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The Art of War ( ) is a Chinesemarker military treatise that was written by Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC, during the Spring and Autumn period. Composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare, it is said to be the definitive work on military strategies and tactics of its time, and still one of the basic texts.

The Art of War is one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy. It has had an influence on Eastern military thinking, business tactics, and beyond. Sun Tzu suggested the importance of positioning in strategy and that position is affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment. He thought that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through an established list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment, but in a changing environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations.

The book was translated into the French language in 1772 by French Jesuit Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and into English by British officer Everard Ferguson Calthrop in 1905. It likely influenced Napoleon, and leaders as diverse as Mao Zedong, General Vo Nguyen Giap, Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini, and General Douglas MacArthur have claimed to have drawn inspiration from the work. The Art of War has also been applied to business and managerial strategies.

The 13 chapters

The Art of War is divided into 13 chapters (or P'ien), and the collection is referred to as being one Ch'üan ("whole" or alternatively "chronicle"). As different translations have used differing titles for each chapter, a selection appears below.

Chapter Lionel Giles (1910) R.L. Wing (1988) Chow-Hou Wee (2003)
I Laying Plans The Calculations Detail Assessment and Planning

(Chinese: 始計,始计)
II Waging War The Challenge Waging War

(Chinese: 作戰,作战)
III Attack by Stratagem The Plan of Attack Strategic Attack

(Chinese: 謀攻,谋攻)
IV Tactical Dispositions Positioning Disposition of the Army

(Chinese: 軍形,军形)
V Energy Directing Forces

(Chinese: 兵勢,兵势)
VI Weak Points and Strong Illusion and Reality Weaknesses and Strengths

(Chinese: 虛實,虚实)
VII Maneuvering Engaging The Force Military Maneuvers

(Chinese: 軍爭,军争)
VIII Variation of Tactics The Nine Variations Variations and Adaptability

(Chinese: 九變,九变)
IX The Army on the March Moving The Force Movement and Development of Troops

(Chinese: 行軍,行军)
X Terrain Situational Positioning Terrain

(Chinese: 地形)
XI The Nine Situations The Nine Situations The Nine Battlegrounds

(Chinese: 九地)
XII The Attack by Fire The Fiery Attack Attacking with Fire

(Chinese: 火攻)
XIII The Use of Spies The Use of Intelligence Intelligence and Espionage

(Chinese: 用間,用间)

Chapter summary

  1. Laying Plans explores the five fundamental factors that define a successful outcome (the Way, seasons, terrain, leadership, and management). By thinking, assessing and comparing these points you can calculate a victory, deviation from them will ensure failure. Remember that war is a very grave matter of state.
  2. Waging War explains how to understand the economy of war and how success requires making the winning play, which in turn, requires limiting the cost of competition and conflict.
  3. Attack by Stratagem defines the source of strength as unity, not size, and the five ingredients that you need to succeed in any war.
  4. Tactical Dispositions explains the importance of defending existing positions until you can advance them and how you must recognize opportunities, not try to create them.
  5. Energy explains the use of creativity and timing in building your momentum.
  6. Weak Points & Strong explains how your opportunities come from the openings in the environment caused by the relative weakness of your enemy in a given area.
  7. Maneuvering explains the dangers of direct conflict and how to win those confrontations when they are forced upon you.
  8. Variation in Tactics focuses on the need for flexibility in your responses. It explains how to respond to shifting circumstances successfully.
  9. The Army on the March describes the different situations in which you find yourselves as you move into new enemy territories and how to respond to them. Much of it focuses on evaluating the intentions of others.
  10. Terrain looks at the three general areas of resistance (distance, dangers, and barriers) and the six types of ground positions that arise from them. Each of these six field positions offer certain advantages and disadvantages.
  11. The Nine Situations describe nine common situations (or stages) in a campaign, from scattering to deadly, and the specific focus you need to successfully navigate each of them.
  12. The Attack by Fire explains the use of weapons generally and the use of the environment as a weapon specifically. It examines the five targets for attack, the five types of environmental attack, and the appropriate responses to such attack.
  13. The Use of Spies focuses on the importance of developing good information sources, specifically the five types of sources and how to manage them.


