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Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Sun Tzu[1†]

Sun Tzu, also known as Sunzi or Sun Wu, was a Chinese military general, strategist, philosopher, and writer who lived during the Eastern Zhou period (771 to 256 BC)[1†]. He is traditionally credited as the author of “The Art of War”, an influential work of military strategy that has affected both Western and East Asian philosophy and military thinking[1†]. His birth name was Sun Wu and he was known outside of his family by his courtesy name Changqing[1†]. The name Sun Tzu, by which he is more popularly known, is an honorific which means "Master Sun"[1†].

Early Years and Education:

Sun Tzu’s exact birth date and location are not known, but he is believed to have been born around 544 BC[1†]. He was a contemporary of the famous philosopher Confucius and lived in a tumultuous era characterized by divisions and internal struggles[2†]. His historicity is uncertain, with some scholars debating his existence in the same way they debate the existence of his supposed contemporary Lao-Tzu[3†]. However, the profound influence of “The Art of War” since its publication clearly proves that someone existed to produce said work, and tradition holds that the work was written by one Sun Tzu[3†].

Career Development and Achievements:

Sun Tzu began his military service around 512 BC[4†][5†]. He served under King Helü of Wu during the late 6th century BC[4†][5†]. Sun Tzu was an excellent military strategist and helped his army win multiple wars[4†][5†]. His strategies often focused on alternatives to battle, such as the use of spies, building alliances with allies, using deceit, stratagem, and a willingness to temporarily submit to powerful foes[5†].

One of the most well-known stories about Sun Tzu illustrates his dedication to discipline. Before employing Sun Tzu as the general, the King of Wu gave him a test. Sun Tzu was asked by the king to train a harem of 180 concubines into soldiers. Sun Tzu divided the women into two groups and appointed two of the king’s favourite concubines as the leader of each group. He then ordered the women to face right. Instead of obeying, the women started giggling. He reinstated the order, and the women once again failed to comply. A stickler for discipline, he ordered that both the leaders be executed[5†].

In a significant battle against the Chu forces, who were numerically superior, Sun Tzu’s strategies played a pivotal role in the Wu’s victory. King Ho-Lu’s brother, Fugai, heeded Sun Tzu’s counsel to deploy spies and glean intelligence on the enemy’s vulnerabilities. Discovering that the opposing general, Nang Wa, was disliked by his troops, Sun Tzu exploited this weakness to secure a win for Wu[4†].

Sun Tzu was known for his distinct approach to warfare. Unlike the prevalent notion of war as a “knightly contest,” Sun Tzu perceived it as a grave matter, not bound by conventional chivalric codes. He believed in adapting to the natural order of things, a principle drawn from Taoism, which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao, the underlying principle governing the universe[4†].

First Publication of His Main Works:

Sun Tzu is traditionally credited as the author of “The Art of War”, an influential work of military strategy[1†]. The book is composed of 13 chapters, each one devoted to a specific aspect of warfare[5†]. It was the lead text in the anthology the Seven Military Classics curated by Emperor Shenzong of Song in 1080[5†]. Here are some of his main works:

Most of Sun Tzu’s works 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[7†]. In other words, Sun Tzu’s work covers every minute aspect related to war[1†][7†].

Analysis and Evaluation:

Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is widely regarded as one of the most influential military and strategic classics of all time[8†]. The text is structured around 14 themes, providing a comprehensive picture of what it actually says[8†]. It draws on Chinese-language analyses, historical, philological, and archaeological sources, traditional commentaries, computational ideas, and strategic and logistics perspectives[8†].

Sun Tzu’s work has had a widespread influence, especially the first couple of chapters[9†]. It is read by generals, business people, sports coaches, and strategists[8†][9†]. However, one of the messages that many hold from reading it is that victory is based on deception[9†]. Seeing strategy as an opposition of forces and a battle is an issue[9†].

Sun Tzu’s philosophy has also been used as a strategy analysis framework[8†][9†]. In the first chapter of “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu mentions that there are five fundamental factors to be considered and seven elements that will deliver the outcome[9†]. These provide an excellent framework to map today’s business and help devise an organization’s strategy[9†].

Personal Life:

Despite the resounding fame of “The Art of War”, not much is known about the personal life of Sun Tzu[5†][1†]. Traditional Chinese historians, including Han dynasty historian Sima Qian, stated he was probably a minister to King Helü of Wu and lived during 544-496 BC[5†][1†]. Sun Tzu was born in 544 BC (according to traditional accounts) in Qi or Wu, Zhou Kingdom[5†]. There is disagreement regarding his birthplace in different historical documents[5†]. However, the consensus is that he was born in the late Spring and Autumn period in Chinese history[5†].

As a young man, he joined the military and was raised to the position of a general and strategist[5†]. He is believed to have served under King Helü of Wu in the late 6th century BC[5†]. He probably began his service around 512 BC[5†]. According to historical sources, Sun Tzu was an excellent military strategist and helped his army win multiple wars[5†].

Conclusion and Legacy:

Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” has had a profound influence on both Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy, lifestyles and beyond[1†]. The book has been translated into various languages and is still used as a reference in military academies around the world[1†]. Sun Tzu’s strategies have influenced many notable figures[1†]. For instance, the Han dynasty historian Sima Qian recounted that China’s first historical emperor, Qin’s Shi Huangdi, considered the book invaluable in ending the time of the Warring States[1†].

Sun Tzu’s enduring legacy lies in the continued relevance and universal applicability of his work[4†]. “The Art of War” remains a foundational text in the fields of strategy and warfare and continues to inspire new interpretations and adaptations in various cultural, military, and academic contexts around the world[4†].

In Japan, Sun Tzu is treated as an adopted military guru[10†]. His strategies have become deeply entrenched in Japanese culture, influencing business, government, and military circles, and even players of strategic video games[10†].

In contemporary Chinese strategy, Sun Tzu’s influence is pervasive, affecting everything from deception to espionage[1†][11†]. His emphasis on a general’s on-site decisions and initiative has resulted in a Chinese Air Force inclination to take this initiative through offensive operations[1†][11†].

Key Information:

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Sun Tzu [website] - link
  2. La Mente es Maravillosa - Sun Tzu, biografía de un estratega [website] - link
  3. The World History Encyclopedia - Sun-Tzu [website] - link
  4. World History Edu - Sun Tzu – History and Major Accomplishments [website] - link
  5. Famous People - Sun Tzu Biography [website] - link
  6. Goodreads - Books by Sun Tzu [website] - link
  7. Kidadl - Sun Tzu Facts: Learn About The Man Who Wrote 'The Art Of War' [website] - link
  8. Cambridge - Three Faces of Sun Tzu [website] - link
  9. Sergio Caredda - Sun Tzu’s Five Factors as a Strategy Analysis Framework [website] - link
  10. Together With Japan - Japanese Culture: The Legacy of Sun Tzu [website] - link
  11. National Defense University Press - Sun Tzu in Contemporary Chinese Strategy [website] - link
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