The Art of War (Sun)/Section V

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

V. 埶篇

  1. 孫子曰凡治衆如治寡分數是也
  2. 鬥衆如鬥寡形名是也

V. Energy.

here is said to be an older form of ; Sun Tzŭ, however, would seem to have used the former in the sense of “circumstances.” The fuller title 兵勢 is found in the T‘u Shu and the modern text. Wang Hsi expands it into 積勢之變 “the application, in various ways, of accumulated power;” and Chang Yü says: 兵勢以成然後任勢以取勝 “When the soldiers’ energy has reached its height, it may be used to secure victory.”

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The control of a large force is the same in principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.

That is, cutting up the army into regiments, companies, etc., with subordinate officers in command of each. Tu Mu reminds us of Han Hsin’s famous reply to the first Han Emperor, who once said to him: “How large an army do you think I could lead?” “Not more than 100,000 men, your Majesty.” “And you?” asked the Emperor. “Oh!” he answered, “the more the better” (多多益辦耳). Chang Yü gives the following curious table of the subdivisions of an army: —­ 5 men make a ; 2 make a ; 5 make a ; 2 make a ; 2 make a ; 2 make a ; 2 make a ; 2 make a ; 2 make a . A or army corps thus works out at 3200 men. But cf. III. § 1, note. For , see I. § 10. It is possible that in that paragraph may also be used in the above technical sense.

2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.One must be careful to avoid translating 鬥衆 “fighting against a large number,” no reference to the enemy being intended. is explained by Ts‘ao Kung as denoting flags and banners, by means of which every soldier may recognise his own particular regiment or company, and thus confusion may be prevented. he explains as drums and gongs, which from the earliest times were used to sound the advance and the retreat respectively. Tu Mu defines as 陳形 “marshalling the troops in order,” and takes as the flags and banners. Wang Hsi also dissents from Ts‘ao Kung, referring to the ordering of the troops by means of banners, drums and gongs, and to the various names by which the regiments might be distinguished. There is much to be said for this view.

  1. 三軍之衆可使必受敵而無敗者奇正是也

3. To ensure that your whole host may withstand the brunt of the enemy's attack and remain unshaken — this is effected by manœuvres direct and indirect.

For , there is another reading , “all together,” adopted by Wang Hsi and Chang Yü. We now come to one of the most interesting parts of Sun Tzŭ’s treatise, the discussion of the and the . As it is by no means easy to grasp the full significance of these two terms, or to render them at all consistently by good English equivalents, it may be as well to tabulate some of the commentator’s remarks on the subject before proceeding further. Li Ch‘üan: 當敵爲正傍出爲奇 “Facing the enemy is chêng, making lateral diversions is ch‘i.” Chia Lin: 當敵以正陳取勝以奇兵 “In presence of the enemy, your troops should be arrayed in normal fashion, but in order to secure victory abnormal manœuvres must be employed.” Mei Yao-ch‘ên: 動爲奇靜爲正靜以待之動以勝之Ch‘i is active, chêng is passive; passivity means waiting for an opportunity, activity brings the victory itself.” Ho Shih: 我之正使敵視之爲奇我之奇使敵視之爲正正亦爲奇奇亦爲正 “We must cause the enemy to regard our straightforward attack as one that is secretly designed, and vice versâ; thus chêng may also be ch‘i, and ch‘i may also be chêng.” He instances the famous exploit of Han Hsin, who when marching ostensibly against 臨晉 Lin-chin (now 朝邑 Chao-i in Shensi), suddenly threw a large force across the Yellow River in wooden tubs, utterly disconcerting his opponent. [Ch‘ien Han Shu, ch. 34.] Here, we are told, the march on Lin-chin was , and the surprise manœuvre was . Chang Yü gives the following summary of opinions on the words: “Military writersdo not all agree with regard to the meaning of ch‘i and chêng. 尉繚子 Wei Liao Tzŭ [4th cent. B.C.] says: 正兵貴先奇兵貴後 ‘Direct warfare favours frontal attacks, indirect warfare attacks from the rear.’ Ts‘ao Kung says: ‘Going straight out to join battle is a direct operation; appearing on the enemy’s rear is an indirect manœuvre.’ 李衛公 Li Wei-kung [6th and 7th cent. A.D.] says: ‘In war, to march straight ahead is chêng; turning movements, on the other hand, are ch‘i.’ These writers simply regard chêng as chêng, and ch‘i as ch‘i; they do not note that the two are mutually interchangeable and run into each other like the two sides of a circle [see infra, § 11]. A comment of the T‘ang Emperor T‘ai Tsung goes to the root of the matter: ‘A ch‘i manœuvre may be chêng, if we make the enemy look upon it as chêng; then our real attack will be ch‘i, and vice versâ. The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.’” To put it perhaps a little more clearly: any attack or other operation is , on which the enemy has had his attention fixed; whereas that is , which takes him by surprise or comes from an unexpected quarter. If the enemy perceives a movement which is meant to be , it immediately becomes .

  1. 兵之所加如以碬投卵者虛實是也
  2. 凡戰者以正合以奇勝
4. That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg — this is effected by the science of weak points and strong.

