Sun Pin

The Art of Warfare

Abraham J. Simon, Dim Cheuk Lau, Roger T. Ames

Publisher: Ballantine, 1996, 352 pages

ISBN: 0-345-37991-8

Keywords: Strategy, History

Last modified: July 28, 2021, 10:58 p.m.

Lost for some 2,000 years and only rediscovered by chance in 1972, Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare is now recognized as one of the essential texts of classical Chinese military philosophy. In this new edition, D. C. Lau and Roger T. Ames, eminent scholars of Chinese philosophy and widely respected translators, offer a comprehensive translation of the Sun Pin texts, along with extensive notes and commentary. The publication of this volume returns the work of one of the great military innovators to the canon of Chinese literature. Sun Pin, believed to be a direct descendant of the distinguished military theorist Sun-tzu, flourished during the mid-fourth century B.C. during China's Warring States era, a period of unprecedented violence. As independent nation states attempted to annihilate each other through incessant and escalating battles, military tactics increased exponentially in sophistication and brutality. In the China of the mid-fourth century B.C., it was not uncommon for as many as 80,000 soldiers to perish in a single defeat. As Lau and Ames write in their introduction, warfare was increasingly a way of life, and a way of death. This was the world that Sun Pin both reflected and deeply influenced through his writings.

Sun Pin, himself a victim of a court intrigue that resulted in the amputation of his legs below the knee, rose above disgrace to become the key adviser of King Wei, the ruler of the state of Ch'i. In his writings, Sun Pin draws on battles he had waged as well as examples from earlier history to explore the nature, the purpose, and the effective conduct of war. Sun Pin, essentially a philosopher of the battlefield, ponders such key concepts as the exemplary ruler, the importance of strategy and morale, and the advantages to be gained from adaptability, display, and discretion. Yet these texts are also clearly intended to be practical and to be used to maximum effect on the battlefield. As Sun Pin writes, for one who has really mastered the way of warfare, his enemy can do nothing to escape death. This new edition of Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare includes not only the sixteen chapters and fragments of the main text recovered at Yin-ch'üeh-shan in 1972, but also fifteen supplementary chapters and three extracts from the encyclopedic tradition. The translation by professors D.C. Lau and Roger T. Ames is admirably clear and fluid, and their comprehensive introduction examining the life and times and the original philosophical contribution of the Sun Pin literature is a brilliant work in its own right. Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare is a timeless text that fuses history, philosophy, military technique, and reflections on the nature of human conflict. At once evocative of an ancient culture and deeply relevant to contemporary concepts of power and leadership, this volume belongs in the libraries of all serious readers.

  • Introduction
    • The Excavation at Yin-ch'üeh-shan
    • Sun Pin as a Historical Person
    • The Reconstructed Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare
    • Analysis of Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare
      • An Overview
      • Sun-tzu and Sun Pin: The Overlap
        • Sun-tzu and Sun Pin: Textual Borrowings
        • Sun-tzu and Sun Pin: Thematic Continuities
      • Sun-tzu and Sun Pin: The Differences
        • Sun Pin on Siege Warfare
        • Sun Pin and the Introduction of Cavalry
        • Sun Pin and Battle Formation (chen)
      • Sun Pin: Current Assessments of its Value
      • The Art of Warfare as a Genre
      • Sun Pin as Philosophical Literature
        • Foreknowledge (chih)
        • The Way (tao)
        • Strategic Advantage (shih)
        • Weighing with the Lever Scales (ch'üan)
        • Battle Formation and Display (chen/ch'en)
        • Adaptability (pien)
        • Yin-Yang and a Correlative Vocabulary
        • The Exemplary Commander (chiang)
        • The Complete Victory (ch'üan sheng)
  • Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare  A Translation
    • Part I — Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare
    • The Sixteen-Chapter Text Recovered from the Yin-Ch'üeh-Shan Han Dynasty Strips
      • Chapter 1: Capturing P'ang Chüan
      • Chapter 2: [An Audience with King Wei of Ch'i]
      • Chapter 3: The Questions of King Wei of Ch'i
      • Chapter 4: T'ien Chi Inquires about Battlefield Defenses
      • Chapter 5: On Selecting the Troops
      • Chapter 6: The Moon and Warfare
      • Chapter 7: The Eightfold Division of Formations
      • Chapter 8: Terrain as Treasure
      • Chapter 9: Preparing the Strategic Advantage (shih)
      • Chapter 10: [The Real Nature of the Military]
      • Chapter 11: Carrying out the Selection of Personnel
      • Chapter 12: Sacrifice in Battle
      • Chapter 13: Raising and Keeping Morale High
      • Chapter 14: Coordinating Military Assignements
      • Chapter 15: The Five Kinds of Training Methods
      • Chapter 16: [Strengthening the Military]
    • Part II — Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare
    • The Fifteen Supplemental Chapters Recovered from the Yin-Ch'üeh-Shan Han Dynasty Strips
      • Chapter 17: Ten Military Formations
      • Chapter 18: Ten Questions
      • Chapter 19: Overwhelming and Armed Infantry
      • Chapter 20: The Positions of Invader and Defender
      • Chapter 21: The Expert Commander
      • Chapter 22: Five Postures and Five Situations in Which an Army Respects Conventions
      • Chapter 23: [Military Mistakes]
      • Chapter 24: The Rightness (yi) of the Commander
      • Chapter 25: [The Excellence (te) of the Commander]
      • Chapter 26: Fatal Weaknesses of the Commander
      • Chapter 27: [Fatal Mistakes of the Commander]
      • Chapter 28: [Male and Female Fortifications]
      • Chapter 29: [Five Considerations and Nine Objectives]
      • Chapter 30: [Concentrated and Sparse Troops]
      • Chapter 31: Straightforward and Surprise Operations
    • Part III — Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare
    • Text Recovered from Later Commentarial, Historical, and Encyclopedic Sources
      • Chapter 32: Ten Advantages of Using the Cavalry
      • Chapter 33: Attacking the Heart-and-Mind
      • Chapter 34: Fragments
  • Appendix
    • Background to the Excavation at Yin-ch'üeh-shan
    • Dating the Tombs and Identifying the Occupants
    • The First Published Reports
    • The Bamboo Strip Manuscripts and their Dates


Sun Pin

Reviewed by Roland Buresund

OK ***** (5 out of 10)

Last modified: May 21, 2007, 3:23 a.m.

One of the first books about strategy. You can miss this without feeling any loss, unless you're interested in history (like me).


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