Great Bear as known in North America) from the east (spring), south (summer), west (autumn) to the north (winter), but the cup of the dipper is always facing the north star regardless how the dipper rotates in the sky. This is why Polaris is conveniently used as the reference point for the world above by the ancient Chinese.
                      Viewing Polaris as the reference point shall begin in China during the so-called Neolithic Period. From a 6,000-year-old burial site in Henan’s Xishuipo (西水坡), Chinese archaeologists discovered an image of Big Dipper made with mollusc shells and human bones.
                      Chinese researchers also find various references on Polaris and Big Dipper in Shang Dynasty’s Oracle Bone Scripts, which can be dated back 4,000 years.
                      Since 2,500 years ago, Polaris and Big Dipper became part of popular Chinese culture. From the Warring States’ Zenhouyi Tomb (曾侯乙墓), a lacquerware is found to have character 斗 (Big Dipper) and 28 major constellations painted on it. Polaris and Big Digger were rather common themes in tomb brick carvings and wall murals during the following Han Dynasties.

        3. Hi Awen,

          There is a debate that the Indian Nakshatra could be equivalent to the Chinese 28 constellations. Would it be true that these 28 constellations could originate in either civilizations? Or the Chinese astronomy was somewhat influenced by the Indian astronomy or there could be a two-way traffic.

          1. I doubt it would be the case. Ancient Chinese and the people living in the Indian subcontinent had very little contact with each other until the Tang Dynasty, otherwise, Alexander the Great might have wars with First Emperor Qin.
            Before the Tang, the Chinese did have some communication with the Middle East but it was via Afghanistan. Chinese and Indian cultures may look a bit similar on the surface but deep down they are a world apart.

              1. I do think so. It has close relationships with I Ching, Eight Trigrams, as well as an “inward” (as opposed to tech-focused “outward”) and holographic (as opposed to divisive “categorization”) approach to oneself and to the entire universe.
                The modern (based on the Western) sky map is a mirror image of the cosmos viewed from the Earth, while the classic Chinese cosmic profile is the shadow of the celestial realm projected from above. How it was achieved? Simple, their consciousness went above and looked down. It is why without knowing how to work directly with consciousness, there is no way one can truly understand classic Chinese culture.

  2. DRIVE THE WAR TO THE WARMONGERS’ OWN LAND should probably be the course for Ukraine if they could only get the true backing they need.

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