The Art of War (Sun)/Apologies for war

Translated from the Chinese by Lionel Giles, M.A. (1910)

Apologies for War.

Accustomed as we are to think of China as the greatest peace-loving nation on earth, we are in some danger of forgetting that her experience of war in all its phases has also been such as no modern State can parallel. Her long military annals stretch back to a point at which they are lost in the mists of time. She had built the Great Wall and was maintaining a huge standing army along her frontier centuries before the first Roman legionary was seen on the Danube. What with the perpetual collisions of the ancient feudal States, the grim conflicts with Huns, Turks and other invaders after the centralisation of government, the terrific upheavals which accompanied the overthrow of so many dynasties, besides the countless rebellions and minor disturbances that have flamed up and flickered out again one by one, it is hardly too much to say that the clash of arms has never ceased to resound in one portion or another of the Empire.

No less remarkable is the succession of illustrious captains to whom China can point with pride. As in all countries, the greatest are found emerging at the most fateful crises of her history. Thus, Po Ch‘i stands out conspicuous in the period when Ch‘in was entering upon her final struggle with the remaining independent states. The stormy years which followed the break-up of the Ch‘in dynasty are illumined by the transcendent genius of Han Hsin. When the House of Han in turn is tottering to its fall, the great and baleful figure of Ts‘ao Ts‘ao dominates the scene. And in the establishment of the T‘ang dynasty, one of the mightiest tasks achieved by man, the superhuman energy of Li Shih-min (afterwards the Emperor T‘ai Tsung) was seconded by the brilliant strategy of Li Ching. None of these generals need fear comparison with the greatest names in the military history of Europe.

In spite of all this, the great body of Chinese sentiment, from Lao Tzŭ downwards, and especially as reflected in the standard literature of Confucianism, has been consistently pacific and intensely opposed to militarism in any form. It is such an uncommon thing to find any of the literati defending warfare on principle, that I have thought it worth while to collect and translate a few passages in which the unorthodox view is upheld. The following, by Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien, shows that for all his ardent admiration of Confucius, he was yet no advocate of peace at any price: —

Military weapons are the means used by the Sage to punish violence and cruelty, to give peace to troublous times, to remove difficulties and dangers, and to succour those who are in peril. Every animal with blood in its veins and horns on its head will fight when it is attacked. How much more so will man, who carries in his breast the faculties of love and hatred, joy and anger! When he is pleased, a feeling of affection springs up within him; when angry, his poisoned sting is brought into play. That is the natural law which governs his being.... What then shall be said of those scholars of our time, blind to all great issues, and without any appreciation of relative values, who can only bark out their stale formulas about “virtue” and “civilisation,” condemning the use of military weapons? They will surely bring our country to impotence and dishonour and the loss of her rightful heritage; or, at the very least, they will bring about invasion and rebellion, sacrifice of territory and general enfeeblement. Yet they obstinately refuse to modify the position they have taken up. The truth is that, just as in the family the teacher must not spare the rod, and punishments cannot be dispensed with in the State, so military chastisement can never be allowed to fall into abeyance in the Empire. All one can say is that this power will be exercised wisely by some, foolishly by others, and that among those who bear arms some will be loyal and others rebellious.[1]

The next piece is taken from Tu Mu’s preface to his commentary on Sun Tzŭ: —

War may be defined as punishment, which is one of the functions of government. It was the profession of Chung Yu and Jan Ch‘iu, both

disciples of Confucius. Nowadays, the holding of trials and hearing of litigation, the imprisonment of offenders and their execution by flogging in the market—place, are all done by officials. But the wielding of huge armies, the throwing down of fortified cities, the haling of women and children into captivity, and the beheading of traitors — this is also work which is done by officials. The objects of the rack[2] and of military weapons are essentially the same. There is no intrinsic difference between the punishment of flogging and cutting off heads in war. For the lesser infractions of law, which are easily dealt with, only a small amount of force need be employed: hence the institution of torture and flogging. For more serious outbreaks of lawlessness, which are hard to suppress, a greater amount of force is necessary: hence the use of military weapons and wholesale decapitation. In both cases, however, the end in view is to get rid of wicked people, and to give comfort and relief to the good[3]....

Chi-sun asked Jan Yu, saying: “Have you, Sir, acquired your military aptitude by study, or is it innate?” Jan Yu replied: “It has been acquired by study.”[4] “How can that be so,” said Chi-sun, “seeing that you are a disciple of Confucius?” “It is a fact,” replied Jan Yu; “I was taught by Confucius. It is fitting that the great Sage should exercise both civil and military functions, though to be sure my instruction in the art of fighting has not yet gone very far.”

