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Ancient China

Sun Tzu and the Art of War

History for Kids >> Biography >> Ancient China


Early Life

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.

Military Leader

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.
  1. Laying Plans
  2. Waging War
  3. The Plan of Attack
  4. Positioning
  5. Directing
  6. Weak Points and Strong
  7. Maneuvering
  8. The Nine Variations
  9. The Army on the March
  10. Terrain
  11. The Nine Terrains
  12. Attack by Fire
  13. The Use of Spies
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.

Famous Sayings from the Art of War Legacy

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

For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:

Timeline of Ancient China
Geography of Ancient China
Silk Road
The Great Wall
Forbidden City
Terracotta Army
The Grand Canal
Battle of Red Cliffs
Opium Wars
Inventions of Ancient China
Glossary and Terms

Major Dynasties
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Han Dynasty
Period of Disunion
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dyanasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Daily Life in Ancient China
Numbers and Colors
Legend of Silk
Chinese Calendar
Civil Service
Chinese Art
Entertainment and Games

Kangxi Emperor
Genghis Khan
Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Emperor Qin
Emperor Taizong
Sun Tzu
Empress Wu
Zheng He
Emperors of China

Works Cited

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