Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” – 1/10

Around 500 BC, the King of Wu summons Sun Tzu, one of the greatest military minds in history, to save his kingdom from a more powerful enemy.

Sun Tzu was a warrior, a philosopher and the author of The Art of War.

Sun Tzu is important because he had a cohesive, holistic philosophy on strategy.  Sun Tzu tells the King of Wu he can defeat the enemy with a smaller army.  Doubting him, the king challenges Sun Tzu to turn the palace concubines into a fighting force and Sun Tzu accepts.

Sun Tzu shows the concubines what to do, selects the best two students and puts them in charge of the others.  When Sun Tzu orders the exercise to begin, the woman laugh.

He tries again but the concubines laugh again.

Sun Tzu says, “If instructions are not clear and commands not explicit, it is the fault of the general.  But if the orders are clear, and my orders are clear, it is the fault of the subordinate officers.”

Without warning, Sun Tzu beheads the two concubines he had selected to lead the others.  To Sun Tzu, war is a matter of life and death. This is the key principal of his teachings.  Once understood, everyone from the general to the solider will be motivated to win.

While the bodies of the first two concubines are still warm, Sun Tzu appoints two new concubines to lead the others. This time the concubines follow his orders without hesitation. The king of Wu is convinced and  appoints Sun Tzu commander of the Wu army.

Sun Tzu now must train an army of 30 thousand troops to fight a force ten times larger.

Go to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” – Part 2

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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7 Responses to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” – 1/10

  1. […] I got the determination to write this article after a brief yet amazing contact with iLookChina at […]

  2. Lloyd, you know really much.
    It has catched my attention that China is aggressive towards other countries. They may resurrect peace soon, yet they also attack a lot, and, as in the case of Vietnam, they boast with their supreme power.
    What conclusion about chinese defense strategy do you draw from that behaviour?

    • Thanks for this GREAT topic, Nomi. I’m going to post this comment on three of my Blogs.

      Here’s an “AGGRESSION” comparison between China and the United States. To keep score, I will only count casualties (those killed on both sides—the wounded and cost of the wars will not be counted). The most aggressive nation will have the highest score.


      First Tibet (1950): Technically Tibet was an independent country from 1911-12 to 1950 [thirty-eight years].

      Before that, Tibet was ruled over by China during the Yuan Dynasty (1277-1367) ), Ming Dynasty (1368-1643) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) [five-hundred-forty-three years].

      To read about this from a reputable Western source (because few in the West trust PRC sources), I suggest the October 1912 issue of The National Geographic Magazine. There’s a piece in the magazine written by a Western trained, Qing-Dynasty doctor that the Chinese emperor sent to Tibet in 1907 for two years. His name was Shaoching H. Chuan, M.D. ( I have an original copy of this century old magazine).

      When the Chinese Communist Party won the Civil War against Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT Party, in 1950, Mao sent the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to take Tibet back. For a comparison, when the United States declared its independence from the British Empire, the revolution lasted from 1776 to 1783 (seven years).

      Casualties and losses comparing the America’s R3volution with the British Empire to Tibet’s Revolution with China =

      Total American causalities 25,000 dead and wounded
      America’s allies: The French and Spanish lost about 8,000 in Europe and America

      The British lost about 20,000.

      In comparison to America’s Revolution that cost 53,000 lives over seven years, in 1950 after the PLA reoccupied Tibet, the war was over in a matter of days/weeks.

      The Tibetan government in exile makes exaggerated claims for huge numbers killed in Tibet (1.2 million) and have accused China of genocide.

      However, “Michael Parenti wrote this in his book Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth: “The official 1953 census–six years before the Chinese crackdown– recorded the entire population residing in Tibet at 1,274,000. Other census counts put the population within Tibet at about two million.”


      In addition, China puts the actual combat losses at 114 PLA soldiers and 180 Tibetan troops, while a Western source, Thomas Laird, claims 5,000 (for the comparison, I will use the larger number) Tibetan troops were killed. …

      Tibetan prisoners of war were generally well treated. After confiscating their weapons, the PLA soldiers gave the prisoners lectures on socialism and a small amount of money, before allowing them to return to their homes.[41] According to Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the PLA did not attack civilians.[45]


      Side Note: In 1949, the average life expectancy in years in Tibet was 35 years. Today it is close to 70 years. The average life expectancy in a nation may indicate the quality of life.


      Korean Conflict (June 1950 – July 1953) – this war has never been resolved. Technically, America and South Korea are still at war with North Korea.

      America and its allies lost 776,360 troops (America’s share of those losses was about 40,000 dead)

      China and its allies lost 1,545,822–1,648,582 (easily twice the other side)


      America’s Vietnam War (1955 – 1975) – It has been proven that America’s President L. B. Johnson started this war with a lie.*

      America and its allies lost 676,585 – 1,035,585 (America’s share 58,220 dead)

      North Vietnam and its allies The PRC and the USSR lost 588,462 – 1,672,462

      Civilians = 486,000 – 1,200,000.


