The Art of War

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

This is a book where nearly everyone knows about, or at least heard of. It’s such a classic that it is still used 2000 years after it is first wrote. I was curious why. As a Chinese, I have heard snippets of it, but I have not actually read it because Classic Chinese is hard. I read the English translation.

I kind of disliked reading the English translation because it took away the beauty of Chinese, but it also took away my bias and brought new perspectives to me. The author took a long time explaining the different possible meanings of the book, how or who wrote it, and how the book was used and referenced in different historical period of time.

The book was half a history reading and half a military strategy book. Because Sun Tzu wrote this for his king, he wanted this to be practical, so he made detailed descriptions of what to do in different situations, different terrains. He would list how many days it would take to build a chariot for example. He would list how much food to bring when going to war. Those are no longer applicable today. But the other half of the book talk about general strategies of winning a war. You have to know the enemy and know yourself. Waging a war is often less beneficial than converting the foe into friends. He also talked about how to bring discipline to the army, because without discipline the army will just be blown away like a pile of sand. He talked about why siege is usually the worst option – it takes time and it sucks away soldier’s fighting spirit, and what do you get in the end? A city with much death and disease. It’s better to eliminate the foe in the battle field rather than in a siege.

Most of those principles are kind of applicable to other things in life, like building a business. You can ask questions like: what do you need to know about your foe? What is a “siege” in business sense – something that costs time, resources, and effort but brings little in return.

Unfortunately i did not finish the book (again…), but I think I get the major points of the book. It is indeed a classical read, something that could be inspiring at times of great difficulty. If your company is on the verge of bankruptcy, just spend 30 minutes reading the Art of War. You’ll realize that first of all you won’t literally die from the potential defeat. Then you can find maybe some rays of light and hope in the despair. Imagine being responsible for the lives of a whole city, of a whole army, and suddenly whatever weight on your shoulder looks like nothing compared to that.