A Sun Tzu Companion

Main Index



Attack &

A Psychological

Attacking &
Defending Cities

Ambush &

The Baited Trap

Fire & Water

Traitors & Spies

Battle on the



Abreviations &

Tactics of Ancient China: A Sun Tzu Companion

By Brad Haugaard

Note: I wrote this brief book some time ago, but it has never before been published. - Brad Haugaard


This book is primarily for the Western reader who has an interest in military tactics and strategems and who would like to know more about those to be found in ancient Chinese literature.

It is also a book for those who have read Sun Tzu's Art of War. In fact, his book might be considered a prerequisite for this work since many of the battles described here were clearly influenced by Sun Tzu's teachings.

The incidents in this book are drawn primarily from two great semi-fictional classics and one early work of history.

The semi-fictional works are San Kuo Chi Yen-i (translated by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor as, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms), and Shui Hu Chuan, (translated by Pearl Buck as, All Men Are Brothers).

The historical work is Shi Chi (translated by Burton Watson as, Records of the Grand Historian). It was completed by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, the grand historian of Emperor Wu, sometime around 89 B.C, contemporaneous with Julius Caesar and the decline of the Roman republic in the West. The original work is massive and eclectic, containing 130 chapters dealing with various aspects of Chinese government, biographies, dynasties, etc. Watson's very readable English translation has been substantially abbreviated.

All Men Are Brothers is the story of a band of bloodthirsty brigands who rob, murder, butcher towns full of people, drink themselves senseless and occasionally practice cannibalism. These unlikely heroes consider themselves "righteous" for reasons I fail to understand. This book is said to have been written by Shih Nai-an during the Yüan Dynasty, but was apparently put into its present form in the middle of the Fourteenth or Fifteenth century, toward the end of the Middle Ages in the West.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a 120-chapter fictionalized popularization of a history by Ch'en Shou (233-297 A.D.). It describes the end of the Later Han Dynasty in 220 A.D. and the wars between its successors - the rulers of the three kingdoms, Shu, Wu and Wei - up to the reunification of China in 265 A.D. The work was probably assembled into its current form sometime between 1230 to 1638 A.D.

Romance is also the work I have drawn most heavily upon. The author of the book (Lo Kuan-Chung) was clearly interested in military strategy and tactics, and it is tempting to think that while he embroidered upon the battles, he did so to make the narrative more interesting to military historians.

One reason many of these battles are fascinating is that they are so complex - particularly those of General K'ung-ming, who is presented as virtually the Sherlock Holmes of generals, with an uncanny ability to determine the plans of his opponents and devise intricate plans to counter them. However, the very complexity of his plans is also the reason some of them are not entirely believable. It seems these intricate designs would have broken down more frequently in the confusion of battle.

Since this book describes battles, I have tried by paraphrasing to reduce each incident to its military aspect alone, though this meant eliminating information that may be of literary interest.

Despite this simplification, some of the complicated battles require strict attention and may have to be read more than once to understand. For those who would like to see the sources for the stories, I have included source codes at the end of each item. These codes are listed and explained in the bibliography.

© Copyright 2003, Brad Haugaard.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."”
Matthew 28:18