Eleven Commentaries to The Art of War by Sunzi


Sunzi bing fa (The art of war by Sunzi) is the most important and popular military classic of ancient China. Its influence also spread to neighboring countries and beyond. Sun Wu, also known as Sunzi or Sun Tzu, lived in the State of Qi during the late Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC). He served the State of Wu, in the southeast coastal area, from around 512 BC and presented his military strategy in a work of 13 chapters to the king of Wu. Together with Wu Zixu (died 484 BC), a military strategist, Sunzi was able to defeat the powerful state of Chu and conquer its capital. Modern scholars think that the Sunzi bing fa was composed during the fifth century as a draft and was later revised by Sun Bin (died 316 BC), a military strategist from the Warring States period (475–221 BC). During the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), the book was enlarged and illustrations added. By the Tang dynasty (618–907), some of the additions had already been lost. Sunzi bing fa stresses that warfare is essential for the survival of a state and is a necessary subject of attention. Once defeated in war, a country will never rise again. Therefore, enlightened rulers must care about war, and generals must study it in detail and be prepared for it. Sunzi goes into detail about the main factors that influence victory and defeat. The main themes of the work are dao (government conduct), tian (weather), di (territory), jiang (generals), and fa (tactics). Over the centuries many commentaries were written on Sunzi bing fa, which later were compiled and published as a unit, in 13 or 15 juan. The commonly known version of the commentaries is the one with 11 commentaries, as in this copy. The commentaries are by Cao Cao (155–220) of the Three Kingdoms period; Meng of the Liang dynasty (502–57); Li Quan, Du Mei, Chen Hao, and Jia Lin, four scholars of the Tang dynasty; Mei Yaochen, Wang Xi, He Yanxi, and Zhang Yu of the Song dynasty; and the Tang historian Du You, who included his commentary in his encyclopedic work Tong dian (Comprehensive institutions). The original printing no longer exists. This is a three-juan manuscript edition, dating from the Shaoxi reign (1190–94) of Song emperor Guangzong.

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3 juan, 8 volumes ; 17.4 x 10.9 centimeters


  • Printed manuscript edition. Only preface and juan 1 are included in the WDL presentation.

Last updated: January 3, 2018