虛實, literally “the hollow and the solid,” is the title of chap. VI. tuan is the T‘u Shu reading, hsia that of the standard text. It appears from K‘ang Hsi that there has been much confusion between the two characters, and indeed, it is probable that one of them has really crept into the language as a mistake for the other.

5. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.

Chang Yü says: 徐發奇兵或擣其旁或擊其後 “Steadily develop indirect tactics, either by pounding the enemy’s flanks or falling on his rear.” A brilliant example of “indirect tactics” which decided the fortunes of a campaign was Lord Roberts’ night march round the Peiwar Kotal in the second Afghan war.[1]

  1. 故善出奇者無窮如天地不竭如江河終而復始日月是也死而復生四時是也
  2. 聲不過五五聲之變不可勝聽也
  3. 色不過五五色之變不可勝觀也
  4. 味不過五五味之變不可勝嘗也
6. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams;

is the universally accepted emendation for , the reading of the 北堂書鈔.

like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away but to return once more.

Tu Yu and Chang Yü understand this of the permutations of and . But at present Sun Tzŭ is not speaking of at all, unless, indeed, we suppose with 鄭友賢 Chêng Yu-hsien that a clause relating to it has fallen out of the text. Of course, as has already been pointed out, the two are so inextricably interwoven in all military operations, that they cannot really be considered apart. Here we simply have an expression, in figurative language, of the almost infinite resource of a great leader.

7. There are not more than five musical notes,


yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

8. There are not more than five primary colours,

靑黃赤白黑 blue, yellow, red, white and black.

yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen.

9. There are not more than five cardinal tastes,

酸辛醎甘苦 sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter.

yet combinations of them yield more flavours than can ever be tasted.

  1. 戰埶不過奇正奇正之變不可勝窮也
  2. 奇正相生如循環之無端孰能窮之
  3. 激水之疾至於漂石者埶也
  4. 鷙鳥之疾至於毀折者節也
10. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack — the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manœuvres.

11. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle — you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?

The T‘u Shu adds . The final may refer either to the circle or, more probably, to the 奇正之變 understood. Capt. Calthrop is wrong with: “They are a mystery that none can penetrate.”

12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course.

13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.

For the Yü Lan reads , which is also supported by a quotation in the 呂氏春秋 [3rd cent. B.C.]. in this context is a word which really defies the best efforts of the translator. Tu Mu says that it is equivalent to 節量遠近 “the measurement or estimation of distance.” But this meaning does not quite fit the illustrative simile in §15. As applied to the falcon, it seems to me to denote that instinct of self-restraint which keeps the bird from swooping on its quarry until the right moment, together with the power of judging when the right moment has arrived. The analogous quality in soldiers is the highly important one of being able to reserve their fire until the very instant at which it will be most effective. When the “Victory” went into action at Trafalgar at hardly more than drifting pace, she was for several minutes exposed to a storm of shot and shell before replying with a single gun. Nelson coolly waited until he was within close range, when the broadside he brought to bear worked fearful havoc on the enemy’s nearest ships. That was a case of .

  1. 是故善戰者其埶險其節短
  2. 埶如彍弩節如發機
  3. 紛紛紜紜鬥亂而不可亂也渾渾沌沌形圓而不可敗也
14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.

Tu Yu defines here by the word , which is very like “decision” in English. is certainly used in a very unusual sense, even if, as the commentators say, it = . This would have reference to the measurement of distance mentioned above, letting the enemy get near before striking. But I cannot help thinking that Sun Tzŭ meant to use the word in a figurative sense comparable to our own idiom “short and sharp.” Cf. Wang Hsi’s note, which after describing the falcon’s mode of attack, proceeds: 兵之乘機當如是耳 “This is just how the ‘psychological moment’ should be seized in war.” I do not care for Capt. Calthrop’s rendering: “The spirit of the good fighter is terrifying, his occasions sudden.”

15. Energy may be likened to the bending of a cross-bow; decision, to the releasing of the trigger.

“Energy” seems to be the best equivalent here for , because the comparison implies that the force is potential, being stored up in the bent cross-bow until released by the finger on the trigger. None of the commentators seem to grasp the real point of the simile.

16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.

形圓, literally “formation circular”, is explained by Li Ch‘üan as 無向背也 “without back or front.” Mei Yao-ch‘ên says: “The subdivisions of the army having been previously fixed, and the various signals agreed upon, the separating and joining, the dispersing and collecting which will take place in the course of a battle, may give the appearance of disorder when no real disorder is possible. Your formation may be without head or tail, your dispositions all topsy-turvy, and yet a rout of your forces quite out of the question.” It is a little difficult to decide whether 鬥亂 and 形圓 should not be taken as imperatives: “fight in disorder (for the purpose of deceiving the enemy), and you will be secure against real disorder.” Cf. I. § 20: 亂而取之.

