Literature Study GuidesThe Art Of WarCommentaries On The Art Of War

The Art of War | Study Guide

Sun Tzu

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The Art of War | Commentaries on The Art of War


Commentaries on Sun Tzu's 13 chapters of The Art of War are many, and the earliest ones in Chinese are briefly discussed by Samuel B. Griffith in Appendix 1 of his translation. Beginning with the commission of the scholar Liu Hsiang to compile literature for the imperial library sometime in the first century BCE, a mention is made of an "Art of War" by Sun Tzu. This is followed by an 82-chapter version written at a later date, but Griffith casts some doubt on the accuracy of this lengthier version. Instead, he settles on the version supplied by commentator Ts'ao Ts'ao, who wrote a "Brief Explanation" on Sun Tzu's The Thirteen Chapters sometime around 200 CE. Samuel B. Griffith speculates that materials had been assembled on Sun Tzu and his treatise "without attempting to distinguish the original text from accretions." Griffith notes that each succeeding dynasty recorded discussions on Sun Tzu's treatise, but interest spiked during the Sung dynasty (960–1279 CE) when Emperor Sheng-tsung (1068–85) required all army commission candidates to study Ts'ao Ts'ao's version of Sun Tzu's treatise—along with "Lecture Notes"—at the Imperial Military Academy.

Most modern translations of The Art of War also include historical or strategic military commentaries related to the work. Among them is Lionel Giles's 1910 version of The Art of War and The Art of War: Translation, Essays, and Commentary by the Denma Translation Group, published in 2009. Giles was Assistant Curator of Oriental Books and Manuscripts at the British Museum in the early 20th century. East Asian scholar Dr. Thomas Cleary published a translation and commentary of The Art of War in 1988, linking Sun Tzu's treatise with concepts of Chinese philosophy expressed in the I-Ching (Book of Changes) and the Tao Te Ching (The Book of the Way). Dr. Cleary's lead in this connection has had a significant influence in subsequent examinations of The Art of War.

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