Page:Sun Tzu on The art of war.djvu/41

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xxxix
Introduction

commentators have not been lacking, only a few have proved equal to the task. My friend Shêng-yü has not fallen into this mistake. In attempting to provide a critical commentary for Sun Tzŭ’s work, he does not lose sight of the fact that these sayings were intended for states engaged in internecine warfare; that the author is not concerned with the military conditions prevailing under the sovereigns of the three ancient dynasties,[1] nor with the nine punitive measures prescribed to the Minister of War.[2] Again, Sun Wu loved brevity of diction, but his meaning is always deep. Whether the subject be marching an army, or handling soldiers, or estimating the enemy, or controlling the forces of victory, it is always systematically treated; the sayings are bound together in strict logical sequence, though this has been obscured by commentators who have probably failed to grasp their meaning. In his own commentary, Mei Shêng-yü has brushed aside all the obstinate prejudices of these critics, and has tried to bring out the true meaning of Sun Tzŭ himself. In this way, the clouds of confusion have been dispersed and the sayings made clear. I am convinced that the present work deserves to be handed down side by side with the three great commentaries; and for a great deal that they find in the sayings, coming generations will have constant reason to thank my friend Shêng-yü.[3]

Making some allowance for the exuberance of friendship, I am inclined to endorse this favourable judgment, and would certainly place him above Ch‘ên Hao in order of merit.


  1. The Hsia, the Shang, and the Chou. Although the last-named was nominally existent in Sun Tzŭ’s day, it retained hardly a vestige of power, and the old military organisation had practically gone by the board. I can suggest no other explanation of the passage.
  2. See Chou Li, XXIX. 6—10.
  3. See T‘u Shu, 戎政典, ch. 90, f. 2 v°: 後之學者徒見其書又各牽於已見是以注者雖多而少當也獨吾友聖兪不然甞評武之書曰此戰國相傾之說也三代王者之師司馬九伐之法武不及也然亦愛其文略而意深其行師用兵料敵制勝亦皆有法其言甚有序次而注者汨之或失其意乃自爲注凡膠于偏見者皆抉去傅以已意而發之然後武之說不汨而明吾知此書當與三家並傳而後世取其說者往往于吾聖兪多焉.