The Art of War (Sun)/Sun Wu and his Book

INTRODUCTION




Sun Wu and his Book.


Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzŭ:[1]

孫子武 Sun Tzŭ Wu was a native of the Ch‘i State. His Art of War brought him to the notice of 闔盧 Ho Lu,[2] King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him: I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight test? — Sun Tzŭ replied: You may. — Ho Lu asked: May the test be applied to women? — The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzŭ divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King’s favourite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand? — The girls replied: Yes. — Sun Tzŭ went on: When I say "Eyes front," you must look straight ahead. When I say “Left turn," you must face towards your left hand. When I say "Right turn," you must face towards your right hand. When I say "About turn," you must face right round towards the back. — Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he gave the order "Right turn." But the girls only burst out laughing. Sun Tzŭ said: If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame. — So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order "Left turn," whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter. Sun Tzŭ said: If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers. — So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now the King of Wu was watching the

scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his favourite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: We are now quite satisfied as to our general’s ability to handle troops. If We are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savour. It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded. — Sun Tzŭ replied: Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept. — Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzŭ sent a messenger to the King saying: Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for Your Majesty’s inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire; bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey. — But the King replied: Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops. — Thereupon Sun Tzŭ said: The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds. — After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzŭ was one who knew how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the West, he defeated the Ch‘u State and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north, he put fear into the States of Ch‘i and Chin, and spread his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzŭ shared in the might of the King.

About Sun Tzŭ himself this is all that Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien has to tell us in this chapter. But he proceeds to give a biography of his descendant, 孫臏 Sun Pin, born about a hundred years after his famous ancestor’s death, and also the outstanding military genius of his time. The historian speaks of him too as Sun Tzŭ, and in his preface we read: 孫子臏腳而論兵法 “Sun Tzŭ had his feet cut off and yet continued to discuss the art of war.”[3] It seems likely, then, that “Pin” was a nickname bestowed on him after his mutilation, unless indeed the story was invented in order to account for the name. The crowning incident of his career, the crushing defeat of his treacherous rival P‘ang Chüan, will be found briefly related on p. 40. To return to the elder Sun Tzŭ. He is mentioned in two other passages of the Shih Chi:

In the third year of his reign [512 B.C.] Ho Lu, King of Wu, took the field with 子胥 Tzŭ-hsü [i.e. 伍員 Wu Yüan] and 伯嚭 Po P‘ei, and attacked Ch‘u. He captured the town of Shu and slew the two prince’s sons who had formerly been generals of Wu. He was then meditating a descent on Ying [the capital]; but the general Sun Wu said: “The army is exhausted.[4] It is not yet possible. We must wait”....[5] [After further successful fighting,] “in the ninth year [506 B.C.], King Ho Lu of Wu addressed Wu Tzŭ-hsü and Sun Wu, saying: “Formerly, you declared that it was not yet possible for us to enter Ying. Is the time ripe now?” The two men replied: “Ch‘u’s general, 子常 Tzŭ-ch‘ang,[6] is grasping and covetous, and the princes of T‘ang and Ts‘ai both have a grudge against him. If Your Majesty has resolved to make a grand attack, you must win over T‘ang and Ts‘ai, and then you may succeed.” Ho Lu followed this advice, [beat Ch‘u in five pitched battles and marched into Ying] [7]

This is the latest date at which anything is recorded of Sun Wu. He does not appear to have survived his patron, who died from the effects of a wound in 496.

In the chapter entitled 律書 (the earlier portion of which M. Chavannes believes to be a fragment of a treatise on Military Weapons), there occurs this passage:[8]

From this time onward, a number of famous soldiers arose, one after the other: 咎犯 Kao-fan,[9] who was employed by the Chin State; Wang-tzŭ,[10] in the service of Ch‘i; and Sun Wu, in the service of Wu. These men developed and threw light upon the principles of war (申明軍約).

It is obvious that Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien at least had no doubt about the reality of Sun Wu as an historical personage; and with one exception, to be noticed presently, he is by far the most important authority on the period in question. It will not be necessary, therefore, to say much of such a work as the 吳越春秋 Wu Yüeh Ch‘un Ch’iu, which is supposed to have been written by 趙曄 Chao Yeh of the 1st century A.D. The attribution is somewhat doubtful; but even if it were otherwise, his account would be of little value, based as it is on the Shih Chi and expanded with romantic details. The story of Sun Tzŭ will be found, for what it is worth, in chapter 2. The only new points in it worth noting are: 1) Sun Tzŭ was first recommended to Ho Lu by Wu Tzŭ-hsü. 2) He is called a native of Wu.[11] 3) He had previously lived a retired life, and his contemporaries were unaware of his ability.[12]

The following passage occurs in 淮南子 Huai-nan Tzŭ: “When sovereign and ministers show perversity of mind, it is impossible even for a Sun Tzŭ to encounter the foe.”[13] Assuming that this work is genuine (and hitherto no doubt has been cast upon it), we have here the earliest direct reference to Sun Tzŭ, for Huai-nan Tzu died in 122 B.C., many years before the Shih Chi was given to the world.

