The Seven Military Classics were seven important military texts of ancient China.

  • Six Secret Teachings

The Civil Strategy: The Civil Strategy provides the narrative of how Jiang Ziya came to dictate the Six Secret Teachings to King Wen, and elaborates on how the state must be organized in order to provide a logistical base for any future military expansion. “Moral, effective government is the basis for survival and the foundation for warfare.The state must thrive economically while limiting expenditures, foster appropriate values and behaviour among the populace, implement rewards and punishments, employ the worthy, and refrain from disturbing and harming the people.”

The Military Strategy: The Military Strategy continues the previous section’s discussion of civil affairs, analyzes the current state of Zhou, and assesses the prospects of successfully overthrowing the Shang. “Attracting the disaffected weakens the enemy and strengthens the state; employing subterfuge and psychological techniques allows manipulation of the enemy and hastens its demise. The ruler must visibly cultivate his Virtue and embrace government policies that will allow the state to compete for the minds and hearts of the people; the state will thus gain victory without engaging in battle.”

The Dragon Strategy: The Dragon Strategy primarily discusses military organization, the necessary characteristics of military officers, and how to evaluate and select for these qualities. It discusses how to establish a system of rewards and punishments for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a general’s awesomeness and authority, and discusses the methods necessary to foster allegiance and unity in one’s soldiers.

The Tiger Strategy: The Tiger Strategy discusses military equipment, tactical principles, and essential issues of command. Most of the section provides tactics for extricating oneself from adverse battlefield situations.

The Leopard Strategy: The Leopard Secret Teaching emphasizes tactical solutions for particularly difficult types of terrain, such as forests, mountains, ravines and defiles, lakes and rivers, deep valleys, and other constricted locations. It also contains discussions of methods to contain rampaging invaders, confront superior forces, deploy effectively, and act explosively.

The Dog Strategy: The Dog Strategy discusses a number of diverse topics, miscellaneous to the other sections. The most important sections “expound on detailed principles for appropriately employing the three component forces – chariots, infantry, and cavalry – in a wide variety of concrete tactical situations”.

  • The Methods of the Sima

The Methods of the Sima promotes the view that warfare is necessary to the existence of the state, that it provides the principal means for punishing evil and rescuing the oppressed, and that its conscientious exploitation is the foundation for political power. It states that a balance between war and peace must be maintained for the prosperity of the state: that those states which neglect their armies will perish just as quickly as those states which resort to warfare too frequently. The book promotes the view that war is an unfortunate necessary for peace.

The Methods of the Sima stresses that the only justification for warfare is the assistance of the common people. Because warfare must benefit the people of all states involved in a conflict in order to be legitimate, nations must avoid engagements that injure the people of enemy states, and actions which might antagonize a subject populace are severely prohibited.

  • The Art of War

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the Late Spring and Autumn Period (roughly 5th century BC). The work, which is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, is composed of 13 chapters. Each one is devoted to an aspect of warfare and how it applies to military strategy and tactics. Example Verses from the book read as follows:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even in a hundred battles.

If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.

If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win numerous (literally, “a hundred”) battles without jeopardy.

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

  • Wuzi

The Wuzi advises generals to adopt different tactics and strategy based on their assessment of battlefield situations. Factors affecting appropriate tactics and strategy include: the relative terrain and weather of the engagement; the national character of the combatants; the enemy commander’s personal history and characteristics; and, the relative morale, discipline, fatigue, number, and general quality of both friendly and enemy forces. In gathering this information, and in preventing the enemy from gaining it, espionage and deception are paramount.

The present text of the Wuzi consists of six sections, each focusing on a critical aspect of military affairs: Planning for the State; Evaluating the Enemy; Controlling the Army; the Tao of the General; Responding to Change; and, Stimulating the Officers. Although each chapter is less concentrated than the traditional topic headings would suggest, they depict the subject matter and general scope of the book as a whole.

  • Wei Liaozi

The Wei Liaozi frequently advocates both a civil and military approach to affairs. According to the text, agriculture and people are the two greatest resources of the state, and both should be nurtured and provided for. Although the Wei Liaozi does not specifically mention Confucianism, the text advocates a government based on humanistic values, in line with that school of thought. The ruler should be the paradigm of virtue in the state. However, heterodoxy and other values not conducive to the state should be punished using draconian measures.

  • Three Strategies of Huang Shigong

The sections of the Three Strategies which directly discuss military strategy and tactics emphasize quality generalship, swiftness, authority, the integration and balance of available forces, and the relationship between hard and soft tactics. The text supports the view that, once a general assumes command, his authority must be absolute. The commander must be emotionally controlled and never display doubt or indecision. He should be receptive to advice and constructive criticism, but his decisions must ultimately be unquestioned.

There are three points that have to be mastered:

  1. Alternate hard and soft approaches. This means a leader must be both benevolent and awe-inspiring according to what is appropriate. This links to the second principle:
  2. Act according to the actual circumstances. Avoid responses which are based on imagination, memory of the past, or habits acquired in other circumstances. You must rely only on observation and perception and be willing to modify plans at any time.
  3. Employ only the capable. This requires an accurate insight into others.
  • Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong

The content of Questions and Replies differs strongly from the other six Military Classics. The armies that existed by the time of the Tang dynasty consisted of infantry, crossbowmen, and cavalry. The use of the chariot had long since ceased to have any military application, and weapons were exclusively made from iron and steel. Large number of local, cohesive units provided a great degree of flexibility to large-scale deployments. Professional units were supplemented by disciplined and well-armed conscript forces. Weapons and unit sub-types were highly specialized. The recognition of the military value of speed and mobility was widespread, with flanking and other indirect maneuvers preferred over direct, frontal engagements.

The social and technological realities from which Questions and Replies was written were very different from the other six Military Classics. Rather than claiming to originate its own strategy, Questions and Replies frames itself as a survey of earlier, more widely recognized works, discussing their theories and contradictions according to the writer’s own military experience. Because Li Jing was a historically successful general, the tactics and strategies discussed in Questions and Replies must be considered the theoretical product of actions tested and employed in battles critical to the establishment of the Tang dynasty, if it is indeed wholly or even partly the product of Li Jing’s thoughts.

Edited by staff


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