The Art of War (Sun)/Section I

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

I. 計篇.

  1. 孫子曰兵者國之大事
  2. 死生之地存亡之道不可不察也
  3. 故經之以五校之以計而索其情

I. Laying Plans.

This is the only possible meaning of , which M. Amiot and Capt. Calthrop wrongly translate “Fondements de l’art militaire” and “First principles” respectively. Ts‘ao Kung says it refers to the deliberations in the temple selected by the general for his temporary use, or as we should say, in his tent. See § 26.

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.

2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

The old text of the T‘ung Tien has 故經之以五校之計, etc. Later editors have inserted after , and before . The former correction is perhaps superfluous, but the latter seems necessary in order to make sense, and is supported by the accepted reading in § 12, where the same words recur. I am inclined to think, however, that the whole sentence from to is an interpolation and has no business here at all. If it be retained, Wang Hsi must be right in saying that denotes the “seven considerations” in § 13. are the circumstances or conditions likely to bring about victory or defeat. The antecedent of the first is 兵者; of the second, . contains the idea of “comparison with the enemy,” which cannot well be brought out here, but will appear in § 12. Altogether, difficult though it is, the passage is not so hopelessly corrupt as to justify Capt. Calthrop in burking it entirely.

  1. 一曰道二曰天三曰地四曰將五曰法
  2. 道者令民與上同意也
  3. 故可與之死可與之生而民不畏危
  4. 天者陰陽寒暑時制也
  5. 地者遠近險易廣狹死生也
4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

It appears from what follows that Sun Tzŭ means by a principle of harmony, not unlike the Tao of Lao Tzŭ in its moral aspect. One might be tempted to render it by “morale,” were it not considered as an attribute of the ruler in § 13.

5, 6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

The original text omits 令民, inserts an after each , and omits after . Capt. Calthrop translates: “If the ruling authority be upright, the people are united”—a very pretty sentiment, but wholly out of place in what purports to be a translation of Sun Tzŭ.

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

The commentators, I think, make an unnecessary mystery of 陰陽. Thus Mêng Shih defines the words as 剛柔盈縮 “the hard and the soft, waxing and waning,” which does not help us much. Wang Hsi, however, may be right in saying that what is meant is 總天道 “the general economy of Heaven,” including the five elements, the four seasons, wind and clouds, and other phenomena.

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

死生 (omitted by Capt. Calthrop) may have been included here because the safety of an army depends largely on its quickness to turn these geographical features to account.

  1. 將者智信仁勇嚴也
  2. 法者曲制官道主用也
  3. 凡此五者將莫不聞知之者勝不知者不勝
  4. 故校之以計而索其情

9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.

The five cardinal virtues of the Chinese are (1) humanity or benevolence; (2) uprightness of mind; (3) self-respect, self-control, or “proper feeling;” (4) wisdom; (5) sincerity or good faith. Here and are put before , and the two military virtues of “courage” and “strictness” substituted for and .

10. By Method and discipline are to be understood the marshalling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the gradations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

The Chinese of this sentence is so concise as to be practically unintelligible without commentary. I have followed the interpretation of Ts‘ao Kung, who joins 曲制 and again 主用. Others take each of the six predicates separately. has the somewhat uncommon sense of “cohort” or division of an army. Capt. Calthrop translates: “Partition and ordering of troops,” which only covers 曲制.

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:—

The Yü Lan has an interpolated before . It is obvious, however, that the 五者 just enumerated cannot be described as . Capt. Calthrop, forced to give some rendering of the words which he had omitted in § 3, shows himself decidedly hazy: “Further, with regard to these and the following seven matters, the condition of the enemy must be compared with our own.” He does not appear to see that the seven queries or considerations which follow arise directly out of the Five heads, instead of being supplementary to them.

  1. 曰主孰有道將孰有能天地孰得法令孰行兵衆孰强士卒孰練賞罰孰明
  2. 吾以此知勝負矣

13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

I. e., “is in harmony with his subjects.” Cf. § 5.

(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?

(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?

See §§ 7, 8.

(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

Tu Mu alludes to the remarkable story of Ts‘ao Ts‘ao (A.D. 155–220), who was such a strict disciplinarian that once, in accordance with his own severe regulations against injury to standing crops, he condemned himself to death for having allowed his horse to shy into a field of corn! However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice by cutting off his hair. Ts‘ao Ts‘ao’s own comment on the present passage is characteristically curt: 設而不犯犯而必誅 “when you lay down a law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed, the offender must be put to death.”

(5) Which army is the stronger?

Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch‘ên puts it, 內和外附, which might be freely rendered “esprit de corps and ‘big battalions.’”

