Sun-Tzu — man or legend?
Sun-Tzu (pronounced Soon Tsoo although this is just one version) was a legendary Chinese general who lived nearly 3,000 years ago. His fame comes from a book he wrote — The Art of War — that is considered to be one of history’s definitive works on military strategy and tactics.
Historians have questioned whether or not Sun was a real historical figure. According to traditional sources, Sun was born in Qi (now Shandong Province) during the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722–481 BCE, i.e., Before the Common Era or Before Christ).
His real family name is Tian, but the last name of Sun was given by the King of Qi to his family when his grandfather, a general for Qi, won a big battle. When Sun-Tzu was young, his family was having trouble with some royal families, and he moved to Wu state and became a heroic general for the king of Wu, Helü.
His subsequent successes on the battlefield then inspired him to write the famous military classic, The Art of War.
Historians place the writing of The Art of War in the Warring States Period (476–221 BCE), based on its description of warfare. The period was a time of constant war among the seven nations (Zhao, Qi, Qin, Chu, Han, Wei and Yan) battling to control all of China.
The king of Wu tested Sun’s skills by commanding him to train a harem of 360 concubines into soldiers. Sun divided them into two companies, appointing the two concubines most favored by the king as the company commanders. When Sun first ordered the concubines to face right, they giggled. In response, Sun said that the general, who in this case was himself, was responsible for ensuring that soldiers understood the commands given to them. Then, he reiterated the command, and again the concubines giggled. Sun then ordered the execution of the king’s two favored concubines, to the king’s protests! He explained that if the general’s soldiers understood their commands but did not obey, it was the fault of the officers. Sun also said that once a general was appointed, it was their duty to carry out their mission, even if the king protested. After both concubines were killed, new officers were chosen to replace them. Afterwards, both companies performed their maneuvers flawlessly.
— paraphrased from A Cultural China
The Standoff at Scarborough Shoal
- Sun-Tzu: The art of war is of vital importance to the State. 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.
As I write this, the Philippines is locked in a dispute with China that began 12 days ago.
- Sun-Tzu: Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will. Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
Twelve days ago, on April 8th, a Philippine patrol airplane spotted eight suspicious fishing vessels in Scarborough Shoal. The Philippine Navy’s flagship, the BRP del Pilar, sped there and caught them red-handed.
But before Philippine authorities were able to decide to arrest the foreign intruders, two Chinese ships arrived and physically blocked the BRP del Pilar from approaching the fishing boats.
- Sun-Tzu: Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
Both countries filed diplomatic protests with each other. The Chinese protested the harassment of their fishermen. The Filipinos protested their intrusion.
Four days after the incident began, the Philippine flagship withdrew from the scene.
- Sun-Tzu: The art of using troops is this: “When ten to the enemy’s one, surround him; When five times his strength, attack him; If double his strength, divide him; If equally matched you may engage him; If weaker numerically, be capable of withdrawing; And if in all respects unequal, be capable of eluding him, for a small force is but booty for one more powerful.”
April 12 — There is no retreat and “we are not abandoning the area,” the Navy chief explained Thursday afternoon, after the command’s flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar moved out of Scarborough Shoal earlier in the day to go to Poro Point, effectively demilitarizing the new flashpoint in South China Sea. This, even as a third Chinese civilian ship was spotted in the area.
Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said the vessel–the Philippines’ only frigate–moved out of the area Thursday morning because it needed to restock on provisions and to refuel.
He also clarified that the move was not a “pullout,” adding that the ship will restock on provisions at Poro Point in San Fernando, La Union.
Click here to read a summary of events leading up to April 12th.
The Philippines pushes back.
- Sun-Tzu: Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
April 16 — The Philippine president says his Southeast Asian nation won’t start a war with China over a disputed shoal where their ships have figured in a tense naval standoff for a week.
President Benigno Aquino III said Monday his country would assert its sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines but has pulled out a warship and replaced it with a coast guard vessel to “de-escalate the situation.”
— Online news article (Washington Post)
China knows where to fight. It won’t press its claim in an international forum. Why should it submit itself to the international rule of law and dissipate its huge military advantage?
- Sun-Tzu: On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy’s way. On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies. On serious ground, gather in plunder. In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem. On desperate ground, fight.
April 19 — China said Wednesday that the Philippines is violating maritime law by claiming a shoal in the South China Sea and dismissed Manila’s request to take the dispute to an international court.
“We believe it runs counter to historical facts and violates the law,” said Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.
— Online news article (Sun Star)
Irritate, irritate, irritate. Give him no rest.
- Sun-Tzu: If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, 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. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
April 20 — China sent anew three fishing vessels back to the Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) as it continues to reject the Philippines’ proposal to seek international arbitration in settling the dispute in the South China Sea.
A Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman said the Philippine Coast Guard spotted three civilian Chinese fishing boats in the area today, in violation of their agreement not to escalate the tension in the area.
They will ask the Chinese government why it sent back the fishing boats, stressing that the arrival of the three Chinese boats is aggravating the situation in the area.
— Online news article (Sun Star)
Click here to read a summary of events leading up to today, April 20, 2012.
David and Goliath
Wisdom from “The Art of War”
This is a developing story. FORTUNATELY, Sun-Tzu left us with a lot of quotable wisdom! ;-)
- Sun-Tzu: So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
- Sun-Tzu: We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.
- Sun-Tzu: The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
- Sun-Tzu: He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.
- Sun-Tzu: When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.
- Sun-Tzu: You have to believe in yourself.