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The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China

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The Seven Military Classics is one of the most profound studies of warfare ever written. It presents us with an Eastern tradition of strategic thought that emphasizes outwitting one’s opponent through speed, stealth, flexibility, and a minimum of force—an approach very different from that stressed in the West, where the advantages of brute strength have overshadowed more The Seven Military Classics is one of the most profound studies of warfare ever written. It presents us with an Eastern tradition of strategic thought that emphasizes outwitting one’s opponent through speed, stealth, flexibility, and a minimum of force—an approach very different from that stressed in the West, where the advantages of brute strength have overshadowed more subtle methods.Safeguarded for centuries by the ruling elites of imperial China, even in modern times these writings have been known only to a handful of Western specialists. In this volume are seven separate essays, written between 500 b.c. and a.d. 700, that preserve the essential tenets of strategy distilled from the experience of the most brilliant warriors of ancient China.Only one of these seven essays, Sun Tzu’s famous Art of War, has been readily available in the West. Thanks to this faithful translation of the complete Seven Military Classics, the insights of these ancient Chinese texts are now accessible in their entirety.It’s not uncommon to see a “salaryman” on a crowded Tokyo subway studying one of the many popular Japanese editions of these essays. But why do so many businesspeople in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan study a 2,000-year-old military text? Because it embodies the strategic tradition of outwitting an opponent through speed, stealth, flexibility, and a minimum of effort. These principles have been proven both on the battlefield and in the marketplace. Now they are available in the West for the first time in their entirety.The lessons found in this book were exploited by such pivotal Asian war leaders as Japan’s Yamamoto, China’s Mao Tse-tung, and Vietnam’s Giap to inflict terrible defeats on their enemies. And in more recent times, when Japan and others have decided to win their laurels on the field of international economic competition, these principles have been a key to the achievements of many Asian corporations. Executives in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan regularly study the Seven Military Classics. Unfortunately, even those far-sighted Western business leaders who have read Sun Tzu have glimpsed only a fraction of the knowledge their best Asian competitors use to plan corporate strategy—until now.Those who appreciate Chinese literature and philosophy will also discover much that is new in these pages. Here is a substantial but previously inaccessible body of thought that stands in contrast to Confucianism, which deprecated the military sphere in favor of self-cultivation and the ethical life.The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China remedies a serious gap in Western knowledge of Asian thought. This accurate translation is based on the best available classical Chinese manuscripts, some only recently discovered by archaeologists. It is a uniquely important contribution to the world’s military literature and is essential reading for anyone interested in China’s rich cultural heritage or in the timeless principles of successful strategy.


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The Seven Military Classics is one of the most profound studies of warfare ever written. It presents us with an Eastern tradition of strategic thought that emphasizes outwitting one’s opponent through speed, stealth, flexibility, and a minimum of force—an approach very different from that stressed in the West, where the advantages of brute strength have overshadowed more The Seven Military Classics is one of the most profound studies of warfare ever written. It presents us with an Eastern tradition of strategic thought that emphasizes outwitting one’s opponent through speed, stealth, flexibility, and a minimum of force—an approach very different from that stressed in the West, where the advantages of brute strength have overshadowed more subtle methods.Safeguarded for centuries by the ruling elites of imperial China, even in modern times these writings have been known only to a handful of Western specialists. In this volume are seven separate essays, written between 500 b.c. and a.d. 700, that preserve the essential tenets of strategy distilled from the experience of the most brilliant warriors of ancient China.Only one of these seven essays, Sun Tzu’s famous Art of War, has been readily available in the West. Thanks to this faithful translation of the complete Seven Military Classics, the insights of these ancient Chinese texts are now accessible in their entirety.It’s not uncommon to see a “salaryman” on a crowded Tokyo subway studying one of the many popular Japanese editions of these essays. But why do so many businesspeople in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan study a 2,000-year-old military text? Because it embodies the strategic tradition of outwitting an opponent through speed, stealth, flexibility, and a minimum of effort. These principles have been proven both on the battlefield and in the marketplace. Now they are available in the West for the first time in their entirety.The lessons found in this book were exploited by such pivotal Asian war leaders as Japan’s Yamamoto, China’s Mao Tse-tung, and Vietnam’s Giap to inflict terrible defeats on their enemies. And in more recent times, when Japan and others have decided to win their laurels on the field of international economic competition, these principles have been a key to the achievements of many Asian corporations. Executives in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan regularly study the Seven Military Classics. Unfortunately, even those far-sighted Western business leaders who have read Sun Tzu have glimpsed only a fraction of the knowledge their best Asian competitors use to plan corporate strategy—until now.Those who appreciate Chinese literature and philosophy will also discover much that is new in these pages. Here is a substantial but previously inaccessible body of thought that stands in contrast to Confucianism, which deprecated the military sphere in favor of self-cultivation and the ethical life.The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China remedies a serious gap in Western knowledge of Asian thought. This accurate translation is based on the best available classical Chinese manuscripts, some only recently discovered by archaeologists. It is a uniquely important contribution to the world’s military literature and is essential reading for anyone interested in China’s rich cultural heritage or in the timeless principles of successful strategy.