Now, who the author was of this rigid distinction between the “civil” and the “military,” and the limitation of each to a separate sphere of action, or in what year of which dynasty it was first introduced, is more than I can say. But, at any rate, it has come about that the members of the governing class are quite afraid of enlarging on military topics, or do so only in a shamefaced manner. If any are bold enough to discuss the subject, they are at once set down as eccentric individuals of coarse and brutal propensities. This is an extraordinary instance of the way in

which, through sheer lack of reasoning, men unhappily lose sight of fundamental principles.[5]

When the Duke of Chou was minister under Ch‘êng Wang, he regulated ceremonies and made music, and venerated the arts of scholarship and learning; yet when the barbarians of the River Huai revolted,[6] he sallied forth and chastised them. When Confucius held office under the Duke of Lu, and a meeting was convened at Chia-ku,[7] he said: “If pacific negotiations are in progress, warlike preparations should have been made beforehand.” He rebuked and shamed the Marquis of Ch‘i, who cowered under him and dared not proceed to violence. How can it be said that these two great Sages had no knowledge of military matters?[8]

We have seen that the great Chu Hsi held Sun Tzŭ in high esteem. He also appeals to the authority of the Classics: —

Our Master Confucius, answering Duke Ling of Wei, said: “I have never studied matters connected with armies and battalions.”[9] Replying to K‘ung Wên-tzŭ, he said: “I have not been instructed about buff-coats and weapons.”[10] But if we turn to the meeting at Chia-ku,[11] we find that he used armed force against the men of Lai,[12] so that the marquis of Ch‘i was overawed. Again, when the inhabitants of Pi revolted, he ordered his officers to attack them, whereupon they were defeated and fled in confusion.[13] He once uttered the words: “If I fight, I

conquer.”[14] And Jan Yu also said: “The Sage exercises both civil and military functions.”[15] Can it be a fact that Confucius never studied or received instruction in the art of war? We can only say that he did not specially choose matters connected with armies and fighting to be the subject of his teaching.[16]

Sun Hsing-yen, the editor of Sun Tzŭ, writes in similar strain: —

Confucius said: “I am unversed in military matters.”[17] He also said: “If I fight, I conquer.”[17] Confucius ordered ceremonies and regulated music. Now war constitutes one of the five classes of State ceremonial, [18] and must not be treated as an independent branch of study. Hence, the words “I am unversed in” must be taken to mean that there are things which even an inspired Teacher does not know. Those who have to lead an army and devise stratagems, must learn the art of war. But if one can command the services of a good general like Sun Tzŭ, who was employed by Wu Tzŭ-hsŭ, there is no need to learn it oneself. Hence the remark added by Confucius: “If I fight, I conquer.”[19]

The men of the present day, however, wilfully interpret these words of Confucius in their narrowest sense, as though he meant that books on the art of war were not worth reading. With blind persistency, they adduce the example of Chao Kua, who pored over his father’s books to no purpose,[20] as a proof that all military theory is useless. Again, seeing

that books on war have to do with such things as opportunism in designing plans, and the conversion of spies, they hold that the art is immoral and unworthy of a sage. These people ignore the fact that the studies of our scholars and the civil administration of our officials also require steady application and practice before efficiency is reached. The ancients were particularly chary of allowing mere novices to botch their work.[21] Weapons are baneful[22] and fighting perilous; and unless a general is in constant practice, he ought not to hazard other men’s lives in battle.[23] Hence it is essential that Sun Tzŭ’s 13 chapters should be studied.[24] Hsiang Liang used to instruct his nephew Chi[25] in the art of war. Chi got a rough idea of the art in its general bearings, but would not pursue his studies to their proper outcome, the consequence being that he was finally defeated and overthrown. He did not realise that the tricks and artifices of war are beyond verbal computation. Duke Hsiang of Sung[26] and King Yen of Hsü[27] were brought to destruction by their misplaced humanity. The treacherous and underhand nature of war necessitates the use of guile and stratagem suited to the occasion. There is a case on record of Confucius himself having violated an extorted oath,[28] and also of his having left the Sung State in disguise.[29] Can we then recklessly arraign Sun Tzŭ for disregarding truth and honesty?[30]

