China Today (English)
The Global Impact of Sun Tzu’s Military Principles
The Art of War Author: Sun Tzu
Translator: Samuel B. Griffith Price: US $9.95
Paperback, 197 pages
Published by Oxford University Press
ACCORDING to reader’s ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, combined with the number of books collected in global library systems, five books with a China theme were selected as most popular among foreign readers in 2018. They are Tao Te Ching, The Art of War, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane .
The Art of War, together with Tao Te Ching, was introduced to European countries early in 1772. As of 2018, the book has been translated into more than 30 languages including English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian, with 459 versions in total, among which 138 are English versions.
The Art of War is an ancient military text attributed to Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general, strategist, and philosopher in China around 500 BC. His book about military tactics and strategy was the most widelycirculated military book of the Warring States period 2,500 years ago.
The book has roughly 6,000 words, and is divided into 13 chapters, namely Laying Plans, Waging War, Attack by Stratagem, Tactical Dispositions, Energy, Weak Points and Strong, Maneuvering, Variation in Tactics, the Army on the March, Terrain, the Nine Situations, the Attack by Fire, and the Use of Spies. The author’s sayings are terse yet elegant, simple yet profound, clearly expressed and eminently practical.
Humans have constructed buildings and walls for defensive purposes for many thousands of years. For example, the Great Wall of China is a series of military construction designed for defense in warfare, made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials. However, The Art of War is not just the staple and base of all military strategy and soldier’s training, but also a bible for business negotiation and philosophy of life.
The Guardian has listed The Art of War in the top 100 nonfiction books, ranking it first among political books.
The Economist once published an article about soft power, saying that Sun Tzu, who has been praised highly by the global administrative elites, has the power to make China more attractive to foreigners, as he underlined “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” What else could be more effective to testify that China is a peace loving nation? Joseph Samuel Nye Jr. – the founder of the concept of “soft power” — agreed that Sun Tzu was a man who truly understood the use of soft power.
China’s traditional culture has had a huge impact on the world and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War plays an irreplaceable role as many renowned foreign generals have studied this book. Numerous entrepreneurs, even some chief executives of Fortune 500 companies, discovered that the book can be used as a mighty weapon in fierce commercial battles. Businessmen combined oriental wisdom and strategy with Western modern management philosophy, and put the knowledge into practice with great success.
Analysts who discussed the reason why Sun Tzu’s military principles maintained such perennial appeal found that the book was the essence of the most outstanding military tactics in ancient China. The classic book is not confined to battles, but introduces a series of strategies that can be applied to any forms or any levels of competitions or conflicts. Therefore, The Art of War is crucial to China and the world at large.
One comment said, “Westerners have dozens of books to choose from if they want to learn about Japanese philosophy and military tactics. But when the Japanese, especially those in business, want information on the subject, many turn to an ancient Chinese, not Japanese, military manual The Art of War, which shows managers how to be fearless in resolving conflicts.” The Times once acclaimed the book, “As a reflection of the Chinese mind, this little work is as relevant as any Confucian classic.”
Over the 200 years of its circulation in European society, The Art of War has gradually evolved into an inspirational book that can be used to advise on everything from business management, and sports competitions to political elections and interpersonal relationships. Among the 5,000-plus readers’ feedback on Amazon, 4,631 are positive evaluations, approximately 80 percent.
Some readers think the book can teach them how to be assertive, deal with disputes and think creatively; some say the book tells them who they are, what to do, and how to do it in relation to many situations; some share their understanding of the book at different ages in life and suggest this helps get a different perspective on the book’s lessons; some regret that they had not read the book earlier, as it would have given them a more rational attitude toward life. Most of the principles in this book are still applicable to modern society.
From all these evaluations, readers can discover that The Art of War, as an essential part of Chinese wisdom, has not only nourished the heart of Chinese people over the past 2,000 years, but has also been translated and shared around the world in the long course of history, becoming a spiritual treasure of the global community.