56 review for The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    The Seven Military Classics (Audible Audio) are more than mere rules of logic thanks to the efforts that went into making these works accessible to the West. Although one might break the philosophy presented in these treatises down to simply: acquiring, maintaining, and exercising one's "Awesomeness", or the projection of "awe" vitally essential to any ruler. Sinologist Ralph D. Sawyer and his wife Mei-Chun Lee Sawyer shed light through scholarly commentary on these lesser known military The Seven Military Classics (Audible Audio) are more than mere rules of logic thanks to the efforts that went into making these works accessible to the West. Although one might break the philosophy presented in these treatises down to simply: acquiring, maintaining, and exercising one's "Awesomeness", or the projection of "awe" vitally essential to any ruler. Sinologist Ralph D. Sawyer and his wife Mei-Chun Lee Sawyer shed light through scholarly commentary on these lesser known military writings, which have over time suffered disregard due to prejudicial attitudes regarding their subject matter in favor of the greater known schools of Chinese philosophy. Within you'll find historical commentary and background asides on the peoples and politicians of a world that was becoming highly organized in its antiquity; a world from which these treatises were born; and the world subsequently shaped by their reading. Grounded in natural laws, strategic battle planning, and tactical thinking were conceptualized as a form of populace administration and military management some 2,500 years ago spanning centuries of compilation and revision with over 1,200 years of tradition. I'm re-reading this and will probably continue to indefinitely not only because I'm interested in the origins of culture in East Asia, but that I find the concepts worthy of consideration as they may apply to our daily lives. At some point I hope to give these works a proper summary when I truly have the time to devote, and although I highly recommend the Audiobook (which is what I have) to truly study you need the texts. An excerpt from the author's website: "The Warring States period witnessed unmatched innovation in warfare, the emergence of new political and philosophical ideas, and rapid escalation in large scale, infantry based clashes. Confronted with the nearly insurmountable task of commanding vast forces, resolving logistical and deployment problems, and maintaining spirit (ch’i) among their troops, commanders were compelled to contemplate the nature of military activities, thereby creating China’s military science. Six Warring States texts supplemented by the Questions and Replies -- a late T’ang dynasty work that essentially constitutes a reflective overview -- preserving their concepts, tactical principles, operational guidelines, and world view comprise the Seven Military Classics: T’ai Kung Liu-t’ao (Six Secret Teachings), Ssu-ma Fa, Sun-tzu Ping-fa (Art of War), Wu-tzu, Wei Liao-tzu, and Huang Shih-kung San-lueh (Three Strategies)." http://www.ralphsawyer.com/seven_mili...

