The Art of War36 Strategies to Win All Battlefields
The origins of the Thirty-Six Strategies are unknown The first historical mention of the 36 Strategiesdates back to the Southern Chi dynasty (AD 489-537) where it is mentioned in the Nan Chi Shi. Itbriefly records, “the 36 stratagems of Master Tan, running away is the best ” Master Tan may bethe famous general Tan Daoji ( A.D. 436). While this is the first recorded mention of 36 Strategies,some of the proverbs themselves are based on events that occurred up to seven hundred yearsearlier
Thirty-Six StratagemsThe Thirty-Six Stratagems are divided into a preface, six chapters containingsix stratagems each. The first three chapters generally describe tactics foruse in advantageous situations, whereas the last three chapters containstratagems that are more suitable for disadvantageous situations The original text of the Thirty-Six Stratagems has a laconic style that iscommon to Classical Chinese. Each proverb is accompanied by a shortcomment, no longer than a sentence or two, that explains how said proverbis applicable to military tactics These 36 Chinese proverbs are related to 36battle scenarios in Chinese history and folklore, predominantly of theWarring States Period and the Three Kingdoms Period.
Advantageous SituationsChapter 1 : Winning Stratagems1. Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean2. Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao3. Kill with a borrowed knife4. Leisurely await for the labored5. Loot a burning house6. Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west
1. Deceive the sky to cross the oceanMoving about in the darkness and shadows, occupying isolated places, or hiding behindscreens will only attract suspicious attention To lower an enemy’s guard, you must act inthe open and hide your true intentions under the guise of common every day activities. Guan Yu lost the city to Sun Quan by this strategy and later was executed. Guan Yu Sun Quan
2. Besiege Wei to rescue ZhaoWhen the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attack something he holds dearKnow that he cannot be superior in all things Somewhere there is a gap in the armor, aweakness that can be attacked insteadZhuge Liang save Sichuan from Cao Cao by asking Sun Quan at the south to help. Zhuge Liang Cao Cao
3. Kill with a borrowed knifeAttack using the strength of another (in a situation where using one’s own strength is notfavorable). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor or use theenemy’s own strength against him.Zhou Yu deceived Cao Cao to kill his subordinates, who were the marine experts. Zhou Yu
4. Substitute leisure for laborIt is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you know when andwhere the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourage your enemy toexpend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is exhaustedand confused, you attack with energy and purpose. Lu Xun used this strategy to win the war with Liu Shan, Sichuan.
5. Loot a house on fireWhen a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population,when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. Thisis the time to attack. Keep gathering internal information about an enemy. If the enemy is currentlyin its weakest state ever, attack it with out mercy and totally destroy it to prevent future troubles. Tung Cho took a chance to held Prince of Hongnong’s throne.
6. Make a sound in the east, then strike in the westIn any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when faceto face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed by attacking where he least expects it. Todo this you must create an expectation in the enemy’s mind through the use of a feint. Zhuge Liang won Hao Zhao at Tan Chong with this strategy.
Advantageous SituationsChapter 2 : Enemy Dealing Stratagems 7. Create something from nothing 8. Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passage of Chencang 9. Watch the fires burning across the river10. Hide a knife behind a smile11. Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree12. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat
7. Create something from nothingA plain lie. Make somebody believe there was something when there is in fact nothing. Onemethod of using this strategy is to create an illusion of something’s existence, while it doesnot exist. Another method is to create an illusion that something does not exist, while it does. Cao Cao used this strategy to win Lu Pu. Lu Pu
8. Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passageof Chencang.Deceive the enemy with an obvious approach that will take a very long time, while surprisinghim by taking a shortcut and sneak up to him As the enemy concentrates on the decoy, hewill miss you sneaking up to him This tactic is an extension of the “Make a sound in the eastthen strike in the west” tactic. Cao Ren lost the city to Guan Yu by this strategy.
9. Watch the fires burning across the riverDelay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhaustedfighting amongst themselves. Then go in at full strength and pick up the pieces. Kuo Chia suggested Cao Cao to use this strategy to win Yuan Shang.
10. Hide a knife behind a smileCharm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust,move against him in secret.
11. Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach treeThere are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in orderto gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat strategy whereby someone elsesuffers the consequences so that the rest do not. Cao Cao killed the chief of soldier, who made mistakes, to build the morale of all soldiers.
12. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goatWhile carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunitythat presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight. Zhuge Liang got plenty of arrows from Cao Cao’s army.
Advantageous SituationsChapter 3: Attacking Stratagems13. Stomp the grass to scare the snake14. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul15. Entice the tiger to leave its mountain lair16. In order to capture, one must let loose17. Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem18. Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief
13. Stomp the grass to scare the snakeDo something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy’s suspicion anddisrupt his thinking. More widely used as “(Do not) startle the snake by hitting the grass”. Animprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy. Zhuge Liang defeated Cao Cao’s army with this strategy.
14. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soulTake an institution, a technology, a method or even an ideology that has been forgottenor discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the pastby giving it a new purpose or bring to life old ideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpretthem to fit your purposes. The soldier used Zhuge Liang’s corpse to deceive the enemy that his chief was still alive.
15. Entice the tiger to leave its mountain lairNever directly attack an opponent whose advantage is derived from its position. Insteadlure him away from his position thus separating him from his source of strength. Tung Cho was killed by Lu Pu with this strategy.
16. In order to capture, one must let looseCornered prey will often amount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemybelieve he still has a chance for freedom. His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire toescape. When in the end the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy’s morale will bedefeated and he will surrender without a fight. Zhuge Liang arrested Meng Huo and let him go again and again.
