We don’t know much about Sun Tzu’s life because there is only one written record about it. This is a biography by the Chinese historian Sima Qian and was written around 2 BC.
Sun Tzu was born in 544 BC in either the Qi or Wu province, during the Zhou dynasty. His father was in the military and Sun Tzu studied military science, or how to win wars.
Sun Tzu lived in the ‘Spring and Autumn Period of China’, which is the time from 770 BC to 476 BC. He became a great general and was a military strategist.
King Helu of Wu noticed Sun Tzu’s abilities to lead so decided to test him. Helu ordered him to train 180 of his wives as soldiers.
Sun Tzu assigned two of the women as leaders but when he gave them orders, the women laughed. He killed them and picked two more leaders. This time, the women obeyed him.
Sun Tzu won battles using spies, mystery and subtlety. He wanted to keep his enemy guessing so that he could sneak up on the enemy and lose as few men as possible.
Sun Tzu never lost a battle in nearly 40 years as a general.
The Art of War was a Chinese textbook written by Sun Tzu about military strategies and tactics. The early copies of the book were written on sheets of bamboo that were sewn together.
It is still one of the most famous books written and was translated into English in the 1900s.
In ancient China, war was considered a sport for rich people and there was honour in it. Sun Tzu didn’t see it this way – he wanted to defeat his enemy without losing men.
Ideally, he wanted to avoid war completely, if possible. He used ideas from Taoism (a way of life in China), like being spontaneous and winning quickly, to beat his enemy.
Other generals were unprepared for these tactics.The Art of War is important reading today still.
Most of the information is about how to fight wars without going into battle, such as using politics and negotiating to win.
Now, the book is used as a guide for people going to work in important businesses or going into politics and government – people who might need to be good at negotiating.
Some sports, such as rugby, have used The Art of War to develop tactics and strategies to win the game.
The book says it is important to be spontaneous and subtle in your actions, so you seem to be doing something else that is not your actual intention.