Sun Tzi and Ancient Chinese Military Science – II
Understanding Our Neighbours
Aravind Yelery, Shanghai
If one reads Sun Tzi’s book, The Art of Warfare, it is easy to notice that he was not merely talking about the physical warfare on the battlefield but the gist of his ideas consisted psychological wars and mental conditioning. Sun is credited for formulating strict military code of conduct, describing the distinction between war with material and war with mantle. He led down the principles of discipline and obedience which helped Chinese rulers immensely. The Japanese warring class and emperors even derived few lessons from Master Sun’s thoughts.
Sun’s literary ability of narrating and laying down his experience in literary form was exceptional. Once he produced his masterpiece, The Art of Warfare, Sun rose to prominence. King He Lu of Wu Kingdom welcomed Sun and gave him an opportunity to serve his army as Commanding General. A Chinese historian, Ssu-ma Ch`ien described Sun’s chivalry and his rise as general. Once, King He Lu ordered Sun Tzi to demonstrate his ability as a military leader especially with a contingent of Women. The king wanted to evaluate the efficacy of military teachings in Women’s case. Sun ordered for bringing 180 ladies from the royal harem, divided them into two companies, and placed one of the king’s favorite concubines at the head of each. He then explained them the drills and gave instructions; upon assuming that all the explanation being delivered clearly, he started his drill-test. He noticed that the women soldiers were too casual for not following his orders twice and the concubines-in-command laughed away the orders, Sun fumed, “if words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers” and hence he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. The king had to consent. After establishing his full control over military units in Wu kingdom, Sun carried out number of military campaigns successfully for Wu’s.
Sun Tzi’s strategic thinking influenced military leaders in Asia and abroad. While leaving his imprint on ancient Chinese and Asian history, Sun Tzi left a legacy of strategic acumen and its application across centuries. Japanese warring class, Samurai, even adopted Sun’s popular work as the principle of warfare, the warring class in Korea and Japan had to study this text. Sun’s thoughts were elementary in modern China and were referred by several leaders.
(The writer is a Corporate Consultant Sanghai ji Ou, Sanghai/Delhi)