- Sun Tzu
Statue of Sun Tzu in Yurihama, Tottori, Japan
Born c. 544 BC (traditional) Died c. 496 BC (traditional) Occupation Military commander Ethnicity Chinese Subjects Military strategy Notable work(s) The Art of War
Sun Wu (simplified Chinese: 孙武; traditional Chinese: 孫武; pinyin: Sūn Wǔ), style name Changqing (長卿), better known as Sun Tzu or Sunzi (simplified Chinese: 孙子; traditional Chinese: 孫子; pinyin: Sūnzǐ; pronounced [swə́n tsɨ̀]), was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who is traditionally believed, and who is most likely, to have authored The Art of War, an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy. Sun Tzu has had a significant impact on Chinese and Asian history and culture, both as an author of The Art of War and through legend. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Sun Tzu's The Art of War grew in popularity and saw practical use in Western society, and his work has continued to influence both Asian and Western culture and politics.
Historians have questioned whether or not Sun Tzu was an authentic historical figure. Traditional accounts place him in the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722–481 BC) as a military general serving under King Helü of Wu, who lived c. 544—496 BC. Modern scholars accepting his historicity place the completion of The Art of War in the Warring States Period (476–221 BC), based on the descriptions of warfare in the text, and on the similarity of text's prose to other works completed in the early Warring States period.
Traditional accounts state that his descendant, Sun Bin, also wrote a treatise on military tactics, titled Sun Bin's Art of War. Both Sun Wu and Sun Bin were referred to as Sun Tzu in classical Chinese writings, and some historians believed that Sun Wu was in fact Sun Bin until Sun Bin's own treatise was discovered in 1972.
The oldest available sources disagree as to where Sun Tzu was born. The Spring and Autumn Annals states that Sun Tzu was born in Qi, while the later Shiji states that Sun Tzu was a native of Wu. Both sources agree that Sun Tzu was born in the late Spring and Autumn Period of China (722–481 BC), and that he was active as a general and strategist, serving the king of Wu, King Helü, in the late sixth century BC, beginning around 512 BC. Sun Tzu's victories then inspired him to write The Art of War. The Art of War was one of the most widely read military treatises in the subsequent Warring States Period (475–221 BC), a time of constant war among seven nations (Zhao, Qi, Qin, Chu, Han, Wei and Yan) who fought to control the vast expanse of fertile territory in Eastern China.
One of the more well-known stories about Sun Tzu, taken from the Shiji, illustrates Sun Tzu's temperament as follows: Before hiring Sun Tzu, the King of Wu tested Sun Tzu's skills by commanding him to train a harem of 180 concubines into soldiers. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, appointing the two concubines most favored by the king as the company commanders. When Sun Tzu first ordered the concubines to face right, they giggled. In response, Sun Tzu said that the general, in this case himself, was responsible for ensuring that soldiers understood the commands given to them. Then, he reiterated the command, and again the concubines giggled. Sun Tzu then ordered the execution of the king's two favored concubines, to the king's protests. He explained that if the general's soldiers understood their commands but did not obey, it was the fault of the officers. Sun Tzu also said that once a general was appointed, it was their duty to carry out their mission, even if the king protested. After both concubines were killed, new officers were chosen to replace them. Afterwards, both companies performed their maneuvers flawlessly.
The Shiji claims that Sun Tzu later proved on the battlefield that his theories were effective (for example, in the Battle of Boju), that he had a successful military career, and that he wrote The Art of War based on his tested expertise. His descendant, Sun Bin, also became a famous scholar of the military arts.
The Art of War
The Art of War (simplified Chinese: 孙子兵法; traditional Chinese: 孫子兵法; pinyin: Sūnzǐ Bīng Fǎ) is attributed to Sun Tzu. It presents a philosophy of war for managing conflicts and winning battles. Some modern scholars believe that, contrary to popular belief, it contains not only the writings of the original author, but also commentary and clarifications from later military philosophers, such as Li Quan and Du Mu. It is accepted as a masterpiece on strategy and frequently cited and referred to by generals and theorists since it was first published, translated, and distributed internationally. There are numerous theories concerning when the text was completed, and concerning the identity of the author or authors, but archeological recoveries have proven that the Art of War had roughly achieved its current form by at least the early Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Because it is impossible to prove definitively when the Art of War was completed before this date, the differing theories concerning the work's author(s) and date of completion are unlikely to ever be completely resolved.
Of the military texts written before the unification of China in the 2nd century BC, six major works survived, including The Art of War. During the Song Dynasty in the late 1st millennium AD, these six works were combined with a Tang Dynasty text into a collection called the Seven Military Classics. As a central part of that compilation, The Art of War formed the foundations of orthodox military theory in China. Illustrating this point, the book was required reading to pass the tests needed for imperial appointment to military positions.
