Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) was a great Chinese military strategist.
He was also a great philosopher who lived during the Eastern Zhou period. Also called as ‘Master Sun’, Sun Tzu, was a master in the art of war tactics.
He is famously known as the writer of ‘The Art of War’, a book that compiles deep knowledge and wisdom produced at the time of the strong political instability of Chinese history. The book was written almost 2,400 years ago when the pharaohs still ruled over Egypt and the Greeks had not yet achieved their golden age. It is said that early copies of this book were written on bamboo sheets that were tied together with threads!
The 'Art of War' is a persuasive military discourse that has immensely influenced Western and East Asian theories of military. Most of the works of Sun Tzu revolve around topics like strategy, tactics, adequate utilization of government agents, formation and upkeep of alliances, how to accept defeat, employment of double agents, and more. In other words, Sun Tzu’s work covers every minute aspect related to war. He won many battles using subtlety and mystery.
That said, Sun Tzu’s historicity has been questioned many times. Whether an individual by that name existed at all has been majorly disputed. And this is primarily because the time in which he is supposed to have lived was very chaotic. The Spring and Autumn period, followed by the Warring States Period, were muddled eras that saw the decline in the authority of the Zhou dynasty. The heavy turmoil and the alleged destruction of many works by the Qin dynasty, the first imperial dynasty of China, led to the loss of many significant records.
However, the existence of The Art of War and its profound influence clearly shows that there was someone who existed and produced that work. And tradition holds that the work was transcribed by one Sun Tzu.
Modern scholars that accept his existence believe that he lived during the Warring States period. This observation is made based on his compositional style and descriptions of warfare. A few traditional records also mention a descendant of Sun Tzu, Sun Bin, who wrote a treatise on military strategies. This treatise was also titled 'The Art of War'.
Life History Of Sun Tzu
The details about Sun Tzu’s early life come from Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s Shih chi. It is also called the Grand Historian Records of China. According to these records, Sun Tzu lived during ‘The Spring-Autumn Period', an era dated between 770 BC and 476 BC.
The man was born in Qi, which is a modern Shandong province. However, some records also state that he was born in Wu. He is said to have lived during the stormy period of the late Chou dynasty.
Born and brought up in a military family, Sun Tzu had a natural inclination toward military science in his early life. He also became a very popular and admired military general and strategist. He was the general of King Ho-Lu of Wu.
Sun Tzu understood the nuances of warfare much better than any of his opponents. Throughout his military career, he won several battles and learned the art of winning wars with the least loss of his men. According to the ancient Chinese record, he won the Battle of Boju in 506 BC. He was declared an exceptional strategic battlefield commander who was not only flexible but also full of surprises. A historian from the Han dynasty called Sima Qian also wrote in one of his pieces that Sun Tzu, in nearly 40 years of his career, seldom lost a battle, war, or campaign.
Sun Tzu's book, The Art of War, talks about the philosophy of war. Widely lauded as a masterpiece on strategy, it is cited and referred to by theorists and military leaders internationally.
What field area did Sun Tzu work in?
Sun Tzu was a great thinker and strategist. His primary areas of operation were military strategy and intelligence. He established several strategies and tactics for commanders and kings' rulers, helping them win all their battles.
Even scholars who supported Sun Tzu’s historicity point to his role in the Battle of Boju (506 BC). According to sources, Sun Tzu worked under King Ho-Lu of Wu during the Wu-Chu wars. The King wanted to test Sun Tzu’s skills and dedication before appointing him as the lead official. Consequently, he asked him to train his 180 concubines to become soldiers. Sun Tzu divided the group into two companies, and each company was led by the king’s two favorite commanders.
When Sun Tzu gave his first order to face right, no one took him seriously. The women laughed and giggled as he repeated his command. Sun Tzu had the commanders executed and replaced, and after this, no one dared decline his order. It was then that Ho-Lu hired him as his general.
Sun Tzu Contribution In Warfare And War Skills
Sun Tzu’s book, 'The Art of War' has been studied all through history by the revered military leaders of China, Russia, Japan, Vietnam, and the United States.
The 'Art of War' is considered highly relevant even in today’s time. It is a crucial text that talks about many concepts like management, business, sports, and politics. Below, we will look at how Sun Tzu and his concepts and approaches have contributed to warfare over the years.
Never Rush Into War: Sun Tzu greatly emphasizes the financial cost of war and the crushing burden of acquiring men from their civilian lives and using them as troops in the war field. He repeatedly talks about how the stakes are so high in every fighting battle and that a sincere effort should be made to avoid the fight as much as possible.
Military Intelligence: The Art of War also talks about surveillance and finding out information about the enemy. Once you know about the enemy, it becomes easy to trick and outwit them.
The Importance of Ch’i- Ch’i is a Taoist belief that features ancient Chinese history. Essentially, it denotes your life's force and implies that one must not waste time and effort on useless tasks. Each quarter of time must be used wisely to ensure the smooth accomplishment of all tasks.
Be Ready To Adapt: As per the teachings in 'The Art of War', one must never have a rigid strategy while dealing with a problem. A person should always be open to adjustments to find the best solution. Today, we can easily follow Sun Tzu’s ideas in every walk of life. Whether it is leadership, governance, or maintaining a subtle balance of power, the concept is highly relevant in the Western world today.
Know Your Enemy And Know Yourself: Understanding your enemy and his tactics is very important if you want to overcome him. It is important to focus on your strengths and your enemy’s weaknesses in order to truly outmaneuver him.
During a rebellion in Tang China, fleeing officials brought the book written by Sun Tzu to Japan. His writings greatly influenced Samurai warfare.
Despite all the technological advances in warfare, Sun Tzu’s ideas and approach are still as valid now as they were in ancient China. He has immensely contributed to warfare by enabling troops to use his knowledge and gain an advantage without much effort. His book, 'The Art of War', continues to be a significant reference guide for the military analysts and tacticians of today.
What is Sun Tzu known for?
Sun Tzu is traditionally recognized as the author of 'The Art of War'. His book is an influential piece on the work of military strategy that has immensely impacted both East Asian and Western philosophy and military thinking.
Sun Tzu approached warfare from a very different perspective, which was originally not seen in ancient China. Although formerly only meant as a concise guide for the military, 'The Art of War' continues to be a bestseller and a household name for millions worldwide. The teachings from the book have a particularly strong hold in various business schools and military schools across the globe.
The 13-chapter long book’s advice departs from fighting, vehemence, and bloodshed. Instead, it focuses on the different ways to battle strategically. According to Sun Tzu, being strategic means knowing which battle to pick, being efficient with resource allocation, developing pleasant relationships between the civilians and the government, and choosing capable and competent leaders.
Sun Tzu’s teachings have a huge impact on our day-to-day conflicts. He focused on using strategy in everything he did to make it much more effective and smoother. Even the book 'The Art of War' talks about using strategy instead of brute force, leveraging knowledge as a weapon, and grabbing small victories to set yourself up for future success.
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