Before the bamboo scroll version was discovered by archaeologists in April 1972, a commonly cited version of The Art of War was the Annotation of Sun Tzu's Strategies by Cao Cao, the founder of the Kingdom of Wei. In the preface, he wrote that previous annotations were not focused on the essential ideas. Other annotations cited in official history books include Shen You (176-204)'s Sun Tzu's Military Strategy, Jia Xu's Copy of Sun Tzu's Military Strategy, Cao Cao and Wang Ling's Sun Tzu's Military Strategy.

The Book of Sui documented seven books named after Sun Tzu. An annotation by Du Mu also includes Cao Cao's annotation. Li Jing's The Art of War is said to be a revision of Master Sun's strategies. Annotations by Cao Cao, Du Mu and Li Quan were translated into the Tangut language before AD 1040. A book named Ten Schools of The Art of War Annotations was published before AD 1161.

After the movable type printer was invented, The Art of War (with Cao Cao's annotations) was published as a military text book, known as Seven Military Classics with six other strategy books.

As a required reading military textbook since the Song Dynasty, Seven Military Classics (武經七書,武经七书) has many annotations. More than 30 differently annotated versions of this book exist today.

The two most common traditional Chinese versions of the Art of War,(the Complete Specialist Focus and Military Bible versions) were the sources for early translation into English and other languages. It was not until the 1970s that these works were compiled with more recent archeological discoveries into a single more complete version in Taipei, Taiwan. The resulting work is known as the Complete Version of Sun Tzu's Art of War. The National Defense Research Investigation Office has been the source for more recent and complete translations.


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 can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.

If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

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

知己知彼 百戰不殆 (知彼知己,百战不殆)

If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.

This translation of this sentence 'If you know both sides, you will win a hundred times in one hundred battles. (知己知彼 百戰百勝)' is incorrect. The word '殆' in Chinese means 'danger'. '百' in this sentence is better interpreted as 'numerous' rather than 'hundred'.

Furthermore, knowing both sides does not guarantee winning. '知己知彼 百戰百勝' ('If you know both sides, you will win a hundred times in one hundred battles') is untrue since in the beginning paragraph of chapter four, Master Sun wrote 'Hence, we can well predict who would win but there is no strategy guaranteeing winning (故曰: 勝可知,而不可為。)'. The reason for the uncertainty is chance or luck.

Similar verses have also been borrowed—in a manner construing skillfulness as victory "without fighting" -- for example:


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

Another quotation (chapter 1, paragraph 18) states:

兵不厭詐 (兵不厌诈)

All warfare is based on deception.

or, alternatively:

Never will those who wage war tire of deception.

Military applications

In many East Asian countries, The Art of War was part of the syllabus for potential candidates of military service examinations. Various translations are available.

During the Sengoku era in Japanmarker, a daimyo named Takeda Shingen (1521–1573) is said to have become almost invincible in all battles without relying on guns, because he studied The Art of War. The book even gave him the inspiration for his famous battle standard "Fūrinkazan" (Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain), meaning fast as the wind, silent as a forest, ferocious as fire and immovable as a mountain.

The translator Samuel B. Griffith offers a chapter on "Sun Tzu and Mao Tse-Tung" where The Art of War is cited as influencing Mao's On Guerilla Warfare, On the Protracted War, and Strategic Problems of China's Revolutionary War and includes Mao's quote: "We must not belittle the saying in the book of Sun Wu Tzu, the great military expert of ancient China, 'Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a thousand battles without disaster.'"

During the Vietnam War, some Vietcong officers studied The Art of War, and reportedly could recite entire passages from memory. General Vo Nguyen Giap successfully implemented tactics described in The Art of War during the Battle of Dien Bien Phumarker to end major French involvement in Indochina and led to the accords which partitioned Vietnam into North and South.

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.

The Art of War is listed on the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program (formerly known as the Commandant's Reading List).