17. Tossing out a brick to get a jade gemBait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him react to it (“tossout a brick”) and obtain something valuable from him in return (“get a jade gem”). Zhuge Liang lost Hsiahou Mao in order to get Jiang Wei to help him.
18. Defeat the enemy by capturing their chiefIf the enemy’s army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money, superstition orthreats, then take aim at the leader. If the commander falls the rest of the army will disperseor come over to your side. If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty thenbeware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance. Zhuge Liang wanted to arrest Sima Yi.
Disadvantageous SituationsChapter 4 Chaos Stratagems19. Remove the firewood from under the pot20. Catch a fish while the water is disturbed21. Slough off the cicadas golden shell22. Shut the door to catch the thief23. Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbour24. Obtain safe passage to conquer the
19. Remove the firewood from under the potTake out the leading argument or asset of someone; “steal someone’sthunder”.Jiangwei made Cao Huan believe and decide to kill Deng Ai, his famous subordinate. Jiangwei
20. Catch a fish while the water is disturbedCreate confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals. Yuan Shao asked Gongsun Zan to fight for the city.
21. Slough off the cicadas golden shellIt’s a strategy mainly used to escape from enemy of a more superior force. One use this strategyby slough off one’s shell, which tricked the enemy to believe to have grasped one’s essential.Mask yourself. Either leave flamboyant traits behind, thus going incognito, or just masqueradeyourself and create an illusion to fit your goals and distract others. Zhuge Liang escaped from Sima Yi’s army.
22. Shut the door to catch the thiefTo capture your enemy, or more generally in fighting wars, to deliver the final blow to your enemy,You must plan prudently if you want to succeed. Do not rush into action. Before you “move in forthe kill”, first cut off your enemy’s escape routes, and cut off any routes through which outside helpcan reach them. Guan Yu was arrested by Lu Meng with this strategy.
23. Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighborIt is known that nations that border each other become enemies while nations separated bydistance and obstacles make better allies. When you are the strongest in one field, yourgreatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field. Zhuge Liang convinced Sun Quan to fight with Cao Cao.
24. Obtain safe passage to conquer the State of GaoBorrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy isdefeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you the resources in the firstplace. Zhou Yu used this strategy to fight Sichuan, but Zhuge Liang knew his thoughts.
Disadvantageous SituationsChapter 5 Proximate Stratagems25. Replace the beams with rotten timbers26. Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree27. Feign madness but keep your balance28. Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof29. Deck the tree with false blossoms30. Make the host and the guest exchange roles
25. Replace the beams with rotten timbersDisrupt the enemy’s formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules inwhich they are used to follow, go contrary to their standard training. In this way you removethe supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force. Chen Pu planed to hunt Xu Shu to help Cao Cao.
26. Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust treeTo discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from directconfrontation; use analogy and innuendo. Without directly naming names, those accusedcannot retaliate without revealing their complicity. Sima Yi arrested Cao Shuang and his family.
27. Feign madness but keep your balance tHide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about yourintentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your abilityuntil, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack. Liu Pei pretended to be mad in order to survive from Cao Cao.
28. Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roofWith baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then cut off his linesof communication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he must fight both your ownforces and the elements of nature. Zhuge Liang saved Wei Yen from the war with this strategy.
29. Deck the tree with false blossomsTying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the useof artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appeardangerous; of no use appear useful. This is the same stratagem as Potemkin villages. Cao Cao used Prince of Hongnong’s name to open the war with the enemy.
30. Make the host and the guest exchange rolesUsurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate, infiltrate your target.Initially, pretend to be a quest to be accepted, but develop from inside and become theowner later. Zhang Xiu planed to kill Cao Cao by using his aunt.
Disadvantageous SituationsChapter 6 Defeat Stratagems31. The beauty trap honey trap32. The empty fort strategy33. Let the enemys own spy sow discord in the enemy camp34. Inflict injury on ones self to win the enemys trust35. Chain stratagems36. If everything else fails, retreat
31. The beauty trap (honey trap)Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This strategy can work on threelevels. First, the ruler becomes so enamored with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allowshis vigilance to wane. Second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behavior thatinflames minor differences hindering co-operation and destroying morale. Third, other females atcourt motivated by jealousy and envy begin to plot intrigues further exacerbating the situation. Diao Chan used this strategy to win Tung Cho.
32. The empty fort strategyWhen the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun atany moment, then drop all presence of military preparedness, act calmly and appear disrespectof the enemy, so that the enemy will think you have hidden huge power and you want to trapthem into the fort with your calm and easiness. Use this against people who are really smart. Zhuge Liang deceived Sima Yi’s army on his 5th war.
33. Let the enemys own spy sow discord in the enemy campUndermine your enemy’s ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and his friends,allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population. While he is preoccupied settlinginternal disputes, his ability to attack or defend, is compromised. Zhou Yu got Cai Zhong and Cai He, Cao Cao’s spy to be his soldiers.
34. Inflict injury on ones self to win the enemys trustPretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxinghis guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way ofingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy. Huang Gai was punished by Zhou Yu as planed and moved from Zhou Yu to Cao Cao.
35. Chain stratagemsIn important matters, one should use several stratagems applied simultaneously after anotheras in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; however, inthis manner if any one strategy fails, then the chain breaks and the wholes scheme fails. Cao Cao defeated Yuan Shao’s army.
36. If everything else fails, retreatIf it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat, then retreat andregroup. When your side is losing, there are only three choices remaining; surrender,compromise, or escape. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, butescape is not defeat. As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance. Zhuge Liang escaped from Zhou Yu after the Battle of Red Cliffs.