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100 Sun Tzu's The Art of War
The Nine Varieties of Ground

Part 77


Sun Tzu said: Ground can be classified into nine geographical positions according to the way of using military operations. They are: dispersive ground, frontier ground, contentious ground, open ground, focal ground, serious ground, difficult ground, encircled ground and desperate ground.
Part 78


When a prince wages a campaign in his own territory, the place is called dispersive ground*.
Enemy territory which he enters, but not deeply, is called frontier ground*.

The position that is favourable for both the enemy and yourself to occupy is called contentious ground. The position that is accessible to both sides is called open ground.

A position, where three neighbouring states meet, and which whoever first gets control of will gain the support of other neighbouring states, is called focal ground.

When a prince penetrates deeply into hostile territory, having passed through many enemy cities and towns, he is in serious ground*.

A place with interlocking mountains, tangled forests and impenetrable marshes or any place that is hard to travel through is called difficult ground.

A place to which access is constricted and from which return requires making a detour, so that a small troop will suffice to defeat a large army, is called encircled ground.

Such a place where a desperate and speedy battle will save you or else you will be defeated and destroyed is called desperate ground.


* dispersive ground: Here both officers and soldiers long to return to their nearby homes.
* frontier ground: Here the soldiers can all get back home easily.
* serious ground: It is difficult for soldiers to return home from this ground.
Part 79


As a conclusion, never fight in dispersive ground; never stop in frontier ground; never attack the enemy who first reaches contentious ground; never allow the army's communication to be blocked in open ground; form alliances with neighbouring princes in focal ground; plunder for provisions if arriving at serious ground, pass through swiftly, if you meet difficult ground; devise plans to escape in encircled ground; and fight a last-ditch battle in desperate ground.
Part 80


In ancient times the generals who were skilled in military operations knew clearly how to make the enemy lose contact between the van and the rear, prevent his main body of soldiers and small divisions from cooperation, make it impossible for the superiors and the subordinates to support each other and communicate with each other, scatter the enemy soldiers so that they could not concentrate, and keep them in disorder even if they were assembled.
The skilled generals would advance when it was to their advantage and halt when situations were unfavourable.

It may be asked, "If the enemy comes to attack you with a large and well-ordered army, how do you deal with it?"

The answer is, "Seize what he cherishes and he will conform to your desires."
Part 81


The essence of military operations is speed, taking advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness, going by routes he docs not expect and attacking him where he is not on guard.

Part 82


The principles for making war in the enemy state are as follows. When you penetrate deeply into hostile territory, your soldiers will be united and single-minded, and it will be impossible for the defenders to defeat you. If you enter fertile land, you should plunder it for enough provisions for your men. Nourish them and do not exhaust them; keep them in high morale and conserve their energy; direct your troops with ingenious tactics so that the enemy cannot see through your plan.
You should throw your soldiers into a position from which there is no retreat, and where they will not flee even when facing death. Now that the soldiers are not afraid of death, there will be nothing for them to fear. Both officers and soldiers will do their uttermost to fight. Soldiers deep in a dangerous territory will become fearless, there is no road for them to retreat, they will stand firm. Stuck in the enemy's land, they are bound together. As there is no choice, they cannot but fight a desperate battle.

Soldiers as these need no training to be vigilant. They will do what you want them to do before you ask them, they will cooperate closely before you condition them and they will consciously follow your direction before you order them. You should prohibit superstition and dispel rumours and suspicion among your soldiers, then they will not desert the army even in the face of death.

Soldiers have no surplus wealth not because they have a dislike for possessions; they are fearless of death not because they have a dislike for longevity.

On the day the army is ordered to make a decisive battle, soldiers may sit crying with tears wetting their garments, some may lie down there with tears flowing down their cheeks*. But if you throw them into a position where there is no way for them to retreat, they will be undaunted, as brave as Zhuan Zhu or Cao Gui*.


* Soldiers weep because they are so stirred.
* Zhuan Zhu: a famous hero in the Spring and Autumn Period; Cao Gui: another famous hero in the same period.

Part 83


Those who are skilled in military operations should be as dexterous as the shuairan, the snake of Mount Chang*. If you strike its head, its tail will launch an attack on you; if you hit its tail, its head will strike you; if you beat its body, it will attack with both its head and tail.
It may be asked, "Can troops achieve instantaneous coordination as that snake?"

The answer is "They can."

Everyone knows that the people of Wu and the people of Yue are foes*, but when they travel by the same boat caught in a storm, they will help each other just as both the left and the right hands cooperate. So holding the war horses together or burying the chariot wheels is not a reliable way to keep the soldiers together. Uniting the soldiers to fight bravely depends on good management and command. The correct use of geographical situations will make troops bring their courage and ability into full play.