  1. 亂生於治怯生於勇弱生於彊
  2. 治亂數也勇怯埶也彊弱形也
17. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

In order to make the translation intelligible, it is necessary to tone down the sharply paradoxical form of the original. Ts‘ao Kung throws out a hint of the meaniug in his brief note: 皆毁形匿情也 “These things all serve to destroy formation and conceal one’s condition.” But Tu Mu is the first to put it quite plainly: “If you wish to feign confusion in order to lure the enemy on, you must first have perfect discipline; if you wish to display timidity in order to entrap the enemy, you must have extreme courage; if you wish to parade your weakness in order to make the enemy over-confident, you must have exceeding strength.”

18. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of subdivision;

See supra, § 1.

concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy;

It is passing strange that the commentators should understand here as “circumstances” — a totally different sense from that which it has previously borne in this chapter. Thus Tu Mu says: 見有利之勢而不動敵人以我爲實怯也 “seeing that we are favourably circumstanced and yet make no move, the enemy will believe that we are really afraid.”

{{smaller|masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.<ref> Chang Yü relates the following anecdote of Kao Tsu, the first Han Emperor: “Wishing to crush the Hsiung-nu, he sent out spies to report on their condition. But the Hsiung-nu, forewarned, carefully concealed all their able-bodied men and well-fed horses, and only allowed infirm soldiers and emaciated cattle to be seen. The result was that the spies one and all recommended the Emperor to deliver his attack. 婁敬 Lou Ching alone opposed them, saying: “When two countries go to war, they are naturally inclined to make an ostentatious display of their strength. Yet our spies have seen nothing but old age and infirmity. This is surely some ruse on the part of the enemy, and it would be unwise for us to attack.” The Emperor, however, disregarding this advice, fell into the trap and found himself surrounded at 白登 Po-têng.”

  1. 故善動敵者形之敵必從之予之敵必取之
  2. 以利動之以卒待之
19. Thus one who is skilful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act.

Ts‘ao Kung’s note is 見羸形也 “Make a display of weakness and want,” but Tu Mu rightly points out that does not refer only to weakness: “If our force happens to be superior to the enemy’s, weakness may be simulated in order to lure him on; but if inferior, he must be led to believe that we are strong, in order that he may keep off. In fact, all the enemy’s movements should be determined by the signs that we choose to give him.” The following anecdote of 孫臏 Sun Pin, a descendant of Sun Wu, is related at length in the 史記, chap. 65: In 341 B.C., the Ch‘i State being at war with Wei, sent 田忌 T‘ien Chi and Sun Pin against the general 龐涓 P‘ang Chüan, who happened to be a deadly personal enemy of the latter. Sun Pin said: “The Ch‘i State has a reputation for cowardice, and therefore our adversary despises us. Let us turn this circumstance to account.” Accordingly, when the army had crossed the border into Wei territory, he gave orders to show 100,000 fires on the first night, 50,000 on the next, and the night after only 20,000. P‘ang Chüan pursued them hotly, saying to himself: “I knew these men of Ch‘i were cowards: their numbers have already fallen away by more than half.” In his retreat, Sun Pin came to a narrow defile, which he calculated that his pursuers would reach after dark. Here he had a tree stripped of its bark, and inscribed upon it the words: “Under this tree shall P‘ang Chüan die.” Then, as night began to fall, he placed a strong body of archers in ambush near by, with orders to shoot directly they saw a light. Later on, P‘ang Chüan arrived at the spot, and noticing the tree, struck a light in order to read what was written on it. His body was immediately riddled by a volley of arrows, and his whole army thrown into confusion. [The above is Tu Mu’s version of the story; the Shih Chi, less dramatically but probably with more historical truth, makes P‘ang Chüan cut his own throat with an exclamation of despair, after the rout of his army.]

He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.

here = .

20. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.

This would appear to be the meaning if we retain , which Mei Yao-ch‘ên explains as 精卒 “men of spirit.” The T‘u Shu reads ,an emendation suggested by 李靖 Li Ching. The meaning then would be “He lies in wait with the main body of his troops.”.

  1. 故善戰者求之於埶不責於人故能擇人而任埶
  2. 任埶者其戰人也如轉木石木石之性安則靜危則動方則止圓則行
  3. 故善戰人之埶如轉圓石於千仞之山者埶也
21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals.

Tu Mu says: “He first of all considers the power of his army in the bulk; afterwards he takes individual talent into account, and uses each man according to his capabilities. He does not demand perfection from the untalented.”

Hence his ability to pick out the right men and to utilise combined energy.

Another reading has instead of . It would be interesting if Capt. Calthrop could tell us where the following occurs in the Chinese: “yet, when an opening or advantage shows, he pushes it to its limits.”

22. When he utilises combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.

Ts‘ao Kung calls this 任自然勢 “the use of natural or inherent power.” Capt. Calthrop ignores the last part of the sentence entirely. In its stead he has: “So await the opportunity, and so act when the opportunity arrives” — another absolutely gratuitous interpolation. The T‘ung Tien omits .

23. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on the subject of energy.

The T‘ung Tien omits . The chief lesson of this chapter, in Tu Mu’s opinion, is the paramount importance in war of rapid evolutions and sudden rushes. “Great results,” he adds, “can thus be achieved with small forces.”

  1. “Forty-one Years in India,” chap. 46.