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Art of Warfare (Classics of ancient China) [Hardcover]

Sun Pin , D. C. Lau , Roger T. Ames


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Book Description

1 Jun 1999 Classics of ancient China
Lost for some 2,000 years and only rediscovered by chance in 1972, Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare is now recognized as one of the essential texts of classical Chinese military philosophy. In this new edition, D. C. Lau and Roger T. Ames, eminent scholars of Chinese philosophy and widely respected translators, offer a comprehensive translation of the Sun Pin texts, along with extensive notes and commentary. The publication of this volume returns the work of one of the great military innovators to the canon of Chinese literature.
Sun Pin, believed to be a direct descendant of the distinguished military theorist Sun-tzu, flourished during the mid-fourth century B.C. during China's Warring States era, a period of unprecedented violence. As independent nation states attempted to annihilate each other through incessant and escalating battles, military tactics increased exponentially in sophistication and brutality. In the China of the mid-fourth century B.C., it was not uncommon for as many as 80,000 soldiers to perish in a single defeat. As Lau and Ames write in their introduction, warfare was increasingly a way of life, and a way of death. This was the world that Sun Pin both reflected and deeply influenced through his writings.
Sun Pin, himself a victim of a court intrigue that resulted in the amputation of his legs below the knee, rose above disgrace to become the key adviser of King Wei, the ruler of the state of Ch'i. In his writings, Sun Pin draws on battles he had waged as well as examples from earlier history to explore the nature, the purpose, and the effective conduct of war. Sun Pin, essentially a philosopher of the battlefield, ponders such key concepts as the exemplary ruler, the importance of strategy and morale, and the advantages to be gained from adaptability, display, and discretion. Yet these texts are also clearly intended to be practical and to be used to maximum effect on the battlefield. As Sun Pin writes, for one who has really mastered the way of warfare, his enemy can do nothing to escape death.
This new edition of Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare includes not only the sixteen chapters and fragments of the main text recovered at Yin-ch'üeh-shan in 1972, but also fifteen supplementary chapters and three extracts from the encyclopedic tradition. The translation by professors D.C. Lau and Roger T. Ames is admirably clear and fluid, and their comprehensive introduction examining the life and times and the original philosophical contribution of the Sun Pin literature is a brilliant work in its own right.
Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare is a timeless text that fuses history, philosophy, military technique, and reflections on the nature of human conflict. At once evocative of an ancient culture and deeply relevant to contemporary concepts of power and leadership, this volume belongs in the libraries of all serious readers.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books Inc.; New edition edition (1 Jun 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345379918
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345379917
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,273,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ian Myles Slater on: Excellent Edition, In Two Versions 15 Aug 2005
By Ian M. Slater - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This 1996 volume in the Ballantine "Classics of Ancient China" series has been allowed to go out of print in its original format, although used copies seem to be readily available. There is a modified (but apparently not revised) 2003 edition under a different title from another publisher (see below). The Ballantine series was notable for offering texts re-edited or re-assessed on the basis of documentation recovered by archeologists in China during the 1970s, instead of the "received" texts handed down over centuries of copying, editing, and Imperial censorship, including some works otherwise lost. They combined up-to-date scholarship with an attractive presentation, popular appeal, and reasonable prices for bilingual volumes on rarefied topics.

For those not familiar with this one already, "Sun Pin ping-fa" was long thought to be a bibliographic ghost, or even a lost forgery, a long-missing supposed counterpart to the existing "Art of War" (Ping-Fa) of the elder Sun (Sun-tzu; in Pinyin transliteration, Bingfa and Sunzi). It was one of the texts described in Han Dynasty bibliographies and histories, but not reliably reported as existing for well over a thousand years, although sometimes quoted in compendia. The conclusions that it probably hadn't existed, or wasn't authentic if there was such a work, and that the supposed citations were worthless, had to be abandoned when substantial fragments of it, and other texts, turned up in 1972, during the excavation of early Han Dynasty tombs.

There have been several other translations of Sun Pin into English during the last decade, but the co-authors of this volume make a distinguished combination of an eminent senior Sinologist, with a long career working with the problems of early literary texts (Lau) and a sophisticated modern interpreter of Chinese intellectual history (Ames). Ames had earlier edited and translated an edition of Sun-tzu for the "Classics of Ancient China" series, which made use of archeologically-recovered ancient copies in addition to the received ("traditional") text, and re-assessed the place of "militarist" thinkers in early Chinese philosophy.

As a result of this collaboration, the reader is assured of first-rate technical scholarship, and clearly-expressed explanations. Their emphases, not unexpectedly, are on textual and linguistic problems, and the place of the text in the development of Chinese military and political theory.

