The Art of War

This article is about the Chinese military book. For the movie, see The Art of War (movie), and for the album, see The Art of War (album).

The Art of War (Template:Zh-cpl) was a Chinese military text written during the 6th century BC by Sun Tzu. Composed of 13 chapters, it has long been praised as the definitive work on military strategies and tactics prior to the collapse of imperial China. It is one of the most famous studies of strategy and has had a huge influence. Leaders as diverse as Mao Zedong and Giap have claimed to have drawn inspiration from the work. In many East Asian countries, it was part of the syllabus for potential candidates of military service examinations. Various translations are available and are used by some European military institutions, for instance, in Germany before World War I. The text of the art of war is very useful in war games ranging from board games like Risk to computer games like StarCraft.


Applicability outside the military

Some have suggested or implied that it is applicable to more than just military endeavors. Much of the text is about how to fight wars without actually having to do battle. It gives tips for how to out-smart your opponent so that physical battle is not necessary. In more recent times it has been used as a training guide to prepare one for "office politics" and corporate culture, and the books have most prominently appeared in the business sections of bookstores in the West. Some sports such as rugby have even reputedly used the book to develop strategy.

Some have also interpreted the Art of War in developing social strategies, such as developing relationships in social or working circles. It stresses subtlety and always making it appear like one is trying to achieve something away from the actual intention.


First translated two hundred years ago by a French missionary, The Art of War has been credited with influencing Napoleon, the German General Staff, and even the planning of Operation Desert Storm.

Verses from the book occur in modern daily Chinese idioms and phrases, such as the last verse of Chapter 3:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

This has been more tersely interpreted and condensed into the modern proverb:

知己知彼, 百戰百勝
If you know yourself as well as your enemy, you will come out of one hundred battles with one hundred victories.

It has also been more dovishly interpreted and condensed into the modern proverb:

One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skillful.

Many Japanese companies make this book required reading for their key executives. In recent times the book has gained widespread popularity among Western business management, who are turning to this book for inspiration and advice on how to succeed in competitive business situations. It has also crept its way into sport, with Australian cricket coach John Buchanan handing out excerpts from the book to his players before a match against England in 2001, along with the book allegedly being a favorite of University of South Carolina football head coach Steve Spurrier. At the same time this use has been criticized by many scholars of Chinese history for using The Art of War as a source of fortune cookie-like proverbs and not seeing the general coherence of the text.

Table Of Contents

  • I. Laying Plans
  • II. Waging War
  • III. Attack by Stratagem
  • IV. Tactical Dispositions
  • V. Energy
  • VI. Weak Points and Strong
  • VII. Maneuvering
  • VIII. Variation in Tactics
  • IX. The Army On The March
  • X. Terrain
  • XI. The Nine Situations
  • XII. The Attack By Fire
  • XIII. The Use of Spies

Depiction in media

The Art of War was recently made into a Chinese television series of the same name. The Art of War is mentioned in a first-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Last Outpost), as still being required reading at Starfleet Academy.

"The Art of War" also makes a few brief appearances in "Deus Ex: The Conspiracy", in which you are able to read a few chapters.

In "The Sopranos," Tony Soprano takes the advice of his therapist and reads The Art of War to aid him in managing his expanding empire of organized crime.


  • The Art of War - the Denma translation, Sun Tzu, Shambala Classics, 2001 ISBN 1570629048

Related topics

External links

Template:Wikisource Template:Wikiquotezh:孙子兵法 ja:孫子 (書物) de:Die Kunst des Krieges fr:L'Art_de_la_guerre bg:Изкуството на войната pt:A arte da guerra


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