This short book comes from Ancient China, and is possibly even older than Sun Tzu’s Art of War. As the story goes, the parchment was discovered by a KMT officer in the 40s completely by accident. The parchment he discovered was a reprint done under the Qing dynasty of an older parchment, so who knows how old it actually is.
It was first published to the public in 1989 in Beijing by the PRC, and most editions today add short tales to illustrate the stratagem – the original parchment was very short and each strategy was explained in about 5 or 6 words.
I also think there was some dialectic at work in these stratagems. Stratagem 2 for example:
When the enemy is too strong to attack directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that in all things he cannot be superior. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead.
I think to some extent we have all the laws of dialectic. Of course since this was written way, way back in the past, the author was not aware of dialectics and explained his stratagems as best he could with what he had available.
I chose this edition because of the tales that accompany it. They also have a french translation right under the english one, and since the tales are different, you can use deepl to get two of them instead of just one. The site may be a bit confusing to use, but you click on the numbers at the top of the page for each stratagem. I especially like the tale of stratagem 22:
In 449 BC the state of Wu had invaded the state of Yue and carried off its duke Guo Jian holding him prisoner for three years before releasing him back to his kingdom. When he returned Guo Jian planned his revenge. For seven years he ruled with benevolence and generosity making a reputation as a wise and virtuous ruler until he felt his loyal subjects were prepared to undergo any hardship for him. He accordingly assembled his forces and attacked Wu gaining a decisive victory.(See Chapter 5) The king of Wu had to flee but it would only be a matter of time before he was caught. He sent ambassadors to Guo Jian begging for mercy. They reminded him of how Wu, though she had him firmly in her grasp, had released him to return to his state. The king of Wu now asked to be granted the same favor. Guo Jian was contemplating granting this appeal when his prime minister Fan Li intervened and said: “When heaven gave the duke of Wu the grand opportunity for gaining power he did not take advantage of it and so he is a fugitive today. Should you fail to accept what fortune has now given you, you may be driven from your state, and then all the years of hardships you have bourn will have been endured in vain.” The duke was swayed by the argument and sent the ambassador back with the message that he would not grant any mercy. When the king of Wu received the message he gave up all hope and committed suicide.
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