The Art of War (Sun)/Section III

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

III. 謀攻篇

  1. 孫子曰凡用兵之法全國爲上破國次之全軍爲上破軍次之全旅爲上破旅次之全卒爲上破卒次之全伍爲上破伍次之
  2. 是故百戰百勝非善之善者也不戰而屈人之兵善之善者也
  3. 故上兵伐謀其次伐交其次伐兵下政攻城

III. Attack by stratagem.

1. Sun Tzŭ said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

A “army corps,” according to Ssŭ-ma Fa, consisted nominally of 12500 men; according to Ts‘ao Kung, a contained 500 men, a any number between 100 and 500, and a any number between 5 and 100. For the last two, however, Chang Yü gives the exact figures of 100 and 5 respectively.

2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Here again, no modern strategist but will approve the words of the old Chinese general. Moltke’s greatest triumph, the capitulation of the huge French army at Sedan, was won practically without bloodshed.

3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy’s plans;I.e., as Li Ch‘üan says (伐其始謀也), in their very inception. Perhaps the word “baulk” falls short of expressing the full force of , which implies not an attitude of defence, whereby one might be content to foil the enemy’s stratagems one after another, but an active policy of counter-attack. Ho Shih puts this very clearly in his note: “When the enemy has made a plan of attack against us, we must anticipate him by delivering our own attack first.”

the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces;

Isolating him from his allies. We must not forget that Sun Tzŭ, in speaking of hostilities, always has in mind the numerous states or principalities into which the China of his day was split up.

the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field;

When he is already in full strength.

and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

The use of the word is somewhat unusual, which may account for the reading of the modern text: 其下攻城.

  1. 攻城之法爲不得已修櫓轒轀具器械三月而後成距闉又三月而後已
4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided.

Another sound piece of military theory. Had the Boers acted upon it in 1899, and refrained from dissipating their strength before Kimberley, Mafeking, or even Ladysmith, it is more than probable that they would have been masters of the situation before the British were ready seriously to oppose them.

The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months;

It is not quite clear what were. Ts‘ao Kung simply defines them as 大楯 “large shields,” but we get a better idea of them from Li Ch‘üan, who says they were to protect the heads of those who were assaulting the city walls at close quarters. This seems to suggest a sort of Roman testudo, ready made. Tu Mu says they were “what are now termed 彭排” (wheeled vehicles used in repelling attacks, according to K‘ang Hsi), but this is denied by Ch‘ên Hao. See supra, II. 14. The name is also applied to turrets on city walls. Of 轒轀 (fên yün) we get

a fairly clear description from several commentators. They were wooden missile-proof structures on four wheels, propelled from within, covered over with raw hides, and used in sieges to convey parties of men to and from the walls, for the purpose of filling up the encircling moat with earth. Tu Mu adds that they are now called 木驢 “wooden donkeys.” Capt. Calthrop wrongly translates the term, “battering-rams.” I follow Ts‘ao Kung in taking as a verb, co-ordinate and synonymous with . Those commentators who regard as an adjective equivalent to “long,” make presumably into a noun.

and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.

The 距闉 (or , in the modern text) were great mounds or ramparts of earth heaped up to the level of the enemy’s walls in order to discover the weak points in the defence, and also to destroy the 樓櫓 fortified turrets mentioned in the preceding note. Tu Yu quotes the Tso Chuan: 楚司馬子反乘堙而窺宋城也.

  1. 將不勝其忿而蟻附之殺士三分之一而城不拔者此攻之災
  2. 故善用兵者屈人之兵而非戰也拔人之城而非攻也毀人之國而非久也

5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants,

Capt. Calthrop unaccountably omits this vivid simile, which, as Ts‘ao Kung says, is taken from the spectacle of an army of ants climbing a wall. The meaning is that the general, losing patience at the long delay, may make a premature attempt to storm the place before his engines of war are ready.

with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.

We are reminded of the terrible losses of the Japanese before Port Arthur, in the most recent siege which history has to record. The T‘ung Tien reads 不勝心之忿...則殺士卒...攻城之災. For 其忿 the Yü Lan has 心怒. Capt. Calthrop does not translate 而城不拔者, and mistranslates 此攻之災.

