Strategy 1

Fool the Emperor to Cross the Sea

Moving about in the darkness and shadows, occupying isolated places, or hiding behind screens will only attract suspicious attention. To lower an enemy's guard you must act in the open hiding your true intentions under the guise of common every day activities.

Japanese Folk Tale

There once lived a Samurai who was plagued by a large and clever rat who had the run of the house. This annoyed the Samurai to no end so he went to the village to buy a cat. A street vendor sold him a cat that he said would catch the rat and indeed the cat looked trim and fit. But the rat was even quicker than the cat and after a week with no success the Samurai returned the cat. This time the vendor pulled out a large and grizzled cat and guaranteed that no rat could escape this master mouser. The rat knew enough to stay clear of this tough alley cat, but when the cat slept, the rat ran about. Half the day the rat would hide, but the other half he again had the run of the place. The Samurai brought the cat back to the vendor who shook his head in despair saying he had given the Samurai his best cat and there was nothing more he could do. Returning home with his money, the Samurai happened upon a monk and sought his advice. After hearing the Samurai's story the monk offered him the services of the cat that lived in the temple. The cat was old and fat and he scarcely seemed to notice when he was carried away by the doubtful Samurai. For two weeks the cat did little more than sleep all day and night. The Samurai wanted to give the cat back to the temple but the monk insisted he keep him a while longer assuring him the rat's days were close to an end. The rat became accustomed to the presence of the lazy old cat and was soon up to his old tricks even, on occasion, brazenly dancing around the old cat as he slept. Then one day, as the rat went about his business without any concern, he passed close by the cat - who swiftly struck out his paw and pinned the rat to the floor. The rat died instantly.


Strategy 2

Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao

When the enemy is too strong to attack directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that in all things he cannot be superior. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead.

Warring States Era China

This strategy derives its name from a famous incident that occurred in 354 BC. At this time one of China's most renowned strategists, Sun Bin (A descendent of the even then famous Sun Zi) was an advisor to the king of Qi. Sun had earlier been at the court of Wei but another minister, Pang Juan, became jealous of Sun's cleverness. Through court intrigues he had Sun framed as a spy, sentenced to mutilation, and imprisoned. Sun escaped and fled to Qi. Several years later the king of Wei appointed the same Pang Juan as commander of the army and sent him to attack the capital of Zhao. The king of Zhao immediately appealed to Qi for help. The king of Qi consulted his advisors who all spoke in favour of rushing to aid their ally, only Sun Bin recommended against attacking. Sun advised: " To intervene between two warring armies is like trying to divert a tidal way by standing in its path. It would be better to wait until both armies have worn themselves out." The king agreed to wait.

The siege of Zhao had lasted more than a year when Sun Bin decided the time was ripe to come to Zhao's aid. The king of Qi appointed prince Tian Ji as general and Sun as military advisor. Tian Ji wanted to attack the Wei forces directly to lift the siege of Zhao, but again Sun advised against direct intervention saying: " Since most of Wei's troops are out of the country engaged in the siege, their own defence must be weak. By attacking the capital of Wei, we will force the Wei army to return to defend their own capital thereby lifting the siege of Zhao while destroying the Wei forces in turn." Tian Ji agreed to the plan and divided his army into two parts, one to attack the capital of Wei, and the other to prepare an ambush along the route to the capital.

When the Wei general Pang Juan heard that the capital was being attacked, he rushed his army back to defend the capital. Weakened and exhausted from the year long siege and the forced march, the Wei troops were completely caught by surprise in the ambush and suffered heavy losses. Chao was thus rescued while Pang Juan barely escaped back to Wei to recoup his losses. Sun Pin would later defeat his nemesis Pang Juan using another classic strategy.


Strategy 3

Kill with a Borrowed Sword

When you do not have the means to attack your enemy directly, then attack using the strength of another. Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy's own strength against him.

Warring States Era China

Chang Tuo defected from Western Zhou and went to Eastern Zhou where he revealed all of Western Zhou's state secrets. Eastern Zhou rejoiced while Western Zhou was furious. Minister Feng Chu said to the king of Western Zhou: "I can assassinate that man if your highness will give me thirty catties of gold." The king consented and the next day Feng Chu sent an agent to the Eastern Zhou court bearing the gold and a letter addressed to Chang Tuo. The letter read: `This is to remind Chang Tuo that you must complete your mission as soon as possible for the longer the delay the more likely you will be found out.' Before the first agent departed, Feng Chu then sent another agent to the Eastern Zhou border guards informing them that a spy would be crossing the border that night. When the second agent arrived at the border he was stopped and searched. The border guards found the gold and the letter to Chang Tuo and turned them over to the Zhou court officials. Shortly afterwards Chang Tuo was executed


Strategy 4

Await the Exhausted Enemy at Your Ease

It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose.