劉向 Liu Hsiang (B.C. 80-9) in his 新序 says: “The reason why Sun Wu at the head of 30,000 men beat Ch‘u with 200,000 is that the latter were undisciplined.”[14]

鄧名世 Têng Ming-shih in his 姓氏辨證書 (completed in 1134) informs us that the surname was bestowed on Sun Wu’s grandfather by 景公 Duke Ching of Ch'i [547-490 B.C.]. Sun Wu’s father Sun P‘ing, rose to be a Minister of State in Ch‘i, and Sun Wu himself, whose style was 長卿 Ch‘ang-ch‘ing, fled to Wu on account of the rebellion which was being fomented by the kindred of 田鮑 T‘ien Pao. He had three sons, of whom the second, named Ming, was the father of Sun Pin. According to this account, then, Pin was the grandson of Wu,[15] which, considering that Sun Pin's victory over Wei was gained in 341 B.C., may be dismissed as chronologically impossible. Whence these data were obtained by Têng Ming-shih I do not know, but of course no reliance whatever can be placed in them.

An interesting document which has survived from the close of the Han period is the short preface written by the great 曹操 Ts‘ao Ts‘ao, or 魏武帝 Wei Wu Ti, for his edition of Sun Tzŭ. I shall give it in full: —

I have heard that the ancients used bows and arrows to their advantage.[16] The Lun Yü says: “There must be a sufficiency of military strength.”[17] The Shu Ching mentions “the army” among the “eight objects of government.”[18] The I Ching says: “ 'army' indicates firmness and justice; the experienced leader will have good fortune.”[19]

The Shih Ching says: “The King rose majestic in his wrath, and he marshalled his troops.”[20] The Yellow Emperor, T‘ang the Completer and Wu Wang all used spears and battle-axes in order to succour their generation. The Ssŭ-ma Fa says: “If one man slay another of set purpose, he himself may rightfully be slain.”[21] He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish. Instances of this are Fu Ch‘ai[22] on the one hand and Yen Wang on the other. [23] In military matters, the Sage’s rule is normally to keep the peace, and to move his forces only when occasion requires. He will not use armed force unless driven to it by necessity.[24]

Many books have I read on the subject of war and fighting; but the work composed by Sun Wu is the profoundest of them all. [Sun Tzŭ was a native of the Ch‘i state, his personal name was Wu. He wrote the Art of War in 13 chapters for Ho Lü, King of Wu. Its principles were tested on women, and he was subsequently made a general. He led an army westwards, crushed the Ch‘u State and entered Ying the capital. In the north, he kept Ch‘i and Chin in awe. A hundred years and more after his time, Sun Pin lived. He was a descendant of Wu].[25] In his treatment of deliberation and planning, the importance of rapidity in taking the field,[26] clearness of conception, and depth of design, Sun

Tzŭ stands beyond the reach of carping criticism. My contemporaries, however, have failed to grasp the full meaning of his instructions, and while putting into practice the smaller details in which his work abounds, they have overlooked its essential purport. That is the motive which has led me to outline a rough explanation of the whole.[27]

One thing to be noticed in the above is the explicit statement that the 13 chapters were specially composed for King Ho Lu. This is supported by the internal evidence of I. § 15, in which it seems clear that some ruler is addressed.

