Giles 始計第一. Laying Plans

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Translated from the Chinese by Lionel Giles, M.A. (1910)

I. 計篇.

1. 孫子曰兵者國之大事
2. 死生之地存亡之道不可不察也
3. 故經之以五校之以計而索其情

I. Laying Plans

This is the only possible meaning of 計, which M. Amiot and Capt. Calthrop wrongly translate “Fondements de l'art militaire” and “First principles” respectively. Ts’ao Kung says it refers to the deliberations in the temple selected by the general for his temporary use, or as we should say, in his tent. See § 26.

1. Sun Tzŭ said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.

2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

The old text of the T’ung Tien has 故經之以五校之計, etc. Later editors have inserted 事 after 五, and 以 before 計. The former correction is perhaps superfluous, but the latter seems necessary in order to make sense, and is supported by the accepted reading in § 12, where the same words recur. I am inclined to think, however, that the whole sentence from 校 to 情 is an interpolation and has no business here at all. If it be retained, Wang Hsi must be right in saying that 計denotes the "seven considerations" in § 13. 情are the circumstances or conditions likely to bring about victory or defeat. The antecedent of the first 之 is兵者; of the second, 五. 校contains the idea of “comparison with the enemy,” which cannot well be brought out here, but will appear in § 12. Altogether, difficult through it is, the passage is not so hopelessly corrupt as to justify Capt. Calthrop in burking it entirely.

4. 一曰道二曰天三曰地四曰將五曰法
5. 道者令民與上同意也
6. 故可與之死可與之生而民不畏危
7. 天者陰陽寒暑時制也
8. 地者遠近險易廣狹死生也

4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

5, 6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

9. 將者智信仁勇嚴也

9. Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.

10. By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:—


13. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

Which of the two generals has most ability?With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?Which army is stronger?On which side are officers and men more highly trained?In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.


15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: — let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat: — let such a one be dismissed!

The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzŭ’s treatise was composed expressly for the benefit of his patron 闔閭 Ho Lü, king of the Wu State. It is not necessary, however, to understand 我 before 留之(as some commentators do), or to take 將 as “generals under my command.”

16. While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.

Capt. Calthrop blunders amazingly over this sentence: “Wherefore, with regard to the foregoing, considering that with us lies the advantage, and the generals agreeing, we create a situation which promises victory.” Mere logic should have kept him from penning such frothy balderdash.

17. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans.

Sun Tzŭ, a practical soldier, will have none of the “bookish theoric.” He cautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract principles; “for,” as Chang Yu puts it, “while the main laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to secure a favourable position in actual warfare.” On the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, Commanding the cavalry, went to the Duke of Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations were for the morrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find himself Commander-in—chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment. The Duke listened quietly and then said: “Who will attack the first to-morrow — I or Bonaparte?” “Bonaparte,” replied Lord Uxbridge. “Well,” continued the Duke, “Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects, and as my plans will depend upon his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are?”[1]


18. All warfare is based on deception.

19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem 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.

20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.

22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.


23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.

24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple where the battle is fought.

The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

cf. “Words on Wellington,” by Sir W. Fraser.


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