Chinese Folk Tale

The emperor Xuan of Zhou loved to gamble on cock fights and kept a stable of specially bred fighting roosters. Although they were strong and fierce they would nevertheless lose against the roosters trained by Ji Xing Ze. The emperor therefore hired Ji to train his roosters.

Ten days had passed when the emperor went to the stables to ask if they were ready to fight.

"No." said Ji, " They are far too fierce and proud of their strength. They rush to attack even the slightest noise."

After another ten days passed the emperor returned to enquire again.

"Not yet. They are still haughty and jump at everything that moves."

After another ten days the emperor again asked the question.

"No, still not yet. Although they no longer rush to attack, they still raise their hackles and stare fiercely at the slightest provocation."

After yet another ten days the emperor again asked if the roosters were ready.

"Yes, they are nearly ready. Although some still crow from time to time, none ever change their countenance. From a distance they appear as steady is if they were made of wood. Before them, their untrained opponents would not dare accept their challenge and could only turn back and run."


Strategy 5

Loot a Burning House

When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.

Warring States Era China

Qi and Han were allies when Chang Yi attacked Han with the combined forces of Qin and Wei. Han asked Qi for assistance. The king of Qi said:" Han is our ally and since Qin has attacked her we must go to her rescue." But his minister Tian-chen Su disagreed saying: "Your majesty's planning is faulty. You should merely agree to assist Han but take no action there. However, in the kingdom of Yan, their king has recently resigned the throne to his despised prime minister. This has enraged both the noble houses and the common people causing turmoil at court. Now if Qin attacks Han, Chu and Chao will surely come to her aid and this will be as good as heaven bestowing Yan upon us."

The king approved and promised the Han envoy assistance before sending him back to Han believing he had Qi's backing. When Qin attacked Han, Chu and Chao intervened as expected. While all the major kingdoms were thus engaged in the battle for Han, Qi quickly and quietly attacked Yan. Within thirty days Yan was captured.



Strategy 6

Clamor in the East, Attack in the West

In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed by attacking where he least expects it. To do this you must create an expectation in the enemy's mind through the use of a feint.

Song Dynasty China

Once there was an official who was transferred to the capital. The front part of the inn where he stayed was a teahouse, and across the street was a shop that sold expensive dyed silks. Whenever he had nothing to do, he would sit at a table watching the people and activity on the street. One day he noticed with surprise that several suspicious looking characters were walking back and forth observing the silk shop with great interest. One of them came up to his table and whispered: "We're in the robbery business and we're here to steal those fine silks. Since you noticed us I came to ask you not to mention it."

"That has nothing to do with me," the official replied. "Why should I say anything about it?"

The fellow thanked him and left him. The official thought to himself: 'the silk shop has its wares openly displayed on a busy street. In broad daylight, with a thousand eyes watching, if they have the skill to steal those silks, then they must be smart thieves indeed.' So he watched carefully to see how they would manage it. But what he saw was only the same people walking back and forth in front of the silk shop. Sometimes they gathered on the left, sometimes on the right. The official sat watching until after sunset when everyone had gone and the shop had closed. "Those fools." said the official to himself. "They were putting one over on me." When he returned to his room to order some food, he discovered that all his belongings were gone.


Strategy 7

Create Something From Nothing

You use the same feint twice. Having reacted to the first and often the second feint as well, the enemy will be hesitant to react to a third feint. Therefore the third feint is the actual attack catching your enemy with his guard down.

Tang Dynasty China

During the An Lushan rebellion in 756 AD the Tang general Chang Shun was under siege by the forces of general Linghu Chao. Outnumbered twenty to one, the defending Tang forces soon ran out of arrows. To remedy this general Chang ordered his men to make straw dummies and to dress them in black uniforms. That night the dummies were lowered over the city walls by ropes, accompanied to the beat of war drums and gongs. General Linghu thought the enemy was launching a surprise night offensive and ordered his archers to shower the figures descending the walls with arrows. Once the dummies where riddled with arrows the Tang soldiers pulled them back up the walls and thus restored their supply of arrows.