According to Simpkins & Simpkins, Sun Tzu's Art of War uses language that may be unusual in a Western text on warfare and strategy. For example, the 11th chapter states that a leader must be "serene and inscrutable" and capable of comprehending "unfathomable plans". They state that the text contains many similar remarks that have long confused Western readers lacking an awareness of the East Asian context. The meaning of such statements are clearer when interpreted in the context of Taoist thought and practice. Sun Tzu viewed the ideal general as an enlightened Taoist master, which has led to The Art of War being considered a prime example of Taoist strategy. The Art of War is distinguished from similar Western works, such as Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz's On War, by this spiritual dimension. Awareness of the Taoist viewpoint in The Art of War is essential to understanding its intended meaning.
The book is not only popular among military theorists, but has also become increasingly popular among political leaders and those in business management. Despite its title, The Art of War addresses strategy in a broad fashion, touching upon public administration and planning. The text outlines theories of battle but also advocates diplomacy and cultivating relationships with other nations as essential to the health of a state. The Art of War is listed on the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program (formerly known as the Commandant's Reading List). It is recommended reading for all United States Military Intelligence personnel and is required reading for all CIA officers.
In 1972, scholars uncovered a collection of ancient texts written on unusually well-preserved bamboo slips. Among them were the Art of War and Sun Bin's Military Methods. Although Han Dynasty bibliographies noted the latter publication as extant and written by a descendant of Sun, it had since been lost. The finding of Sun Bin's work is considered to be extremely important, both because of Sun Bin's relationship to Sun Tzu, and because of the work's addition to the body of military thought in late Chinese antiquity. The discovery as a whole significantly expanded the body of surviving Warring States military theory. Sun Bin's treatise is the only known military text surviving from the Warring States period discovered in the twentieth century, and bears the closest similarity to the Art of War of all surviving texts.
Scholars have expressed doubt in Sun Tzu's historicity and the traditional dating of the Art of War. The skepticism is fueled by factors that include historical inaccuracies and anachronisms in the text, as well as the unlikelihood of the execution of the king's favorite concubines. Increasing skepticism, which sometimes cause scholars to completely deny the existence of a historical figure named Sun Wu (Sun Tzu), has led to acrimonious debate between skeptics and traditionalists, especially in China. Attribution of the Art of War's authorship varies among scholars, and have included people and movements including Sun; Chu scholar Wu Zixu; an unknown author; a school of thought in Qi or Wu; Sun Bin, and others.
Traditionalists attribute the authorship of The Art of War to the historical figure Sun Wu, who is chronicled in the Records of the Grand Historian and the Spring and Autumn Annals. He was reputedly active in the late 6th century BC, beginning c. 512 BC. The appearance of features from the Art of War in other historical texts is considered to be proof of his historicity and authorship. Certain strategic concepts, such as terrain classification, are attributed to Sun Tzu. Their use in other works, such as by the compilers of the Methods of the Sima, is considered proof of Sun Tzu's historical priority.
Scholars that identify issues with the traditionalist view point to anachronisms in the Art of War that include terms, technology, philosophical ideas, events, and military techniques. There is a disparity between the large scale wars and sophisticated techniques detailed in the text, and the more primitive small scale battles that predominated the 6th century BC. However, according to Ralph D. Sawyer, it is very likely Sun Tzu did actually exist and not only served as a general, but also wrote the core of the book that bears his name. The teachings were probably taught to the succeeding generations in the family or a small school of disciples, including Sun-Tzu's descendant, Sun Bin, and were revised and expanded upon.
Sun Tzu's Art of War has influenced many notable figures. Traditional histories recount that the first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang, considered the book invaluable in ending the Age of Warring States. The Art of War was introduced in Japan, c. AD 760, and the book quickly became popular among Japanese generals. The work also significantly influenced the unification of Japan. Mastery of its teachings was honored among the samurai, and its teachings were both exhorted and exemplified by influential daimyos and shoguns, such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Historians popularly recount how French emperor Napoleon studied Sun's military writings and used them to successfully wage war against the rest of Europe. The emperor's disregard for central principles such as attentiveness to temporal conditions is largely credited for his eventual defeat in Russia. Admiral of the Fleet Tōgō Heihachirō, who led Japan's forces to victory against Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, was an avid reader of The Art of War.
Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong partially credited his victory over Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang in 1949 to The Art of War. The work strongly influenced Mao's writings about guerrilla warfare, which further influenced communist insurgencies around the world.
General Vo Nguyen Giap, the military mastermind behind victories over French and American forces in Vietnam, was an avid student and practitioner of Sun Tzu's ideas. America's defeat here, more than any other event, brought Sun Tzu to the attention of American military leaders. Ho Chi Minh translated the work for his Vietnamese officers to study.
The Department of the Army in the United States, through its Command and General Staff College, has directed all units to maintain libraries within their respective headquarters for the continuing education of personnel in the art of war. The Art of War is mentioned as an example of works to be maintained at each individual unit, and staff duty officers are obliged to prepare short papers for presentation to other officers on their readings.
Sun Tzu's The Art of War is listed on the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program (formerly known as the Commandant's Reading List). During the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s, both General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and General Colin Powell practiced Sun Tzu's principles of deception, speed, and attacking the enemy's weakness.
