Sun Tzu on the Art of War

Author: Lionel Giles  | Date: 1910

I. Laying Plans

1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance

to the State.

2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either

to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry

which can on no account be neglected.

3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant

factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations,

when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth;

(4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

5,6. 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.

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat,

times and seasons.

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small;

danger and security; open ground and narrow passes;

the chances of life and death.

9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom,

sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.

10. By method and discipline are to be understood

the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions,

the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance

of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the

control of military expenditure.

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general:

he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them

not will fail.

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking

to determine the military conditions, let them be made

the basis of a comparison, in this wise:-

13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued

with the Moral law?

(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?

(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven

and Earth?

(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

(5) Which army is stronger?

(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

(7) In which army is there the greater constancy

both in reward and punishment?

14. By means of these seven considerations I can

forecast victory or defeat.

15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts

upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command!

The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it,

will suffer defeat:- let such a one be dismissed!

16. While heading the profit of my counsel,

avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances

over and beyond the ordinary rules.

17. According as circumstances are favorable,

one should modify one’s plans.

18. All warfare is based on deception.

19. Hence, 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.

20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder,

and crush him.

21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him.

If he is in superior strength, evade him.

22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to

irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.

If his forces are united, separate them.

24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where

you are not expected.

25. These military devices, leading to victory,

must not be divulged beforehand.

26. 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.


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Chicago: Lionel Giles, "I. Laying Plans," Sun Tzu on the Art of War Original Sources, accessed February 1, 2023,

MLA: Giles, Lionel. "I. Laying Plans." Sun Tzu on the Art of War, Original Sources. 1 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Giles, L, 'I. Laying Plans' in Sun Tzu on the Art of War. Original Sources, retrieved 1 February 2023, from