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 chapterscontaining six stratagems each. The first three chapters generallydescribe tactics for use in advantageous situations, whereas thelast three chapters contain stratagems that are more suitable fordisadvantageous situations The original text of the Thirty-SixStratagems has a laconic style that is common to Classical Chinese.Each proverb is accompanied by a short comment, no longerthan a sentence or two, that explains how said proverb isapplicable to military tactics These 36 Chinese proverbs arerelated to 36 battle scenarios in Chinese history and folklore,predominantly of the Warring States Period and the ThreeKingdoms Period.
Advantageous SituationsChapter : Winning Stratagems1. Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean2. Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao3. Kill with a borrowed knife4. Leisurely await for the laboured5. Loot a burning house6. Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west
Guan Yu Sun Quan Guan Yu lost the city to Sun Quan by this strategy and later was executed.1. Deceive the sky to cross the ocean Moving about in the darkness and shadows, occupyingisolated places, or hiding behind screens will only attract suspicious attention To lower anenemy’s guard, you must act in the open and hide your true intentions under the guise ofcommon every day activities.
Zhuge Liang Cao CaoZhuge Liang save Sichuan from Cao Cao by asking Sun Quan at the south to help.2. Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attacksomething he holds dear Know that he cannot be superior in all things Somewhere there is agap in the armor, a weakness that can be attacked instead The idea here is to avoid a headon battle with a strong enemy, and instead strike at his weakness elsewhere. This will force thestrong enemy to retreat in order to support his weakness. Battling against the now tired and low-morale enemy will give a much higher chances of success.
Zhou YuZhou Yu deceived Cao Cao to kill his subordinates, who were the marine experts.3. Kill with a borrowed knife Attack using the strength of another (in a situation where usingone’s own strength is not favorable). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official toturn traitor or use the enemy’s own strength against him. The idea here is to cause damageto the enemy by getting a third party to do the deed.
Lu Xun used this strategy to win the war with Liu Shan, Sichuan4. Substitute leisure for labour It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In thisway you know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourageyour enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he isexhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose. The idea is to have your troops well-prepared for battle, in the same time that the enemy is rushing to fight against you. This will give yourtroops a huge advantage in the upcoming battle, of which you will get to select the time and place
Tung Cho took a chance to held Prince of Hongnong’s thorne.5. Loot a house on fire When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famineravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to dealwith an outside threat. This is the time to attack. Keep gathering internal information about anenemy. If the enemy is currently in its weakest state ever, attack it with out mercy and totallydestroy it to prevent future troubles.
Zhuge Liang won Hao Zhao at Tan Chong with this strategy.6. Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west In any battle the element of surprise canprovide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can stillbe employed by attacking where he least expects it. To do this you must create an expectationin the enemys mind through the use of a feint. The idea here is to get the enemy to focus hisforces in a location, and then attack elsewhere which would be weakly defended.
Advantageous Situations Chapter 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
Lu Pu Cao Cao used this strategy to win Lu Pu.7. Create something from nothing A plain lie. Make somebody believe there wassomething when there is in fact nothing. One method of using this strategy is tocreate an illusion of somethings existence, while it does not exist. Another method isto create an illusion that something does not exist, while it does.
Cao Ren lost the city to Guan Yu by this strategy.8.Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passage of Chencang. Deceive the enemywith an obvious approach that will take a very long time, while surprising him by taking a shortcut andsneak up to him As the enemy concentrates on the decoy, he will miss you sneaking up to him. Thistactic is an extension of the “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west” tactic. But instead ofsimply spreading misinformation to draw the enemys attention, physical baits are used to increase theenemys certainty on the misinformation. These baits must be easily seen by the enemy, to ensure thatthey draw the enemys attention. At the same time, the baits must act as if what they meant to dowhat they were falsely doing, to avoid drawing the enemys suspicion.
Kuo Chia suggested Cao Cao to use this strategy to win Yuan Shang.9.Watch the fires burning across the river Delay entering the field of battle until all theother players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in at fullstrength and pick up the pieces.
10. Hide a knife behind a smile Charm and ingratiateyourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust,move against him in secret.
Cao Cao killed the chief of soldier, who made mistakes, to build the morale of all soldiers.11. Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree There are circumstances in which you mustsacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat strategywhereby someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.
Zhuge Liang got plenty of arrows from Cao Cao’s army.12. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat While carrying out your plans be flexible enough totake advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself ofany profit, however slight.
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
Zhuge Liang defeated Cao Cao’s army with this strategy.13.Stomp the grass to scare the snake Do something unaimed, but spectacular (“hitting the grass”) toprovoke a response of the enemy ("startle the snake"), thereby giving away his plans or position, or justtaunt him. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemys suspicion anddisrupt his thinking. More widely used as “[Do not] startle the snake by hitting the grass”. An imprudentact will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.
The soldier used Zhuge Liang’s crosp to deceive the enemy that his chief was still alive.14. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul Take an institution, a technology, a method, oreven an ideology that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your ownpurpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or bring to life oldideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to fit your purposes.
