The Art of War (Sun)/Section X

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Translated from the Chinese by Lionel Giles, M.A. (1910)

X. 地形篇

  1. 孫子曰地形有通者有挂者有支者有隘者有險者有遠者

X. Terrain

Only about a third of the chapter, comprising §§ 1–13, deals with 地形, the subject being more fully treated in ch. XI. The “six calamities” are discussed in §§ 14–20, and the rest of the chapter is again a mere string of desultory remarks, though not less interesting, perhaps, on that account.

1. Sun Tzŭ said: We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit: (1) Accessible ground;

Mei Yao-ch‘ên says: 道路交達 “plentifully provided with roads and means of communication.”

(2) entangling ground;

The same commentator says: 網羅之地往必掛綴 “Net-like country, venturing into which you become entangled.”

(3) temporising ground;

Tu Yu explains as . This meaning is still retained in modern phrases such as 支托, 支演 “stave off,” “delay.” I do not know why Capt. Calthrop calls 支地 “suspended ground,” unless he is confusing it with 挂地.

(4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights;

The root idea in is narrowness; in , steepness.

(6) positions at a great distance from the enemy.

It is hardly necessary to point out the faultiness of this classification. A strange lack of logical perception is shown in the Chinaman’s unquestioning acceptance of glaring cross-divisions such as the above.

  1. 我可以往彼可以來曰通
  2. 通形者先居高陽利糧道以戰則利
2. Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is called accessible.

Generally speaking, 平陸 “level country” is meant. Cf. IX. § 9: 處易.

3. With regard to ground of this nature,

The T‘ung Tien reads 居通地.

be before the enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots,

See IX. § 2. The T‘ung Tien reads 先據其地.

and carefully guard your line of supplies.

A curious use of 利 as a verb, if our text is right. The general meaning is doubtless, as Tu Yu says, 無使敵絶己糧道 “not to allow the enemy to cut your communications.” Tu Mu, who was not a soldier and can hardly have had any practical experience of fighting, goes more into detail and speaks of protecting the line of communications by a wall (), or enclosing it by embankments on each side (作甬道)! In view of Napoleon’s dictum, “the secret of war lies in the communications,”[1] we could wish that Sun Tzŭ had done more than skirt the edge of this important subject here and in I. § 10, VII. § 11. Col. Henderson says: “The line of supply may be said to be as vital to the existence of an army as the heart to the life of a human being. Just as the duellist who finds his adversary’s point menacing him with certain death, and his own guard astray, is compelled to conform to his adversary’s movements, and to content himself with warding off his thrusts, so the commander whose communications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false position, and he will be fortunate if he has not to change all his plans, to split up his force into more or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferior numbers on ground which he has not had time to prepare, and where defeat will not be an ordinary failure, but will entail the ruin or the surrender of his whole army.”[2]

Then you will be able to fight with advantage.

Omitted by Capt. Calthrop.

  1. 可以往難以返曰挂
  2. 挂形者敵無備出而勝之敵若有備出而不勝難以返不利
  3. 我出而不利彼出而不利曰支
  4. 支形者敵雖利我我無出也引而去令敵半出而擊之利
4. Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called entangling.

Capt. Calthrop is wrong in translating “retreat from it.”

5. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue.

不利 (an example of litotes) is paraphrased by Mei Yao-ch‘ên as 必受制 “you will receive a check.”

6. When the position is such that neither side will gain by making the first move, it is called temporising ground.

俱不便久相持也 “Each side finds it inconvenient to move, and the situation remains at a deadlock” (Tu Yu).

7. In a position of this sort, even though the enemy should offer us an attractive bait,

Tu Yu says 佯背我去 “turning their backs on us and pretending to flee.” But this is only one of the lures which might induce us to quit our position. Here again is used as a verb, but this time in a different sense: “to hold out an advantage to.”

it will be advisable not to stir forth, but rather to retreat, thus enticing the enemy in his turn; then, when part of his army has come out, we may deliver our attack with advantage.

Mei Yao-ch‘ên paraphrases the passage in a curious jingle, the scheme of rhymes being abcbdd: 各居所險, 先出必敗, 利而誘我, 我不可愛, 僞去引敵, 半出而擊.

