The Art of War
Sun Tzu
with additional material by the translator, Samuel B. Griffith

Samuel B. Griffith

These pages:

introduction and appendices

The Art of War, first part (here)
  second part




index pages:

Introduction and Appendices to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

by Samuel B. Griffith

Copyright © 1963, Oxford University Press

Introduction III
The Warring States

This dynamic age demanded practical solutions to the problems of politics and war, and hundreds of scholars who wandered from one state to another were eager to peddle ideas to rulers ‘anxious over the perilous condition of their countries and the weakness of their armies’. Sovereigns competed for the advice of battalions of professional talkers, who, in ‘interminable discussions’, captivated kings, dukes, and great men with arguments of ‘confusing diversity’. These itinerant Machiavellis were intellectual gamblers. When their advice turned out to be good they frequently attained high position; if poor, they were unceremoniously pickled, sawn in half, boiled, minced, or torn apart by chariots.

Sun Tzu on War

National unity was deemed by Sun Tzu to be an essential requirement of victorious war. This could be attained only under a government which was devoted to the people’s welfare and did not oppress them. [...]

By relating war to the immediate political context, that is to alliances or the lack of them, and to unity and stability on the home front and high morale in the army as contrasted with disunity in the enemy country and low morale in his army, Sun Tzu attempted to establish a realistic basis for a rational appraisal of relative power. His perception that mental, moral, physical, and circumstantial factors operate in war demonstrates a remarkable acuity. Few military writers, including those most esteemed in the West, have stated this proposition as clearly as did Sun Tzu some twenty-three hundred years ago. Although Sun Tzu may not have been the first to realize that armed force is the ultimate arbiter of inter-state conflicts, he was the first to put the physical clash in proper perspective.

Sun Tzu was aware of the economic implications of war. His references to inflated prices, rates of wastage, difficulties of supply, and the inevitable burdens laid upon the people show that he recognized the importance of these factors which until fairly recently have been frequently neglected.



Sun Tzu and Mao Tse-Tung
By committing poor units under inept commanders to his ‘suppression’ campaigns, the Generalissimo contributed to the steady increase in Red strength. In this policy there was more than meets the eye: Chiang’s idea was that the Reds and the non-Central troops would destroy each other. But the troops did not see the situation in precisely the same way. They surrendered to the Communists by battalions. Many of the captured officers and men immediately joined the Red Army. The weapons taken were numbered in tens of thousands.
Appendix I

A Note on Wu Ch’i

Note (Hal’s):
This appendix contains a translation of another ancient Chinese Art of War, by Wu Ch’i; I have placed quotes from that work on a separate page.

— end note

Appendix II

Sun Tzu’s Influence on Japanese Military Thought

After the death of his master Hideyoshi in 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu, as undisputed master of Japan, was able to indulge his interest in early Chinese literature. He was convinced that the road to learning was through books and that their publication was ‘the first principle of good government’. [...] This talented shogun, described as a man whose ‘militarism was diplomatic’ and whose ‘diplomacy was militaristic’, had learned by experience that the arts of war and those of peace were the two sides of the coin of statecraft.


Books (general)


Appendix III

Sun Tzu in Western Languages

None of the leading French sinologists has shown any interest in the martial classics of China. But had they devoted even a small fraction of the assiduous scholarship spent on other aspects of Chinese culture to investigation of this, it is possible that some of the military débâcles which the French army has suffered in the last two decades could have been avoided.

text rechecked (see note) Nov 2007

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The date of this Chinese classic is hotly debated. From internal evidence (references to crossbows, absence of references to cavalry, and dateable uses of words and figures of speech), this translator argues for an origin in the period 400-320 BCE.

The text is heavily interspersed with commentary from later writers. I have skipped most of it; omitted commentary is marked with a horizontal line like this:

I have retained two illustrative stories, by Tu Yu (735-812 CE) and Tu Mu (803-852 CE).

The Art of War
by Sun Tzu

translated by Samuel B. Griffith

Copyright © 1963, Oxford University Press



17. All warfare is based on deception.

18. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.

19. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near.

20. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him.

21. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him.

22. Anger his general and confuse him.

23. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.

24. Keep him under a strain and wear him down.

25. When he is united, divide him.

26. Attack where he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you.


Waging War

3. Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted.

4. When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice.

5. When your weapons are dulled and ardour damped, your strength exhausted and treasure spent, neighbouring rulers will take advantage of your distress to act. And even though you have wise counsellors, none will be able to lay good plans for the future.

6. Thus, while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.

7. For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.

8. Thus those unable to understand the dangers inherent in employing troops are equally unable to understand the advantageous ways of doing so.

9. Those adept in waging war do not require a second levy of conscripts nor more than one provisioning.





Offensive Strategy

Sun Tzu said:

1. Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this.

2. To capture the enemy’s army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a battalion, a company or a five-man squad is better than to destroy them.

3. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

4. Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy;

5. Next best is to disrupt his alliances:

6. The next best is to attack his army.

7. The worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative.

10. Thus, those skilled in war subdue the enemy’s army without battle. They capture his cities without assaulting them and overthrow his state without protracted operations.

Compare to:

Joshua 2:9

12. Consequently, the art of using troops is this: When ten to the enemy’s one, surround him;

13. When five times his strength, attack him;

14. If double his strength, divide him.

15. If equally matched you may engage him.

16. If weaker numerically, be capable of withdrawing;

17. And if in all respects unequal, be capable of eluding him, for a small force is but booty for one more powerful.



19. Now there are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:1

20. When ignorant that the army should not advance, to order an advance or ignorant that it should not retire, to order a retirement. This is described as ‘hobbling the army’.

21. When ignorant of military affairs, to participate in their administration. This causes the officers to be perplexed.

22. When ignorant of command problems to share in the exercise of responsibilities. This engenders doubts in the minds of the officers.

1 Here I have transposed the characters meaning ‘ruler’ and ‘army’, otherwise the verse would read that there are three ways in which an army can bring misfortune upon the sovereign.

Note (Hal’s):
Granting that Griffith’s transposition (verse 19 and footnote) gives a more straightforward reading, I still find the original rhetorically pleasing: the army fails the ruler when the ruler mismanages the army.

— end note

25. He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.

26. He who understands how to use both large and small forces will be victorious.

27. He whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious.

28. He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.

29. He whose generals are able and not interfered with by the sovereign will be victorious.

30. It is in these five matters that the way to victory is known.

31. Therefore I say: ‘Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

32. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.

33. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.’





Sun Tzu said:

1. Anciently the skilful warriors first made themselves invincible and awaited the enemy’s moment of vulnerability.

2. Invincibility depends on one’s self; the enemy’s vulnerability on him.

3. It follows that those skilled in war can make themselves invincible but cannot cause an enemy to be certainly vulnerable.

7. The experts in defence conceal themselves as under the ninefold earth; those skilled in attack move as from above the ninefold heavens. Thus they are capable both of protecting themselves and of gaining a complete victory.

16. Now the elements of the art of war are first, measurement of space; second, estimation of quantitites; third, calculations; fourth, comparisons; and fifth, chances of victory.

17. Measurements of space are derived from the ground.

18. Quantities derive from measurement, figures from quantities, comparisons from figures, and victory from comparisons.





11. In battle there are only the normal and extraordinary forces, but their combinations are limitless; none can comprehend them all.

12. For these two forces are mutually reproductive; their interaction as endless as that of interlocked rings. Who can determine where one ends and the other begins?



18. Apparent confusion is a product of good order; apparent cowardice, of courage; apparent weakness, of strength.


Weaknesses and Strengths

7. To be certain to take what you attack is to attack a place the enemy does not protect. To be certain to hold what you defend is to defend a place the enemy does not attack.

8. Therefore, against those skilled in attack, an enemy does not know where to defend; against the experts in defence, the enemy does not know where to attack.

9. Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is master of his enemy’s fate.

10. He whose advance is irresistible plunges into his enemy’s weak positions; he who in withdrawal cannot be pursued moves so swiftly that he cannot be overtaken.

12. When I wish to avoid battle I may defend myself simply by drawing a line on the ground; the enemy will be unable to attack me because I divert him from going where he wishes.

Tu Mu: Chu-ko Liang camped at Yang P’ing and ordered Wei Yen and various generals to combine forces and go down to the east. Chu-ko Liang left only ten thousand men to defend the city while he waited for reports. Ssŭ-ma I said: ‘Chu-ko Liang is in the city; his troops are few; he is not strong. His generals and officers have lost heart.’ At this time Chu-ko Liang’s spirits were high as usual. He ordered his troops to lay down their banners and silence their drums, and did not allow his men to go out. He opened the four gates and swept and sprinkled the streets.

Ssŭ-ma I suspected an ambush, and led his army in haste to the Northern Mountains.

14. The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle. For if he does not know where I intend to give battle he must prepare in a great many places. And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few.

15. For if he prepares to the front his rear will be weak, and if to the rear, his front will be fragile. If he prepares to the left, his right will be vulnerable and if to the right, there will be few on his left. And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere.

16. One who has few must prepare against the enemy; one who has many makes the enemy prepare against him.

19. Thus I say that victory can be created. For even if the enemy is numerous, I can prevent him from engaging.

20. Therefore, determine the enemy’s plans and you will know which strategy will be successful and which will not;

21. Agitate him and ascertain the pattern of his movement.

22. Determine his dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle.

23. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient.

24. The ultimate in disposing one’s troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you.

27. Now an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.

28. And as water shapes its flow in accordance with the ground, so an army manages its victory in accordance with the situation of the enemy.

29. And as water has no constant form, there are in war no constant conditions.

30. Thus, one able to gain the victory by modifying his tactics in accordance with the enemy situation may be said to be divine.

text checked (see note) Feb 2006

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