East Asia Student

Random Stuff Related to East Asia

Classical Chinese

孫子 兵法 始計 translation: Laying Plans, The Art of War, by Sun Zi

孫子 兵法 始計

This is a literal, line-by-line translation and annotation of 孫子 兵法 始計: the section Laying Plans, from Sun Zi’s Art of War.

There are plenty of elegant, idiomatic translations of 孫子兵法 available elsewhere online. What I’m trying to make here is a very close but still readable translation that might be useful if you’re trying to study the text. I’m not an expert in Classical Chinese at all, so there is definitely room for improvement here.

As always, please give feedback and point out any problems in the comments.

孫子 兵法 始計 Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ Shǐjì

孫子曰:兵者,國之大事,死生之地,存亡之道,不可不察也。 Sūn Zǐ yuē: Bīng zhě, guó zhī dàshì, sǐshēng zhī dì, cúnwáng zhī dào, bùkě bù chá yě. [Sun] [master] [say]: [war] [as for], [state] ['s] [big] [thing], [death] [life] ['s] [place], [exist] [perish] ['s] [way], [not] [can] [not] [examine] [it is so] Sun Zi said: "War - it is a major issue for a state, the arena of life and death, the way of survival or peril; one cannot but study it closely."

故經之以五事,校之以計,而索其情: Gù jīng zhī yǐ wǔ shì, jiào zhī yǐ jì, ér suǒ qí qíng: [thus] [undergo] [it] [according] [five] [thing], [check] [it] [take] [plan], [and] [seek] [its] [situation] Thus one should see it according to five issues, which must be considered in one's plans in order to ascertain the situation:

一曰道,二曰天,三曰地,四曰將,五曰法。 Yī yuē dào, èr yuē tiān, sān yuē dì, sì yuē jiāng, wǔ yuē fǎ. [one] [say] [Way], [two] [say] [Heaven], [three] [say] [Earth], [four] [say] [General], [five] [say] [Method] One: Politics, Two: Natural Order, Three: Geography, Four: The Commander, Five: Discipline. (There are all sorts of ways to translate the above terms. Rather than list out every single one I've just settled on a neat meaning for each term; reading the rest of the section makes it clearer what each is about, anyway.)

道者,令民與上同意也,可以與之死,可以與之生,而不畏危也。 Dào zhě, lìng mín yǔ shàng tóngyì yě, kěyǐ yǔ zhī sǐ, kěyǐ yǔ zhī shēng, ér bù wèi wēi yě. [Way] [as for], [make] [people] [with] [above] [same] [idea] [it is so], [can] [as] [with] [it] [die], [can] [as] [with] [it] [live], [yet] [not] [fear] [danger] [it is so] Politics causes people to be in agreement with their leader - they will die with him, they will live with him, and not fear danger.

天者,陰陽、寒暑、時制也。 Tiān zhě, yīnyáng, hánshǔ, shízhì yě. [Heaven] [as for], [Yin] [Yang], [cold] [hot], [season] [control] [it is so] Natural order is day and night, winter's cold and summer's heat, the influence of the seasons.

地者,高下、遠近、險易、廣狹、死生也。 Dì zhě, gāo xià, yuǎnjìn, xiǎn yì, guǎng xiá, sǐshēng yě. [Earth] [as for], [above] [below], [far] [close], [rugged] [easy], [broad] [narrow], [death] [life] [it is so] Geography is being high or low, distant or close, on terrain rugged or flat, areas open or narrow - it is life and death.

將者,智、信、仁、勇、嚴也。 Jiàng zhě, zhì, xìn, rén, yǒng, yán yě. [commander] [as for], [wisdom], [integrity], [benevolence], [bravery], [rigour] [it is so] Being a commander is about wisdom, integrity, benevolence, bravery and rigour.

法者,曲制、官道、主用也。 Fǎ zhě, qū zhì, guān dào, zhǔ yòng yě. [discipline] [as for], [arrangement] [system], [administer] [way], [master] [expenditure] [it is so] Discipline is about systematic arrangement of the army, the method of military administration and the controlling of expenditure. ([曲制](http://www.zdic.net/c/2/37/85871.htm) and [官道](http://www.zdic.net/c/8/7a/128107.htm) might be tricky to understand here without looking them up as binomes in a dictionary. Also, 法 includes "art", "method", "discipline" and "law" in English.)

凡此五者,將莫不聞,知之者勝,不知者不勝。 Fán cǐ wǔ zhě, jiāng mòbù wén, zhīzhī zhě shèng, bù zhì zhě bùshèng. [all] [these] [five] [as for], [commander] [none] [not] [hear], [know] [it] [he who] [win], [not] [know it] [he who] [not] [win] All these five things - there are no generals who have not heard of them; those who know them will be victorious, those who do not know them will not be victorious.

故校之以計,而索其情,曰: Gù jiào zhī yǐ jì, ér suǒ qí qíng, yuē: [thus] [check] [it] [so as to] [plan], [and] [seek] [its] [situation], [say] Thus one must consider this in making plans, in order to ascertain the situation, asking:

主孰有道? Zhǔ shú yǒu dào? [master] [which] [have] [Way] Of the rulers, which one has principle?

將孰有能? Jiāng shú yǒu néng? [commander] [which] [have] [ability] Of the commanders, which one has ability?

天地孰得? Tiāndì shú dé? [Heaven] [Earth] [which] [suitable] The natural order and geography are most favourable to whom?

法令孰行? Fǎ lìng shú xíng? [discipline] [command] [which] [implement] Discipline and order are best implemented by whom?

