The Art of War

by

Sun-tzu

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In The Art of War, Master Sun primarily discusses the values, skills, and characteristics to which a wise general ought to aspire. In Master Sun’s day, such a general would invariably have been a man. The general has the nation’s destiny in his hands—its life or death, survival or extinction depends on his ability to lead the officers and the men to victory against the enemy. It is his perception and understanding that determines his success. The general makes all the key decisions and is answerable to no one, not even the state’s ruler. He has the right to defy the sovereign as long as his decisions lead to victory. But it is not simply a matter of marshalling troops on the battlefield; the general must also consider the army’s supply lines and communications, the men’s morale, and the enemy’s movements and strategies. Thus while he has all the authority on the field of war, the general also has all of the responsibility. He also goes by other names, such as the skillful warrior.

The General Quotes in The Art of War

The The Art of War quotes below are all either spoken by The General or refer to The General. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Art of War published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

War is
A grave affair of state;
It is a place
Of life and death,
A road
To survival and extinction,
A matter
To be pondered carefully.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Ruler, The People
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The Way of War is
A Way of Deception.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

In War,
Victory should be
Swift.
If victory is slow,
Men tire,
Morale sags.
Sieges
Exhaust strength;
Protracted campaigns
Strain the public treasury.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 9-10
Explanation and Analysis:

I have heard that in war
Haste can be
Folly
But have never seen
Delay that was
Wise.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men, The People
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Ultimate excellence lies
Not in winning
Every battle
But in defeating the enemy
Without ever fighting.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

So it is said:
"Know the enemy,
Know yourself,
And victory
Is never in doubt,
Not in a hundred battles."

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

A victorious army
Is like
Pent-up water
Crashing
A thousand fathoms
Into a gorge.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, The Men
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

In the dynamics of War,
There are but these two-
Indirect
And direct-
And yet their permutations
Are inexhaustible.
They give rise to each other
In a never-ending,
Inexhaustible circle.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

A rushing torrent
Carries boulders
On its flood;
Such is the energy
Of its momentum.

A swooping falcon
Breaks the back
Of its prey;
Such is the precision
Of its timing.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Related Symbols: Water, Animals
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

His energy is like
A drawn crossbow,
His timing like
The release of a trigger.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Skillfully deployed soldiers
Are like round boulders
Rolling down
A mighty mountainside.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The Skillful Warrior attacks
So that the enemy
Cannot defend;
He defends
So that the enemy
Cannot attack.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, Spies
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

His form is visible,
But I am
Formless;
I am concentrated,
He is divided.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Military dispositions
Take form like water.
Water shuns the high
And hastens to the low.
War shuns the strong
And attacks the weak.
Water shapes its current
From the lie of the land.
The warrior shapes his victory
From the dynamic of the enemy.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, The Men
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 37-38
Explanation and Analysis:

War has no
Constant dynamic;
Water has no
Constant form.
Supreme military skill lies
In deriving victory
From the changing circumstances
Of the enemy.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

The difficulty of the fray
Lies in making
The crooked
Straight
And in making
An advantage
Of misfortune.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Be rushing as a wind;
Be stately as a forest;
Be ravaging as a fire;
Be still as a mountain.
Be inscrutable as night;
Be swift as thunder or lightning.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

He regards his troops
As his children,
And they will go with him
Into the deepest ravine.
He regards them
As his loved ones,
And they will stand by him
Unto death.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Know Heaven,
Know Earth,
And your victory
Is complete.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

To the question
"How should we confront
An enemy,
Numerous and well arrayed,
Poised to attack?"
My reply is
"Seize something
He cherishes,
And he will do your will."

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 72-73
Explanation and Analysis:

It is the business of the general
To be still
And inscrutable,
To be upright
And impartial.
He must be able
To keep his own troops
In ignorance,
To deceive their eyes
And their ears.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Success in war
Lies in
Scrutinizing
Enemy intentions.
And going with them.
Focus on the enemy,
And from hundreds of miles
You can kill their general.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

At first,
Be like a maiden;
When the enemy opens the door,
Be swift as a hare;
Your enemy will not
Withstand you.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

It is therefore callous
To begrudge the expense of
A hundred taels
Of silver
For knowledge
Of the enemy's situation.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy, Spies
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Art of War PDF

