Sawyer's Translation

Sawyer's Translation: The major strength of Sawyer's version, which was written in the nineties, is the academic research surrounding Sun Tzu and his era. The book includes over a hundred pages of footnotes and another hundred pages or so of extensive historical information. Unfortunately, this academic knowledge proves to be a mile wide and an inch deep, especially when it comes to the translation, which has more mistakes than many of the others. The author should have referred to a much better academic work, Ames' version, to get the meaning of the translation on track. Instead, the resulting work is almost a perfect example of how badly a translation can turn out when it is done by someone who doesn't understand how competition works. Imagine a Greek scholar with no knowledge of mathematics trying to translate Euclid. That is the result here.

Fortunately, the translation is almost an afterthought in this work. Wedged in the middle of the academic research—with seriously wrong-headed opinions about the meaning of Sun Tzu—and the voluminous footnotes, the translation itself is easy to overlook. Getting the research annotated, as opposed to the text correctly translated, was clearly Sawyer's mission.

Though the author keeps close to the weight of the original text, his choice of words is often strange, such as describing troops as "animated," or swallowing "an army acting as bait." (If you swallow a whole army, how could it be "bait"?) Often the translation misses the point entirely with its choice of words, such as the advice not to "approach high mountains" instead the more common and practical translation of not "facing the high ground."

Sawyer, while staying close to the original characters, also sometimes inexplicably adds a word or concept not in the original. For example, the Chinese character for "invader" is used in very specific ways in Sun Tzu, and Sawyer adds it here in the second-to-last line where it was not used in the original. The general sense of the translation is a sort of sloppiness in which consistency and accuracy simply don't matter.

Our Character Translation

Sawyer's Translation

Without invitation right correct’s banner, Do not intercept well-ordered flags;
Do not attack hall hall of formation, do not attack well-ordered formations.
Here govern transform one also; This is the way to control changes. ***
Make use war’s method, Thus the strategy for employing the military:

High mound do not face,

Do not approach high mountains;

Back walls do not oppose,

Do not confront those who have hills behind them.

Pretend flee do not follow,

Do not pursue feigned retreats.

Sharp soldiers do not attack,

Do not attack animated troops.

Bait war do not feed,

Do not swallow an army acting as bait.

Returning home legion do not block,

Do not obstruct an army retreating homeward.

Encircling troops must watch-tower,

If you besiege an army you must leave an outlet.

Poor pillage do not force,

Do not press an exhausted invader.

Here use war’s method also.

These are the strategies for employing the military.