Sun Tzu (commonly: "Sun Tzu", 孙子, simplified characters; in modern Chinese, the same characters also mean "grandson" with a toneless second syllable) (c. 400 B.C.) was the author of The Art of War, a classic Chinese treatise on military strategy. Sun Tzu's strategies and tactics utilize the "Eastern tradition of strategy that emphasizes outwitting an opponent through speed, stealth, flexibility, and a minimum of effort."
He lived during the Warring States period, a time when his skills in warfare were much in demand. His original name was 孙武， Sun Wu, and the name 孙子 is an honorific. 孙武's grandson, Sun Bin, 孙膑，also wrote a text of military strategy; in Chinese, Sun Bin's book is 孙膑兵法，and Sun Wu's is most commonly known simply as 孙子兵法，although both were known as 孙子 after their deaths, thus making it confusing for military historians and sinologists to differentiate between the two. The second 孙子's text was uncovered only recently, in the 1970s, in a Han dynasty tomb, in Yinqueshan, Shandong province.
The original 孙子兵法 is considered a very important text on warfare, and the advice on warfare is still considered relevant. Sun Zi's text forms part of what is called the "militarist" school of Chinese philosophy, and so-called militarist texts make up quite a large proportion of the total of philosophical texts surviving from the Warring States period. It could be that during the purges of the Qin dynasty, when books deemed useless by the Qin state were burnt, military texts survived due to their usefulness to the Qin, and this accounts for the large number, but at the same time, it shows that clearly, warfare was highly valued in the period, as were those skilled at it, more so than the abstract and moral philosophers, such as Confucius or Mozi.
Criticism of Sun Tzu
Although Sun Tzu has some admirable strategies/tactics/philosophies, such as minimizing the breadth/duration of war, his advocacy of deception earned him critics among Confucian scholars, Christendom and others (The Bible repeatedly gives strong condemnation of lying and Augustine taught that lying is intrinsically wrong). In the Christianity/theism vs. secularism culture war, atheists/agnostics have often acted inappropriately and engaged in lies/deception and cruelty (see: Atheism and deception and Atheism and morality and militant atheism).
Sun Tzu Quotes
- "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."
- "He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared."
- "For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."
- "The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy."
- "Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate." (An alternative translation: "Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus, he is master of his enemy's fate.").
- "And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him."
- "Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions."
- "The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim."
- "Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him."
- "...when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."
- "Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move."
- "What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations."
- "If your opponent is of choleric temperament, seek to irritate him."