  1. Shih Chi, ch. 25, fol. I: 兵者聖人所以討彊暴平亂世夷險阻救危殆自含血戴角之獸見犯則校而況於人懷好惡喜怒之氣喜則愛心生怒則毒螫加情性之理也…豈與世儒闇於大較不權輕重猥云德化不當用兵大至窘辱失守小乃侵犯削弱遂執不移等哉故教笞不可廢於家刑罰不可捐於國誅伐不可偃於天下用之有巧拙行之有逆順耳.
  2. The first instance of 木索 given in the P‘ei Wên Yün Fu is from Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien’s letter to 任安 Jên An (see 文選, ch. 41, f. 9 ro), where M. Chavannes translates it “la cangue et la chaîne.” But in the present passage it seems rather to indicate some single instrument of torture.
  3. 兵者刑也刑政事也爲夫子之徒實仲由冉求之事也今者據案聽訟械繫罪人笞死于市者吏之所爲也驅兵數萬撅其城郭纍其妻子斬其罪人亦吏之所爲也木索兵刃無異意也笞之與斬無異刑也小而易制用力少者木索笞也大而難治用力多者兵刃斬也俱期於除去惡民安活善民.
  4. Cf. Shih Chi, ch. 47, f. II vo.
  5. 季孫問于冉有曰子之戰學之乎性達之乎對曰學之季孫曰事孔子惡乎學冉有曰卽學之於孔子者大聖兼該文武並用適聞其戰法實未之詳也夫不知自何代何年何人分爲二道曰文曰武離而俱行因使縉紳之士不敢言兵甚或恥言之苟有言者世以爲麤暴異人人不比𢿙嗚呼亡失根本斯爲最甚.
  6. See Shu Ching, preface § 55.
  7. See Tso Chuan, 定公 X. 2; Shih Chi, ch. 47, f. 4 ro.
  8. 周公相成王制禮作樂尊大儒術有淮夷叛則出征之夫子相魯公㑹于夾谷曰有文事者必有武備叱辱齊侯伏不敢動是二大聖人豈不知兵乎.
  9. Lun Yü, XV. 1.
  10. Tso Chuan, 哀公, XI. 7.
  11. See supra.
  12. Tso Chuan, 定公, X. 2.
  13. Ibid. XII. 5; Chia Yü, ch. 1 ad fin.
  14. have failed to trace this utterance. See note 2 on p. xliii.
  15. See supra.
  16. 性理彙要, loc. cit.: 昔吾夫子對衛靈公以軍旅之事未之學答孔文子以甲兵之事未之聞及觀夾谷之會則以兵加萊人而齊侯懼費人之亂則命將士以伐之而費人北嘗曰我戰則克而冉有亦曰聖人文武並用孔子豈有真未學未聞哉特以軍旅甲兵之事非所以爲訓也.
  17. 17.0 17.1 See supra.
  18. Viz.,軍禮, the other four being , , and "worship, mourning, entertainment of guests and festive rites." See Shu Ching, II. 1. iii. 8, and Chou Li, IX. fol. 49
  19. Preface to Sun Tzŭ: 孔子曰軍旅之事未之學又曰我戰則克孔子定禮正樂兵則五禮之一不必以爲專門之學故云未學所爲聖人有所不知或行軍好謀則學之或善將將如伍子胥之用孫子又何必自學之故又曰我戰則克也,
  20. See p. 166.
  21. This is a rather obscure allusion to Tso Chuan, 襄公, XXXI. 4, where Tsü-ch‘an says: 子有美錦不使人學製焉 “If you have a piece of beautiful brocade, you will not employ a mere learner to make it up.”
  22. Cf. Tao Tê Ching, ch. 31: 兵者不祥之器.
  23. Sun Hsing-yen might have quoted Confucius again. See Lun Yü, XIII. 29, 30.
  24. 今世泥孔子之言以爲兵書不足觀又泥趙括徒能讀父書之言以爲成法不足用又見兵書有權謀有反間以爲非聖人之法皆不知吾儒之學者吏之治事可習而能然古人猶有學製之懼兵凶戰危將不素習未可以人命爲嘗試則十三篇之不可不觀也.
  25. Better known as Hsiang Yü [B.C. 233—202].
  26. The third among the 五伯 (or ) enumerated on p. 141. For the incident referred to, see Tso Chuan, 僖公, XXII. 4.
  27. See supra, p. xvi, note 4.
  28. Shih Chi, ch. 47, f. 7 ro
  29. Ibid., ch. 38, f. 8 vo
  30. 項梁教籍兵法籍略知其意不肯竟學卒以傾覆不知兵法之弊可勝言哉宋襄徐偃仁而 敗兵者危機當用權謀孔子猶有要盟勿信微服過宋之時安得妄責孫子以言之不純哉.