  1. 隘形者我先居之必盈之以待敵
  2. 若敵先居之盈而勿從不盈而從之
  3. 險形者我先居之必居高陽以待敵
8. With regard to narrow passes, if you can occupy them first,

Capt. Calthrop says: “Defiles, make haste to occupy.” But this is a conditional clause, answering to 若敵先居之 in the next paragraph.

let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy.

Because then, as Tu Yu observes, 皆制在我然後出奇以制敵 “the initiative will lie with us, and by making sudden and unexpected attacks we shall have the enemy at our mercy.” The commentators make a great pother about the precise meaning of which to the foreign reader seems to present no difficulty whatever.

9. Should the enemy forestall you in occupying a pass, do not go after him if the pass is fully garrisoned, but only if it is weakly garrisoned.

10. With regard to precipitous heights, if you are beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up.

Ts‘ao Kung says: 地形險隘尤不可致於人 “The particular advantage of securing heights and defiles is that your actions cannot then be dictated by the enemy.” [For the enunciation of the grand principle alluded to, see VI. § 2]. Chang Yü tells the following anecdote of 裴行儉 P‘ei Hsing-chien (A.D. 619–682), who was sent on a punitive expedition against the Turkic tribes. “At nightfall he pitched his camp as usual, and it had already been completely fortified by wall and ditch, when suddenly he gave orders that the army should shift its quarters to a hill near by. This was highly displeasing to his officers, who protested loudly against the extra fatigue which it would entail on the men. P‘ei Hsing-chien, however, paid no heed to their remonstrances and had the camp moved as quickly as possible. The same night, a terrific storm came on, which flooded their former place of encampment to the depth of over twelve feet. The recalcitrant officers were amazed at the sight, and owned that they had been in the wrong. ‘How did you know what was going to happen?’ they asked. P‘ei Hsing-chien replied: ‘From this time forward be content to obey orders without asking unnecessary questions.’ [See Chiu T‘ang Shu, ch. 84, fol. 12 ro., and Hsin T‘ang Shu, ch. 108, fol. 5 vo.] From this it may be seen,” Chang Yü continues, “that high and sunny places are advantageous not only for fighting, but also because they are immune from disastrous floods.”

  1. 若敵先居之引而去之勿從也
  2. 遠形者勢均難以挑戰戰而不利
  3. 凡此六者地之道也將之至任不可不察也
11. If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away.

The turning-point of 李世民 Li Shih-min’s campaign in 621 A.D. against the two rebels, 竇建德 Tou Chien-tê, King of Hsia, and 王世充 Wang Shih-ch‘ung, Prince of Chêng, was his seizure of the heights of 武牢 Wu-lao, in spite of which Tou Chien-tê persisted in his attempt to relieve his ally in Lo-yang, was defeated and taken prisoner. [See Chiu T‘ang Shu, ch. 2, fol. 5 vo and also ch. 54.]

12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength of the two armies is equal,

The T‘ung Tien reads 夫通形均勢.

it is not easy to provoke a battle,

Ts‘ao Kung says that 挑戰 means 延敵 “challenging the enemy.” But the enemy being far away, that plainly involves, as Tu Yu says, 迎敵 “going to meet him.” The point of course is, that we must not think of undertaking a long and wearisome march, at the end of which 是我困敵銳 “we should, be exhausted and our adversary fresh and keen.”

and fighting will be to your disadvantage.

13. These six are the principles connected with Earth.

Or perhaps, “the principles relating to ground.” See, however, I. § 8.

The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful to study them.

Capt. Calthrop omits 至任. Out of the foregoing six 地形, it will be noticed that nos. 3 and 6 have really no reference to the configuration of the country, and that only 4 and 5 can be said to convey any definite geographical idea.

  1. 故兵有走者有弛者有陷者有崩者有亂者有北者凡此六者非天之災將之過也
  2. 夫勢均以一擊十曰走
  3. 卒强吏弱曰弛吏强卒弱曰陷
14. Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not arising from natural causes,

The T‘u Shu reads 天地之災.

but from faults for which the general is responsible. These are: (1) Flight; (2) insubordination; (3) collapse; (4) ruin; (5) disorganization; (6) rout.

I take exception to Capt. Calthrop’s rendering of and as “distress” and “disorganisation,” respectively.

15. Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against another ten times its size, the result will be the flight of the former.

