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Sun Tzu (4th Century BC)

Updated Wednesday, 30th August 2006

Sun Tzu wrote in the 4th century BC, but his ideas still influence military, political and business leaders today

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Soldier in silhouette

Sun Tzu was the author of The Art of War, the earliest known work on military strategy. When the book was written, China was not a single state, but was made up of a number of states that frequently resorted to war in order to gain supremacy. Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War for Ho Lu, King of Wu, who subsequently appointed Sun Tzu as a general. In this position, he led an army westwards, crushed the Ch’u state and entered Ying, the capital.

The Art of War outlines strategies and tactics for leaders who should “Know the enemy and know yourself” if they are to be successful in battle. He was a strong believer in deception, and that a general should trust no one, in order to ensure victory.

“It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge. By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose.”

The influence of the book is widespread, from the Chinese Communists in the war against the Japanese to corporate leaders in the 1980s who found that the broad principles could be applied to business, especially in take over and merger deals.


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