The Complete Art Of War

Sun Tzu/sun Pin


By Tzu Sun

By Pin Sun

Translated by Ralph D. Sawyer

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Sun Tzu’s Art of War is the most famous, and the most thought-provoking, work of strategy ever written. The profound insights of this book have endured for over two thousand years, and they continue to reward careful study. The Military Methods of Sun Pin, the great-grandson of Sun Tzu, is a brilliant elaboration on his ancestor’s work, which has been lost for nearly two millennia. Presented here together for the first time are the greatest of the ancient Chinese classics of strategic thought: The Complete Art of War.The Sun family writings on strategy represent a unique contribution to our understanding of human affairs. By unveiling the complex, often unexpected, interrelationships of armies locked in battle, their wisdom reveals the enduring principles of success in the struggle of life itself. With a unique index to the essential principles of strategy, and Sawyer’s thoughtful chapter-by-chapter commentaries, The Complete Art of War is designed to guide the reader to new insights into the nature of human conflict and a greater understanding of every field of human activity, from playing the game of politics to building a successful marriage, from closing a deal to managing a large organization, and even from making war to making peace.


The Complete Art of War



Translated, with Historical Introduction and Commentary, by

Ralph D. Sawyer

With the collaboration of

Mei-chün Lee Sawyer

In memory of Achilles Fang


One who knows the Tao of the Sun family will invariably unite with Heaven and Earth.

The concepts and principles embodied in Sun-tzu’s long-famous Art of War not only determined the thrust of Chinese military science for two and a half millennia but also remain important even today, being found in many spheres and diverse applications. Moreover, the implications of this laconic text—and now Sun Pin’s Military Methods as well—are constrained solely by the reader’s perspective and imagination. Among the many interpretations presently seen in the Far East and, to a more limited extent, Western countries as well, perhaps the most fruitful derive their utility from mapping military thought onto analogous domains. Naturally the concepts and tactics provide important material for military science in general, and many have been incorporated into contemporary doctrine by armies worldwide, including the U.S. Marine Corps. The business world and especially marketing, long considered battlefields and characterized in terms of military idioms and tactics, provide the most conducive, frequently explored environments. However, in Asian countries it has become popular to adopt abstracted tactics and conceptual principles from the Sun family military writings to personal life, ranging from the simplest social activities through career advancement and interactions with society at large. Some books even apply fundamental perceptions to the stock market, sexual relationships, and self-defense, largely through stimulating an awareness in the reader that other perspectives and unorthodox tactical principles might be applied in so-called ordinary situations.

The intent of The Complete Art of War is to provide readers with an integrated edition of the remarkable Sun family military writings—Sun-tzu’s famous analytic overview of the nature of warfare known as the Art of War and the work recently recovered from a Han dynasty tomb attributed to his direct descendant Sun Pin, also entitled the Art of War but, for convenience, best identified as Military Methods. This integrated edition differs from our previous single-volume editions (and the Art of War translation included in our Seven Military Classics translation) in unifying and expanding the chapter commentaries; appending a tactical index; revising the translations slightly to make them more accessible upon first reading; excising material of interest primarily to scholars; abridging the historical background; and deleting the tactical analysis of the various battles.

While the Sun family military writings remain eminently comprehensible apart from their respective eras, a basic understanding of the chief political events, crucial battles, and nature of warfare in the two periods aids immeasurably in understanding many of the more enigmatic statements found in both writers. Therefore, for this integrated edition an abridged introduction focusing upon the historical context, including full translations of the authors’ traditional biographies, has been prepared. Furthermore, previous readers have found the conceptual commentaries, appended to individual chapters to explicate tactics and doctrines as they arise, more useful than a lengthy, synthesized analysis presented in a general introduction. Thus, we have opted to continue this ancient Chinese tradition. Moreover, an extensive conceptual and strategic index has been added to facilitate the study of vital topics and critical tactics in both the Art of War and Military Methods. With the aid of the introductory material, coupled with the chapter commentaries and index, readers should have no difficulty in selectively adapting material from the Art of War and the Military Methods to appropriate life or business situations. To facilitate this process—yet avoid comments that might overly restrict imaginative response—some suggestions are made in the chapter commentaries, particularly for business applications, as the topics arise. Such suggestions are provided as a matter of explication; their applicability and appropriateness, if any, to the reader’s situation and activities remain the responsibility of the reader. Since these writings are the product of military activities, their primary—or at least initial—understanding should be as realized by men and forces in the difficult arena of the battlefield. Only upon this sound basis of understanding can one successfully extrapolate the principles contained within them and envision applications to the personal milieu.