  2. 4 out of 5

    E

    Seven venerable Chinese treatises on strategy and war The parallels between business and warfare evoke images of brilliant generals leading armies and brilliant CEOs leading businesses. Platoons battle and businesses compete with bold, wily strategies and superior execution. Given these similarities, do the classic sagas of seven ancient Chinese military strategists have insight and wisdom that might benefit today’s business leaders? For the answer, read the “translator’s introductions” that open Seven venerable Chinese treatises on strategy and war The parallels between business and warfare evoke images of brilliant generals leading armies and brilliant CEOs leading businesses. Platoons battle and businesses compete with bold, wily strategies and superior execution. Given these similarities, do the classic sagas of seven ancient Chinese military strategists have insight and wisdom that might benefit today’s business leaders? For the answer, read the “translator’s introductions” that open each chapter in sinologist Ralph D. Sawyer’s substantive book. His notes explain how these ancient strategists won their battles with the least possible military force. Sawyer presents them as sage theoreticians who were masters at outwitting their opponents. Unlike most Western military theorists, China’s ancient tacticians emphasized, “speed, stealth…flexibility,” still quite useful skills. getAbstract recommends this fascinating, deeply expert compilation to anyone who wants an educated overview of seven venerable Chinese military classics. Their authority and precision of thought will intrigue modern strategists as they have interested statesmen and military leaders throughout time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Logan.S

    After reading the Art of War I was intrigued to come across another book about military classics. The Art of War, which is included in this, had sparked curiosity in me about the military tactics of old. Despite this still staying within Ancient China it gave me a lot more insight in how wars were fought. This is a story about seven military classics of ancient china, it's very upfront and to the point. What's interesting is how these stories range. The Art of War is more bullet points about how After reading the Art of War I was intrigued to come across another book about military classics. The Art of War, which is included in this, had sparked curiosity in me about the military tactics of old. Despite this still staying within Ancient China it gave me a lot more insight in how wars were fought. This is a story about seven military classics of ancient china, it's very upfront and to the point. What's interesting is how these stories range. The Art of War is more bullet points about how to wage war, i.e stuff like do this, don't do this. Other stories in this such as the Tai Kung's Teachings were more of a conversation between individuals discussing tactics and warfare. These different ways to talk about some of the same things actually was very enlightening, as you get to read about first hand experience with them. As I said the points of view are spectacular. Due to the stories being different from each other despite talking about similar topics you learn more about the topic. It's like eating the same food but different chefs, you learn more about what makes it good and what makes it bad. Another good thing I liked about this book was the translator's notes. You can go through the entire book without reading them, but it was a nice little touch. I also enjoyed how it kept some of the more outdated terms, such as "All under Heaven". But it's time to play Devil's Advocate, firstly it can get boring. But the chances are if you are reading this you're expecting this, and it's not necessarily boring, just not the sort of thing the average reader would read. Secondly, the repetition of topics could also act as a negative. I personally enjoyed it, however it would depend person to person. But overall, I enjoyed this book. This isn't something for everyone, but for history nerds who like ancient military this is definitely a must read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James

