From sun tzu to ping fa


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This slide deck provides a general overview of my approach - and findings - regarding ancient Chinese texts Ping-fa (Sun Tzu - The Art of War) and the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. My book is available on and

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From sun tzu to ping fa

  2. 2. THE TERRA COTTA ARMY The terra cotta “army” of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang is one of the great archaeological and tourist wonders of the world. We are told that the emperor intended that the clay soldiers were to comprise an army to protect him in the afterlife. But the emperor was a Legalist – and an atheist. Qin Shih Huang’s army was a memorial – a memorial to the end of war and the beginning of empire. He expected that it would draw thousands of visitors, and it has. It’s sad that like the Sun Tzu commentary, todays media, archaeologists and historians see war when the emperor’s messages were all about peace.
  3. 3. OTHER ELEMENTS OF THE QIN SHI HUANG LEGACY The first emperor, through his advanced government and court, and his state’s university of learned academies, have bequeathed to the world texts of immeasurable importance. They address philosophy, government purpose and direction, social order and process, issue identification and management. Two of these texts define the base of The School of Sun Tzu: Winning Empires without War. They are Pingfa (generally known as Sun Tzu – The Art of War), and Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.
  4. 4. •  For 100 years, the West has studied (and been guided by) the so-called “Art of War” by the alleged, “General Sun Tzu.” •  Neither appellation is valid. •  There was never a “General Sun Tzu” and the book attributed to him is actually a manual for peace. •  Nevertheless, the commentary flows, ad nauseum.
  5. 5. THE ART OF PEACE The original name of this book was “Ping-fa” which can be translated as “the art of diplomacy” – or even more accurately as, “The art of achieving your objectives without conflict.” The meaning of “Ping” (or “bing”)evolved in later years, from “diplomacy” to “war.” The commentary assumes it has always meant war. Ping-fa is a comprehensive – and complete – manual for managing people and events without the disruption and waste that is brought by conflict.
  6. 6. WHAT THE ART OF WAR COMMENTARY NEVER ADDRESSES •  Historical corroboration beyond the reports of one (ill-reputed) historian •  Details of its author, and its companion text Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching •  Information about why it was written •  Information about where it was used, and what it achieved •  Information about soldiers and support, casualties, logistics / transport, weapons, food, beats of burden, war.
  7. 7. KEY EVENTS THAT DO NOT APPEAR IN THE COMMENTARY •  If and how “General Sun Tzu” was connected to the Warring States Period (WSP) •  How the WSP was ended in a mere 10 years in BCE 221 (after running for two centuries) •  If, and how “Sun Tzu” and “Lao Tzu” were connected to the founding of the Empire of China •  General Sun Tzu’s philosophical connection. Was it Confucius, Taoism or Legalism?
  8. 8. WE NEED TO ASK……… If “The Art of War” is China’s great work in military strategy and tactics, why do we not see confirmed reports of its application in the Warring States period? Why is there no confirmation of its use by Mao? To get to the bottom of these questions we need to examine two facts of the pre-China era….
  9. 9. REVISIONISM Revisionism is the theory or practice of revising a previously accepted situation or point of view.(Canadian Oxford Dictionary) There is considerable evidence that the accepted history of the pre-China period contains substantial revision of the facts, to support the second empire’s view of the way the Warring States period was ended, and China was created. The accepted history was written by the so-called “Great Historian” of China, Sima Qian. The Sun Tzu commentary has never challenged Sima Qian’s version of these events. Sima Qian was a political propagandist and master of revisionism.
  10. 10. THE OVER-ARCHING BELIEF IN THE PRE-CHINA PERIOD WAS DETERMINISM •  Determinism is the doctrine that all events, including human action, are determined by causes regarded as external to the will. (Canadian Oxford Dictionary) •  This was the Taoism of the pre-China epoch. It held that interference with the Will of Heaven was beyond heresy. It was insanity. •  Lao Tzu proclaimed the end of determinism and the rightness of social intervention. The Tao Te Ching made legitimate the social engineering methodology called “Ping-fa.” •  Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu were actually schools, but the revisionist conspiracy (commencing in the second empire) has convinced the world they were writers of obscure philosophy and tactics.
  11. 11. THE LAO TZU AND SUN TZU ACADEMIES •  Established by the State of Qin, the academies were to: •  Find how war could be ended and an empire established from warring states •  Hire the brightest and best analysts and instructors •  Challenge sacred assumptions •  Explore and discover new methods •  Define a new Value Paradigm •  Set out strategies and tactics •  Recruit, train and operationalize agents of the change (they were known as “persuaders”)
  12. 12. THE PING-FA DIRECTIVE •  What the Sun Tzu School taught can be summed up in one statement of direction: •  Be strong and continually aware. Manage your strength and that of others. When essential, engage on your terms. Be observant, adaptive, and subtle. Do not lose control. Act decisively. Conclude quickly. This is the essential theme and message of Ping-fa, what many call “The Art of War.” It is concerned with all events, both peaceful and troublesome.
  13. 13. PING-FA METHOD: ACTIVITIES Ping-fa is a strident series of clearly articulated admonitions, redundant in the extreme. The authors wanted no misunderstanding. (occurrences in brackets) 1) Manage engagements. (40) 2) Manage strength (38) 3) Gain knowledge. Modify plans. (37) 4) Use deception. (21) 5) Move decisively and with speed. (14) 6) Manage commencement of engagement. (12) 7) Get orders from the chief, and be guided by strategy (6) There is no content in Ping-fa about war. The admonitions, in summary, are the essence of strategic planning.
  14. 14. PING-FA STRATEGIC PLANNING • State the purpose (rationale) • Define the objective(s) • Define, and link activities to objective(s) • Define resource and time requirements • List activities • Define roles and responsibilities • Define both success and failure