Sun-tzu’s Art of War has long been recognized as China’s oldest and most profound military treatise, all other works being relegated to secondary status at best. Traditionalists attribute the book to the historical Sun Wu, who is portrayed in early historical writings as active in the last years of the sixth century, beginning about 512 B.C. In their view the book preserves his strategic concepts and tactical principles and should therefore be dated to this period. Through the ages, however, more skeptical scholars have questioned the work’s authenticity, citing certain historical discrepancies and glaring anachronisms to justify their positions. While their arguments vary in credibility, only the most extreme deny Sun Wu’s military role or question his very existence. A balanced view—taking into account the evolving nature of warfare, the rising need for military and bureaucratic specialization, the personalities involved, the complexity of the politics, and the fragility of recorded material— might well conclude that the historical Sun Wu existed, and not only served as a strategist and possibly a general but also composed the core of the book that bears his name. Thereafter the essential teachings were perhaps transmitted within his family or a close-knit school of disciples, being improved and revised with the passing decades, while gradually gaining wider dissemination. The early text may even have been edited by his famous descendant Sun Pin, who also extensively employed its teachings in his own Military Methods and simultaneously made the Sun name even more glorious.

The recently unearthed military writings include a partial copy of the Art of War in essentially its traditional form, together with significant additional material, such as the “King of Wu’s Questions.” Our translation, however, has been based upon the heavily annotated classical edition because it reflects the understanding and views of the past thousand years, the beliefs upon which government and military officials based their actions in real history, and continues to be the most widely circulated version throughout Asia. Nevertheless, the traditional text has been revised where the tomb materials resolve otherwise opaque passages or supplement obvious deficiencies, although the impact of such changes on the overall content remains minimal.

While there are few problems with the actual text of Sun-tzu’s Art of War, Sun Pin’s Military Methods is tortuously difficult, having been reconstructed from hundreds of jumbled, often damaged bamboo strips. Even in this imperfect condition, the work remains a remarkable middle Warring States text, one that presumably embodies the views of the great strategist who was active in Ch’i at least from 356 to 341 B.C. and perhaps lived until near the end of the century. A precise translation, such as found in our single-volume edition of the Military Methods, necessarily indicates all the lacunae, reconstructions based upon interpolations from parallel passages, other difficulties, and wild speculations. In the expectation that nonscholars will find the Military Methods more readable and interesting if these problems are, however tentatively, resolved, except in a very few cases we have revised the material and occasionally deleted incomprehensible fragments. In a few passages we have also supplied rather speculative bridges based upon the chapter’s apparent intent and our focused reading of military works over the past three decades. Anyone wishing to pursue the original may of course consult our 1995 edition of Military Methods, available from Westview Press.

As to the date of the original Military Methods and the degree to which the recovered copy represents an embellished or otherwise altered version, it appears that the book is based upon the thought of Sun Pin, who, perhaps wishing to emulate his famous predecessor, may have composed a proto-text or developed a kernel of fixed teachings, but was compiled and edited by disciples or family members. The first fifteen chapters are cast in the dialogue form common to other early writings (such as the Mencius) and almost always indicate the speaker. The second part of the book may have originally comprised extended discussions on concrete topics (such as found in the critical chapter on the unorthodox and orthodox) that Sun Pin did not put into dialogue form or that his students simply did not format in the same way. Sun Pin obviously acquired disciples during his lifetime, for they are mentioned in the text questioning him about his discussions with King Wei and T’ien Chi. Coupled with other internal evidence, this suggests they may have finished Military Methods about the end of his life or compiled it shortly thereafter from memory to preserve the master’s teaching.

Apart from the abstract debt we owe to the many scholars who have toiled ceaselessly on these works over the centuries, we would like to acknowledge Zhao Yong’s ongoing assistance in locating and obtaining obscure textual materials. In addition, we have benefited greatly from wide-ranging discussions with Colonel Karl Eikenberry, Bruce I. Gudmundsson, C. S. Shim, Cleon Brewer, Rob Wadleigh, and Guy Baer here and in Asia. For their efforts in making this work possible we would like to express our appreciation to the staff at Westview Press, and in particular to Peter Kracht, senior editor, and Kermit Hummel, publisher. Profound thanks are also due to Max Gartenberg for his wisdom and optimism and to Lee T’ing-jung who has once again honored the work with his calligraphy.