Tung Cho was killed by Lu Pu with this strategy.15. Entice the tiger to leave its mountain lair Never directly attack an opponent whoseadvantage is derived from its position. Instead lure him away from his position thusseparating him from his source of strength
Zhuge Liang arrested Meng Huo and let him go again and again.16. In order to capture, one must let loose Cornered prey will often mount a final desperateattack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom. His willto fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end the freedom is provena falsehood the enemys morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.
Zhuge Liang lost Hsiahou Mao in order to get Jiang Wei to help him.17.Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem Bait someone by making him believe he gainssomething or just make him react to it (“toss out a brick”) and obtain something valuablefrom him in return (“get a jade gem”
Zhuge Liang wanted to arrest Sima Yi.18. Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief If the enemys army is strong but is allied tothe commander only by money, superstition or threats, then take aim at the leader. If thecommander falls the rest of the army will disperse or come over to your side.If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the army cancontinue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.
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
Jiangwei made Cao Huan believe and decide to kill Deng Ai, his famous subordinate.19. Remove the firewood from under the pot Take out the leading argument or assetof someone “steal someones thunder”
Yuan Shao asked Gongsun Zan to fight for the city.20. Catch a fish while the water is disturbed Create confusion and usethis confusion to further your own goals.
Zhuge Liang escaped from Sima Yi’s army.21. Slough off the cicadas golden shell Its a strategy mainly used to escape from enemyof a more superior force. One use this strategy by slough off ones shell, which tricked theenemy to believe to have grasped ones essential. Mask yourself. Either leave flamboyanttraits behind, thus going incognito; or just masquerade yourself and create an illusion to fityour goals and distract others.
Guan Yu was arrested by Lu Meng with this strategy.22. Shut the door to catch the thief To capture your enemy, or more generally in fightingwars, to deliver the final blow to your enemy, you must plan prudently if you want tosucceed. Do not rush into action. Before you “move in for the kill”, first cut off your enemysescape routes, and cut off any routes through which outside help can reach them.
Zhuge Liang convinced Sun Quan to fight with Cao Cao.23. Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbor It is known that nations that bordereach other become enemies while nations separated by distance and obstacles makebetter allies. When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from thesecond strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field.
Zhou Yu used this strategy to fight Sichuan, but Juge Liang knew his thoughts.24.Obtain safe passage to conquer the State of Gao Borrow the resources of an ally toattack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on theally that lent you them in the first place
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
Chen Pu planed to hunt Xu Shu to help Cao Cao.25. Replace the beams with rotten timbers Disrupt the enemys formations, interfere withtheir methods of operations, change the rules in which they are used to follow, go contraryto their standard training. In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common linkthat makes a group of men an effective fighting force.
Sima Yi arrested Cao Shuang and his family.26. Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree To discipline, control, or warn otherswhose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendoWithout directly naming names, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity
Liu Pei pretended to be mad in order to survive from Cao Cao.27. Feign madness but keep your balance Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or amadman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent intounderestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
Zhuge Liang saved Wei Yen from the war with this strategy28. Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof With baits anddeceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then cut off his lines ofcommunication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he must fight both yourown forces and the elements of nature.
Cao Cao used Prince of Hongnong’s name to open the war with the enemy.29. Deck the tree with false blossoms Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusionthat the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of novalue appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful. This is thesame stratagem as Potemkin villages.
Zhang Xiu planed to kill Cao Cao by using his aunt.30. Make the host and the guest exchange roles Usurp leadership in a situation where youare normally subordinate. Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to beaccepted, but develop from inside and become the owner later.
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
Diao Chan used this strategy to win Tung Cho.31. The beauty trap honey trap Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discordwithin his camp. This strategy can work on three levels. First the ruler becomes soenamoured with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allows his vigilance to wane.Second other males at court will begin to display aggressive behaviour that inflamesminor differences hindering co-operation and destroying morale. Third other females atcourt motivated by jealousy and envy begin to plot intrigues further exacerbating the
Zhuge Liang deceived Sima Yi’s army on his 5th war.32. The empty fort strategy When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation issuch that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all presence of militarypreparedness, act calmly and appear disrespect of the enemy, so that the enemy willthink you have hidden huge power and you want to trap them into the fort with your calmand easiness This has to be used when in most of the cases, you do have huge powerhidden under the disguise and you only play the real empty rarely Use this against peoplewho are really smart
Zhou Yu got Cai Zhong and Cai He, Cao Cao’s spy to be his soldiers.33. Let the enemys own spy sow discord in the enemy camp Undermine yourenemys ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and hisfriends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population. While he ispreoccupied settling internal disputes, his ability to attack or defend, is compromised.
Huang Gai was punished by Zhou Yu as planed and moved from Zhou Yu to Cao Cao.34. Inflict injury on ones self to win the enemys trust Pretending to be injured has twopossible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he nolonger considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way of ingratiatingyourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.
Cao Cao defeated Yuan Shao’s army.35. Chain stratagems In important matters, one should use several stratagems appliedsimultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating inan overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one strategy fails, then the chain breaksand the whole scheme fails.
Zhuge Liang escaped from Zhou Yu after the Battle of Red Cliffs.36. If everything else fails, retreat If it becomes obvious that your current course of actionwill lead to defeat, then retreat and regroup When your side is losing, there are only threechoices remaining surrender, compromise, or escape Surrender is complete defeat,compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat As long as you are not defeated, youstill have a chance