Banned and fragmented: history of the Chinese text

Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) wrote the original text of The Art of War shortly before 510 BC. During most of the past two thousand years, the common people in China were forbidden to read it. What happened to tit? Read more about the Chinese history here.

Going West: the first European translation

A Jesuit missionary, Father Amiot, first brought The Art of War to the West, translating it into French in 1782. Unfortunately, this translation started the tradition of mistranslating Sun Tzu's work. How? Read more about the first Western translation here.

Public domain: fragmentary English translations from the turn of the century

The "public domain" English versions of Sun Tzu's The Art of War that are available today are all based on these early translations. All are based on different Chinese versions. Why? Read about the earliest English translations here.

The pop culture versions: 80s translations that entered Western culture

In the 1980s, the mention of Sun Tzu's The Art of War in the movie Wall Street made the book fashionable. These versions were more about the pop culture of the era than Sun Tzu. Read about more these  English translations.

The first complete English texts: good translations of The Art of War

In the 1990s, the first English translations using the complete Chinese version of the text began to emerge. The first translation was by Roger Ames. Gary Gagliardi followed with the first award-winning translation. Read more about the complete English translations here.

Comparing English translations: a useful overview of the most popular versions

It is interesting to compare how the most of the popular English translations handle the same Chinese verse. Even when they agree on meaning, they different a lot. Access a simple comparison of translation style here.

Man of Mystery: the life of the man who invented strategy

Sun Tzu was born in what is today the Shandong area, but at that time it would have been the northern state of Ch'i. Not very much is known about his life, but we do that the name we use for him and the English name of his book are both wrong. Read about Sun Tzu's life here.

A life in context: major events in China before, during, and after his life

This was an era of warring city states like Greece of the time. Our timeline shows the major political and military events of the "Spring and Autumn" period of China during which Sun Tzu lived.  Read about Sun Tzu's era here.

Martial arts history: tracing its beginnings back to The Art of War

The ideas on which the martial arts are based can be traced back to Sun Tzu's The Art of War. When the book was suppressed, martial arts practice passed down many of its concepts. Read about how Sun Tzu's work led to the martial arts.

Before and after: inventing the "warring states" period of history

The Art of War played a large role in reshaping ancient China. The text led eventually led to the unification of China.  Read more about how Chinese history was affected by Sun Tzu.

Six myths: the misconceptions that naturally follow the "art of war"

Don't start off on the wrong foot. Learn the six most common myths about Sun Tzu and how they lead people astray. Read about the common myths that surround the Art of War.

Resurrected from the past: the ancient philosophies that have survived 2,500 years

There were six schools of scientific and philosophical thought during Sun Tzu's era: the yinyang, Confucian, Mohist, legalist, fatalist, and Taoist schools. Sun Tzu's work was both a reflection of and a reaction against many of these ideas. Read about the Chinese philosophies that influenced the Art of War.

Downside-up thinking: the Chinese roots seeing situations as a balance

Historically, the conceptual base for Sun Tzu's The Art of War is the ancient Chinese concept of "yin and yang." We refer to this idea in Sun Tzu's strategy as "complementary opposites". Read about the yinyang philosophy.

Creation and destruction: The process that constantly creates new opportunities

The center of Sun Tzu's system is the strategic position. A position consists of five elements. The interaction of these elements assures us that 1) new positions are constantly being created and 2) existing positions are constantly being destroyed. Read about these cycles here.

An unspeakable language? Ancient Chinese as conceptual rather than linguistic code

In the West, we  use writing to capture the sounds and content of spoken language. Ancient Chinese writing uses symbols very differently. Read about the ancient Chinese language here.

Mistranslating the shifting sands of time: the drifting form and meaning of Chinese

Translators beware! As would be expected over thousands of years, the Chinese language written language has change dramatically. Read about the changes in written Chinese here.

His own private language: Sun Tzu's careful definitions of terms

Like Euclid's Geometry, Sun Tzu carefully defined all his terms.  Why don't translators use his definitions in their translations of The Art of War? Read about Sun Tzu's use of language here.

A different use of words: defining objects by their relationships

Much of Sun Tzu's writing describes the relationships of his elements. This is why it is so useful to think about positions when interpretting his writing.  Read about those relationships in his language here.