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(Sun Wu), a Chinese military leader and theorist of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.
Sun-tzu was born in the Ch’i kingdom. From 514 to 496 B.C., he served as a military commander for the Wu kingdom, leading successful campaigns against the Ch’u, Ch’i, and Chin kingdoms. He composed a treatise on the art of war (in 13 chapters), which is imbued with elements of spontaneous dialectic. He regarded war as the crucial event in the life of a state and pointed out that politics plays a great part in preparations for war. The art of waging war and, ultimately, victory, according to Sun-tzu, depends on the morale of the army and the people, on unflagging attention to circumstances (time of day and year, terrain, and climatic conditions), on the personal qualities of the commander (intelligence, courage, humaneness, strictness, and impartiality), on the training, discipline, and numerical strength of the troops, on proper troop control, and on supply. Knowledge of the enemy is essential, and one’s own capacities and the specifics of the situation must be evaluated. Of great importance, he stressed, was military cunning, reconnaissance, swift action, maneuver, and retention of the initiative; attack is preferable to defense. One should strive for superiority of forces, he advised, and for defeat of the enemy forces piece by piece, without risking an all-out engagement.