      China’s Vietnam War (1979) Note: China occupied and ruled over Vietnam for 1,000 years

      * “The first major threat to Vietnam’s existence as a separate people and nation was the conquest of the Red River Delta by the Chinese, under the mighty Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), in the first century B.C. At that time, and in later centuries, the expanding Chinese empire assimilated a number of small bordering nations politically and culturally. Although Vietnam spent 1,000 years under Chinese rule, it succeeded in throwing off the yoke of its powerful neighbor in the tenth century.”

      China’s casualties = 6,954 – 26,000 (depending on who you believe)
      North Vietnam’s casualties = 10,000 to 30,000 (depending on who you believe)


      China’s War with India (1962 – two months) It was a border dispute.

      Note: China has clearly been successful in resolving border disputes with most of its neighbours in a ‘win-win’ situation since the 1990s.
      However, India has had border wars with three of its neighbors: China, Pakistan and Nepal. In comparison, China has or is negotiating border disputes peacefully with North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma/Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam.


      India’s casualties = 1,383

      China’s casualties = 722


      America’s War in Iraq (March 2004 – December 2011)

      America and its allies:
      Iraq Security Forces = 16, 623 dead
      Coalition Forces (America and its allies) = 4,805
      Contractors = 1,554
      Awakening Councils = 1,002 or more
      Documented civilian deaths from violence = 103,160 – 113,729.
      America’s enemies:
      Iraqi combatants during the gulf war = 7,600 – 11,000
      Insurgents killed = 21,221 – 26,405


      America’s War in Afghanistan (2001 – present)

      America and its allies: 14,446+
      No way to reliable estimate how many Taliban, Al-Qaeda, etc have lost.
      Civilians killed : 12,500 – 14,700

      Final Score: (Note: In most cases, the low estimate was used—the only exception being Tibet versus China)

      The United States = 2.7 million deaths (the low estimate) and forty-eight years of war
      The People’s Republic of China = 1.6 million and about three years of war (1.57 million of these deaths were in the Korean War).

      A few more facts that may help measure AGGRESSION comparing the USA to the PRC

      Nuclear Warheads

      The USA = 8,500
      The PRC = 240


      Private industry weapons sales to the world:

      USA = Controls about 30% of global weapons market (isn’t capitalism great)
      PRC = about 5% of the global weapons market

      Note: The world’s biggest weapons suppliers are the USA, the UK, Russia, Germany and France. China doesn’t even make the top five list.

      Who won the AGGRESSION contest between the USA and PRC?

  3. I am a fan of Sun Tzu! I will follow you. Keep adding.

    • Keep adding material about Sun Tzu or about China in general?

      It may be difficult to post only on Sun Tzu.

      I visited your Blog and read a few posts. In 2009, I wrote a review for “600 Hours of Edward” by Craig Lancaster. The main character, Edward Stanton, is both obsessive-compulsive and has Asperger’s. It was a fascinating novel. Lancaster’s novel has twenty-nine five-star and six-four star reviews and nothing lower (at this time).

      • Thank you very much for your book suggestion Lloyd! I am going to read it.

        As to adding content: I am passionate about tactics and most eager to learn. Everything you could add on this topic, whether it is theory or anecdotes from Chinese history, would be incredibly valuable to me!
        I am still a beginner at tactics and could surely learn a lot from your knowledge.

      • You are welcome, Nomi.

        Tactics is an interesting topic. I’ll see what I can discover about China’s tacticts today. It would be interesting to see if they are following the advice from “The Art of War”. I suspect that they are. Correct me if I’m wrong, but one of Sun Tzu’s rules of war was to know your enemy and keep him close (meaning keep an eye on him). If I am correct, that is exactly what China is doing with the United States.

        Another rule was to avoid wars that last too long so that the people do not tire of the war and pull their support from it. The United States did that in Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. However, in China’s border war with India, once China achieved its objective, it stopped fighting and called for a truce. In fact, in China’s border war with Vietnam in the 1970s, after China achieved its objective of letting Vietnam know that China was more powerful, China pulled its troops out of Vietnam. Both wars were brief.

        Even the Korean conflict in the early 1950s didn’t drag on as long as the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have. After China sent its troops into Korea, the war was short in comparison. As soon as the war bogged down, negotiations started to stop the fighting. In addition, since 1949, China has settled more border disputes with its neighbors through negotiation than war.

        Even the reoccupation of Tibet by Mao’s People’s Liberation Army in 1950 may be seen as a tactical move right out of Sun Tzu’s book. After all, a significant source of China’s water comes from Tibet since that is where several of China’s major rivers begin: the Mekong, Yellow, Yangtze.

        Here is an interesting article on this topic: The Strategic Power of Water. Once one understands this, it is obvious that China will never allow Tibet to be an independent nation. In fact, Tibet was only free of China as its overloard from 1913 to 1950. Before that, China had ruled over Tibet since the Yuan Dynasty (1277 BC).

        “Chinese authorities have long had their eyes on Tibet’s water resources. They have proposed building dams for hydropower and spending billions of dollars to build a system of canals to tap water from the Himalayan snowmelt and glaciers and transport it hundreds of miles north and east to the country’s farm and industrial regions.”

Comments are welcome — pro or con. However, comments must focus on the topic of the post, be civil and avoid ad hominem attacks.

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