6. Therefore the skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

Chia Lin notes that he only overthrows the , that is, the Government, but does no harm to individuals. The classical instance is Wu Wang, who after having put an end to the Yin dynasty was acclaimed “Father and mother of the people.”

  1. 必以全爭於天下故兵不頓而利可全此謀攻之法也
  2. 故用兵之法十則圍之五則攻之倍則分之
7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.

Owing to the double meanings of , [=] and , the latter part of the sentence is susceptible of quite a different meaning: “And thus, the weapon not being blunted by use, its keenness remains perfect.” Chang Yü says that is “the advantage of a prosperous kingdom and a strong army.”

This is the method of attacking by stratagem.

8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him;

Straightaway, without waiting for any further advantage.

if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

Note that does not refer to the enemy, as in the two preceding clauses. This sudden change of object is quite common in Chinese. Tu Mu takes exception to the saying; and at first sight, indeed, it appears to violate a fundamental principle of war. Ts‘ao Kung, however, gives a clue to Sun Tzŭ’s meaning: 以二敵一則一術爲正一術爲奇 “Being two to the enemy’s one, we may use one part of our army in the regular way, and the other for some special diversion.” [For explanation of and , see V. 3, note.] Chang Yü thus further elucidates the point: “If our force is twice as numerous as that of the enemy, it should be split up into two divisions, one to meet the enemy in front, and one to fall upon his rear; if he replies to the frontal attack, he may be crushed from behind; if to the rearward attack, he may be crushed in front. This is what is meant by saying that “one part may be used in the regular way, and the other for some special diversion.” Tu Mu does not understand that dividing one’s army is simply an irregular, just as concentrating it is the regular, strategical method, and he is too hasty in calling this a mistake.”

  1. 敵則能戰之少則能逃之不若則能避之
  2. 故小敵之堅大敵之擒也
  3. 夫將者國之輔也輔周則國必强輔𨻶則國必弱
  4. 故君之所以患於軍者三
9. If equally matched, we can offer battle;

Li Ch‘üan, followed by Ho Shih, gives the following paraphrase: 主客力敵惟善者戰 “If attackers and attacked are equally matched in strength, only the able general will fight.” He thus takes as though it were 能者, which is awkward.

if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy;

The T‘u Shu has instead of , which is hardly distinguishable in sense from in the next clause. The meaning, “we can watch the enemy,” is certainly a great improvement on the above; but unfortunately there appears to be no very good authority for the variant. Chang Yü reminds us that the saying only applies if the other factors are equal; a small difference in numbers is often more than counterbalanced by superior energy and discipline.

if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.

10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.

In other words: “C’est magnifique; mais ce n’est pas la guerre.”

11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State: if the bulwark is complete at all points, the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.

𨻶 cannot be restricted to anything so particular as in Capt. Calthrop’s translation, “divided in his allegiance.” It is simply keeping up the metaphor suggested by . As Li Ch‘üan tersely puts it: 𨻶缺也將才不備兵必弱Ch‘i, gap, indicates deficiency; if the general’s ability is not perfect (i.e. if he is not thoroughly versed in his profession), his army will lack strength.”

12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army: —

  1. 不知軍之不可以進而謂之進不知軍之不可以退而謂之退是謂縻軍
  2. 不知三軍之事而同三軍之政者則軍士惑矣

13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.

Ts‘ao Kung weakly defines as “control,” “direct.” Cf. § 17 ad fin. But in reality it is one of those graphic metaphors which from time to time illuminate Sun Tzŭ’s work, and is rightly explained by Li Ch‘üan as=. He adds the comment: 如絆驥足無馳驟也. “It is like tying together the legs of a thoroughbred, so that it is unable to gallop.” One would naturally think of “the ruler” in this passage as being at home, and trying to direct the movements of his army from a distance. But the commentators understand just the reverse, and quote the saying of T‘ai Kung: 國不可以從外治軍不可以從中御 “A kingdom should not be governed from without, an army should not be directed from within.” Of course it is true that, during an engagement, or when in close touch with the enemy, the general should not be in the thick of his own troops, but a little distance apart. Otherwise, he will be liable to misjudge the position as a whole, and give wrong orders.

14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds.

