Sun Tzu's Art of War - Chinese Literature answers questions

The Art of War

May 2016 - Around 300 BC, during the Warring States period, a Chinese general called Sun Tzu wrote a book about the best ways to win wars, called The Art of War. Sun Tzu's main point was that in a war (or in business or politics) there is always one side competing against another side. If you just make a plan for your side and stick to your plan, you will lose, because your plan will be messed up by the other side's plan. Also, the environment could change - there might be a storm, or a flood. Instead, you have to use a more general strategy, so you can respond to different situations quickly as they come up.

There are thirteen chapters in the Art of War. The first chapter warns you to always consider all the variables before making your plan - the weather, Taoist principles, the land, what kind of leaders you have, and so on. The second chapter advises you to consider how much your plan will cost - to win, you have to keep your costs down, both in money and in men. In the third chapter, Sun Tzu tells you that the winning side is not the side with the most people, but the side that works together best.

In the fourth chapter, you learn to defend the land you already hold, and to find natural opportunities to get more, rather than trying to force things to happen (this is again a Taoist idea). The fifth chapter emphasizes the importance of good timing. Chapter 6 explains that you'll find natural opportunities by looking for your enemy's weaknesses, and so on. Finally, in the last chapter, Sun Tzu discussed the importance of spies and other sources of information - you have to know what is going on in order to win.

Some famous quotes from the Art of War:

If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a thousand battles without a single loss.
Winning one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skillful.
All warfare is based on lies and tricks.

Learn by doing: terracotta army
More Chinese Literature - Zen Koans

Bibliography and further reading about Sun Tzu's Art of War:

More Chinese literature
Ancient China

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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