The next day general Linghu realized he had been tricked and attacked the walls in revenge for being humiliated. That night the Tang again lowered the dummies but General Linghu ordered his men to ignore them believing it was the same trick to get more arrows. When general Chang saw that no one was firing at the straw dummies, he ordered that five hundred of his best troops be lowered instead. They made a lightning raid on the encamped soldiers who were caught completely by surprise. The siege was lifted and general Linghu's army fled the field.


Strategy 8

Openly Repair The Walkway, Secretly March to Chencang

Attack the enemy with two convergent forces. The first is the direct attack, one that is obvious and for which the enemy prepares his defense. The second is the indirect, the attack sinister, that the enemy does not expect and which causes him to divide his forces at the last minute leading to confusion and disaster.

Muromachi Period Japan

In 1560 one of Japan's greatest warlords, Oda Nobunaga, then still a minor commander, marched his force of 2,000 men to stop the incursion of a rival warlord Imagawa Yoshimoto. Even though Nobunaga was outnumbered twelve to one he set out humming a tune. Nobunaga's scouts reported that Imagawa was resting his troops at a village that was nestled near a narrow gorge that Nobunaga knew would be ideal for a surprise attack.

The scouts further reported that Imagawa's troops were celebrating and viewing the heads taken in a previous battle. Nobunaga devised the following ploy. He made camp some distance away from the village. He placed numerous flags and had straw dummies made to give the impression that a large host had arrived. Imagawa's forces thus expected an attack to come from the direction the enemy camp. Meanwhile Nobunaga's troops secretly made a forced march in a wide circle in order to come up from behind the Imagawa encampment. Weather favored Nobunaga's scheme for late in the day there was a heavy downpour. Taking advantage of the foul weather, Nobunaga's troops launched a sudden attack from the rear. So unexpected was this attack that Imagawa a first thought that a brawl had broken out among his own troops. Only when he saw two enemy Samurai charging towards him did he realize he was under attack. The realization came too late and Imagawa was beheaded and his troops scattered. The battle lasted only a few minutes but it made Oda Nobunaga's reputation and he quickly rouse in power until he became one of Japan's greatest warlords.


Strategy 9

Observe the Fire on the Opposite Shore

Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in full strength and pick up the pieces.

Hojo Regency Japan

In 1583 the great general Toyotomi Hideyoshi was positioning his forces against Akechi Mitsuhide in what would be the battle of Yamazaki. Shortly after the battle had engaged, Tsetsui Junkeian, an ally of Mitsuhide arrived on the scene. Impressed by the superior forces of Hideyoshi, he refused to attack but instead ordered his men to line up in battle formation on a hill above the Hora-ga-toge pass where he could watch the battle before deciding which general to side with. Seeing Hideyoshi gaining the advantage he betrayed his ally and sent his troops over to Hideyoshi's side. This incident was never forgotten and henceforth the Japanese equivalent of `Watching the fire...' is known as `To wait at Hora-ga-toge.'


Strategy 10

Hide Your Dagger Behind a Smile

Charm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust, you move against him in secret.

Warring States Era China

The king of Wei sent a beautiful courtesan to the king of Chu who took great delight in the new girl. His queen, Zheng Xiu, knowing how fond the king was of his new woman, treated the newcomer as a sister supplying her with gifts and treasures and whatever she needed. The king hearing of this summoned his queen and said: AA woman serves a man with her beauty and thus jealousy is a part of her very nature. Yet you, knowing how much the new woman pleases me, have treated her more kindly than I have myself. These actions are those of a child to her parents or a minister to his ruler, how unexpected it is to find this in a queen to her husband." The queen thus knew that her husband did not suspect her of jealousy. When she next met with the new girl the queen told her: "His majesty is much taken with your beauty but he dislikes the shape of your nose. When next you serve him be sure to cover it with your hand." Grateful for the advice, when she next served the king this is what she did.

The next day the king asked his queen: "The new woman covers her nose when she is with me. Do you know why?"

"I know." replied the queen.

"Well then no matter how unpleasant you must tell me the reason."

"It seems she does not like the way your majesty smells."

"The shrew!" cried the king.

In a rage the king ordered that the unfortunate girl's nose be cut off.


Strategy 11

Sacrifice the Plum Tree In Place of the Peach

There are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat strategy whereby someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.