In the bibliographical section of the Han Shu,[28] there is an entry which has given rise to much discussion: 吳孫子八十二篇圖九卷 “The works of Sun Tzŭ of Wu in 82 p‘ien (or chapters), with diagrams in 9 chüan.” It is evident that this cannot be merely the 13 chapters known to Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien, or those we possess to-day. Chang Shou-chieh in his 史記正義 refers to an edition of Sun Tzŭ’s 兵法 of which the “13 chapters” formed the first chüan, adding that there were two other chüan besides.[29] This has brought forth a theory, that the bulk of these 82 chapters consisted of other writings of Sun Tzŭ — we should call them apocryphal — similar to the 問答 Wên Ta, of which a specimen dealing with the Nine Situations[30] is preserved in the 通典 T‘ung Tien, and another in Ho Shih’s commentary. It is suggested that before his interview with Ho Lu, Sun Tzŭ had only written the 13 chapters, but afterwards composed a sort of exegesis in the form of question and answer between himself and the King. 畢以珣 Pi I-hsün, author of the 孫子敘錄 Sun Tzŭ Hsü Lu, backs this up with a quotation from the Wu Yüeh Ch‘un Ch‘iu: “The King of Wu summoned Sun Tzŭ, and asked him questions about the art of war. Each time he set forth a chapter of his work, the King could not find words enough to praise him.”[31] As he points out, if the whole work was expounded on the same scale as in the above-mentioned fragments, the total number of chapters could not fail to be considerable.[32] Then the numerous other treatises attributed to Sun Tzŭ[33] might also be included. The fact that the Han Chih mentions no work of Sun Tzŭ except the 82 p‘ien, whereas the Sui and T‘ang bibliographies give the titles of others in addition to the “13 chapters,” is good proof, Pi I-hsün thinks, that all of these were contained in the 82 p‘ien. Without pinning our faith to the accuracy of details supplied by the Wu Yüeh Ch‘un Ch‘iu, or admitting the genuineness of any of the treatises cited by Pi I-hsün, we may see in this theory a probable solution of the mystery. Between Ss‘ŭ-ma Ch‘ien and Pan Ku there was plenty of time for a luxuriant crop of forgeries to have grown up under the magic name of Sun Tzŭ, and the 82 p‘ien may very well represent a collected edition of these lumped together with the original work. It is also possible, though less likely, that some of them existed in the time of the earlier historian and were purposely ignored by him.[34]

Tu Mu, after Ts‘ao Kung the most important commentator on Sun Tzŭ, composed the preface to his edition[35] about the middle of the ninth century. After a somewhat lengthy defence of the military art,[36] he comes at last to Sun Tzŭ himself, and makes one or two very startling assertions: — “The writings of Sun Wu,” he says, “originally comprised several hundred thousand words, but Ts‘ao Ts‘ao, the Emperor Wu Wei, pruned away all redundancies and wrote out the essence of the whole, so as to form a single book in 13 chapters.”[37] He goes on to remark that Ts‘ao Ts‘ao's commentary on Sun Tzŭ leaves a certain proportion of difficulties unexplained. This, in Tu Mu's opinion, does not necessarily imply that he was unable to furnish a complete commentary.[38] According to the Wei Chih, Ts‘ao himself wrote a book on war in something over 100,000 words, known as the 新書. It appears to have been of such exceptional merit that he suspects Ts‘ao to have used for it the surplus material which he had found in Sun Tzŭ. He concludes, however, by saying: “The Hsin Shu is now lost, so that the truth cannot be known for certain.”[39]

Tu Mu's conjecture seems to be based on a passage in the 漢官解詁 “Wei Wu Ti strung together Sun Wu’s Art of War,”[40] which in turn may have resulted from a misunderstanding of the final words of Ts‘ao Kung’s preface: 故撰為略解焉. This, as Sun Hsing-yen points out,[41] is only a modest way of saying that he made an explanatory paraphrase,[42] or in other words, wrote a commentary on it. On the whole, the theory has met with very little acceptance. Thus, the 四庫全書 says:[43] “The mention of the 13 chapters in the Shih Chi shows that they were in existence before the Han Chih, and that later accretions are not to be considered part of the original work. Tu Mu’s assertion can certainly not be taken as proof.”[44]

There is every reason to suppose, then, that the 13 chapters existed in the time of Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien practically as we have them now. That the work was then well known he tells us in so many words: “Sun Tzŭ’s 13 Chapters and Wu Ch‘i’s Art of War are the two books that people commonly refer to on the subject of military matters. Both of then are widely distributed, so I will not discuss them here.”[45] But as we go further back, serious difficulties begin to arise. The salient fact, which has to be faced is that the Tso Chuan, the great contemporary record, makes no mention whatever of Sun

Wu, either as a general or as a writer. It is natural, in view of this awkward circumstance, that many scholars should not only cast doubt on the story of Sun Wu as given in the Shih Chi, but even show themselves frankly sceptical as to the existence of the man at all. The most powerful presentment of this side of the case is to be found in the following disquisition by 葉水心 Yeh Shui-hsin:[46] —

It is stated in Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien’s history that Sun Wu was a native of the Ch‘i State, and employed by Wu; and that in the reign of Ho Lü he crushed Ch‘u, entered Ying, and was a great general. But in Tso’s Commentary no Sun Wu appears at all. It is true that Tso’s Commentary need not contain absolutely everything that other histories contain. But Tso has not omitted to mention vulgar plebeians and hireling ruffians such as Ying K‘ao-shu,[47] Ts‘ao Kuei,[48] Chu Chih-wu[49] and Chuan Shê-chu.[50] In the case of Sun Wu, whose fame and achievements were so brilliant, the omission is much more glaring. Again, details are given, in their due order, about his contemporaries Wu Yuan and the Minister P‘ei.[51] Is it credible that Sun Wu alone should have been passed over?[52]