兵眾孰強? Bīng zhòng shú qiáng? [soldiers] [multitude] [which] [strong] Which army is stronger?

士卒孰練? Shìzú shú liàn? [soldier] [soldier] [which] [practice] Whose soldiers are better practised?

賞罰孰明? Shǎngfá shú míng? [reward] [punishment] [who] [clear] Whose rewards and punishments are the clearest?

吾以此知勝負矣。 Wú yǐ cǐ zhī shèngfù yǐ. [I] [with] [this] [know] [victory] [defeat] [.] By this I can foretell victory and defeat.

將聽吾計,用之必勝,留之; Jiāng tīng wú jì, yòng zhī bìshèng, liú zhī; [commander] [listen] [my] [plan], [use] [it] [must] [victorious], [keep] [it] The commander who obeys my formulations: employ him and you will certainly be victorious - keep him! (Most translations read 用之 as "using these [plans]", referring to the commander's use of them, but I think it fits better as "employ him", matching up with the end of the line.)

將不聽吾計,用之必敗,去之。 Jiāng bù tīng wú jì, yòng zhī bìbài, qù zhī. [commander] [not] [listen] [my] [plan], [use] [it] [must] [defeat], [remove] [it] The commander who does not obey my formulations: employ him and you will certainly be defeated - get rid of him!

計利以聽,乃為之勢,以佐其外。 Jì lì yǐ tīng, nǎi wéi zhī shì, yǐ zuǒ qí wài. [calculating] [advantage] [according to] [listen], [thereupon] [become] [it] [conditions], [use] [helpful] [its] [outside] In calculating the advantages according to this, you will bring about forces of circumstance from which you can benefit further still.

勢者,因利而制權也。 Shì zhě, yīn lì ér zhì quán yě. [conditions] [as for], [reason] [advantage] [and] [control] [power] [it is so] "Forces of circumstance" refer to gaining control and power because of one's advantages.

兵者,詭道也。 Bīng zhě, guǐdào yě. [war] [as for], [deceive] [way] [it is so] War is about the principle of deception.

故能而示之不能,用而示之不用,近而示之遠,遠而示之近。 Gù néng ér shì zhī bùnéng, yòng ér shì zhī bùyòng, jìn ér shì zhī yuǎn, yuǎn ér shì zhī jìn. [thus] [ability] [yet] [show] [it] [not] [able], [use] [yet] [show] [it] [not] [use], [close] [yet] [show] [it] [far], [far] [yet] [show] [it] [close] Thus when you are able, show them that you are unable; when you are using something, show them that you are not using it; when you are close, show them that you are far, and when you are far, show them that you are close.

利而誘之,亂而取之,實而備之,強而避之,怒而撓之,卑而驕之,佚而勞之,親而離之。 Lì ér yòu zhī, luàn ér qǔ zhī, shí ér bèi zhī, qiáng ér bì zhī, nù ér náo zhī, bēi ér jiāo zhī, yì ér láo zhī, qīn ér lí zhī. [advantage] [and] [tempt] [it], [chaos] [and] [take] [it], [solid] [and] [prepare] [it], [strong] [and] [avoid] [it], [angry] [and] [scratch] [it], [inferior] [and] [arrogant] [it], [idle] [and] [toil] [it], [united] [and] [separate] [it] If they have the advantage, lure them out; if they are in disorder, conquer them; if they are secure, prepare against them; if they are strong, avoid them; if they are angry, irritate them; if they are inferior, be arrogant to them [?] ; if they are resting, make them toil; if they are united, separate them. (卑而驕之 seems to be the odd one out in the sequence. It's usually translated as "act inferior to make them arrogant", which seems like better advice than my translation, but breaks the repeated structure in all the other phrases. I've maintained the common structure in the line and translated it as "if they are inferior, be arrogant to them".)

攻其無備,出其不意。 Gōng qí wú bèi, chūqíbùyì. [attack] [its] [not have] [prepare], [put forth] [its] [not] [expect] Attack where they are not prepared; do what they do not expect.

此兵家之勝,不可先傳也。 Cǐ bīngjiā zhī shèng, bùkě xiān chuán yě. [this] [war] [school of thought] ['s] [superior], [not] [can] [first] [transmit] [it is so] The superiority of these military methods must not be revealed beforehand.

夫未戰而廟算勝者,得算多也; Fu wèi zhàn ér miào suàn shèngzhě, dé suàn duō yě; [man] [not yet] [war] [and] [temple] [calculate] [victory] [he who], [finish] [calculate] [much] [it is so] The soldier who, before the battle, is in the shrine calculating his way to victory, makes many calculations. (This two lines are a bit difficult to translate closely into readable English. I've just left the English a bit weird to try and reflect my understanding of the original line.)

未戰而廟算不勝者,得算少也。 Wèi zhàn ér miào suàn bù shèngzhě, dé suàn shǎo yě. [man] [not yet] [war] [and] [temple] [calculate] [not] [victory] [he who], [finish] [calculate] [little] [it is so] The soldier who, before the battle, is in the shrine calculating his way to defeat, makes few calculations.

多算勝,少算不勝,而況無算乎! Duō suàn shèng, shǎo suàn bùshèng, érkuàng wú suàn hu! [many] [calculation] [victory], [few] [calculation] [not] [victory], [and] [moreover] [not have] [calculation] Many calculations means victory, few calculations means no victory - all the more so for no calculations at all!

吾以此觀之,勝負見矣。 Wú yǐ cǐ guān zhī, shèngfù jiàn yǐ. [I] [with] [this] [view] [it], [victory] [defeat] [see] [.] It is with this that I observe, and foresee victory and defeat.

Tags