Sun Tzu's Art of War - Chinese Literature
Welcome to Study Guides!

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

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more? is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 30 April, 2017