  15. 15. BUT……………. •  Ping-fa was written with a military language. •  What was a teaching metaphor came to be seen (perhaps from the time of Sima Qian) as the message, when in fact it was the medium. •  The military language and imagery helped students of the academies understand what was meant by teams and teamwork; strategy and leadership; intelligence and communication; deception and persuasion. •  Military language has not helped the contemporary commentary. It seeks (unsuccessfully) to make sense of what they are convinced are military tactics. Here are some examples:
  16. 16. SUN TZU IX. 3 After crossing a river, you should get far away from it. From a military (or common sense) perspective this is nonsense. Was General Sun Tzu afraid of river demons pursuing him?
  17. 17. SUN TZU IX. 4 When an invading force crosses a river in its onward march, do not advance to meet it in mid-stream. It will be best to let half the army get across, and then deliver your attack. This is an illogical series of instructions. If one is to meet an army in a river, surely you would not attack with your entire force when half the enemy force is still on land. These are metaphorical, not literal instructions. Now let’s see what they really mean.
  18. 18. SUN TZU IX 3 - 4 Strip the exclusive military context and application from these admonitions. Understand the philosophical and historical context of Ping-fa. Apply common sense, and then we see that in the management of organizations, and relations between organizations we are instructed as follows: •  If messages are unclear, sort them out. Move when you achieve understanding. •  Do not engage until you are sure that your own deception has been adequate and effective, and that the other believes that your strength is great(more to the point, actually greater than his).
  19. 19. SUN TZU IX. 7 - 8 Here is another example: In crossing salt-marshes, your sole concern should be to get over them quickly, without any delay. If forced to fight in a salt-marsh, you should have water and grass near you, and get your back to a clump of trees. No militarist commentary on “Sun Tzu the General” has ever explained what this is all about.
  20. 20. SUN TZU IX 7 - 8 IX 7-8 has such delightful imagery. These succinct lines give students of engagement management a basketful of instructions in a wide range of skill areas: When you are denied invisibility, ensure that situation is of short duration. Seek opportunities for obscurity and deception.
  21. 21. THE SUN TZU COMMENTARY •  Insists that the Ping-fa subject is dealing with “enemies” in situations of combat. •  That while war is dreadful and to be avoided when it can, it is actually inevitable (this is determinism). •  The commentary argues that the missing Ping-fa content on the ways and means of war is its great shortfall. The commentary addresses this supposed “shortfall” through added content on weapons, horses, transport etc. This is playing with the facts in the name of diligence. •  The commentary - In defiance of good scholarship - inserts meaning and messages into Ping-fa in clear defiance of its strident admonitions. Often, the commentary just doesn’t get it. Here’s a good example:
  22. 22. VI:27 All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved
  23. 23. The Art of Business War states under this illustration, “The acme of skill is defeating your enemy without even fighting.” Just how is driving a spear into an enemy’s heart, “not fighting”? And by the way, the VI:27 quote says – very clearly – tactics are visible, but strategies must not be. Though yet to appear in the popular commentaries, that it is exactly what the benchmark Giles translation states.
  24. 24. Here is the gift that is the Ping-fa of the Sun Tzu School, and the Tao Te Ching of the Lao Tzu School: The first empire of China gave us the base manual for strategic planning, engagement management tactics, and the philosophical framework that guides all of these activities.
  25. 25. PING-FA INCLUDES •  A statement of strategic planning functions and their order of importance •  Articulated principles and values (why you act, should not act) •  Definition of organizational and role characteristics, strengths and weaknesses •  Options, techniques and tactics •  Definitions of success and failure •  Illustrative methods and indicators of meaning •  Consequences of losing control and failure •  Comprehensive models for operationalization of engagement management. Here is a sample from my book:
  26. 26. AN ADVICE TO STUDENTS OF SUN TZU •  Read the Giles translation. It is freely available on line and is by far the best metaphorical “Sun Tzu” version available. •  Ping-fa is complete. If something is not there, it is superfluous to the text. •  Strive to see the text as generic rather than military. •  Seek meaning everywhere. If something seems obscure or downright silly, you have not penetrated the meaning. •  Seek apparent errors or inconsistencies. They are several, but they are quite intentional, and they are proofs that the book is “Ping-fa” and not “Sun Tzu.” •  Read J.H. Huang’s book Sun Tzu – The New Translation if you want a view contrary to the solidly militarist commentary; and mine, if you are interested in origins, context and application.
  27. 27. TO OBTAIN THE SCHOOL OF SUN TZU •  My book is available from iuniverse – see the next slide •  It is also available from and Go to - •  You may write to me at
  28. 28. Just Published... s on st at y The School of t r- In The School of Sun Tzu, author David G. Jones offers a voyage of discovery into the world of competition and conflict. It presents fresh thought on how issue management without conflict can be applied in today’’s complex world. Winning Empires Without War David G. Jones The School of Sun Tzu carefully examines and defines the Tao Te Ching/Ping-fa relationship, the period and context within which they were created, and what use they were intended to serve. It studies the theories and practices that helped found China and reveals the great achievements of China’’s first empire as well as the revisionist conspiracy that characterized the second. It also includes a thorough examination of how China developed a suite of strategic tools 2,300 years ago to end war and found an empire. e or d he , e U.S. $37.95 The School of Sun Tzu U.S. $37.95 DAVID JONES This study offers a unique, informative, and enlightening look at the practices of the School of Sun Tzu and how these may be used in today’s world. Fusing history, politics, philosophy, and motivational theory, Jones challenges not only conventional wisdom regarding Sun Tzu’’s Art of War, but even some generally accepted aspects of Chinese history. It offers enlightening insights into a methodology as valid today for relationship management as it was centuries ago. Call 1-800-AUTHORS to order, or visit