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Sun Tzu and the Art of War
History for Kids >>
- Occupation: General and Military Strategist
- Born: 544 BC
- Died: 496 BC
- Best known for: Wrote the Art of War
Little is known of Sun Tzu's early life. He was originally born Sun Wu, the son of an aristocrat during the Spring and Autumn period of Ancient China. He had a strong interest in battle and became a mercenary soldier. Over time Sun Tzu gained a reputation as a good leader of soldiers.
The King's Test
The King of Wu noticed that Sun Tzu was a good leader. He brought Sun Tzu to his palace to test him. He ordered Sun Tzu to train 180 of his concubines (wives) as soldiers. Sun Tzu divided the women up into two groups and assigned two of the women as their leaders. He then gave them a command. The women just giggled. Sun Tzu had the two leaders executed. He then assigned two more women as leaders. The next time he gave the command, the women obeyed flawlessly.
As his knowledge about war grew, Sun Tzu had begun to form his own theories and strategies regarding war. He tested many of them out as general for the King of Wu. When the state of Wu went to war against the powerful Chu state, Sun Tzu led them to many victories including the capture of the Chu capital city of Ying.
The Art of War
Sun Tzu wrote down his theories about war in a book called the Art of War. This became one of the most famous books on war strategy in the world. There are thirteen chapters in the book. Each one describing strategies for a different aspect of war.
Sun Tzu did not advocate war. He recommended avoiding war if possible, but also thought that it was best to win any war quickly. He believed that long wars were harmful even for the winner.
- Laying Plans
- Waging War
- The Plan of Attack
- Weak Points and Strong
- The Nine Variations
- The Army on the March
- The Nine Terrains
- Attack by Fire
- The Use of Spies
Famous Sayings from the Art of War
- To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.
- A leader leads by example, not by force.
- The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
- Attack the enemy where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
- He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
- All warfare is based on deception.
- A clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
- What is of the greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed; one cannot afford to neglect opportunity.
The Art of War has been studied throughout history by military leaders of many nations including China, Japan, Russia, Vietnam, and the United States. Mao Zedong studied the book and used its strategies in defeating the Kuomintang during the Chinese Civil War.
The Art of War is still studied today and is considered an important text in many military schools. It is required reading for CIA officers and is on the recommended reading list for U.S. Military Intelligence personnel. The book has even been used to teach strategy outside of war for fields such as business, management, sports, and politics.
Interesting Facts about Sun Tzu
- Much of the Art of War reflects the beliefs and philosophies of Taoism.
- His teachings are the basis for many Asian martial arts philosophies.
- He states that the five virtues of a general are wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, strictness, and courage.
- The Art of War was first translated into English in 1905. It was translated into French in 1782.
- The Art of War is not a very long book. It is public domain and you can download it for free off the internet.
- A descendent of Sun Tzu named Sun Bin also wrote a famous book on war strategy called Sun Bin's Art of War.
For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:
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