Cf. III. § 10. The general’s fault here is that of 不料力 “not calculating the enemy’s strength.” It is obvious that cannot have the same force as in § 12, where it was equivalent to 兵力. I should not be inclined, however, to limit it, with Chang Yü, to 將之智勇兵之利銳 “the wisdom and valour of the general and the sharpness of the weapons.” As Li Ch‘üan very justly remarks, 若得形便之地用奇伏之計則可矣 “Given a decided advantage in position, or the help of some stratagem such as a flank attack or an ambuscade, it would be quite possible [to fight in the ratio of one to ten].”

16. When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination.

“laxity” — the metaphor being taken from an unstrung bow. Capt. Calthrop’s “relaxation” is not good, on account of its ambiguity. Tu Mu cites the unhappy case of 田布 T‘ien Pu [Hsin T‘ang Shu, ch. 148], who was sent to Wei in 821 A.D. with orders to lead an army against 王廷湊 Wang T‘ing-ts‘ou. But the whole time he was in command, his soldiers treated him with the utmost contempt, and openly flouted his authority by riding about the camp on donkeys, several thousands at a time. T‘ien Pu was powerless to put a stop to this conduct, and when, after some months had passed, he made an attempt to engage the enemy, his troops turned tail and dispersed in every direction. After that, the unfortunate man committed suicide by cutting his throat.

When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse.

Ts‘ao Kung says: 吏强欲進卒弱輒陷 “The officers are energetic and want to press on, the common soldiers are feeble and suddenly collapse.” Note that is to be taken literally of physical weakness, whereas in the former clause it is figurative. Li Ch‘üan makes equivalent to , and Tu Mu explains it as 陷沒於死地 “stumbling into a death-trap.”

  1. 大吏怒而不服遇敵懟而自戰將不知其能曰崩
17. When the higher officers

大吏, according to Ts‘ao Kung, are the 小將 “generals of inferior rank.” But Li Ch‘üan, Ch‘ên Hao and Wang Hsi take the term as simply convertible with or 大將.

are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or no he is in a position to fight, the result is ruin.

Ts‘ao Kung makes 大將, understood, the subject of , which seems rather far-fetched. Wang Hsi’s note is: 謂將怒不以理且不知禆佐之才激致其兇難如山之崩壞也 “This means, the general is angry without just cause, and at the same time does not appreciate the ability of his subordinate officers; thus he arouses fierce resentment and brings an avalanche of ruin upon his head.” He takes , therefore, in the sense of ; but I think that Ch‘ên Hao is right in his paraphrase 不顧能否 “they don’t care if it be possible or no.” My interpretation of the whole passage is that of Mei Yao-ch‘ên and Chang Yü. Tu Mu gives a long extract from the Tso Chuan, 宣公, XII. 3, showing how the great battle of Pi [597 B.C.] was lost for the Chin State through the contumacy of 先縠 Hsien Hu and the resentful spite of 魏錡 Wei I and 趙旃 Chao Chan. Chang Yü also alludes to the mutinous conduct of 欒黶 Luan Yen [ibid. 襄公, XIV. 3].

  1. 將弱不嚴教道不明吏卒無常陳兵縱橫曰亂
  2. 將不能料敵以少合衆以弱擊强兵無選鋒曰北
18. When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct;

Wei Liao Tzŭ (ch. 4) says: 上無疑令、則衆不二聽、動無疑事、則衆不二志 “If the commander gives his orders with decision, the soldiers will not wait to hear them twice; if his moves are made without vacillation, the soldiers will not be in two minds about doing their duty.” General Baden-Powell says, italicising the words: “The secret of getting successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell — in the clearness of the instructions they receive.”[3] Assuming that clear instructions beget confidence, this is very much what Wei Liao Tzŭ (loc. cit.) goes on to say: 未有不信其心而能得其力者也. Cf. also Wu Tzŭ ch. 3: 用兵之害猶豫最大三軍之災生於狐疑 “the most fatal defect in a military leader is diffidence; the worst calamities that befall an army arise from hesitation.”

when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men,

吏卒皆不拘常度 “Neither officers nor men have any regular routine” [Tu Mu].

and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganisation.

19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be a rout.

Chang Yü paraphrases the latter part of the sentence 不選驍勇之士使爲先鋒兵必敗北也, and continues: 凡戰必用精銳爲前鋒者一則壯吾志一則挫敵威也 “Whenever there is fighting to be done, the keenest spirits should be

appointed to serve in the front ranks, both in order to strengthen the resolution of our own men and to demoralise the enemy.” Cf. the primi ordines of Caesar (“De Bello Gallico,” V. 28, 44 et al.). There seems little to distinguish from in § 15, except that is a more forcible word.