(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

Tu Yu quotes 王子 as saying: “Without constant practice, the officers will be nervous and undecided when mustering for battle; without constant practice, the general will be wavering and irresolute when the crisis is at hand.”

(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

, literally “clear;” that is, on which side is there the most absolute certainty that merit will be properly rewarded and misdeeds summarily punished?

14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

  1. 將聽吾計用之必勝留之將不聽吾計用之必敗去之
  2. 計利以聽乃為之勢以佐其外
  3. 勢者因利而制權也

15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: — let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat: — let such a one be dismissed!

The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzŭ’s treatise was composed expressly for the benefit of his patron 闔閭 Ho Lü, king of the Wu State. It is not necessary, however, to understand before 留之 (as some commentators do), or to take as “generals under my command.”

16. While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.

Capt. Calthrop blunders amazingly over this sentence: “Wherefore, with regard to the foregoing, considering that with us lies the advantage, and the generals agreeing, we create a situation which promises victory.” Mere logic should have kept him from penning such frothy balderdash.

17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one’s plans.

Sun Tzŭ, a practical soldier, will have none of the “bookish theoric.” He cautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract principles; “for,” as Chang Yü puts it, “while the main laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to secure a favourable position in actual warfare.” On the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, commanding the cavalry, went to the Duke of Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations were for the morrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find himself Commander-in-chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment. The Duke listened quietly and then said: “Who will attack the first to-morrow — I or Bonaparte?” “Bonaparte,” replied Lord Uxbridge. “Well,” continued the Duke, “Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects; and as my plans will depend upon his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are?”[1]

  1. 兵者詭道也
  2. 故能而示之不能用而示之不用近而示之遠遠而示之近
  3. 利而誘之亂而取之
  4. 實而備之强而避之
  5. 怒而撓之卑而驕之

18. All warfare is based on deception.

The truth of this pithy and profound saying will be admitted by every soldier. Col. Henderson tells us that Wellington, great in so many military qualities, was especially distinguished by “the extraordinary skill with which he concealed his movements and deceived both friend and foe.”

19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

, as often in Sun Tzŭ, is used in the sense of . It is rather remarkable that all the commentators, with the exception of Chang Yü, refer to the enemy: “when he is in disorder, crush him.” It is more natural to suppose that Sun Tzŭ is still illustrating the uses of deception in war.

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.

The meaning of is made clear from chap. VI, where it is opposed to “weak or vulnerable spots.” , according to Tu Yu and other commentators, has reference to the keenness of the men as well as to numerical superiority. Capt. Calthrop evolves an extraordinarily far-fetched translation: “If there are defects, give an appearance of perfection, and awe the enemy. Pretend to be strong, and so cause the enemy to avoid you”!

22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

I follow Chang Yü in my interpretation of . is expanded by Mei Yao-ch‘ên into 示以卑弱. Wang Tzŭ, quoted by Tu Yu,

  1. 佚而勞之親而離之
  2. 攻其無備出其不意
  3. 此兵家之勝不可先傳也
  4. 夫未戰而廟算勝者得算多也未戰而廟算不勝者得算少也多算勝少算不勝而況於無算乎吾以此觀之勝負見矣

says that the good tactician plays with his adversary as a cat plays with a mouse, first feigning weakness and immobility, and then suddenly pouncing upon him.

23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.

This is probably the meaning, though Mei Yao-ch‘ên has the note: 以我之佚待彼之勞 “while we are taking our ease, wait for the enemy to tire himself out.” The Yü Lan has 引而勞之 “Lure him on and tire him out.” This would seem also to have been Ts‘ao Kung’s text, judging by his comment 以利勞之.

If his forces are united, separate them.

Less plausible is the interpretation favoured by most of the commentators: “If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them.”

24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

This seems to be the way in which Ts‘ao Kung understood the passage, and is perhaps the best sense to be got out of the text as it stands. Most of the commentators give the following explanation: “It is impossible to lay down rules for warfare before you come into touch with the enemy.” This would be very plausible if it did not ignore , which unmistakably refers to the maxims which Sun Tzŭ has been laying down. It is possible, of course, that may be a later interpolation, in which case the sentence would practically mean: “Success in warfare cannot be taught.” As an alternative, however, I would venture to suggest that a second may have fallen out after , so that we get: “These maxims for succeeding in war are the first that ought to be imparted.”

26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.

Chang Yü tells us that in ancient times it was customary for a temple to be set apart for the use of a general who was about to take the field, in order that he might there elaborate his plan of campaign. Capt. Calthrop misunderstands it as “the shrine of the ancestors,” and gives a loose and inaccurate rendering of the whole passage.

The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.