The Art of War



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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Art of War, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Yin and Yang

The traditional Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang were central to Sun-Tzu’s perception of the world, As such,  Yin and Yang also characterize the approach in his famed guidebook to waging war, written roughly around 500 B.C. Yin and Yang represent the natural balance that can be found in all things—for example, dark and light, weak and strong, or uphill and downhill. There are infinite potential variations within each of these paired polarities that…

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Taking the Path of Least Resistance

In Chinese sage Sun-Tzu’s ancient treatise on warfare, the surest way to victory is a strategy based on taking advantage of the dynamic of the battlefield—for example, the lay of the land or the temperament of the enemy’s general. Taking the path of least resistance across terrain or to overcome an enemy ensures a holistic victory—that is, victory in which the enemy is defeated (by targeting their weakest points), the homeland is protected…

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War as a Means to Protect Peace

Sun-Tzu is commonly believed to have lived either during China’s Spring and Autumn (722-481 BC) or Warring States (403-221 AD) period, in which numerous smaller states battled for ultimate control of the empire. Yet Master Sun does not describe war as a way of life, but rather the last resort when it comes to defeating one’s enemies and protecting the home nation and its people. A general’s ultimate aim should be to secure…

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The Responsibility of Authority

In Sun’s treatise on war, the general has total authority and responsibility for the army’s strategy and the outcome of battle. Because the general is fully autonomous, he bears the whole weight of victory or defeat. A wise and skilled general earns his authority by his moral rectitude—that is, by focusing on his responsibilities, not personal glory. By invoking what he terms “the Way,” Sun shows that true and honorable leadership arises from…

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