By Josh Longster, Lillian Zheng
The specter of war has been casting its long shadow all over the world. Wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East dominate the media headlines. With their devastating consequences on livelihoods and society, these conflicts serve as poignant reminders of the enduring relevance of human struggles and military solutions.
Comparing our modern world to Ancient China, we can glean insights into the timeless nature of human warfare. While the technology and geopolitical landscape have evolved dramatically, the fundamental principles of war drama and their impact on our lives remain remarkably consistent.
Wise military strategy has played a pivotal role in shaping the course of nations, and it was no different for Ancient China. One of the key attributes that has allowed Ancient China to sustain itself as a civilized nation for over 5000 years is its ability to avoid unnecessary large-scale warfare while engaging only in wars deemed to be “necessary.” This approach holistically sought to minimize casualties and preserve the nation’s strength and social well-being.
It is a testament to the wisdom of ancient Chinese thinkers and leaders who understood that true victory often lay in avoiding the devastation of all-out conflict and pursuing a path of strategic restraint. Among the world-renowned military commanders, Sun Tzu is one of the wisest, and we still celebrate his book “The Art of War” today. It remains a beacon of his timeless wisdom that could guide us through the complexities of warfare in ancient times and today.
Sun Tzu, Born into Warring States
Sun Tzu (孫子), also known as Sunzi or Master Sun, is a legendary figure in Chinese history whose life and legacy continue to inspire military tacticians, leaders, and scholars around the world. He is credited with writing “The Art of War” (孫子兵法), a timeless masterpiece on strategy and warfare.
He was born in the State of Qi (modern-day Shandong province, China) around 544 BCE.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding his early life, his later accomplishments in military strategy are well-documented.
Sun Tzu is believed to have served as a military strategist and general in the State of Wu, one of the many states in the tumultuous era of the Warring States (戰國時代). During this time, he honed his skills and developed the principles that would become the cornerstone of “The Art of War.”
“The Art of War” is a timeless treatise on military strategy, tactics, and leadership.Sun Tzu’s insights into the art of warfare remain relevant in various fields, including business, politics, and sports. One of the quotes from the book is, “All warfare is based on deception” (孫子兵法, Chapter 1). This principle emphasizes the importance of psychological warfare, surprise, and misdirection in achieving victory on the battlefield. Sun Tzu’s work also highlights the significance of adaptability and strategic planning, as he famously stated, “In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak” (孫子兵法, Chapter 4).
Sun Tzu achieved numerous victories throughout his life and earned a reputation as an outstanding military strategist. His most celebrated accomplishment was leading the State of Wu to a remarkable victory over the more powerful State of Chu, demonstrating his unparalleled skills in warfare.
In the historical records, the demise of Sun Tzu is shrouded in mystery. Some accounts suggest that he fell out of favor with the Wu court, while others propose that he was put to death by the King for unknown reasons. Regardless of the circumstances of his death, Sun Tzu’s contributions to military strategy and his enduring legacy have transcended the ages.
The Golden Military Strategies
“The Art of War” is not merely a guide for military commanders but a source of wisdom applicable to various aspects of life. Sun Tzu’s teachings stress the importance of careful planning and thorough preparation. As he famously said, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized” (孫子兵法, Chapter 2). This quote underscores the idea that proactive decision-making and seizing opportunities lead to success, not only in warfare but in any endeavor.
The concept of “knowing thyself and knowing the enemy” (知己知彼, 百戰不殆) is another fundamental principle discussed by Sun Tzu. He emphasizes the significance of self-awareness and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both your allies and adversaries. Such knowledge is essential for effective decision-making and achieving victory. Sun Tzu’s teachings promote strategic thinking and emphasize the value of intelligence and information.
Moreover, Sun Tzu’s work advocates the importance of adaptability and flexibility in strategy. He highlights the need to adjust one’s approach to the circumstances at hand, as demonstrated in his advice to “be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness” (孫子兵法, Chapter 5).
This concept of fluidity in strategy remains highly relevant in today’s rapidly changing world. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: “The book’s insistence on the close relationship between political considerations and military policy greatly influenced some modern strategists.”
Throughout his book, Sun Tzu advocated for efficiency in war, avoiding as many casualties as possible, reducing human sacrifice, whether winning or losing. He also stressed a leader must be capable of comprehending “unfathomable plans”, his ideal general would be an enlightened cultivator who can foresee the outcome of the war.
Sun Tzu, who lived during Eastern Zhou period (771 to 256 BC) in Ancient China, left an indelible mark on the world of military strategy and beyond with his timeless work, “The Art of War.” While the details of his life remain somewhat elusive, his achievements in warfare and strategy are well-documented. His insights into the art of war continue to inspire leaders, scholars, and individuals across various domains since its publishing on bamboo 2,500 years ago.
Sun Tzu’s warfare principles remain as relevant today as in the tumultuous era of the Warring States. His legacy endures, a testament to the lasting power of his wisdom.
Before we explore these historical truths, we must understand that ancient China was a vastly different place from today’s China, currently under the rule of Chinese Communist Party. Ancient China was guided by many benevolent and disciplined teachings passed down by enlightened scholars, saints and emperors. They lived according to the social traditions and wise principles, Chinese people had survived from numerous natural disasters, wars and a large scale of pandemics, and enjoyed prosperous dynasties throughout its 5,000 years of civilization.
Sun Tzu. “The Art of War” (孫子兵法), suntzusaid.com.
“Sun Tzu.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Art-of-War-by-Sunzi