    Ralph Sawyer presents here in English complete translations of the Seven Military Classics of Ancient China: Jiang Ziya (Taigong)'s Six Secret Teachings, The Methods of the Sima, Sun Zi's The Art of War, Wu Qi's Wuzi, Wei Liaozi, Three Strategies of Huang Shigong and Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong. While the Art of War by Sun Zi is the best known of the seven, the other six are also interesting and valuable resources for understanding Chinese military thought and its Ralph Sawyer presents here in English complete translations of the Seven Military Classics of Ancient China: Jiang Ziya (Taigong)'s Six Secret Teachings, The Methods of the Sima, Sun Zi's The Art of War, Wu Qi's Wuzi, Wei Liaozi, Three Strategies of Huang Shigong and Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong. While the Art of War by Sun Zi is the best known of the seven, the other six are also interesting and valuable resources for understanding Chinese military thought and its role in Chinese philosophy. Sawyer's translations are well-done and the book benefits greatly from his detailed historical commentaries that contextualise these seven works. The translations are readable but do not sacrifice the meaning of the texts for ease of comprehension. However, in using Wade-Giles Romanisation, the lay reader can get confused when using more modern research or texts in Pinyin. The only other downside is that the original Classical Chinese is not included but Chinese editions rectify that. In all, this is an excellent piece of not only scholarship for both sinologists and military historians but also an excellent introduction to Chinese military thought and its influence on two millennia of East Asian thinking.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Good book and the introductions to each of the classics better prepares the reader for what is to come. The one thing missing, which can be found in other manuscripts on ancient Chinese texts, especially Sun Tzu, is there are no Chinese symbols and their literal translations; just nitpicking with that though.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Mihalich

    A little known fact about Sun Tzu's Art of War in the west is that it's only one of seven military treatises. While there's a lot of debate as to when these classics were written and compiled and by whom, these works remained required reading for Chinese officials and generals for centuries. This edition is compiled and annotated with the history and common interpretations of the various works by the same person as my previous review of The Art of War so everything I said there will apply here A little known fact about Sun Tzu's Art of War in the west is that it's only one of seven military treatises. While there's a lot of debate as to when these classics were written and compiled and by whom, these works remained required reading for Chinese officials and generals for centuries. This edition is compiled and annotated with the history and common interpretations of the various works by the same person as my previous review of The Art of War so everything I said there will apply here as well. Each of the classics touch up on a lot of the same basic principles but go about them in different ways. The most common themes include having an overarching way of doing things that would change according to circumstance, using deception and shifting tactics in warfare, the importance of recognizing individual merit, loyalty to the state, and implementing virtue in civic government. If you don't read the history and context notes before each of the works, many can seem somewhat samey as the classics will usually follow one of two formats: a conversation between a ruler and strategist or a direct instructional text. These formats are fairly simple to follow and the translations are clear but following the context of the phrasing is important. Even if you're just looking for a copy of the Art of War, I recommend just picking up the whole collection if you can.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elwin Kline

    This was a recommended read for a college course I took back in 2015 combining military history and psychology, the class was titled "Principles of War." I really enjoyed the course and learned a lot. Unfortunately that was 4+ years ago since the time of this review and I honestly don't remember anything specifically remarkable that sticks out in my mind about this book. However, I do remember it did enhance my experience for the class. I may re-read this again one day, however for the time This was a recommended read for a college course I took back in 2015 combining military history and psychology, the class was titled "Principles of War." I really enjoyed the course and learned a lot. Unfortunately that was 4+ years ago since the time of this review and I honestly don't remember anything specifically remarkable that sticks out in my mind about this book. However, I do remember it did enhance my experience for the class. I may re-read this again one day, however for the time being I have quite the queue going and I am looking forward to getting through those before I start any sort of "re-read journey."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vanjr

    If you just were a little intrigued and wanted to read Sun-Tzu "Art of War" then do not get this book. This is an extensive, in depth book with 7 texts of ancient Chinese war texts. If you have an particular interest in this area, significant background in eastern studies or military mindset you may find this book helpful. I did not. It took me years to finish ths