Ralph D. Sawyer

A Note on Pronunciation

As our views on orthography are unchanged, we repeat our comments from our previous works: Unfortunately, neither of the two commonly employed orthographies makes the pronunciation of romanized Chinese characters easy. Each system has its stumbling blocks, and we remain unconvinced that the Pinyin qi is inherently more comprehensible to unpracticed readers than the Wade-Giles ch’i, although it is certainly no less comprehensible than j for r in Wade-Giles. However, as many of the important terms may already be familiar and previous translations of Sun-tzu’s Art of War have mainly used Wade-Giles, we have opted to employ it throughout our works, including the Art of War and Military Methods texts found in this combined edition. Well-known cities, names, and books—such as “Peking”—are retained in their common form, and books and articles published with romanized names and titles also appear in their original form.

As a crude guide to pronunciation we offer the following notes on the significant exceptions to normally expected sounds:

t, as in Tao: without apostrophe, pronounced like d
p, as in ping: without apostrophe, pronounced like b
ch, as in chuang: without apostrophe, pronounced like j
hs, as in hsi: pronounced sh
j, as in jen: pronounced like r

Thus, the name of the famous Chou dynasty is pronounced as if written “jou” and sounds just like the English name “Joe.”

Chronology of Approximate Dynastic Periods

Dynastic Period Years
Legendary Sage Emperors 2852-2255 B.C.
Hsia 2205-1766
Shang 1766-1045
     Western Chou 1045-770
     Eastern Chou 770-256
        Spring and Autumn 722-481
        Warring States 403-221
Ch'in 221-207
Former Han (Western Han) 206 B.C.-8 A.D.
Later Han (Eastern Han) 23-220
Six Dynasties 222-589
Sui 589-618
T'ang 618-907
Five Dynasties 907-959
Sung 960-1126
Southern Sung 1127-1279
Yuan (Mongol) 1279-1368
Ming 1368-1644
Ch'ing (Manchu) 1644-1911



The Spring and Autumn Period

The state of Chou, which had righteously overthrown the debauched Shang to found its own dynasty in 1045 B.C. upon an avowed foundation of moral virtue and benevolence, established its authority by dispatching royal clan groups to both enemy and unsettled domains. Within a few generations, however, the Chou began experiencing nomadic pressure in the north and west; therefore, the quest for allies, resources, and political strength had to be redirected toward the south and southeast. Several early Chou kings enthusiastically undertook military campaigns to the south with mixed results, and King Chao, the fifth to reign, even perished mysteriously, leading to the oft-repeated charge that the state of Ch’u had murdered him. While members of the ruling clans originally emigrated to these areas for defensive purposes, this southern offensive essentially became cultural in nature. The peoples around initial Chou enclaves gradually became sinicized, particularly as they acquired a taste and then need for Chou products and technologies. Numerous small states proudly claimed descent from one or another Chou royal family member, and most at least nominally allied themselves with the Chou, and later with the stronger northern states that emerged when Chou power visibly declined.

The Spring and Autumn period (722–481 B.C.) was characterized by great personalities, inescapable intrigue, murder, ever-expanding warfare, and the unfolding of astounding dramas in which entire states rose and perished, often at the whims of dominant individuals. It witnessed the rise of great families and their inevitable, often brutal conflict with the older ruling Chou nobility, as well as the destructive emergence of seven great states, each reputedly capable of fielding 10,000 chariots. By the early sixth century the state of Chin had already formed six armies, visibly usurping Chou royal prerogative, and could easily mobilize 75,000 men whenever necessary. (These same six armies, under the control of rival factions, would eventually sunder the state as the six ministerial families contended for ultimate authority.) Originally founded by the royal house of Chou, awesome Chin then abrogated the role of hegemon or de facto ruler under the legitimized guise of sustaining Chou rule and coerced the other states into formally recognizing and even sanctifying its prestigious role.