  1. 凡此六者敗之道也將之至任不可不察也
  2. 夫地形者兵之助也料敵制勝計險阨遠近上將之道也
20. These are six ways of courting defeat,

Ch‘ên Hao makes them out to be: (1) 不量寡衆 “neglect to estimate the enemy’s strength;” (2) 本乏刑德 “want of authority;” (3) 失於訓練 “defective training;” (4) 非理興怒 “unjustifiable anger;” (5) 法令不行 “non-observance of discipline;” (6) 不擇驍果 “failure to use picked men.”

which must be carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible post.

See supra, § 13.

21. The natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally;

Chia Lin’s text has the reading for . Ch‘ên Hao says: 天時不如地利 “The advantages of weather and season are not equal to those connected with ground.”

but a power of estimating the adversary,

The insertion of a “but” is necessary to show the connection of thought here. A general should always utilise, but never rely wholly on natural advantages of terrain.

of controlling the forces of victory,

制勝 is one of those condensed expressions which mean so much in Chinese, and so little in an English translation. What it seems to imply is complete mastery of the situation from the beginning.

and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances,

The T‘ung Tien and Yü Lan read 計極險易利害遠近. I am decidedly puzzled by Capt. Calthrop’s translation: “an eye for steepness, command and distances.” Where did he find the word which I have put in italics? constitutes the test of a great general.

A somewhat free translation of . As Chang Yü remarks, these are 兵之本 “the essentials of soldiering,” ground being only a helpful accessory.

  1. 知此而用戰者必勝不知此而用戰者必敗
  2. 故戰道必勝主曰無戰必戰可也戰道不勝主曰必戰無戰可也
22. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practises them, will surely be defeated.

23. If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding.

Cf. VIII. § 3 fin. Huang Shih-kung of the Ch‘in dynasty, who is said to have been the patron of 張良 Chang Liang and to have written the 三略, has these words attributed to him: 出軍行師將在自專進退內御則功難成故聖主明王跪而推轂 “The responsibility of setting an army in motion must devolve on the general alone; if advance and retreat are controlled from the Palace, brilliant results will hardly be achieved. Hence the god-like ruler and the enlightened monarch are content to play a humble part in furthering their country’s cause [lit., kneel down to push the chariot wheel].” This means that 閫外之事將軍裁之 “in matters lying outside the zenana, the decision of the military commander must be absolute.” Chang Yü also quotes the saying: 軍中不聞天子之詔 “Decrees of the Son of Heaven do not penetrate the walls of a camp.” Napoleon, who has been accused of allowing his generals too little independence of action, speaks in the same sense: “Un général en chef n’est pas à couvert de ses fautes à la guerre par un ordre de son souverain ou du ministre, quand celui qui le donne est éloigné du champ d’opération, et qu’il connaît mal, ou ne connaît pas du tout le dernier état des choses.”[4]

  1. 故進不求名退不避罪唯民是保而利合於主國之寳也
  2. 視卒如嬰兒故可與之赴深谿視卒如愛子故可與之俱死
24. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace,

It was Wellington, I think, who said that the hardest thing of all for a soldier is to retreat.

whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign,

, which is omitted by the T‘u Shu, is said by Ch‘ên Hao to be equivalent to . If it had to be separately translated, it would be something like our word “accrue.”

is the jewel of the kingdom.

A noble presentment, in few words, of the Chinese “happy warrior.” Such a man, says Ho Shih, 罪及其身不悔也 “even if he had to suffer punishment, would not regret his conduct.”

25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

Cf. I. § 6. In this connection, Tu Mu draws for us an engaging picture of the famous general Wu Ch‘i, from whose treatise on war I have frequently had occasion to quote: “He wore the same clothes and ate the same food as the meanest of his soldiers, refused to have either a horse to ride or a mat to sleep on, carried his own surplus rations wrapped in a parcel, and shared every hardship with his men. One of his soldiers was suffering from an abscess, and Wu Ch‘i himself sucked out the virus. The soldier’s mother, hearing this, began wailing and lamenting. Somebody asked her, saying: ‘Why do you cry? Your son is only a common soldier, and yet the commander-in-chief himself has sucked the poison from his sore.’ The woman replied: ‘Many years ago, Lord Wu performed a similar service for my husband, who never left him afterwards, and finally met his death at the hands of the enemy. And now that he has done the same for my son, he too will fall fighting I know not where’.” Li Ch‘üan mentions 楚子 the Viscount of Ch‘u, who invaded the small state of Hsiao during the winter. 申公 The Duke of Shên said to him: “Many of the soldiers are suffering severely from the cold.” So he made a round of the whole army, comforting and encouraging the men; and straight-way they felt as if they were clothed in garments lined with floss silk. [Tso Chuan, 宣公, XII. 5]. Chang Yü alludes to the same passage, saying: 温言一撫士同挾纊.