  9. 5 out of 5

    Helmut

    Kriegsführung ist die wichtigste Angelegenheit des Staates Das vorliegende Werk ist eine Zusammenstellung einiger der wichtigsten Militärklassiker des alten China. "Die Kunst des Krieges" von Sunzi, der wohl bekannteste Text aus dieser Gruppe von Militärhandbüchern, hat auch heute noch eine enorme Anziehungskraft auf Leserschichten jedweder Couleur. Doch Sunzi steht nicht in einem Vakuum - gerade die Zeit der chinesischen Geschichte vor der Reichseinigung durch die Qin-Dynastie hat einige Kriegsführung ist die wichtigste Angelegenheit des Staates Das vorliegende Werk ist eine Zusammenstellung einiger der wichtigsten Militärklassiker des alten China. "Die Kunst des Krieges" von Sunzi, der wohl bekannteste Text aus dieser Gruppe von Militärhandbüchern, hat auch heute noch eine enorme Anziehungskraft auf Leserschichten jedweder Couleur. Doch Sunzi steht nicht in einem Vakuum - gerade die Zeit der chinesischen Geschichte vor der Reichseinigung durch die Qin-Dynastie hat einige ähnliche Werke hervorgebracht, die zwar im Westen praktisch unbekannt sind, im Zusammenhang betrachtet aber ein recht deutliches Bild von der damaligen Geisteshaltung geben. Enthalten sind, neben einem allgemeinen Vorwort, Übersetzungen der folgenden Werke: "T'ai Kung's Six Secret Teachings" "The Methods of the Ssu-ma" "Sun-tzu's Art of War" "Wu-tzu" "Wei Liao-tzu" "Three Strategies of Huang Shih-kung" "Questions and Replies Between T'ang T'ai-tsung and Li Wei-kung" Zu jedem der Werke ist ein eigenes Vorwort, das den Inhalt erläutert, und sehr viele Endnoten vorhanden - was bei derart alten Texten, die sich oft genug durch ihre Knappheit und einen gewissen Interpretationsspielraum auszeichnen, auch unbedingt vonnöten ist. Die Übersetzungen lesen sich sehr flüssig, verzichten auf Altertümeleien und überkomplexen Satzbau, und sind auch für Laien sehr gut verständlich - doch vorsicht, trotz moderner Übersetzung lesen sich diese Texte eher mühsam und wenig aufregend, und man muss einiges an Energie investieren, wenn man wirklich den hinter den teilweise kryptischen und geschichtlich-literarischen Anspielungen versteckten Sinn entdecken will. Ein Index mit der Zuordnung von Wade-Giles-Bezeichnungen zu den eigentlichen chinesischen Zeichen, einer mit einer Liste von militärischen Prinzipien und wo man sie in den 7 Werken findet, sowie ein allgemeiner Schlagwortindex komplettieren die Zusammenstellung. Das grobe Papier und der labberige Einband werden durch eine gute Bindung gehalten. Die Romanisierung erfolgt leider noch in Wade-Giles und nicht in Pinyin. Wer liest dieses Buch? Gewiss alle, die sich für Militärgeschichte interessieren, oder auch allgemein für die frühe chinesische Philosophie und Soziologie. Wer allerdings etwas anderes als Handbücher für Handhabung von Armeen sucht, wird hier nicht viel Freude haben. Besonders die Idee, diese uralten Militärtexte auf moderne Gegebenheiten und z.B. auf die Wirtschaft oder zwischenmenschliche Beziehungen zu übertragen, halte ich für wenig zielführend und wird weder diesen alten Texten noch dem Ratsuchenden gerecht werden können.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex Lee

