The Art of War
A military treatise written, say traditionalists, in 512 BCE.
The treatise sets down principles and tactics of war so effective that they're still applied by the world today, not just to military matters but also to business, sports, and more.
IMAGE: Ancient Chinese warrior (terracotta discovery).
The primary aim, says Sun Tzu, is victory without fighting whenever it is avoidable or, short of that, victory as quickly as possible given other considerations (e.g., social values).
Sun Tzu. Also known as Sunzi, Sun Tzu (sounds like shwen-zuh) had the family name Sun, the title Tzu; the name in translation is "Master Sun." Most of the man's life (544 BCE-496 BCE) is elusive. He is generally identified as a nobleman, a military general, and the philosopher-writer of The Art of War, though its authorship, much like that of a Shakespeare masterpiece, remains in dispute. The two writers, both credited with staggering classics that remain vital today, share in common the astonishment of the later world at their stunning achievement. Sun Tzu is said to have lived at a fractious time in ancient China, a period of disintegrating central rule, whose broad history antedates a similar trajectory in the West (in ancient Rome): The overall historical progression in both cases was centralized monarchy, to independent state authority, to imperial rule. Sun Tzu's was the intermediate period. Some 150 states competed for survival and hegemony in China, leading to much civil strife and the emergence of a few state powers. One of these powers—the state of Chu (click map to enlarge)—threatened the survival of a smaller neighbor, Wu, whose king (Helü) got wind of the existence of General Sun Tzu and his war manual. Impressed by the treatise, the king hired Sun Tzu, whose strategies enabled Wu to defeat the mightier Chu in multiple battles and to withstand other aggressor-states as well for a time. This and what we can glean about him from the treatise itself (if we believe in his authorship, as many do), are as much as we know of Sun Tzu. He afterward disappears from history; his war manual does not.
The Art of War. Copies of the treatise, on sewn-bound bamboo slats, survived in China. They inspired major commentaries between 155 and 1278 BCE and figured in the collections of subsequent Chinese rulers too (such as the one who provided the copy shown here→). The treatise meanwhile spread through Asia, finding its way into Korea and Japan, whose oldest known copy dates to c. 760. Another thousand years passed before the work began to appear in Western languages. First came a French version (by Jesuit priest J. J. M. Amiot) in 1772; then, in 1905, a partial, English translation by the British military captain E. F. Calthrop. Taking issue with its incompleteness and errors, the British scholar Lionel Giles re-translated the work, publishing the first complete English edition in 1910. The treatise has since been newly translated into English from the original Chinese by Thomas Huynh and edited by The Sonshi Group, whose version Gleeditions has the honor of republishing here. The chapter summaries and footnotes on the pages that follow are newly generated by Gleeditions, with reference to two academically recommended print editions:
NOTE: Figurative language. The Art of War makes liberal use of ancient-world similes, metaphors, and other analogies; see the Appendix for a hyperlinked listing.
*CITATION INFORMATION (MLA format): Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Gleeditions, 20 Sept. 2071. Translated by Thomas Huynh. Originally published by Sonshi, 2008, www.sonshi.com/original-the-art-of-war-translation-not-giles.html.
ILLUSTRATIONS T to B: 1. Terracotta warrior, China, late 200s BCE (discovered 1974). Ana Paula Hirama, 2012. Flickr. 2. Map of ancient China. Flickr. © Hugo Lopez-Yug, 2011. 3. The Art of War, an edition from the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799). UC Riverside collection. vlasta2, 2007. Wikimedia Commons. All images CC BY-SA 3.0 .