In point of literary style, Sun Tzŭ’s work belongs to the same school as Kuan Tzŭ,[53] the Liu T‘ao,[54] and the Yüeh Yü,[55] and may have

been the production of some private scholar living towards the end of the “Spring and Autumn” or the beginning of the “Warring States” period.[56] The story that his precepts were actually applied by the Wu State, is merely the outcome of big talk on the part of his followers.[57]

From the flourishing period of the Chou dynasty[58] down to the time of the “Spring and Autumn,” all military commanders were statesmen as well, and the class of professional generals, for conducting external campaigns, did not then exist. It was not until the period of the “Six States”[59] that this custom changed. Now although Wu was an uncivilised State, is it conceivable that Tso should have left unrecorded the fact that Sun Wu was a great general and yet held no civil office? What we are told, therefore, about Jang-chü[60] and Sun Wu, is not authentic matter, but the reckless fabrication of theorising pundits. The story of Ho Lü’s experiment on the women, in particular, is utterly preposterous and incredible.[61]

Yeh Shui-hsin represents Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien as having said that Sun Wu crushed Ch‘u and entered Ying. This is not quite correct. No doubt the impression left on the reader’s mind is that he at least shared in these exploits; but the actual subject of the verbs , , and is certainly 闔廬 as is shown by the next words: 孫子與有力焉.[62] The fact may or may not be significant; but it is nowhere explicitly stated in the Shih Chi either that Sun Tzŭ was general on the occasion of the taking of Ying, or that he even went there at all. Moreover, as we know that Wu Yuan and Po P‘ei both took part in the expedition, and also that its success was largely due to the dash and enterprise of 夫槩 Fu Kai, Ho Lu’s younger brother, it is not easy to see how yet another general could have played a very prominent part in the same campaign.

陳振孫 Ch‘ên Chên-sun of the Sung dynasty has the note:[63] —

Military writers look upon Sun Wu as the father of their art. But the fact that he does not appear in the Tso Chuan, although he is said to have served under Ho Lü King of Wu, makes it uncertain what period he really belonged to.[64]

He also says: —

The works of Sun Wu and Wu Ch‘i may be of genuine antiquity.[65]

It is noticeable that both Yeh Shui-hsin and Ch‘ên Chên-sun, while rejecting the personality of Sun Wu as he figures in Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien’s history, are inclined to accept the date traditionally assigned to the work which passes under his name. The author of the Hsü Lu fails to appreciate this distinction, and consequently his bitter attack on Ch‘ên Chên-sun really misses its mark. He makes one or two points, however, which certainly tell in favour of the high antiquity of our “13 chapters.” “Sun Tzŭ,” he says, “must have lived in the age of Ching Wang [519—476], because he is frequently plagiarised in subsequent works of the Chou, Ch‘in and Han dynasties.”[66] The two most shameless offenders in this respect are Wu Ch‘i and Huai-nan Tzŭ, both of them important historical personages in their day. The former lived only a century after the alleged date of Sun Tzŭ, and his death is known to have taken place in 381 B. C. It was to him, according to Liu Hsiang, that 曾申 Tsêng Shên delivered the Tso Chuan, which had been entrusted to him by its author.[67] Now the fact that quotations from the Art of War, acknowledged or otherwise, are to be found in so many authors of different epochs, establishes a very strong probability that there was some common source anterior to them all, — in other words, that Sun Tzŭ’s treatise was already in existence towards the end of the 5th century B. C. Further proof of Sun Tzŭ’s antiquity is furnished by the archaic or wholly obsolete meanings attaching to a number of the words he uses. A list of these, which might perhaps be extended, is given in the Hsü Lu; and though some of the interpretations are doubtful, the main argument is hardly affected thereby.[68] Again, it must not be forgotten that Yeh Shui-hsin, a scholar and critic of the first rank, deliberately pronounces the style of the 13 chapters to

belong to the early part of the fifth century. Seeing that he is actually engaged in an attempt to disprove the existence of Sun Wu himself, we may be sure that he would not have hesitated to assign the work to a later date had he not honestly believed the contrary. And it is precisely on such a point that the judgment of an educated Chinaman will carry most weight. Other internal evidence is not far to seek. Thus, in XIII. § 1, there is an unmistakable allusion to the ancient system of land-tenure which had abready passed away by the time of Mencius, who was anxious to see it revived in a modified form.[69] The only warfare Sun Tzŭ knows is that carried on between the various feudal princes (諸侯), in which armoured chariots play a large part. Their use seems to have entirely died out before the end of the Chou dynasty. He speaks as a man of Wu, a state which ceased to exist as early as 473 B. C. On this I shall touch presently.