    For most of recorded history, China has housed the largest human population. Combined with the very fertile land of the area, and its relative connectedness (Europe in comparison, had many mountains and small areas connecting it, causing populations to form in related but relative autonomy), Chinese civilization gave rise to hugely bureaucratic institutions that helped perpetuate its monolithic political system. As such, the military might of empire building has given rise to a variety of For most of recorded history, China has housed the largest human population. Combined with the very fertile land of the area, and its relative connectedness (Europe in comparison, had many mountains and small areas connecting it, causing populations to form in related but relative autonomy), Chinese civilization gave rise to hugely bureaucratic institutions that helped perpetuate its monolithic political system. As such, the military might of empire building has given rise to a variety of teachings about military matters from its victors. In classic form, these texts are often inscribed in a series of question and answers, the point of which aren't organized in the same brute force organization as the German treatsie or the Anglo-Saxon essay. Nonetheless, despite the length of time encompassed in this text many of the texts sound fairly similar. Much of the principles behind these texts can be found in Sun Tzu's art of war. Taoist teachings have penetrated much of Chinese thought and society, giving rise not only to military tactical and strategic thoughts but also thoughts on propaganda, ruling, medicine, astrology, chemistry and martial arts. Most of the principles are pretty much the same though. Be orthodox when they enemy expects unorthodox. Be unorthodox when the enemy expects orthodox. Things like that. Be where they don't expect you, be integrated in how you approach things, withhold information, let your enemy fight amongst themselves when possible. Win wars without fighting. In a sense, the best military strategies are the ones that avoid war, that ensure political and economy success without military expense. I won't pretend that this was a mystical read, full of great oriental wisdom... by today's standards, there is much detail missing... and the repetition did get mind numbing. Nonetheless, it is good to see how many ideas haven't changed over time and how people can continue, despite technology, to discover the same ideas as being relevant.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rowena Tylden-Pattenson

    It took me a long time to finish this, not only for the fact I’ve had a lot of uni work to contend with… some of the texts are just very heavy going. However, it has to be expected with these sorts of things. Very interesting to read though! I especially liked some of the texts earlier on in the book; those near the end got a bit heavier going, or it might just have been my interest waning. After a couple, they sort of start to sound quite similar, so it’s not as much new information to process. It took me a long time to finish this, not only for the fact I’ve had a lot of uni work to contend with… some of the texts are just very heavy going. However, it has to be expected with these sorts of things. Very interesting to read though! I especially liked some of the texts earlier on in the book; those near the end got a bit heavier going, or it might just have been my interest waning. After a couple, they sort of start to sound quite similar, so it’s not as much new information to process. Definitely my favourite by far is the classic; Sun Tzu. I’d already read this before, so actually skipped that chapter. I skipped out the intro chapters too. No doubt quite interesting (and they were, from what little I read of them), and might have made the actual texts more accessible… but I just didn’t really have time. Or the patience. A good book to read if you really want in-depth reading about this sort of thing, but otherwise, go for just Sun Tzu.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    This is a great book for anyone who enjoys ancient Chinese military doctrine, or any military doctrine publications for that matter. It gives several works that are not generally advertised along side of typical mainstream publications. I definitely recommend this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Liam

    I'll get through this eventually...

  14. 5 out of 5

    William

  15. 5 out of 5

    JinHo

    Extremely interesting from a Historical, Political and Military point of view!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Got this to listen to The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I greatly enjoyed it, but had to listen twice to ensure I was clear on the teachings. I feel like I will be revisiting this again in the future.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    An interesting and enlightening read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    If you like eastern philosophy and Military history this is the book for you. It includes the classic Art of War. It's a big book so not for the faint of heart.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robert Burr

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amichai Goldman

  21. 5 out of 5

    Irianto Nainggolan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Meyer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anna

  24. 4 out of 5

    Richard Willis

  25. 5 out of 5

    A.J.

  26. 4 out of 5

    RaSaun Davenport

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dawne Knop

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jocel

  29. 5 out of 5

    David

  30. 4 out of 5

    Curt

  31. 4 out of 5

    Norbert

  32. 5 out of 5

    Aria

  33. 5 out of 5

    Marvin

  34. 5 out of 5

    John Constable

  35. 4 out of 5

    Rollo

  36. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  37. 5 out of 5

    Hermes

  38. 4 out of 5

    Tony

  39. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

  40. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  41. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Albee

  42. 5 out of 5

    David

  43. 4 out of 5

    Jason Burham

  44. 4 out of 5

    Dario

  45. 5 out of 5

    Reynard

  46. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  47. 5 out of 5

    David Warren

  48. 4 out of 5

    James

  49. 5 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

  50. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

  51. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

  52. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

  53. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  54. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  55. 4 out of 5

    Morrigan

  56. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

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