Quirky Books: The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

This English translation by Lionel Giles contains notes and an extrapolation of Sun Tzu's life. Giles was a Victorian scholar who lived from 1875 to 1958 AD and worked with ornamental manuscripts at the British Museum. Translating Chinese to English is challenging, yet this is adequate though less flourishing with poetic verse. Han characters encourage people to translate writings into poetic verse. Every line is a capsule of information offering meditative thought to create visual grounds for understanding the writer; however, the direct translation does well in conveying original information.

The purpose of "the Art of War" is specific to leading an army into enemy territory, accomplishing the mission and returning home with limited harm. An interesting part of the philosophy is the desire to capture enemy soldiers. Sun Tzu also discusses leaving the land in tact and being kind to civilians. Giles notes this event as being apart of Chinese philosophy to create peace; however, it is a stratagem to secure a providence; therefore, advising against attacking walled cities and restricting battle to the field is a method to sway future subjects into favoring invaders.

Meditating on each sentence is worthwhile, yet much of the context is understood in conjunction with each other. Primary topics are numbered for further reference. The concept of moral law, heaven, earth, commander and method are inferred. This point is lost on the translator who is trying to convey what he believes Sun Tzu is saying in chapter five. The notes say the meaning is confused; however, the chapter begins by referring to key points in the introduction and then provides detailed explanations. Simulated drills prepare soldiers to be confident, alert and strong during the chaos of battle. Another topic related to disorder is introduced and explained a few sentences later.

This does not dismiss the author's notes. Giles offers additional translations of the text and historical points. This increases the reader's knowledge. Intent on making his opinion clear, Giles rambles about the true identity of Sun Tzu. It is clear, Sun Tzu references Sun Wu and the great warlords of the Warring States Era from 475 to 221 BC, yet he overlooks how the book was not reviewed until 196 BC. This implies the author drew upon history to craft a Taoist Philosophy related to war.

Reading "the Art of War" is great for business owners and philosophers. Anyone would enjoy reading it. Many people study the context and use it in daily life. This is a book about war. Written after China united in peace, it was written before the T'ang Dynasty which was one of the deadliest eras. Peaceful intentions, such as: capturing the enemy, respecting locals and self preserving nature of man to avoid danger promotes the idea of war being safe.

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