Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: War, Sun Tzu, Military, China, Information, Enemy, Kingdom, Knowledge

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/02/23

“The Art of War”

Life of Sun Tzu
The treatise “ The Art of War” by Sun Tzu belongs to the famous military leader and was revered in China as a major military text. The title of "canonical" means, among other things, that the book is intended for slow and in-depth studies, for memorization to the last word. It does not contain abstract ideas, but logical system of concepts, because does not reduce the fullness of life experience to abstract speculation. Sun Tzu teaches intuitive and integral knowledge, which gives the correct orientation in the global flow of events.
During the life of Sun Tzu became famous as the victorious commander of the southern kingdom of Wu, which lied in the lower reaches of the Yangtze river. However, if we assume, as was the custom in China, that the first virtue of a strategist is stealth , then Sun Wu has demonstrated extraordinary talent in this respect: in the historical documents of the time there is almost no evidence of Sun Tzu. Though, at least one episode in the life of Sun Tzu is preserved in the annals of the Wu kingdom, and his name was used to describe an ideal general.
The only biography of Sun Wu in ancient literature belongs to Sima Qian, author of the main work on the history of ancient China - "Historical Notes". This biography is extremely laconic. Sun Tzu was a northerner by birth - a native of the kingdom of Qi, that occupied the territory of the modern province of Shandong (Lau, 1965). Tradition says that he was a descendant of heir to the throne of the kingdom of Chen, who in 672 BC. was forced to leave home and got into position of overseer of public works in Qi kingdom. Great-grandson of the disgraced prince, Tian Shu, became famous in the war with the southern kingdom of Chu, the Qi longtime rival and has received from the emperor the name Sun. Sun Tzu was the grandson of Tian Shu, but his family, as often happened in ancient China, quickly lost its political weight. In any case, in his youth Sun Wu lived in seclusion away from the world, and people were not aware of his talents. Mature years of life Sun Wu were in the last decades of the 6th century BC, which means that it was almost the same age as the famous scholar Confucius.
Sun Tzu then moved to the Wu kingdom. By the time of his arrival Sun Tzu was already famous for his knowledge of military strategy. There he was hires by the prince of Wu kingdom to become the supreme commander of its military forces. Within a short period of Sun Wu was able to win a decisive victory over Chu troops and even seized the Chu capital. Later, he made a trip to the north and dealt a defeat armies and kingdoms of Qi Jin, earning a reputation as a military leader that has no equal in the whole world. There is no more information about his fate after this.

Main ideas of “The Art of War”

In contrast to European theorists of war, Sun Tzu never put his hopes on luck and found no pleasure romance of war. He felt his sincere disgust towards the idea of heroic death. His main idea was a strategy without risk, a strategy that relied on knowledge of the war and the efficiency of this knowledge. The understanding, in his opinion, is the first virtue of the commander and the best victory is the one, that you achieve by calculating and planing (Yates, 1988). Strategic knowledge is radically different from the theoretical knowledge that is widely understood as abstract knowledge, based on logical procedures and universal laws. Knowledge comes with the information relating to the military campaign. This information consists of the monitoring of the people and the world around, spy reports and all sorts of special information. At this stage, a major role is played by classification, that allows you to organize and evaluate the extracted information.
At the very beginning of his treatise, Sun Tzu offers a general scheme of classification categories, that determine military strategy: "The Way" (consensus among the people and the nobility), "Heaven" (right time to act), "Earth" (right place to act), "The Commander" (right leadership), "Law"(organization and discipline). These categories are usually placed in a hierarchical order where the concept of "The Way" was given the highest place (Yuen, 2008).
War is considered to be more than battles, it is diplomacy, mobilization, espionage, etc. The main goal of any war is to make sure that the people prosper and are loyal to the emperor. The ideal victory is submission of the other countries by diplomatic means, without military action. Therefore, it is necessary to conduct active diplomacy to destroy the enemy and break his alliances and strategy. Sun Tzu constantly stresses that military action is expensive, bringing losses to the state and the people. Therefore, the war should be quick, efficient and mobile.
It is important to control enemy actions to create the possibility of an easy victory. It is necessary to lure the enemy into a trap and avoid battles with trained enemy forces. It is necessary to collect information about the terrain and enemy actions, but conceal your own actions. Spies will be cheaper than the military, therefore a wise commander never spares money on espionage and bribery. Sun Tzu had repeatedly stressed the need for discipline in the armed forces to maintain the morale.

Relevance and legacy

In the Middle Ages military Sun Tzu was translated into Tangut and Manchu languages. He also became very popular in Korea and especially in Japan, where he was studies by a number of famous scientists and statesmen. Interestingly, the Sun Tzu became known in Europe as early as 1772, when a French translation of the treatise by Jesuit missionaries was made. This book was carefully studied by Napoleon. However, in the era of colonial conquest undeniable military superiority of the West did not contribute to the study of Chinese military doctrine by Europeans.
The ideas of Sun Tzu are relevant to this day. In the age of information technologies the new form of war without weapons, without explosions and deaths, without violence develops rapidly. We are talking about psychological and informational warfare. Sun Tzu emphasizes, that, “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 recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them” (Sunzi, 2003). The most profitable of all military strategies - manipulation of the enemy so as to achieve an easy victory over him without a fight. Further development of the art of war is invariably accompanied by the improvement of the forms of moral action against the enemy. By the 2nd century BC. appears the proclamation of the just or unjust character of the war. A desire to undermine the morale of the soldiers of the enemy, can be explained by the custom, when one of the warring parties accuses its opponent, and encourages its allies and like-minded people in the opposing camp to join the "fight for the right cause." This technique was widely used by the rulers of ancient China for a considerable period of time. Submitted before the beginning or at the very beginning of an armed conflict the prosecution served throughout the war as a reliable justification of legality of actions aimed at crushing the enemy. In China deception has long been considered to be one of the most reliable means for achieving a victory.
During the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese armed forces have successfully conducted psychological operations, knowing their opponents, their strengths and weaknesses using the opportunities to control the flow of information. CCP and PLA, in particular, tried to persuade the Kuomintang, that their enemies are stupid, cowardly, weak and will retreat at the first onslaught. In addition, special emphasis was placed on a complex combination of propaganda.
Based on publicly available information, it can be argued that nowadays in China the information operations are considered to be series of measures to influence the information and information systems and the enemy while protecting proprietary information. Particular emphasis is placed on the economic disruption of enemies, their systems of military communications, command and control. Chinese military analysts believe that today inability to resist foreign informational invasion is more dangerous than technological weakness. Advances in technology todayhas made it possible to actively influence all people - from ordinary citizens to heads of state. Falsification of photographic and film material, followed by a demonstration to an unprepared audience can seriously affect the population and the soldiers of the opposing side. Thus, we can say, that Sun Tzu was the first theorist that described and explained not only how to fight a war, but how organize espionage and diplomacy to defeat the enemy without a war.


Lau, D. (1965). Some notes on the Sun Tzu. Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental And African Studies,28(02), 319. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00075133
Sunzi,. (2003). The art of war. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.
Yates, R. (1988). New Light On Ancient Chinese Military Texts: Notes On Their Nature and Evolution, and the Development of Military Specialization in Warring States China. T'oung Pao, 74(4), 211-248. doi:10.1163/156853288x00022
Yuen, D. (2008). Deciphering Sun Tzu. Comparative Strategy, 27(2), 183-200. doi:10.1080/01495930801944727

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