What information does an ancient Chinese military text hold? Obviously that is a trick
question. On the superficial level, one might casually answer, “ancient tactics and stratagems in
which to defeat one’s opponent.” War, however, is not only about moving chess pieces around.
In war, the chess pieces have a heart, a mind, a soul, and a conscience, these chess pieces are
humans. Thus, a problem arises. Efficiency equates with victory, but, humans are inefficient.
How do I achieve efficiency? The ancient Chinese military theorists have pondered these
thoughts and the answer is given to us by Wu-Tzu, “in antiquity those who planned government
affairs would invariably first instruct the hundred surnames and gain the affection of the common
people” (Sawyer, pg. 207). To gain affection is to gain commitment and to gain commitment is
to gain efficiency. To Wu-Tzu, “commitment means entering combat without any concern for
life” (Sawyer, pg. 217). Even before these ancient Chinese military theorists could begin on
tactics and stratagems, they must inevitably dwell in politics as well.
As Eberhard describes, “[a] despot exercised his power by a military force which was
dependent upon him” (pg. 61). The despot must ask and answer this one question, how does one
go about persuading a human to die for you? Humans are very impressionable beings and with
the right push, are capable of almost anything. Politicians know this today, but the ancient
Chinese military theorists knew it thousand of years ago. According to these theorists, there are
four areas in which a ruler must manipulate; 1) Religion and Cultural Beliefs 2) Virtue 3)
Rewards and Punishments and 4) Precedents.
Religion and Cultural Beliefs
One cannot completely ignore the people’s religion. If the entirety of the people believes
in ancestral worship, as a ruler, can you decree that it is false? No, by going against religious or