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Ancient Figures of War: Sun Tzu

If you’ve ever seen the movie, “The Art of War,” then you’ve probably heard Wesley Snipes mention the teachings and wisdom of Sun Tzu, who penned a book regarding strategies for besting your opponent in battle. In this article, we will take a look at the man (or myth) behind the teachings, as well as the lengths he went to prove his military theories.

Sun Tzu translates into “Master Sun,” which is a honored title that was given to Sun Wu (~544 , 496 BC), who wrote “The Art of War” , a book that became instrumental during ancient Chinese times when the military were in need of executing successful strategies. Additionally, he was also viewed as one of the earliest realists linked to relations theory across an international basis.

Throughout the years, historians often ponder whether or not Sun Tzu really existed as the figure attached to the great book. One of the reasons for this is that his biography contains varying pieces of information. In some accounts, such as the one written during the 2nd century BC , the historian Sima Qian states that Sun Tzu is born in Qi State, which was during what was known as the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722 , 481 BC). Tzu is believed to have become a brave general under the rule of the King of Wu. Experiencing the taste of victory so many times gives him the inspiration to write the Art of War.

However, other accounts take a look at the warfare descriptions and paint a different picture, linking the writing depicted in the Art of War as being influenced by the Age of Warring States (403 , 221 BC). During this period in time, seven nations (including the Han State, Chu State, and Qi State) were constantly battling one another. All had their eye on the prize of taking control of China.

Sima Qian writes that the King of Wu put Sun Tzu’s skill to the test and ordered him to train 350 concubines. Tzu obliged and went about separating the women into two companies and appointed the King’s two favorite concubines to take the role of commanders of their own company. While he met snickers behind his back when he first took on the task, he had to repeatedly teach the maneuvers to his new companies. He was met with great opposition with some saying that a general fails if his soldiers do not understand.

This is when Tzu ordered the execution of the King’s two favorite concubines, despite the King’s objection. He stated that if his soldiers understood what was expected of them but chose not to obey, it is the fault of the officers. He also exclaimed that once a general is given orders, it is his duty to make sure they are abided to , even if a King objects. He then appointed new officers and miraculously, the two companie performed the maneuvers without any fault.

Over the years, Sun Tzu provided the explanations to a great deal of theories that unfolded across the battlefield and enjoyed an accomplished career in the military as a result. All of this experience had given him all that he needed to write The Art of War.