Ts‘ao Kung’s note is: 軍容不入國國容不入軍禮不可以治兵也, which may be freely translated: “The military sphere and the civil sphere are wholly distinct; you can’t handle an army in kid gloves.” And Chang Yü says: “Humanity and justice (仁義) are the principles on which to govern a state, but not an army; opportunism and flexibility (權變), on the other hand, are military rather than civic virtues.” 同三軍之政, “to assimilate the governing of an army” — to that of a State, understood. The T‘ung Tien has inserted before , here and in § 15.

  1. 不知三軍之權而同三軍之任則軍士疑矣
  2. 三軍既惑且疑則諸侯之難至矣是謂亂軍引勝
  3. 故知勝有五知可以戰與不可以戰者勝識衆寡之用者勝上下同欲者勝以虞待不虞者勝將能而君不御者勝此五者知勝之道也

15. (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination,

That is, he is not careful to use the right man in the right place.

through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

I follow Mei Yao-ch‘ên here. The other commentators make 不知 etc. refer, not to the ruler, as in §§ 13, 14, but to the officers he employs. Thus Tu Yu says: 將若不知權變不可付以勢位 “If a general is ignorant of the principle of adaptability, he must not be entrusted with a position of authority.” Tu Mu quotes 黃石公: “The skilful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid man has no fear of death.” The T‘ung Tien reads 軍覆疑, which Tu Yu explains as 覆敗 “is utterly defeated.” Capt. Calthrop gives a very inaccurate rendering: “Ignorant of the situation of the army, to interfere in its dispositions.”

16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.

Most of the commentators take in the sense of , which it seems to bear also in the Li Chi, 玉藻, I. 18. [ is there given as its equivalent, but Legge tries notwithstanding to retain the more usual sense, translating “draw... back,” which is hardly defensible.] Tu Mu and Wang Hsi, however, think 引勝 means “leading up to the enemy’s victory.”

17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

Chang Yü says: “If he can fight, he advances and takes the offensive; if he cannot fight, he retreats and remains on the defensive. He will invariably conquer who knows whether it is right to take the offensive or the defensive.”

(2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

This is not merely the general’s ability to estimate numbers correctly, as Li Ch‘üan and others make out. Chang Yü expounds the saying more satisfactorily: “By applying the art of war, it is possible with a lesser force to defeat a greater, and vice versâ. The secret lies in an eye for locality, and in not letting the right moment slip. Thus Wu Tzŭ says: ‘With a superior force, make for easy ground; with an inferior one, make for difficult ground.’”

(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.

Ts‘ao Kung refers 上下 less well to sovereign and subjects.

(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.

(5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Tu Yu quotes 王子 as saying: 指授在君決戰在將也 “It is the sovereign’s function to give broad instructions, but to decide on battle is the function of the general.” It is needless to dilate on the military disasters which have been caused by undue interference with operations in the field on the part of the home government. Napoleon undoubtedly owed much of his extraordinary success to the fact that he was not hampered by any central authority, — that he was, in fact, and in one.

Victory lies in the knowledge of these five points.

Literally, “These five things are knowledge of the principle of victory.”

  1. 故曰知彼知己百戰不殆不知彼而知己一勝一負不知彼不知己每戰必殆
18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundredbattles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

Li Ch‘üan cites the case of 苻堅 Fu Chien, prince of Ch‘in, who in 383 A.D. marched with a vast army against the Chin Emperor. When warned not to despise an enemy who could command the services of such men as 謝安 Hsieh An and 桓沖 Huan Ch‘ung, he boastfully replied: “I have the population of eight provinces at my back, infantry and horsemen to the number of one million; why, they could dam up the Yangtsze River itself by merely throwing their whips into the stream. What danger have I to fear?” Nevertheless, his forces were soon after disastrously routed at the Fei River, and he was obliged to beat a hasty retreat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The modern text, represented by the 北堂書鈔 and T‘u Shu, has 必敗, which I should be inclined to adopt in preference to here, though the T‘ung Tien and Yü Lan both have the latter. Chang Yü offers the best commentary on 知彼知己. He says that these words “have reference to attack and defence: knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive.” He adds: 攻是守之機守是攻之策 “Attack is the secret of defence; defence is the planning of an attack.” It would be hard to find a better epitome of the root-principle of war.