What Is Sun Tzu Philosophy? -Famous Chinese Military Strategist

China has seen several influential leaders and individuals who have actively contributed to its civilization and general national cohesion. One of the most influential individuals is Sun Tzu- the military strategist and philosopher who existed during the Eastern Zhou period. Read on to learn more about him.

Who is Sun Tzu?

Sun Tzu, who is often credited as the author of the famous Art of War, was a Chinese philosopher, writer, military strategist and a general in the Chinese military. His personal name was Sun Wu and his is the reputed author of the most influential military literature document to have ever existed. His text is titled ‘The Art of War’, and is known as ‘Bingfa’ in China.

When/Where was Sun Tzu born and when did he die?

sun wu

According to historical records and other Chinese literary works, Sun was born in 544 BC, in either Wu or Qi, which was located in the Zhou kingdom. Generally, there is a bone of contention about his exact birthplace. However, nearly all historical records are in agreement that he was born in the late Spring and Autumn period in ancient China. There isn’t much information about his early life and childhood, however, it is commonly mentioned that he joined the military when he was a very young man. Upon joining the military, he was promoted to the position of a military strategist and a general. In addition to that, he is said to have served under King Helu, who ruled over Wu in the late sixth century BC.  He died in 496 BC in Wu which is in the Zhou Kingdom. Wu was among the states that existed during the Western Zhou dynasty and was located towards River Yangtze found towards the east side of the state of Chu.

What did Sun Tzu do?

sunzi bingfa

The most popular story about Sun Tzu describes Sun Tzu’s temperament and it is drawn from Sima Qian- who was the father of Chinese historiography. Sima Qian also described Sun Tzu as a man with a successful military career and a powerful temperament. Supposedly, his war theories were effective in various battles, including the Battle of Boju, between the state of Wu and Chu.

According to Sima Qian’s story, the King of Wu chose to test Sun Tzu tactical skills before hiring him. To do this, he commanded Sun to train a group of 180 concubines to become soldiers. To begin the training, Sun Tzu chose to divide the concubines into two tiers then appointed the 2 concubines who were the king’s favorite as the commanders of the two groups.

When Sun Tzu ordered the concubines to face towards the right side, they found it humorous and giggled in the process. To respond adequately to the situation, Sun Tzu mentioned that he was the one responsible for ensuring that all soldiers under his command understood all commands directed to them. He echoed the command one more time, but still the concubines found it even more humorous and giggled once again. Immediately after, Sun Tzu ordered the execution of the 2 concubines that he has chosen to lead the two Harlem groups. To back up his decision, he explained that whenever the general’s soldiers clearly understood a particular command but choose not to obey, it was clearly the fault of the officers who were put in charge of them. He also mentioned that, upon appointment a general had the obligation to carry out his mission regardless of a protest by the king who appointed him. Once both concubines were killed, he chose new officers to replace them and take lead of both groups. Now that both groups were fully aware of the consequences of their actions, all the concubines responded to commands easily.

Why is Sun Tzu Important?

Sun Tzu is considered a very important figure in Chinese history because his monumental work (the Art of War) has greatly influenced the military strategies of both Western and East Asia. His strategies and general philosophies were mostly focused on finding tactical alternatives to battle, such as building key alliances with allies who share the same national goals, identifying a willingness to temporarily submit to powerful foes in order to strategize better and win, using spies whenever need be, using deceit, and making use of stratagem at all times. His influence is also seen in various competitive fields, such as sports, business, law, and politics.

Sun Tzu Quotes

Some of Sun Tzu’s Popular Quotes are;

‘The greatest victory is that which requires no battle’

‘Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust’

‘If forces are united, separate them’

‘The art of war is of vital importance to the state. 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.’

‘Start by grasping something which your opponent holds dear; then he will succumb to your will’

‘Quickness is the essence of war’

‘There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare’

‘You have to believe in yourself’

‘If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not understood thoroughly, then the general is to blame. But, if the orders are clear and the soldiers chose to disobey, then it is the fault of their officers’

‘Ponder and deliberate before you make a move’

Did Sun Tzu write the Art of War/ When was Sun Tzu’s Art of War written?

sun tzu’s art of war

Sun Tzu is credited with the masterpiece titled ‘The Art of War’, which is the ancient Chinese military text, whose writing dates to the 5th Century BC. According to nearly all Chinese literary works and historical records, Sun Tzu wrote the Art of War during the late Spring and Autumn Period in Chinese history. It is comprised of 13 well-structured and detailed chapters, with every single chapter dedicated to a unique military skill, tactic, and strategy that is related to how warfare should be conducted and how one can turn out victorious in the event of a war. Along with that, the treatise contains a detailed analysis and explanation of how Chinese military wars were conducted in the 5th Century BC, from personnel ranks, to weapon used, to disciplinary methods accommodated, and strategies that led to the success of various wars. He also took time to highlight the importance of intelligence and military training as pre-requisites for success.

Final Thoughts

To date, Sun Tzu remains an influential figure in Chinese history and his book (The Art of War) is forever credited as one of the most influential written works and guidelines under military literature in global history. It has not only influenced East Asian warfare, but it has played a role in defining Western Military thinking, human lifestyles, business tactics, and legal strategies around the world.


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