Three Kingdoms Period China

On one of his campaigns Cao Cao was running short of food. He asked his supply sergeant what he could do. The sergeant suggested reducing the rations by secretly using a smaller cup to parcel out the rice. Cao Cao praised the sergeant and gave his consent to use the smaller measuring cup. After a few days the soldiers began to complain and accused their commander of cheating them. Cao Cao again called in the supply sergeant and told him the situation.

"I will do anything I can to help but what would you have me do?" asked the sergeant.

"I'm afraid I am going have to borrow your head." replied Cao Cao and he had the sergeant decapitated and his head stuck on a tall pole with a banner that read "Caught cheating on supplies by using a smaller measuring cup."


Strategy 12

Seize the Opportunity To Lead a Sheep Away

While carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight.

Yuan Dynasty China

During the final days of the Yuan dynasty, rebellion had broken out throughout the empire. Initially there were several contenders vying to be the first to found a new dynasty on the imminent fall of the house of Yuan, but the field was narrowed to two; Chu Yuan-Chang and Chen Yifu. The two armies met at Poyang Lake where a naval engagement was to take place. General Chen had the advantage of both troops and ships. His ships were large and sturdy and he had them lined up side to side across the entire expanse of the lake. He furthermore had the ships joined together with iron chains so as to create an impenetrable barrier. General Chu sent his ships to attack but they were defeated having failed to break through the cordon. Fortunately for Chu the next day a violent northwest gale began to blow. Since Chen's flotilla was situated downwind, Chu took advantage of the situation to launch fireboats against the barrier. Soon Chen's troops were in a frenzy to save their ships from both the rising storm and the fire, which was fanned into a blazing fierceness by the wind. Taking advantage of the panic and confusion that ensued, Chu launched his own fleet into the attack and they completely defeated Chen's forces. An arrow through his eye killed General Chen while general Chu became the founder of the Ming Dynasty.


Strategy 13

Beat The Grass To Startle The Snake

When you cannot detect the opponent's plans launch a direct, but brief, attack and observe your opponent reactions. His behavior will reveal his strategy.

Qin Dynasty

The notorious eunuch Zhao Gao is credited with helping to bring down the house of Qin ending China’s first and shortest imperial dynasty. After the first emperor died he conspired with the chief minister Li Si to dispose of the legitimate heir to the throne and install a weak and corrupt puppet emperor Huhei. (See Chapter 14)  Having established his influence over the young emperor, Zhao Gao was nervous about possible opposition from the other ministers of state. So he devised a test to see which ones would be faithful to him. One day he brought a stag into the court and presented it to the emperor explaining that it was a horse.

"You’re mistaken, Prime Minister”, said the emperor, “You’ve called a stag a horse.”

Zhao Gao turned to the other ministers present and asked them whether it was a horse or stag. Some kept silent, others in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the true power behind the throne agreed it was a horse, and still others said it was a stag. The emperor was under Zhao Gao’s control to such a degree that he believed he was going insane and that the stag really was a horse. Meanwhile, one of Zhao Gao’s spies was recording the answers given by each of the ministers. Afterwards, Zhao Gao secretly framed charges against all those who had said it was a stag and had them executed.


Strategy 14

Borrow a Corpse to Raise the Spirit

Take an institution, a technology, or a method that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or to reinterpret and bring to life old ideas, customs, and traditions.

Han Dynasty China

When the emperor Huidi died in 188 BC he left no heir. His mother, the empress Lu, bought a child several years before his death and had her daughter-in-law pretend that it was her own. To cover her tracks the empress had the boy's natural mother executed. After the emperor's death, the empress had this boy installed on the throne with herself as regent. However, within two years the boy, after learning that his true mother had been executed, was heard to say: "When I become emperor I will know what to do." When the empress's spies reported the words spoken by the young emperor she had him murdered and another puppet set in his place. The empress ruled a prosperous empire for eight years through the six successive child emperors that she installed on the throne before dying of a mysterious illness. Rumor said her death was the result of a curse from one of her late husband's concubines, who was horribly mutilated and tortured according to the empress's precise instructions. The empress Lu is remembered in Chinese history as one of three notorious `dragon ladies' who had seized the imperial throne.


Strategy 15

Lure the Tiger Down the Mountain

Never directly attack a well-entrenched opponent. Instead lure him away from his stronghold and separate him from his source of strength.

