Sun Tzu's
Art of Warfare

In the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 BC), the King of the State of Wu, had long been thinking of launching an attack on the State of 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 Tzu, a distinguished strategist, to flee to Wu for safety. Since the King of Wu knew that he was a very learned man and above all an expert in the art of warfare, he called on him in person.

Sun Tzu 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 Tzu 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 thirteen books you wrote on the art of war. They certainly are well-written. But are you sure what you've said there is applicable to the conditions of the State of Wu?" In his reply, Sun Tzu said, "Your Majesty, I believe it is. It is applicable to every 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 Tzu. 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 will be punished. " To this, the king assented. Then he ordered that one hundred and eighty pretty young maidens be selected from among the palace maids to receive military training under Sun Tzu who divided the girls into two companies and made two of the king's most favorite concubines their commanders. Sun Tzu 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 law. " The king consented.

The drills soon began. Sun Tzu 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!", "Kneel down!", "Stand up!" and so on. After he was finished with this, he asked the ranks, "Is it all clear now?" "Aye, Aye," the girls replied. But Sun Tzu explained the rules and regulations once again and then had the drummers beat out martial music. At this, he shouted commands such as "Left face! " and "Right face! " Instead of carrying out his commands, the maids started giggling. Sun Tzu 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 Tzu 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 Tzu, "His Majesty can see you are very good at military affairs. But those two are his favorites. Please let them off. " In reply, Sun Tzu 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 Tzu had the two royal concubines executed without delay.

When the two were beheaded in public, Sun Tzu 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 Tzu's service when he realized that to conquer the State of Chu he needed a commander in chief as strict and impartial as Sun Tzu. Consequently he appointed the latter as general of his army and Sun Tzu eventually helped him defeat the army of Chu and capture its state capital.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, 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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