But once refer the work to the 5th century or earlier, and the chances of its being other than a bonâ fide production are sensibly diminished. The great age of forgeries did not come until long after. That it should have been forged in the period immediately following 473 is particularly unlikely, for no one, as a rule, hastens to identify himself with a lost cause. As for Yeh Shui-hsin’s theory, that the author was a literary recluse,[70] that seems to me quite untenable. If one thing is more apparent than another after reading the maxims of Sun Tzŭ, it is that their essence has been distilled from a large store of personal observation and experience. They reflect the mind not only of a born strategist, gifted with a rare faculty of generalisation, but also of a practical soldier closely acquainted with the military conditions of his time. To say nothing of the fact that these sayings have been accepted and endorsed by all the greatest captains of Chinese history, they offer a combination of freshness and sincerity, acuteness and common sense, which quite excludes the idea that they were artificially concocted in the study. If we admit, then, that the 13 chapters were the genuine production of a military man living towards the end of the “Ch‘un Ch‘iu” period, are we not bound, in spite of the silence of the Tso Chuan, to accept Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien’s account in its entirety? In view of his high repute as a sober historian, must we not hesitate to assume that the records he drew upon for Sun Tzŭ’s biography were false and untrustworthy? The answer, I fear, must be in the negative. There is still one grave, if not fatal, objection to the chronology involved in the story as told in the Shih Chi, which, so far as I am aware, nobody has yet pointed out. There are two passages in Sun Tzŭ in which he alludes to contemporary affairs. The first is in VI. § 21: —

Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yüeh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then that victory can be achieved.

The other is in XI. § 30: —

Asked if an army can be made to imitate the shuai-jan, I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yüeh are enemies; yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come to each other’s assistance just as the left hand helps the right.

These two paragraphs are extremely valuable as evidence of the date of composition. They assign the work to the period of the struggle between Wu and Yüeh. So much has been observed by Pi I-hsün. But what has hitherto escaped notice is that they also seriously impair the credibility of Ssŭ-ma Ch‘ien’s narrative. As we have seen above, the first positive date given in connection with Sun Wu is 512 B. C. He is then spoken of as a general, acting as confidential adviser to Ho Lu, so that his alleged introduction to that monarch had already taken place, and of course the 13 chapters must have been written earlier still. But at that time, and for several years after, down to the capture of Ying in 506, Ch‘u, and not Yüeh, was the great hereditary enemy of Wu. The two states, Ch‘u and Wu, had been constantly at war for over half a century,[71] whereas the first war between Wu and Yüeh was waged only in 510,[72] and even then was no more than a short interlude sandwiched in the midst of the fierce struggle with Ch‘u. Now Ch‘u is not mentioned in the 13 chapters at all. The natural inference is that they were written at a time when Yüeh had become the prime antagonist of Wu, that is, after Ch‘u had suffered the great humiliation of 506. At this point, a table of dates may be found useful.

BC.
514
Accession of Ho Lu.
512
Ho Lu attacks Ch‘u, but is dissuaded from entering Ying, the capital. Shih Chi mentions Sun Wu as general.
511
Another attack on Ch‘u.
510
Wu makes a successful attack on Yüeh. This is the first war between the two states.
509
Ch‘u invades Wu, but is signally defeated at 豫章 Yü-chang.
or
508
506
Ho Lu attacks Ch‘u with the aid of T‘ang and Ts‘ai. Decisive battle of 柏舉 Po-chü, and capture of Ying. Last mention of Sun Wu in Shih Chi.
505
Yüeh makes a raid on Wu in the absence of its army. Wu is beaten by Ch‘in and evacuates Ying.
504
Ho Lu sends 夫差 Fu Ch‘ai to attack Ch‘u.
497
勾踐 Kou Chien becomes King of Yüeh.
496
Wu attacks Yüeh, but is defeated by Kou Chien at 檇李 Tsui-li. Ho Lu is killed.
BC.
494
Fu Ch‘ai defeats Kou Chien in the great battle of 夫椒 Fu-chiao, and enters the capital of Yüeh.
485
Kou Chien renders homage to Wu. Death of Wu Tzŭ-hsü.
or
484
482
Kou Chien invades Wu in the absence of Fu Ch‘ai.
478
Further attacks by Yüeh on Wu.
476
475
Kou Chien lays siege to the capital of Wu.
473
Final defeat and extinction of Wu.

