Literature Study GuidesThe Art Of WarVarious Translations Of The Art Of War

The Art of War | Study Guide

Sun Tzu

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The Art of War | Various Translations of The Art of War


Samuel B. Griffith's Appendix 2 is devoted to Japanese translations of The Art of War. He states that Sun Tzu's work reached Japan when a Japanese scholar visiting China, Kibi-no Makibi (693–775 CE), brought home a number of classical texts, including The Art of War. Kibi-no Makibi is credited with having used Sun Tzu's principles to instruct Japanese warriors. But Griffith is fairly certain that, due to Japanese curiosity and a connection with China through Korea around 516 CE, these principles were already well-known.

Over the next several centuries, the Japanese kept military strategy a closely guarded secret, with the samurai (skilled warriors who were part of the nobility) showing evidence of having been trained, at least in part, according to Sun Tzu's ideas. Late in the 14th century one Japanese strategist, Kusunoki Masashige, exhibited an affinity for Sun Tzu because "his favorite tactics were to harass, weary, confuse, and mislead the enemy."

Appendix 3 discusses the trail of translations of The Art of War in Western languages. Griffith states the first known publication of Sun Tzu's work in Europe appeared in French in 1772, titled Military Art of the Chinese. It was translated by Father Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, a Jesuit priest who spent many years in Peking. Amiot had been requested to make translations of Chinese writings on military topics by the Minister of State under King Louis XV. This translation was critically acclaimed, and recommendations were made that Sun Tzu's work be "placed in the hands of those who aspire to command our armies as well as into those of simple officers" However, Griffith notes that Amiot was not very careful to distinguish Sun Tzu's words from those of his commentators, and incorporated his own ideas into the work. Over the next several centuries, French interest in Chinese military strategy waxed and waned—Sun Tzu's approach to strategy was more or less known but not central to military study.

The first English translation of The Art of War was published in 1905 by Captain E.F. Calthrop, based on a Japanese translation. However, this version was criticized as "corrupt," and Lionel Giles published his own translation in 1910. Three subsequent translations of The Art of War surfaced during World War II—two in English and one in German—but Griffith believes the German translation was not known to the German military of the time. Russian translations appeared in 1860 and 1889, but it is Giles's translation that made it to the United States, notably in a 1944 book compiled by Thomas R. Phillips, titled Roots of Strategy.

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