Sunzi’s《Methods of War》- Introduction

This is a translation of the Chapter 1 of The Art of War by Sunzi. No English sources were used. The original text and many of the interpretations herein come from 古诗文网.


War determines life and death of troops, existence and destruction of a country. It cannot be ignored.


Five aspects are of paramount important:

  1. Dao

  2. Heaven

  3. Earth

  4. Generalship

  5. Method


“Dao” concerns alignment. Your side must be unified. By dying together, living together, you shall be unafraid.


“Heaven” concerns timing, yin and yang, winter and summer.


“Earth” concerns the near and far, impassable and passable, open fields and choke points, death and life.


“Generalship” is a matter of wisdom, fidelity, benevolence, bravery and severity.


“Method” concerns tactics, doctrine and organization.


A commander must not ignore these five aspects. Understanding them brings victory. Lack of understanding does not bring victory.


Ask yourself: Are ruler and subjects aligned? Is the general capable? Heaven (climate) and Earth (geography) in your favor? Methods effective? Troops strong? Trained? Enlightenedly punished?


These things determine victory and defeat.


The art of war depends on local conditions. The near informs you about the far. The far informs you about the near.

  • If the enemy is clever then tempt.

  • If the enemy is disordered then raid.

  • If the enemy is capable then prepare.

  • If the enemy is mighty then run.

  • If the enemy is angry then provoke.

  • If the enemy is inferior then threaten.

  • If the enemy is dissolute then persevere.

Attack where the enemy is unprepared. Do what is least expected. But do not forget the five aspects. They are of primary importance.


A war cannot be won without lots of equipment. This facet of war too must be examined.