The sentence quoted above from VI. § 21 hardly strikes me as one that could have been written in the full flush of victory. It seems rather to imply that, for the moment at least, the tide had turned against Wu, and that she was getting the worst of the struggle. Hence we may conclude that our treatise was not in existence in 505, before which date Yüeh does not appear to have scored any notable success against Wu. Ho Lu died in 496, so that if the book was written for him, it must have been during the period 505—496, when there was a lull in the hostilities, Wu having presumably been exhausted by its supreme effort against Ch‘u. On the other hand, if we choose to disregard the tradition connecting Sun Wu's name with Ho Lu, it might equally well have seen the light between 496 and 494, or possibly in the period 482—473, when Yüeh was once again becoming a very serious menace.[73] We may feel fairly certain that the author, whoever he may have been, was not a man of any great eminence in his own day. On this point the negative testimony of the Tso Chuan far outweighs any shred of authority still attaching to the Shih Chi, if once its other facts are discredited. Sun Hsing-yen, however, makes a feeble attempt to explain the omission of his name from the great commentary. It was Wu Tzŭ-hsü, he says, who got all the credit of Sun Wu’s exploits, because the latter (being an alien) was not rewarded with an office in the State.[74]

How then did the Sun Tzŭ legend originate? It may be that the growing celebrity of the book imparted by degrees a kind of factitious renown to its author. It was felt to be only right and proper that one so well versed in the science of should have solid achievements to his credit as well. Now the capture of Ying was undoubtedly the greatest feat of arms in Ho Lu’s reign; it made a deep and lasting impression on all the surrounding states, and raised Wu to the short-lived zenith of her power. Hence, what more natural, as time went on, than that the acknowledged master of strategy, Sun Wu, should be popularly identified with that campaign, at first perhaps only in the sense that his brain conceived and planned it; afterwards, that it was actually carried out by him in conjunction with Wu Yüan,[75] Po P‘ei and Fu Kai?

It is obvious that any attempt to reconstruct even the outline of Sun Tzŭ’s life must be based almost wholly on conjecture. With this necessary proviso, I should say that he probably entered the service of Wu about the time of Ho Lu’s accession, and gathered experience, though only in the capacity of a subordinate officer, during the intense military activity which marked the first half of that prince’s reign.[76] If he rose to be a general at all, he certainly was never on an equal footing with the three above mentioned. He was doubtless present at the investment and occupation of Ying, and witnessed Wu’s sudden collapse in the following year. Yüeh’s attack at this critical juncture, when her rival was embarrassed on every side, seems to have convinced him that this upstart kingdom was the great enemy against whom every effort would henceforth have to be directed. Sun Wu was thus a well-seasoned warrior when he sat down to write his famous book, which according to my reckoning must have appeared towards the end, rather than the beginning, of Ho Lu’s reign. The story of the women may possibly have grown out of some real incident occurring about the same time. As we hear no more of Sun Wu after this from any source, he is hardly likely to have survived his patron or to have taken part in the death-struggle with Yüeh, which began with the disaster at Tsui-li.

If these inferences are approximately correct, there is a certain irony in the fate which decreed that China’s most illustrious man of peace should be contemporary with her greatest writer on war.