Mark McNeilly writes in Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare that a modern interpretation of Sun and his importance throughout Chinese history is critical in understanding China's push to becoming a superpower in the 21st century. Modern Chinese scholars explicitly rely on historical strategic lessons and The Art of War in developing their theories, seeing a direct relationship between their modern struggles and those of China in Sun Tzu's time. There is a great perceived value in Sun Tzu's teachings and other traditional Chinese writers, which are used regularly in developing the strategies of the Chinese state and its leaders.
Sun Jian and his sons Sun Quan and Sun Ce, military leaders during the Three Kingdoms period, claimed to be descendants of Sun Tzu. Sun Quan would eventually go on to become the King of the kingdom Wu.
In 1996, a 13-episode TV series titled The Art of War – Legend of Sun Wu the Master of War (孫子兵法 – 孫武兵聖傳奇) was produced, starring Sun Yanjun as Sun Tzu.
In 2008, producer Zhang Jizhong adapted Sun Tzu's life story into a 40-episode historical drama TV series titled Bing Sheng (兵聖; also called The Ultimate Master of War: Sun Tzu), starring Zhu Yawen as Sun Tzu.
In 2007 the power metal band Sabaton made the album Art of War with many of Sun Tzu's rules in the songs.
- ^ "Zi" (子; "Tzu" in Wade-Giles transliteration) was used as a suffix for the family name of a respectable man in ancient Chinese culture. In this case, "Zi" is not the personal name. It is a rough equivalent to "Sir" and is commonly translated into English as "Master".
- ^ Sawyer 2007, pp. 421–422
- ^ Sawyer 2007, p. 151
- ^ Sawyer 2007, pp. 153
- ^ McNeilly 2001, pp. 3–4
- ^ a b Bradford 2000, pp. 134–135
- ^ a b McNeilly 2001, p. 5
- ^ Sawyer 2007, p. 423
- ^ Sawyer 2007, pp. 150
- ^ Sawyer 1994, pp. 13–14
- ^ Simpkins & Simpkins 1999, pp. 131–33
- ^ Hanzhang & Wilkinson 1998, pp. 16–18
- ^ Marine Corps Professional Reading Program
- ^ Sawyer 1994, p. 14
- ^ Sawyer 2005, pp. 34–35
- ^ Sawyer 1993, pp. 149–150
- ^ a b Sawyer, Ralph D. (2007), The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, New York: Basic Books, pp. 150–151, ISBN 0-465-00304-4
- ^ a b c McNeilly 2001, pp. 6–7
- ^ Tung 2001, p. 805
- ^ "Interview with Dr. William Duiker". Sonshi.com. http://sonshi.com/duiker.html. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
- ^ "Learning from Sun Tzu, Military Review, May–June 2003". Military Review. 2003. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBZ/is_3_83/ai_109268913/?tag=untagged.
- ^ Army, U. S. (no date (1985?)), Military History and Professional Development, U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute, 85-CSI-21 85 The Art of War is mentioned for each unit's acquisition on page 18, "Military History Libraries for Duty Personnel"
- ^ "Marine Corps Professional Reading Program". Official U.S. Marine Corps Web Site. http://www.marines.mil/news/messages/Pages/2005/MARINE%20CORPS%20PROFESSIONAL%20READING%20PROGRAM.aspx.
- ^ McNeilly 2001, p. 7
- ^ "The Art of War – Legend of Sun Wu". dangdang.com. http://product.dangdang.com/product.aspx?product_id=9340979. Retrieved February 5, 2011. (Chinese)
- ^ Bing Sheng on sina.com (Chinese)
- Bradford, Alfred S. (2000), With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World, Praeger Publishers, ISBN 0275952592 .
- Hanzhang, Tao; Wilkinson, Robert (1998), The Art of War, Wordsworth Editions, ISBN 9781853267796 .
- McNeilly, Mark R. (2001), Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195133404 .
- Sawyer, Ralph D. (1994), The Art of War, Westview Press, ISBN 081331951X .
- Sawyer, Ralph D. (2005), The Essential Art of War, Basic Books, ISBN 0465072046 .
- Sawyer, Ralph D. (2007), The Seven Military Classics of Ancient Classics, Basic Books, ISBN 0465003044 .
- Simpkins, Annellen; Simpkins, C. Alexander (1999), Taoism: A Guide to Living in the Balance, Tuttle Publishing, ISBN 9780804831734 .
- Tung, R.L. (2001), "Strategic Management Thought in East Asia", in Warner, Malcolm, Comparative Management:Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, 3, Routledge, ISBN 0415132630 .
- Quotations related to Sun Tzu at Wikiquote
- Works related to Sun Tzu at Wikisource
- Works by Sun Tzu at Project Gutenberg
- Sun Tzu's Art of War at Sonshi
- Sun Tzu and Information Warfare at the Institute for National Strategic Studies of National Defense University
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