The General Character Timeline in The Art of War

The timeline below shows where the character The General appears in The Art of War. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...war: the Way, heaven, earth, command, and discipline. The Way leads to unity between the general and the men, heaven refers to Yin and Yang, earth means terrain and life or... (full context)
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
In preparing for war, the general must look at which ruler has the Way, which general is able, which army has... (full context)
Chapter 2
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
The skilled general never hires reinforcements, or ships supplies around repeatedly. He carries equipment from the home base,... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
...and the treasury 60%, with the men, equipment, and animals all exhausted. So, the wise general plunders from the enemy, as supplies taken in enemy territory are worth twenty times as... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...strength. Prize victory, not drawn out war. The nation’s survival or extinction rests on the general. (full context)
Chapter 3
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...to create the defenses and equipment, another three months to build mud ramps. An angry general sends one in three men to their deaths fighting sieges. The men die like ants... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The most skilled general takes the enemy without even fighting, takes the city without a siege, and defeats the... (full context)
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
The general is the pillar of the whole state. If he is strong, the state is strong.... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...of any size, having united officers and men, being prepared for surprises, and having a general who can make his own decisions without a ruler interfering. These five things bring about... (full context)
Chapter 4
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Master Sun says the skilled general of old first ensures his own strength, then waits for the enemy’s weakness. His strength... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
A skillful general’s victories do not win him fame or honor. His victories are flawless, because they are... (full context)
Chapter 5
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
...an egg. In war, attacking is direct but ensure success via indirect actions too. The general who can master this is infinite like heaven and earth; endless like the oceans; he... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
...movement. A diving falcon breaks its prey’s back because of its pinpoint timing. The skilled general’s momentum is destructive and his timing perfect. He is like a stretched crossbow string, and... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...they will take the bait. Draw out the enemy and then hit him hard. The general takes advantage of the situation and does not blame the men. He uses them to... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
By understanding the situation, the general sends his men out like logs or stones rolling down a hill. They do not... (full context)
Chapter 6
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
...battlefield first means you fight fresh. The one who arrives later will fight tired. Skillful generals move when they want to, and are not forced to move. But they lure out... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The enemy cannot withstand a skillful general’s attack, or attack that which he defends. It is a matter of formless subtlety and... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
If the general wants to engage the enemy in battle, he cannot be avoided, no matter their defenses.... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The general can see the enemy but the enemy cannot know him. The general is concentrated but... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The enemy must not know where the general intends to hit. He has to defend many places but the general attacks only a... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
...to defend creates weakness, whereas making the enemy have to defend creates strength. If the general knows the time and place of attack, even after marching hundreds of miles the army... (full context)
Chapter 7
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Master Sun says the ruler gives orders to the general, who assembles the men and an army. He makes camp opposite the enemy. The real... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
The whole army can be disheartened. The general can lose his cool. The men are sharpest in the morning, slower by noon, and... (full context)
Chapter 8
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Master Sun says the ruler gives orders to the general, who assembles the men and an army. Do not make camp on intractable terrain. Meet... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...fought for. There are also orders from a ruler that one should not obey. The general that understands the nine changes knows war. Even if he knows the lay of the... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
When making decisions, the wise general considers both gain and harm. By not focusing on gain alone, he can be successful.... (full context)
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
There are five ways a general can fail. Recklessness leads to annihilation. Cowardice leads to being caught. Anger leads to being... (full context)
Chapter 9
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
...reveal fear in the enemy camp. If the men are confused, it suggests the enemy general is not respected. Banners and flags moving around indicate disorganization. (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
If the general swings from being tyrannical to being in terror of his men, he is incompetent. Envoys... (full context)
Chapter 10
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
...equal on distant terrain, it is hard to engage and there is no advantage. The general must study these terrains and their Ways. (full context)
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
The general, not nature, is at fault for the following calamities: flight, impotence, decay, collapse, chaos, rout.... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
If the general is weak and inconsistent, the result is chaos. If the general underestimates the enemy and... (full context)
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...same is also true if the rule says to fight but defeat is certain. The general who makes decisions without seeking fame or fearing blame will protect the people, serve his... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
If the general knows his own men can advance but does not see that the enemy is not... (full context)
Chapter 11
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The skillful general divides the enemy army, and stops their men from supporting each other. When they are... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The skillful general sends out his men like the shuairan snake that defends each part of its body... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
Both strong and weak can serve based on the principle of ground. The skillful general leads an army like it is one man. There is no choice but to obey.... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
The general leads the men into battle, taking away any escape routes before releasing the trigger. He... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...guides you cannot know the terrain. Ignorance on any of these does not befit a general of a strong ruler. When such an army attacks an enemy, he overwhelms them and... (full context)
Chapter 12
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...an opportunity is a great waste. Thus it is said, good rulers think deeply, good generals follow through. Only move for gain or victory, and fight only in a crisis. Rulers... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...a nation or men are destroyed, they cannot be rebuilt. Rulers must be prudent and generals cautious. This is the Way to preserve peace and keep men whole. (full context)
Chapter 13
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...might battle it out over years with no end in sight. How then can a general begrudge the smaller cost of paying for knowledge of his enemy? Such a general is... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
Having information early allows rulers and generals to advance and triumph. It brings them uncommon success. This type of knowledge cannot be... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
No one should be closer to the general than his spies, nor better paid or treated. Wisdom is necessary to managing spies, as... (full context)
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
When attacking a city or killing someone, the general must know the names of the enemy’s general, servants, and staff. The spies must know... (full context)
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
Taking the Path of Least Resistance Theme Icon
War as a Means to Protect Peace Theme Icon
The Responsibility of Authority Theme Icon
...thanks to Lyu Ya, who was won over from the Yin. Only worthy rulers and generals can use spies to good effect. Spies are vital in war, and the army’s every... (full context)