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The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China

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The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China

including The Art of War

Basic Books,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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Business strategists often quote Sun-tzu; here’s why they could also quote ancient Generals T’ai Kung and Huang Shih-kung.

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  • Background


The parallels between business and warfare evoke images of brilliant generals leading armies and brilliant CEOs leading businesses. Platoons battle and businesses compete with bold, wily strategies and superior execution. Given these similarities, do the classic sagas of seven ancient Chinese military strategists have insight and wisdom that might benefit today’s business leaders? For the answer, read the “translator’s introductions” that open each chapter in sinologist Ralph D. Sawyer’s substantive book. His notes explain how these ancient strategists won their battles with the least possible military force. Sawyer presents them as sage theoreticians who were masters at outwitting their opponents. Unlike most Western military theorists, China’s ancient tacticians emphasized, “speed, stealth...flexibility,” still quite useful skills. getAbstract recommends this fascinating, deeply expert compilation to anyone who wants an educated overview of seven venerable Chinese military classics. Their authority and precision of thought will intrigue modern strategists as they have interested statesmen and military leaders throughout time.


Stretching Back into Time

Chinese strategic and military thought dates back some 5,000 years. Ancient Chinese clan chiefs fought to establish dominance and create dynasties. As their weaponry and tactics improved, scholars began to study their “command experience.” Military science became a valued – and frequently applied – discipline. By the second century B.C., China had already struggled through 10 centuries of unrelenting warfare to become a “vast, powerful, imperially directed entity.” Twelve centuries later, during the Sung dynasty, scholars collected the seven most profound military classics, the apogee of Chinese military thought as written by its ancient generals. Applicants for military appointment had to be well-versed in their ideas. These classics are:

  1. “T’ai Kung’s Six Secret Teachings”
  2. “The Methods of the Ssu-ma”
  3. Sun-tzu’s “Art of War
  4. Wu-tzu
  5. Wei Liao-tzu
  6. “Three Strategies of Huang Shih-kung”
  7. “Questions and Replies Between T’ang T’ai-tsung and Li Wei-kung

About the Author

Ralph D. Sawyer, a scholar on Chinese warfare and strategic thought, is a fellow of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. His books include The Tao of Deception and The Tao of Spycraft, plus many translations including Sun-tzu’s Art of War and The Tao of War.

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