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Sunzi's Art of Warfare

In the Spring and Autumn Period, the King of the State Wu, whose name was He Lu, had long been thinking of launching an attack on the State Chu. However, he had refrained from taking any action owing to the fact that he did not have a capable commander in chief. Meanwhile, there had occurred in the State of Qi a great social turmoil which forced Sun Wu, a distinguished strategist, to flee to Wu for safety. Since the King of Wu knew that he was very learned man and above all an expert in the art of warfare, he called on him in person.

Sun Wu showed the king the books he had written on strategy and tactics. While he was reading, the king was so elated that he found it hard to contain himself and several times shouted out loud , "Wonderful! Wonderful!" However, he was still unconvinced as to whether Sun Wu had the practical abilities of commanding an army. This led him to decide that he had better first put him through a test. So he said, "We have perused all the 13 books you wrote on the art of war. They certainly are well-written. But are you sure what you have said therein is applicable to the conditions of the State of Wu?" In his reply, Sun Wu said, "Your Majesty, I believe it is. It is applicable to any state, to both the nobility and the commoners, and to both men and women." "Good, then, " said the king, "Can you use your methods in giving some kind of training to a group of women?" "Of course, Your Majesty," answered Sun Wu. But he continued, "Military training is hard and strenuous work. An army must be subject to military law which should be severe and from which no one can be exempt. In military drills, everyone is expected to obey the rules and regulations or he shall be punished." To this the king assented. Then he ordered that one hundred and eighty pretty maidens be selected from among the palace maids to receive military training under Sun Wu who divided the girls into two companies and made two of the king's most favorite concubines their commanders. Sun Wu then said to the king, "A good army cannot be built without strict discipline. Although those girls are palace maids, discipline must be enforced without exception. So please send me two soldiers to enforce military laws."

The king consented. The drills soon began. Sun Wu first made known the rules and regulations to be obeyed and then explained to the maidens how to execute such commands as "March on!" "Fall back!" "Left face!" "Right face!" and so on. After he was finished with this, he asked the ranks, "Is it all clear now?" "Aye, Aye," the girls replied. But Wu explained the rules and regulations once again and then had the drummers beat out martial music. At this, he shouted commands. Instead of carrying out his commands, the maids started giggling. Sun Wu said, turning very serious, "It apparently is my fault not to have made the rules and regulations and commands plain enough." So he reiterated what he had said before, explaining very carefully the rules and regulations and the way to carry out the commands. After that  he once again had the drummers beat out martial music and started giving commands. However, he met with only rings of laughter. Now Sun Wu looked very stern and said seriously, "If I had not made sufficiently clear the discipline and the commands, it would be my fault. Now that everything has been made clear and still you have failed to execute my orders, the company commanders must be held responsible." He ordered that the two company commanders be beheaded immediately in public, as a warning to all.

The King of Wu was filled with great consternation when he saw that his two most beloved concubines were to be killed. Without delay he sent an official to say to Sun Wu, "His Majesty can see you are very good at military affairs. But those two are his favorites. Please let them off." In reply, Sun Wu said, "Military training is no child's play. No one can be allowed to trifle with it. Since I have received the king's express orders to be in charge of the drills, I am bound by duty not to obey his command when I am trying to enforce military discipline." After saying that, Sun Wu had the two royal concubines executed without delay.

When the two were beheaded in the public, Sun Wu selected two others as commanders and resumed the drills. Now, no matter what commands he gave, they were carried out in a most punctilious manner, the actions orderly and precise. Although the King of Wu was very depressed at losing two beloved concubines, he decided to retain Sun Wu's service when he realized that to conquer the State of Chu he needed a commander in chief as strict and impartial as Sun Wu. Consequently, he appointed the latter as general of his army and Sun Wu eventually helped him defeat the army of Chu and capture its state capital.

The Art of Warfare by Sunzi, in which the author summed up the experience and lessons of many great battles in history, is the oldest and most distinguished book on warfare in Chinese history and the Chinese nation has taken pride in it since ancient times. It has also attracted international attention and interest, as can be testified by the various translations of the book, published now in English, Japanese, German, French, Czech, etc.


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