Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Story behind Art of War

Ssu-ma Ch`ien gives the following biography of Sun
Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch`i State. His Art of
War brought him to the notice of Ho Lu, King of Wu. Ho
Lu said to him: “I have carefully perused your 13 chapters.
May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a
slight test?”
Sun Tzu replied: “You may.”
Ho Lu asked: “May the test be applied to women?”
The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements
were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace.
Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed
one of the King’s favorite concubines at the head of each.
He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and addressed
them thus: “I presume you know the difference
between front and back, right hand and left hand?”
The girls replied: “Yes.”

Sun Tzu went on: “When I say ‘Eyes front’, you must
look straight ahead. When I say ‘Left turn’, you must face
towards your left hand. When I say ‘Right turn’, you
must face towards your right hand. When I say ‘About
turn’, you must face right round towards your back.”
Again the girls assented. The words of command having
been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-
axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of
drums, he gave the order “Right turn.” But the girls only
burst out laughing. Sun Tzu said: “If words of command
are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood,
then the general is to blame.”
So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the
order “Left turn”, whereupon the girls once more burst
into fits of laughter. Sun Tzu: “If words of command are
not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood,
the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE
clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the
fault of their officers.”
So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies
to be beheaded. Now the King of Wu was watching the

scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw
that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he
was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following
message: “We are now quite satisfied as to our general’s
ability to handle troops. If We are bereft of these
two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor.
It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded.”
Sun Tzu replied: “Having once received His Majesty’s
commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain
commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity,
I am unable to accept.”
Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and
straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in
their place. When this had been done, the drum was
sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went
through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the
left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing,
with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to
utter a sound. Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King
saying: “Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and
disciplined, and ready for your majesty’s inspection.

They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire;
bid them go through fire and water, and they will not
But the King replied: “Let our general cease drilling
and return to camp. As for us, We have no wish to come
down and inspect the troops.”
Thereupon Sun Tzu said: “The King is only fond of
words, and cannot translate them into deeds.”
After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew
how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general.
In the west, he defeated the Ch`u State and forced
his way into Ying, the capital; to the north he put fear into
the States of Ch`i and Chin, and spread his fame abroad
amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the
might of the King.

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