  1. 厚而不能使愛而不能令亂而不能治譬如驕子不可用也
  2. 知吾卒之可以擊而不知敵之不可擊勝之半也
26. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder:

Capt. Calthrop has got these three clauses quite wrong. The last he translates: “overindulgence may produce disorder.”

then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.

Cf. IX. § 42. We read in the 陰符經, pt. 2: 害生于思 “Injury comes out of kindness.” Li Ching once said that if you could make your soldiers afraid of you, they would not be afraid of the enemy. Tu Mu recalls an instance of stern military discipline which occurred in 219 A.D., when 呂蒙 Lü Mêng was occupying the town of 江陵 Chiang-ling. He had given stringent orders to his army not to molest the inhabitants nor take anything from them by force. Nevertheless, a certain officer serving under his banner, who happened to be a fellow-townsman, ventured to appropriate a bamboo hat () belonging to one of the people, in order to wear it over his regulation helmet as a protection against the rain. Lü Mêng considered that the fact of his being also a native of 汝南 Ju-nan should not be allowed to palliate a clear breach of discipline, and accordingly he ordered his summary execution, the tears rolling down his face, however, as he did so. This act of severity filled the army with wholesome awe, and from that time forth even articles dropped in the highway were not picked up. [{San Kuo Chih}, ch. 54, f. 13 ro. & vo.].

27. If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.

That is, as Ts‘ao Kung says, “the issue in this case is uncertain.”

  1. 知敵之可擊而不知吾卒之不可以擊勝之半也
  2. 知敵之可擊知吾卒之可以擊而不知地形之不可以戰勝之半也
  3. 故知兵者動而不迷舉而不窮
  4. 故曰知彼知己勝乃不殆知地知天勝乃可全
28. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.

Cf. III. § 13 (1).

29. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory.

I may take this opportunity of pointing out the rather nice distinction in meaning between and . The latter is simply “to attack” without any further implication, whereas is a stronger word which in nine cases out of ten means “to attack with expectation of victory,” “to fall upon,” as we should say, or even “to crush.” On the other hand, is not quite synonymous with , which is mostly used of operations on a larger scale, as of one State making war on another, often with the added idea of invasion. , finally, has special reference to the subjugation of rebels. See Mencius, VII. 2. ii. 2.

30. Hence the experienced soldier, once in motion, is never bewildered; once he has broken camp, he is never at a loss.

The reason being, according to Tu Mu, that he has taken his measures so thoroughly as to ensure victory beforehand. “He does not move recklessly,” says Chang Yü, “so that when he does move, he makes no mistakes.” Another reading substitutes for and for . The latter variant only is adopted by the T‘ung Tien and Yü Lan. Note that here means “at the end of his mental resources."

31. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; Capt. Calthrop makes the saying end here, which cannot be justified.

if you know Heaven and know Earth,

and are transposed for the sake of the jingle between and . The original text, however, has 知天知地, and the correction has been made from the T‘ung Tien.

you may make your victory complete.

As opposed to 勝之半, above. The original text has 勝乃不窮, the corruption being perhaps due to the occurrence of 不窮 in the preceding sentence. Here, however 不窮 would not be synonymous with 不困, but equivalent to 不可以窮 “inexhaustible,” “beyond computation.” Cf. V. § 11. The T‘ung Tien has again supplied the true reading. Li Ch‘üan sums up as follows: 人事天時地利三者同知則百戰百勝 “Given a knowledge of three things—the affairs of man, the seasons of heaven and the natural advantages of earth—, victory will invariably crown your battles.”

  1. See “Pensées de Napoléon Ier,” no. 47.
  2. “The Science of War,” chap. 2.
  3. “Aids to Scouting,” p. xii.
  4. “Maximes de Guerre,” no. 72.