The Ballantine Books production of the volume was outstanding. The Chinese text is presented in traditional vertical format, with as much or little space given it as necessary, and the English translation is presented beginning on a facing page. This leaves a lot of blank space, but it appears fully legible, and for the shorter chapters seems to be conveniently arranged for those able to read early Classical Chinese; the longer ones require flipping back a page or two to compare the original to the translation. A nice set of photographs includes the tombs, period weapons and other equipment, and some examples of the tomb texts as recovered. These last give some indication of the obstacles facing the Chinese scholars who had been given the task of publishing them.

As mentioned above, the Lau and Ames translation is available new (for the moment) as "Sun Bin: The Art of Warfare: A Translation of the Classic Chinese Work of Philosophy and Strategy" in the SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture (State University of New York Press, 2003). So far as I have been able to tell (and reported in my review of it) there were no textual changes in the English text beyond the replacement of Wade-Giles transliterations with Pinyin equivalents, but it was substantially altered in appearance. The English print is smaller, or at least more cramped-looking (reduced leading?). The Chinese text now runs horizontally (although the characters seem larger and more easily distinguishable), and, with white space drastically reduced, the blocks of Chinese alternate with blocks of English on the same page in a manner which may be confusing. (The difference is particularly evident in Part III, "Texts Recovered From Later, Commentarial, Historical, and Encyclopedic Sources," which becomes very crowded and a bit confusing.) The photographs are omitted, except for one used as cover art. As a result, the 367 total pages (including plates) of the Ballantine edition are reduced to just 265.

Of the several other translations of the fragmentary, and in part enigmatic, text of Sun Bin that are now available, "Military Methods of The Art of War" by Ralph D. Sawyer, with the collaboration of Mei-chun Lee Sawyer, published in various formats, may be the most satisfactory alternative, or, better, companion volume. It is somewhat more popular in presentation than Lau and Ames, but the most important difference is the Sawyers' attempt to place the text in the military (and political) history of China (as against Ames on the the history of Chinese military thought), a topic on which they have produced a series of translations and studies, including the monumental "Seven Military Classics of Ancient China," offering the whole "Military Canon" as established in the eleventh century.
5.0 out of 5 stars So Glad I Bought It. 9 Aug 2013
By Backbutton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have been reading various translations of Sun Tzu The Art of War for years, and came upon this book. Some duplicative material, but some new material that enhances my understanding. I have not finished it yet, but definitely a worthwhile buy.

Too bad not i Kindle format.
5.0 out of 5 stars The "real" SUN TZU 25 April 2013
By Sterling Seagrave, New York Times Bestselling Author. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Lots of Westerners -- businessmen, soldiers, diplomats, and scholars -- like to refer to someone they've heard of (or read about) called SUN TZU. There are even international conferences in which people who consider themselves "experts" on SUN TZU get together and admire or detest each other.

Indeed, there was such a person in ancient China's "Warring States Period" who did leave a collection of aphorisms about how to use cunning or deception to defeat your enemy without combat. After all, combat would mean destruction, regardless of who "won". Take the war in Iraq for one of many examples -- over half a million children dead as "collateral damage" from combat, or simply dying of starvation, or illnesses and injuries that were not treated because the UN Security Council blocked the shipment of medicines to Iraq because an overdose of aspirin can kill you. So aspirin can be called a "weapon of mass destruction".

SUN TZU was actually taking notes from his father, and writing these in the form of aphorisms on sticks of bamboo. As luck would have it, these bamboo sticks survived over many centuries and were quoted repeatedly by Chinese scholars and soldiers. But SUN TZU himself was defeated a number of times by rivals who outwitted him.

Now, for the first time in English since a tomb was discovered and opened in Shandong Province just a few years ago, SUN TZU's descendent (we're not sure whether it was a grandson or great-nephew) has revealed a priceless treasure of cunning and deception that tops SUN TZU. His name is SUN PIN (the same family name SUN), and we know enough about him to know he was never outwitted. When he was young, he was betrayed by a jealous rival, and kneecapped while in custody, which is why he was nicknamed PIN. Admirers helped SUN PIN escape, and thereafter he became the wizard of the Warring States Period. He had to ride around in a wagon, because he could not walk, but his advice on how to deceive and defeat rivals and enemies became the greatest treatise on cunning ever written in China. We are lucky to have it published in English, translated from ideographs found so recently in his tomb.

If you want to read about SUN PIN and SUN TZU (and other experts on cunning) I recommend buying this title, and another book titled LORDS OF THE RIM, which happens to have been written by me. Both are available from AMAZON. Sterling Seagrave
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