  1. Shih Chi, ch. 65.
  2. Also written 闔閭 Ho Lü. He reigned from 514 to 496 B.C.
  3. Shih Chi, ch. 130, f. 6 r°.
  4. I note that M. Chavannes translates 民勞 “le peuple est épuisé.” But in Sun Tzŭ's own book (see especially VII §§ 24—26) the ordinary meaning of is “army,” and this, I think, is more suitable here.
  5. These words are given also in Wu Tzŭ-hsü's biography, ch. 66, fol. 3 r°.
  6. The appellation of 囊瓦 Nang Wa.
  7. Shih Chi, ch. 31, fol. 6 r°.
  8. Ibid. ch. 25, fol. 1 r°.
  9. The appellation of 狐偃 Hu Yen, mentioned in ch. 39 under the year 637.
  10. 王子城父 Wang-tzŭ Ch‘eng-fu, ch. 32, year 607.
  11. The mistake is natural enough. Native critics refer to the 越絕書,a work of the Han dynasty,which says(ch. 2, fol. 3 v° of my edition): 巫門外大冢吳王客齊孫武冢也去縣十里善為兵法 “Ten li outside the Wu gate [of the city of Wu, now Soochow in Kiangsu] there is a great mound, raised to commemorate the entertainment of Sun Wu of Ch'i, who excelled in the art of war, by the King of Wu.”
  12. 孫子者吳人也善為兵法辟幽居世人莫知其能.
  13. 君臣乖心則孫子不能以應敵.
  14. 孫武以三萬破楚二十萬者楚無法故也.
  15. The Shih Chi, on the other hand, says: 臏亦孫武之後世子孫也. I may remark in passing that the name for one who was a great warrior is just as for a man who had his feet cut off.
  16. An allusion to 易經,繫辭,II. 2:弦木為弧剡木為失弧矢之利以威天下 “They attached strings to wood to make bows, and sharpened wood to make arrows. The use of bows and arrows is to keep the Empire in awe.”
  17. 論語 XII. 7.
  18. 書經 V. iv. 7.
  19. 易經,7th diagram().
  20. 詩經 III. I. vii. 5.
  21. 司馬法 ch. 1 (仁本ad init. The text of the passage in the 圖書 T‘u Shu戎政典, ch. 85) is: 是故殺人安人殺之可也.
  22. The son and successor of Ho Lu. He was finally defeated and overthrown by 勾踐 Kou Chien, King of Yüeh, in 473 B.C. See post.
  23. King Yen of Hsü, a fabulous being, of whom Sun Hsing-yen says in his preface: 仁而敗 "His humanity brought him to destruction." See Shih Chi, ch. 5, f. 1 vo, and M. Chavannes' note, Mémoires Historiques, tom. II, p. 8.
  24. T‘u Shu, ibid. ch. 90: 操聞上古有弧矢之利論語曰足兵尚書八政曰師易曰師貞丈人吉詩曰王赫斯怒爰征其旅黃帝湯武咸用干戚以濟世也司馬法曰人故殺人殺之可也恃武者滅恃文者亡夫差偃王是也聖人之用兵戰而時動不得已而用之
  25. The passage I have put in brackets is omitted in the T‘u Shu, and may be an interpolation. It was known, however, to 張守節 Chang Shou-chieh of the T‘ang dynasty, and appears in the T‘ai P‘ing Yü Lan.
  26. Ts‘ao Kung seems to be thinking of the first part of chap. II, perhaps especially of § 8.
  27. 吾觀兵書戰策多矣,孫武所著深矣。孫子者,齊人也,名武;為吳王闔閭作兵法一十三篇;試之婦人,卒以為將;西破強楚,入郢,北威齊、晉。後百餘歲有孫臏,是武之後也。審計重舉,明畫深圖,不可相誣,而但世人未之深亮訓說,況文煩富行於世者,失其旨要,故撰為《略解》焉。
  28. 漢書藝文志、兵權謀
  29. The 宋藝文志 mentions two editions of Sun Tzŭ in 3 chüan, namely 孫武孫子 and 朱服校定孫子.
  30. See chap. XI.
  31. 吳王召孫子問以兵法每陳一篇王不知口之稱善.
  32. 按此皆釋九地篇義辭意甚詳故其篇帙不能不多也.
  33. Such as the 八陣圖, quoted in 鄭玄 Chêng Hsüan’s commentary on the Chou Li, the 戰鬭大甲兵法 and 兵法雜占, mentioned in the 隨志 Sui Chih 三十二壘經, in the Hsin T‘ang Chih.
  34. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that 吳子 Wu Tzŭ, which is now in 6 chapters, has 48 assigned to it in the Han Chih. Likewise, the 中庸 Chung Yung is credited with 49 chapters, though now in one only. In the case of such very short works, one is tempted to think that might simply mean “leaves.”
  35. See T‘u Shu, 講籍典, ch. 442, 彚考 2.
  36. An extract will be found on p. xlv.
  37. 武所著書凡數十萬言曹魏武帝削其繁剩筆其精切凡十三篇成爲一編
  38. 其所爲注解十不釋一此蓋非曹不能盡注解也
  39. 予尋魏志見曹自作兵書十餘萬言諸將 征戰皆以新書從事從令者克捷違教者負敗意曹自於新書中馳驟其說自成一家事業不欲隨孫武後盡解其書不然者曹其不能耶今新書已亡不可復知.
  40. 魏氏瑣連孫武之法.
  41. See 孫子兵法序
  42. 謙言解其觕略.
  43. Ch. 99, fol. 5 r°
  44. 然史記稱十三篇在漢志之前不得以來附益者爲本書牧之言固未可以爲據也.
  45. Shih Chi, ch. 65 ad fin: 世俗所稱師旅皆道孫子十三篇吳起兵法世多有故弗論.
  46. Yeh Shih 葉適 of the Sung dynasty [1151—1223]. See 文獻通考, ch. 221, ff. 7, 8.
