Sun Wu (pronounced “Soon Woo”), better known as Sun Tze, an ancient Chinese General who lived during the Zhou Dynasty, is said to be the author of The Art of War, one of the most influential books on military strategy ever written. He lived approximately from 544–496 B.C.E., and was a contemporary of both LaoTze and Confucius. Although it is not documented whether or not he ever met those other Two Sages, there seems to be a strong influence in his Writings from both of their Teachings.
The earliest known records of Sun Tze’s life are found in a biography written in the second century BCE by a historian named Sima Qian. What is now China was divided, in Sun Tze’s Time, into several independent States. Sun Wu was born in 544 B.C.E., in the State of Ch’i, into a family of the Shih, a class of landless aristocrats who had lost their land during the tumultuous “Spring and Autumn Period”. His father, Sun P’ing, was a State Official in Ch’i. After a rebellion in Ch’I, Sun Wu and his family fled to the State of Wu, where he grew up.
While most of the Shih travelled about as academic scholars, Sun Tzu decided to make his living as a mercenary. After working throughout the State of Wu, the ruling Monarch, King Helu, hired Sun Tze as a General in 512 B.C.E., soon after Sun Tze had written The Art of War, which, according to the current custom, was called after its author’s Name. After Sun Tzu took control, the military in Wu went on to conquer the nearby powerful State of Chu.
Modern scholars place the actual completion of The Art of War a little later, during the Warring States period (476–221 BCE), based on the descriptions of warfare in the text and on the similarity to other works completed in the early Warring States Period. This, of course, merely indicates that it took that long to collate and publish the written form of Sun Tze’s teaching, although is impossible to determine exactly how much of the current text is actually later added-in commentary.
After Wu defeated Chu, Sun Tzu went into hiding, wanting a quiet, peaceful life. His Teachings, however, went on to influence martial arts in armed and unarmed combat; he originated the Bing Fa Method, which is the foundation for most later Asian martial arts.
The Kingdom of Wu was defeated several years after Sun Tze’s death. About One Hundred Years later a descendant of Sun Wu named Sun Bing was also an outstanding General Sun Bing wrote his own, much lesser-known book, also titled The Art of War.
There are many Legends about Sun Tze. By far, the most famous one is told about how King Helu asked him to prove his Military Leadership abilities. That test was to train the King’s Concubines to march. Sun Tze requested permission to use any means necessary to accomplish this task. The King agreed. The General divided the concubines into Two Battalions, each lead by one of the two highest ranking concubines. Sun Tzu explained the commands for marching, and then ordered the two “Officers” to command the “troops”. When when the drum signals were given, the women all broke out in laughter. He repeated the explanation, but the women only laughed again. Sun Tze then ordered the Two “Officers” to be beheaded. He then promoted the next Two highest-ranking concubines and ordered them to make the women march. To the King’s amazement, the women learned to march like soldiers in minutes, obeying the orders precisely, so he willingly gave Sun Tze command of his Army.
Sun Tze’s “The Art of War” has influenced many prominent historical figures. The First Emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang, said that the book had ended the Warring States Period.
The book was first translated into the French in 1772 by French Jesuit Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and the first complete English translation was by Lionel Giles in 1910. Accordingly, during the last Two Hundred Years, Sun Tze’s The Art of War has grown in popularity and seen broad usage in the West. This little book, composed of Thirteen Chapters, has been the most famous and influential of China’s Seven Military Classics for over two thousand Years. This work continues to influence both Eastern and Western cultures, especially in the areas of military thinking, politics, business tactics, legal strategy, international relations theory, and sports.
General Douglas MacArthur drew inspiration from The Art of War, and Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong credited the book for his victory over Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. Admiral of the Japanese Fleet Tôgô Heihachirô, who led Japan’s forces to victory in the Russo-Japanese War, was an avid reader of “The Art of War”. General Vo Nguyen Giap, the genius behind the victory over French and American Forces in Vietnam, was also a student of Sun Tze. That same American defeat in Vietnam brought attention of American military leaders to the Sun Tze, which is now mandatory reading for U.S. Marine Corps Officers. During the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s, Generals Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and Colin Powell both employed Sun Tze’s principles.
What does all this mean to the New-Ager? The principles expressed in Sun Tze’s Art of War may also be viewed as a guide to Life. Careful study of this short tome can lead to consistent victories in day-to-day living. More will be discussed later.
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