Application outside the military

The Art of War has been applied to fields well outside the military. Much of the text is about how to fight wars without actually having to do battle: it gives tips on how to outsmart one's opponent so that physical battle is not necessary. As such, it has found application as a training guide for many competitive endeavors that do not involve actual combat.

There are business books applying its lessons to "office politics" and corporate strategy. Many Japanesemarker companies make the book required reading for their key executives. The book is also popular among Western business management, who have turned to it for inspiration and advice on how to succeed in competitive business situations.

The Art of War has been the subject of various law books and legal articles on the trial process, including negotiation tactics and trial strategy.

Depiction in media

  • The Art of War, by Stephen Jeffreys, is a dramatic interpretation incorporating recitations from the text with the telling of two stories: one of a US commander in the Iraq War and the other of a group of Australian company executives. The play was commissioned by the Sydney Theatre Company for their resident "Actor's Company" of twelve actors. It was first performed in May 2007.

  • Swedish metal band Sabaton named their fifth album The Art of War after the book, and the album feature quotes from the book as introductions to several tracks.

Sources and translations

  • ,
  • Sun Tzu translated by Paul Brennan (2007). The Art of War for Martial Artists. Odos Books. 2007. ISBN 978-1-60402-416-6
  • Sun Tzu translated by Victor H. Mair (2007). The Art of War: Sun Zi's Military Methods. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13382-1
  • Gagliardi's article about problems of translating the text.
  • Sun Tzu translated and annotated by Thomas Huynh and the Editors of (2008). The Art of War: Spirituality for Conflict. Skylight Paths Publishing. ISBN 978-1-594-73244-7

See also


  1. Samuel B. Griffith.
  2. 'Art of War for Business Management Strategic Planning'
  3. Floyd, Raymond E.
  4. Giles, Lionel. "The Art of War by Sun Tzu Special Edition. El Paso Norte Press, 2007
  5. Griffith, pp. 172–173 ISBN 0195014766
  6. Furinkazan Archtectural Pavilion/北杜市
  7. Griffith, p. 50 ISBN 0195014766
  8. The Art of War is mentioned for each unit's acquisition on page 18, "Military History Libraries for Duty Personnel"
  10. Sunzi; Michaelson, Gerald. "Sun Tzu: The Art of War for Managers; 50 Strategic Rules." Avon, MA: OH:Adams Media, 2001
  11. McNeilly, Mark. "Sun Tzu and the Art of Business : Six Strategic Principles for Managers. New York:Oxford University Press, 1996.
  12. Krause, Donald G. "The Art of War for Executives: Ancient Knowledge for Today's Business Professional." New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1995.
  13. Kammerer, Peter. "The Art of Negotiation." South China Morning Post (April 21, 2006) pg. 15
  14. Barnhizer, David. The Warrior Lawyer: Powerful Strategies for Winning Legal Battles (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Bridge Street Books, 1997)
  15. Harris, Paul. Warrior Lawyer (San Francisco, CA: Paul Harris (self-publication, 1991)
  16. Ashley, Fred T., “The Art of War, Litigation and Mediation”, Ashley Mediation Centers,
  17. St. Marie, Ronald M., “The Art of Litigation: Deception and Settlement- The Application of Sun Tzu's Ancient Strategies of War to the Law” Chan Law Group, 2002,
  18. Balch, Christopher D., “The Art of War and the Art of Trial Advocacy: Is There Common Ground?” (1991), 42 Mercer L. Rev. 861-873
  19. Beirne, Martin D. and Scott D. Marrs, “ The Art of War and Public Relations: Strategies for Successful Litigation”)
  20. Gordon, Gary, J., “ Slaying the Dragon: The Cross Examination of Expert Witnesses”, Rider Bennett LLP website)
  21. Pribetic, Antonin I., "The Trial Warrior: Applying Sun Tzu's The Art of War to Trial Advocacy" (April 21, 2007,
  22. Solomon, Samuel H., “The Art of War: Pursuing Electronic Evidence as Your Corporate Opportunity” Doar Litigation Consulting website article
  23. Wallo, William E., “Rambo in the Courtroom: Sometimes it Pays to be Confrontational”

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