A skilful general should command thousands upon thousands of horses and men as if he were leading a single man who will obey without choice.


*Mount Chang: It was anciently known as Mount Heng.
* Wu, Yue: Two kingdoms of the Zhou Dynasty (about 500 B.C.)

Part 84


In commanding an army, a general must have a mind that is serene and unfathomable. He must administrate his troops in an impartial and upright manner. He should keep his officers and soldiers ignorant of his military plans. He changes his arrangements and alters his military plans without anyone knowing. He shifts his campsites and takes circuitous routes without anyone anticipating his purpose.
A general who leads his troops to fight a decisive battle should cut off all means of retreat as if he kicks off the ladder behind the soldiers after they have climbed up a height. When he leads his troops deep into a princedom, he should have the momentum of an arrow that has been released. He burns the boats and breaks the cauldrons to make the soldiers resolute in fighting. He drives his soldiers here and there as freely as he does a flock of sheep without anyone knowing where he will go. He assembles his whole army and puts it into dangerous situations. This is what a commander should do.

Varying tactics according to geographical positions, advancing or retreating according to what is advantageous and observing the laws of human nature are what a general must study and examine carefully.

Part 85


The way to make war in the enemy's state is as follows: the deeper your troops penetrate into hostile territory, the more they concentrate their spirit to fight; the less deep they penetrate, the less their will to fight is. Crossing a neighbouring country to a battlefield where there is no way for soldiers to return, you are in critical ground. In a position which extends in all directions, you have entered focal ground. Deep in the enemy's territory, you have entered serious ground. Penetrating a little distance, you are in frontier ground. When you arrive at a place with rugged terrain at your back and a narrow pass in front, you are in encircled ground. And when you enter a region where there is no way to retreat, you are in desperate ground.

Part 86


Thus, when you are in dispersive ground, you should unify the will of your soldiers; when you are in frontier ground, you should keep the van and the rear linked up; when you are in contentious ground, you should hasten up your rear troops; when you are in open ground, you should defend your camp carefully; when you are in focal ground, you should form strong alliances with neighbouring princes; when you are in serious ground, you should ensure a continuous flow of provisions; when you are in difficult ground, you should press forward swiftly; when you are in encircled ground, you should block the points of access or egress; when you are in desperate ground, you must show your soldiers that there is no choice but a last-ditch fight.
So a general must know the psychology of soldiers: that they will resist while surrounded, fight desperately while being forced to and follow the general while fallen into dangerous situations.
Part 87


A general who is ignorant of the intention of the neighbouring princes cannot form alliances with them, he who is ignorant of the interlocking mountains and tangled forests, dangerous abysses and precipices, swamps and marshes cannot move his troops; he who fails to hire native guides cannot occupy the favourable ground; he who is ignorant of advantages and disadvantages of various battle positions cannot command an army befitting an overlord.

Part 88


If an overlord's army attacks a strong state, even the strong state cannot collect its strength to resist. Wherever such an army goes, it overawes its enemy and prevents his allies from joining him.
Hence, a state with such an invincible army does not need to seek alliances with other states, nor docs it need to establish its power in these states. It only relies on its own actual strength to overawe the enemy, and it will be able to capture the enemy's cities and destroy his state.
Part 89


If you lead an overlord's army you must bestow rewards irrespective of customary practice and issue orders irrespective of convention, you can command thousands upon thousands of horses and men as if you were leading a single man. Set your troops to operation but never tell them your plans; use them to gain advantage, but never tell them the dangers and disadvantage involved. Only by throwing an army into a perilous position can they survive; only by putting them in desperate ground can they live. Provided the troops are placed in danger, they will be able to turn defeat into victory.
Part 90


Success in military operations lies in pretending to follow the enemy's intentions, but in fact, concentrating your troops to attack one aspect of the enemy. You will be able to kill his commander even if you are a long drive of a thousand li away. This is so-called using artful and ingenious plans to accomplish great tasks.

Part 91


On the day of making a final decision to fight, you should close all passes, abrogate all official tallies*, and terminate all contact with the enemy's emissaries. Carefully examine your military plans in the temple council* and make decisions. If you find out the opponent's weak point, you must break through it speedily. Seize what is most valuable to the enemy first. Don't betray your time of attack to him. In pursuring your plans modify them according to the enemy's situations in order to win. At first assume the coyness of a maiden and when the enemy gives you an opening, attack him as swiftly as a running hare. This will make the enemy unable to resist you.

*official tally: In former times each traveller must possess an official pass which was examined by the wardens at the frontiers.
* the temple council: In ancient China, the most important decision must be made in the ancestral temple, which is a religious rite. So the temple is different from military headquarters.
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