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The Art of War

The Art of War (Chinese: 孫子兵法 sūn zi bīng fǎ) was written during 6th century BC by Sun Tzu. Composed of 13 chapters, it has long been praised as the definitive work on military strategies and tactics prior to the collapse of Imperial China. In many East Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam etc.), reading it was a must before a candidate attempted their military examination, which usually took place every 3 to 4 years. Translations into different languages are available and some European coutries used it as an textbook in military institutions, for instance, in Germany before World War I.

The book's popularity is due to:

  1. the brilliant battlefield achievements of Sun Tzu himself
  2. the must-read status for "systemized examinations" on military since Song Dynasty
  3. the book being the source of many idioms and phrases

The book is now touted as an allegory for navigating cutthroat competition in the business world, and has gained widespread popularity again as a text for business managers. It has also crept its way into sport, with Australian cricket coach John Buchanan handing out excerpts from the book to his players before a match against England in 2001.

Here is an excerpt, the last verse of Chapter 3:


So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Compare the above with the modern proverb:

知己知彼, 百戰百勝

If you know yourself and know others you will win a hundred times in a hundred battles.

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