The Art of War is one of the most widely read books on the art of warfare of all time, believed to have been written in the 5th century BC. Today it is popular reading worldwide, in both the East and the West. Sun Tzu is the reputed author of this text. While there is some argument about his actual historical authenticity as a living person, it is generally believed that he lived during China's Warring States period. This was an age of great conflict and uncertainty as seven states vied for survival and supremacy. Thus these states sought out any means of gaining advantage over their opponents. Those with keen knowledge on strategy & leadership were especially sought after. It is believed that during this time there arose a general from the state of Ch’i, a man with the birth name of Sun Wu, who was later given the honorific title of "Tzu," Master. His ability to win victories for his warlord gained him fame and power, especially in battles where is army was outnumbered.

The Chinese historian Sima Qian, who wrote about Sun Tzu a few hundred years after his death, wrote an account of the man's ruthless nature, in which the King of Wu, He Lu, asked Sun Tzu to demonstrate his military acumen by turning the 180 concubines of his court into a disciplined army. It is reported that when the women refused to obey military orders, Sun Tzu had the king's two favorite concubines executed, even despite the king's pleaded refusal. And as a result, the rest of the women reportedly became a perfect army that could "go through fire and water" (Sacred-Texts). Whether such a story is true or not is suspect, but it gives an example of the kind of brutal reputation Sun Tzu held in China, even long after his death.


The Art of War presents a philosophy for managing conflicts and winning battles. It is accepted as a masterpiece on strategy and has been frequently cited and referred to by generals and military theorists since it was first written. An important concept in this text is "knowing one's enemy." Sun Tzu talked about warfare as a battle for the mind.

In The Art of War, the emphasis is not on brute force, but on the power of the mind. War is not a matter of destroying the enemy materially and physically (although that may certainly play a role), but the goal of war is to unsettle the enemy psychologically, to crush the enemy through deception, chaos or terror. The goal of war is to force the enemy’s leadership and society from a condition of harmony, in which they can resist effectively, toward one of chaos, which ultimately leads to defeat. Sun Tzu was not saying that combat should be eliminated; to the contrary, the very first line of his text is that "the art of warfare is of vital importance to the state." But in this text there is a strong argument that one should use as much strategy and as little force as possible to gain psychological dominance over the enemy.


Sun Tzu's Art of War has influenced many notable figures. The Chinese historian Sima Qian recounted that China's first historical emperor, Qin's Shi Huangdi, considered the book invaluable in ending the time of the Warring States. The Art of War was later introduced into Japan c. 760 AD and the book quickly became popular among Japanese generals. In its later influence on Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, the text significantly affected the unification of Japan in the early modern era. Mastery of its teachings was honored among the samurai and its teachings were studied and respected by daimyōs and shoguns. Subsequently, it remained popular among the Imperial Japanese armed forces. The Admiral of the Fleet Tōgō Heihachirō, who led Japan's forces to victory in the Russo-Japanese War, was an avid reader of Sun Tzu.

In the 20th century, the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong partially credited his 1949 victory over Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang to The Art of War. The work also strongly influenced Mao's writings about guerrilla warfare. (McNeilly, Mark R. (2001), Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare).

The Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh translated the work into Vietnamese for his officers to study. His general Vo Nguyen Giap, the strategist behind victories over French and American forces in Vietnam, was also an avid student and practitioner of Sun Tzu.

And of course today the text is considered required reading material for military tacticians worldwide. As the former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell said, “I’ve read the Chinese classic The Art of War written by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu has been studied for hundreds of years. He continues to give inspiration to soldiers and politicians. So every American soldier in the army knows of his works. We require our soldiers to read it.” (Sun Tzu Strategies)


War and the State:

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. (Chapter I, The Art of War).

Knowing the Enemy:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. (Chapter III, The Art of War).

Absolute Obedience to a Ruler or Commander:

The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. (Chapter I, The Art of War).

The Importance of Deception in Warfare:

All warfare is based on deception. (Chapter I, The Art of War).

Conquering the Mind of the Enemy Via Deception and Terror:

When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. (Chapter I, The Art of War).

The Power of Strategy and Forethought in Battle:

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. (Chapter I, The Art of War).

Prolonged Warfare is Not Good for the State:

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. (Chapter II, The Art of War).

The Skillful Leader Subdues Enemies Without The Use of Force:

The skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. (Chapter III, The Art of War).

In Conquest, Do Not Destroy The Enemy's Infrastructure:

In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them. (Chapter III, The Art of War).

The Use of Spies and Intelligence:

Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. (Chapter XIII, The Art of War).


Read The Art of War Online

The Art of War (Full Text Online)

Sun Wu and his Book

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Wikipedia

Sun Tzu on

Who Was Sun Tzu? (Sun Tzu Strategies)

Sun Tzu and the Art of Soft Power (The Economist, 12-17-11)

Sun Tzu's Influence on Mao Tse-tung

Mao Tse-tung's Thoughts on War and Peace: Points from a Lecture during Resistance to Japan PDF (The Economic Weekly)

A Study of a Classic Leader: Sun Tzu and his influence on Mao Tse-tung PDF (Air Command and Staff College Air University)

Other Historic Texts on Warfare Online

Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War) by Julius Caesar

The Art of War by Niccolò Machiavelli

Arthashastra by Kautilya

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

Hagakure: Book of the Samurai  by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Bushido  by Inazo Nitobe

On Protracted War by Mao Zedong

On War  by Carl von Clausewitz