Ancient China in Context
Arts of War:
Master Sun and His Successors
E Bruce Brooks and A Taeko Brooks


Cover: Arts of WarThe Sundz Art of War is one of the most popular of classical Chinese texts, studied by general staffs and scrutinized by war buffs around the world. To the many previous translations, this one adds several unique perspectives, including a glimpse at the other three Warring States treatises on the art of war.

The Sundz is not a simple text, written by one person at one time. It represents the accumulated wisdom of the Chi military tradition over at least half a century. It is merely confusing to read the early and elementary chapters as though they were saying the same thing as the late and sophisticated ones. To do so misses the way Chinese military thought evolved during its critical formation process, thinking better of some early solutions to continuing problems, and grappling with them again. In the Sundz, we have not only a manual of field tactics, but a case study in how the conscious art of warfare evolves. The present book makes it possible to follow the development of the art of warfare in this way, and thus to understand war itself more deeply.

The Sundz is the most famous of the Chinese military classics, but it is not the only one. From the middle 03c onwards, it is regularly bracketed with the second oldest of those writings, the Wu Chi or Wudz ("Master Wu"). This treatise was written in the state of Ngwei, Chi's great enemy. It goes beyond the Sundz at several points. It gives more space to the training of an army, and it also asks the question: What do you do after you have won the war? These are important additions to the range of the Sundz. To read the Sundz alone does little justice to Chinese military tradition; it is also not a procedure that is safe for a modern general, or general staff, staff to follow. The core text of the Wudz is also included in this book.

The Sundz people did not allow this challenge to go by default. They added to their 12-chapter text a 13th, on espionage. The Wudz also reconfigured itself; it added sections claiming an earlier date for Wu Chi, and giving contemporary estimates of the fighting power of the various states. This competitive interplay of the two texts is necessary to understanding the nature of either one of them.

The picture of Warring States military art is further filled out by extracts from three later works: the Szma Fa (written in Chi in c0250) and the two layers of the Wei Lyaudz (begun in Ngwei in c240, and the other an extension on military organization, written when the text proprietors had taken their work to the new and warlike state of Chin). These texts are made further intelligible by extracts from the contemporary antiwar literature, including select paragraphs from the Mician guidelines for defensive war. To assist the modern reader in understanding the wide applicability of these classical maxims, comparisons with specific battles or strategic decisions, both ancient and modern (the American Civil War, the campaigns of Napoleon, both the Pacific and Atlantic phases of World War Two) have been included in the commentary. This is material that is not normally taught to military leaders below the staff college level; it is here shared with all readers, both military and civilian.

Extracts from Arts of War:

This book can serve as an introduction to the Sundz and other classical Chinese military texts, and also as an elementary introduction to the art of war itself, for the citizens who make, or accept, the decisions about war and peace that guide modern nations. Chinese characters are included for the main selections, so that students of Chinese history and literature will have full access to this relatively little read, though culturally central, material.

The companion volume in this series, Waging Peace, gives a more consecutive look at the antiwar tradition in classical China. For an overview of the classical period itself, which puts these and other developments in the larger context of state modernization, see The Emergence of China.

E Bruce Brooks

E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese, and A TAEKO BROOKS is Research Associate, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Arts of War: Master Sun and His Successors

Approximately 224 pages
Tentative $46.95 cloth. ISBN 978-1-936166-27-5
Tentative $23.95 paper. ISBN 978-1-936166-67-1
Tentative release date: September 2011

When announced, this book may be ordered from the University of Massachusetts Press


To Ancient China in Context Page

14 August 2010 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page