Three Kingdoms Period China

In the year 199, Sun Ce had consolidated his newly conquered territories in the south and his next goal was the prosperous area of Lujiang to the north. However, Lujiang had a professional army and was well defended. In addition it also had the advantage of terrain, being accessible only through a couple of easily defended passes. Sun Ce's advisors cautioned against moving directly against such a well-entrenched and powerful state so they devised another scheme. Sun Ce sent an emissary laden with gifts and a letter to the king of Lujiang, Liu Xun. The letter praised the King's military skills and begged for his assistance. Sun Ce wrote: " For years the state of Shangliao has invaded my territory unhindered and carried away booty, yet we are too weak to launch a retaliatory raid. If Your Majesty would attack Shangliao we would give assistance and you could annex the state for yourself." Flattered and covetous of increasing his domains, The king of Lujiang disregarded the advice of his counselors and attacked the state of Shangliao. Several weeks later, while the king of Lujiang was busy laying siege to Shangliao's capital, Sun Ce attacked the almost undefended Lujiang and easily seized the capital. Without the expected support from Sun Ce, The king of Lujiang failed to take the capital of Shangliao and he returned only to find his own capital already in enemy hands. Sun Ce now had the advantage of the Lujiang terrain and the former king could do nothing but flee with his army.


Strategy 16

To Catch Something, First Let It Go

Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom. His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy's morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.

Six Dynasties Period China

During the Southern Song period, general Tan Dao-Ji launched an attack against the north on behalf of the emperor. Throughout the campaign he seized cities and destroyed fortifications, taking more than four thousand prisoners. His advisors suggested that he should execute them all and erect a victory mound with the dead. Tan Dao-Ji replied: "At this time we have attacked the guilty and consoled the people. The army of a true king takes the upright as its position, so why is it necessary to slay the people?" He released all the prisoners and sent them back to their homes. These former prisoners told their kinsmen of their capture and release and of the fair treatment they received at the hands of general Tan. Thereupon the barbarians dwelling in the region were elated, and wherever general Tan, went a great many came forward to give their allegiance to the emperor.


Strategy 17

Toss Out A Brick To Attract Jade

Prepare a trap then lure your enemy into the trap by using bait. In war the bait is the illusion of an opportunity for gain. In life the bait is the illusion of wealth, power, and sex.

Warring States Era China

The earl of Zhi was preparing to attack Lesser Wei. To prepare for his attack he presented the king of Wei with four hundred mustangs and a beautiful white jade Bi. The king was overjoyed and his ministers all offered their congratulations, but one minister, Nan-wen Ci looked distressed. The king seeing his demeanor asked: "The great state is very pleased with us! Why then do you look troubled?" The minister replied: "One must always examine thoroughly a reward given for no merit and deference shown where no force has been applied. Four hundred mustangs and a white jade Bi constitute the kind of gift a small state might give when serving a great one. But in this case the larger state makes the gift. Your majesty should ponder this." As a precaution, the king of Wei told his commander of the border guards what his minister had cautioned and ordered his troops to be on full alert. Shortly thereafter, as the minister intimated, the earl of Zhi arrived at the border at the head of a large army. But when the earl saw the border guards posted at full strength, he retired saying: "Alas, there are worthy men in Wei, for they have anticipated my plans."


Strategy 18

To Catch the Bandits First Capture Their Leader

If the enemy's army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money or threats then, take aim at the leader. If the commander falls the rest of the army will disperse or come over to your side. If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.

Spring and Autumn Period China

In 756 BC the rebel commander Yin Ziqi led an army to lay siege against the strategic city of Suiyang. The defending commander, Zhang Xun, noticed that Yin Ziqi oversaw the siege from well outside the range of the city's archers. He believed that if he could take out the leader the rebel's morale would sink and he would be able to launch a counter attack. He devised a plan with his best archers. The next time the rebels assailed the wall they were to shoot back using the branches of trees. When Yin Ziqi heard that the defenders were reduced to shooting with branches he felt certain the city was ready to be taken. Before the next assault he moved in closer to better oversee the final victory. Riding atop his horse he unknowingly came within range of the archers who had saved their arrows for just such a moment. One arrow hit Yin Ziqi in the left eye killing him instantly. The spectacle of their commander's death in front of almost the entire rebel army served to demoralize them to such an extent that they dispersed the field.

 

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All text, photos, and illustrations by S.H.Verstappen.
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