15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.
This is one of the most perplexing passages in Sun Tzŭ. The difficulty lies mainly in 不修其功, of which two interpretations appear possible. Most of the commentators understand 修 in the sense (not known to K‘ang Hsi) of 賞 “reward” or 舉 “promote,” and 其功 as referring to the merit of officers and men. Thus Ts‘ao Kung says: 賞善不踰日 “Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day.” And Tu Mu: “If you do not take opportunity to advance and reward the deserving, your subordinates will not carry out your commands, and disaster will ensue.” 費留 would then probably mean 留滯費耗 “stoppage of expenditure,” or as Chia Lin puts it, 惜費 “the grudging of expenditure.” For several reasons, however, and in spite of the formidable array of scholars on the other side, I prefer the interpretation suggested by Mei Yao-ch‘ên alone, whose words I will quote: 欲戰必勝攻必取者在因時乘便能作爲攻也作爲攻者修火攻水攻之類不可坐守其利也坐守其利者凶也 “Those who want to make sure of succeeding in their battles and assaults must seize the favourable moments when they come and not shrink on occasion from heroic measures: that is to say, they must resort to such means of attack as fire, water and the like. What they must not do, and what will prove fatal, is to sit still and simply hold on to the advantages they have got.” This retains the more usual meaning of 修, and also brings out a clear connection of thought with the previous part of the chapter. With regard to 費留, Wang Hsi paraphrases it as 費財老師 “expending treasure and tiring out [lit., ageing] the army.” 費 of course is expenditure or waste in general, either of time, money or strength. But the soldier is less concerned with the saving of money than of time. For the metaphor expressed in “stagnation” I am indebted to Ts‘ao Kung, who says: 若水之留不復還也. Capt. Calthrop gives a rendering which bears but little relation to the Chinese text: “unless victory or possession be obtained, the enemy quickly recovers, and misfortunes arise. The war drags on, and money is spent.”
16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.