Although the central states vigorously contended among themselves for relative supremacy, they retained a joint sense of identity, consciously distinguishing themselves from the uncivilized “barbarian” areas and peoples. Consequently, with both disdain and trepidation they observed the rapid development of the wild southern areas where the states of Ch’u (an important stimulant to Sun-tzu’s thought), Wu (home to Sun-tzu’s activities), and Yüeh (Wu’s nemesis) were forming. They also feared the ever less submissive state of Ch’in in the old Chou heartland. The south was not only different but also enjoyed distinct advantages, including a warmer, more productive climate; abundant aquatic resources; and extensive rivers, lakes, mountains, and dense forests. A natural bastion that frequently rendered chariot- centered warfare useless, the terrain discouraged invasions from the north while compelling the development of naval forces. These inland navies capitalized upon the indigenous skills that had evolved to exploit the Yangtze, Han, and Huai rivers, the numerous lakes, and the expansive marshes.

The powerful state of Wu claimed an antiquity even greater than the Chou itself, supposedly having been founded by the eldest son of an early Chou ancestor. Because much of it occupied an alluvial plain formed by the Yangtze River, Wu lacked anything more than small hills, and approximately 15 percent of its area was wet, consisting of marshes, rivers, lakes, and ponds. (These natural obstacles probably stimulated Sun-tzu’s development of terrain-based tactical principles.) Before Sun-tzu assumed his advisory role, the contiguous states of Wu and Ch’u had been fighting for more than fifty years. While Ch’u was initially strong, as the decades passed Wu commenced increasingly aggressive actions, forcing Ch’u to undertake massive defensive preparations, including the construction of walled cities and other fortifications, beginning around 538 B.C.Wu also benefited from Ch’u’s tendency to brutally suppress minority peoples and the smaller states in the region, easily finding numerous allies and local support among them. By exploiting the sense of common identity fostered by confronting a mutual enemy, Wu was able to draw upon them for material support, local guides, and field intelligence, an important element in Sun-tzu’s overall doctrine.

Being a young state, Wu was marked by a growing self-consciousness but still generally governed by dynamic leaders who largely avoided the pitfalls of extravagance and debauchery. Instead of exploiting or exhausting the people, its kings fostered policies to nurture them, increase the population, and stimulate productivity. Consequently, throughout their numerous military campaigns Wu’s warriors were courageous and energetic, endured great hardship, and often turned defeat into victory. Their leadership was also more unified than in other states, perhaps accounting for the army’s flexibility and ability to respond quickly. Moreover, because their forces would be outnumbered in virtually every clash with Ch’u’s armies, Wu’s leaders had to develop imaginative tactics and consistently avoid frontal, brute-force assaults that could decimate their troops, an approach reflected in Sun-tzu’s emphasis upon maneuver warfare and avoiding direct confrontations with superior enemies. Wu’s attacks stressed speed and mobility, frequently employed deceit and clever stratagems, and focused upon frustrating the enemy’s plans and movements—all cardinal principles in the Art of War.

Conversely, Wu also mounted such formidable defenses that Ch’u’s armies frequently could not discover any weakness to exploit. Clearly, Wu’s pre-Sun-tzu efforts exemplified and perhaps furnished the historical basis for several pivotal teachings from the Art of War, including: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence. The strategy for employing the army is not to rely on their not coming, but to depend upon us having the means to await them. Do not rely on them not attacking, but depend upon us having an unassailable position. When someone excels at defense the enemy does not know where to attack. If I do not want to engage in combat, even though I merely draw a line upon the ground and defend it, they will not be able to engage me in battle because we thwart his movements.”

In the first year of King Ho-lü’s reign, after some years of preparation, Wu moved its capital to Ku-su near modern Su-chou. The new capital, erected on the Chou model with inner and outer fortified walls, furnishes clear evidence of the effectiveness of Wu’s bureaucratic administration, as well as its material resources and planning capabilities. The city was immense, with the inner wall’s perimeter reportedly measuring 30 kilometers and the outer wall stretching 50 kilometers. Constructed at the edge of Lake T’ai Hu, it was sited along the first section of an eventual network of extensive canals that were to prove of great significance in Chinese history. Ostensibly developed to transport grain and nurture trade, this first canal section was primarily strategic, designed to facilitate the movement of troops northward.


On Sale
Mar 16, 2007
Page Count
320 pages
Basic Books

Tzu Sun

About the Author

Ralph D. Sawyer, one of America’s leading scholars in Chinese warfare, has worked extensively with major intelligence and defense agencies. After studying at MIT and Harvard and a brief stint of university teaching, Sawyer has spent the past thirty years lecturing and doing international consulting work focused on China.

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