  47. See Tso Chuan, 隱公, I. 3 ad fin. and XI. 3 ad init. He hardly deserves to be bracketed with assassins.
  48. See pp. 66, 128.
  49. See Tso Chuan, 僖公, XXX. 5.
  50. See p. 128. Chuan Chu is the abbreviated form of his name.
  51. I.e. Po P‘ei. See ante.
  52. 遷載孫武齊人而用於吳在闔閭時破楚入郢爲大將按左氏無孫武他書所有左氏不必盡有然穎考叔曹劌燭之武鱄設諸之流微賤暴用事左氏未嘗遺而武功名章灼如此乃更闕又同時伍員宰嚭一一銓次乃獨不及武邪.
  53. The nucleus of this work is probably genuine, though large additions have been made by later hands. Kuan Chung died in 645 B. C.
  54. See infra, p. 1.
  55. I do not know what work this is, unless it be the last chapter of the 國語. Why that chapter should be singled out, however, is not clear.
  56. About 480 B. C.
  57. 詳味孫子與管子六韜越語相出入春秋末戰國初山林處士所爲其言得用於吳者其徒夸大之說也.
  58. That is, I suppose, the age of Wu Wang and Chou Kung.
  59. In the 3rd century B. C.
  60. Ssŭ-ma Jang-chü, whose family name was T‘ien, lived in the latter half of the 6th century B. C., and is also believed to have written a work on war. See Shih Chi, ch. 64, and infra, p. 1.
  61. 自周之盛至春秋凡將兵者必與聞國政未有特將於外者六國時此制始改呉雖蠻夷而孫武爲大將乃不爲命卿而左氏無傳焉可乎故凡謂穰苴孫武者皆辯士妄相標指非事實其言闔閭試以婦人尤爲奇險不足信.
  62. See the end of the passage quoted from the Shih Chi on p. xii.
  63. In the 書錄解題, a classified catalogue of his family library.
  64. See Wên Hsien T‘ung K‘ao, ch. 221, f. 9 r°: 世之言兵者祖孫武然孫武事吳闔閭而不見於左傳不知果何時人也.
  65. See Hsü Lu, f. 14 r°: 孫吳或是古書.
  66. 按孫子生於敬王之代故周秦兩漢諸書皆多襲用其文. Here is a list of the passages in Sun Tzŭ from which either the substance or the actual words have been appropriated by early authors: VII. 9.; IX. 17; I. 24 (戰國策). IX. 23; IX. 1, 3, 77; V. 1; III. 18; XI. 58; VII. 31; VII. 24; VII. 26; IX. 15; IX. 4 (bis) (吳子). III. 8; IV. 7 (尉繚子). VII. 19; V. 14; III 2 (鶡冠子). III. 8; XI. 2; I. 19; XI. 58; X. 10 & VI. 1 (史記. Two of the above are given as quotations). V. 13; IV. 2 (呂氏春秋). IX. 11, 12; XI. 30; I. 13; VII 19 & IV. 7; VII. 32; VII. 25; IV. 20 & V. 23; IX. 43; V. 15; VII. 26; V. 4 & XI. 39; VIII. 11; VI. 4 (淮南子). V. 4 (太元經). II. 20; X. 14 (潛夫論).
  67. See Legge's Classics, vol. V, Prolegomena p. 27. Legge thinks that the Tso Chuan must have been written in the 5th century, but not before 424 B. C.
  68. The instances quoted are: — III. 14, 15: is said to be equivalent to ; II. 15: 𦮼 = ; VII. 28: = ; XI. 60: = ; XI. 24: the use of instead of (the later form); XI. 64: = ; IX. 3: = ; III. 11: and antithetically opposed in the sense of 無缺 and 有缺; XI. 56: = ; XI. 31: = .
  69. See Mencius III. 1. iii. 13—20.
  70. 山林處士 need not be pressed to mean an actual dweller in the mountains. I think it simply denotes a person living a retired life and standing aloof from public affairs.
  71. When Wu first appears in the Ch‘un Ch‘iu in 584, it is already at variance with its powerful neighbour. The Ch‘un Ch‘iu first mentions Yüeh in 537, the Tso Chuan in 601.
  72. This is explicitly stated in the Tso Chuan, 昭公 XXXII, 2: 夏吳伐越始用師於越也.
  73. There is this to be said for the later period, that the feud would tend to grow more bitter after each encounter, and thus more fully justify the language used in XI. § 30.
  74. See his preface to Sun Tzŭ: — 入郢威齊晉之功歸之子胥故春秋傳不載其名葢功成不受官.
  75. With Wu Yuan himself the case is just the reverse: — a spurious treatise on war has been gathered on him simply because he was a great general. Here we have an obvious inducement to forgery. Sun Wu, on the other hand, cannot have been widely known to fame in the 5th century.
  76. See Tso Chuan, 定公, 4th year (506), § 14: 自昭王卽位無歲不有吳師 “From the date of King Chao’s accession [515] there was no year in which Ch‘u was not attacked by Wu.”