Written during the 6th century BC, The Art of War is one of the oldest books on military strategy in the world. It is ostensibly so perfect that there are hardly any criticism against it, if the results of Google search is to go by. Even though it was written some 25 centuries ago, it is said to be as relevant today as when it was first written.
BUT IS IT REALLY TRUE? Did Art of War provide the solution to the turbulent times in China that continued on until the unification of all the states in 221 BC by Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC). Wikipedia reports: “It is said the first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang, thought the book invaluable in ending the Age of Warring States.” Sun Tzu said in Chapter 1, Laying Plans: “The commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.” Was the cruel Qin Shi Huang a role model of such a commander?
From the 11th century AD during the Song Dynasty onwards, The Art of War was published together with six other strategy books as a military text book, known as The Seven Military Classics . Is it surprising then that if The Art of War is so perfect and comprehensive, it should be printed together with six other strategy books? One would have thought that it could stand alone, with the other six strategy books published separately. And if Art of War is indeed one of the foundational works of strategic thinking and the most important, shouldn’t one think that it ought to be featured as the first essay in The Seven Military Classics instead of being buried somewhere in the middle? Ralph D. Sawyer wrote in Barnes & Noble:
“The Seven Military Classics is one of the most profound studies of warfare ever written… In this volume are seven separate essays, written between 500 b.c. and a.d. 700, that preserve the essential tenets of strategy distilled from the experience of the most brilliant warriors of ancient China. Only one of these seven essays, Sun Tzu’s famous Art of War, has been readily available in the West.”
Could The Art of War be so popular today merely because of the French Jesuit, Jean Joseph Marie Amiot who first translated it into the French language in 1782? Could Amiot have popularized Sun Tzu’s The Art of War the same way that Saint Paul popularized Jesus’s teachings and had he chanced to choose a different essay in The Seven Military Classics , that article too would have enjoyed the same popularity as The Art of War today instead of the latter?