Chapter 1: Winning Stratagems
crossing the sea under camouflage
Mask your real goals, by using the ruse of a fake goal, until the real goal
is achieved. Tactically, this is known as an 'open feint': in front of everyone,
you point west, when your goal is actually in the east.
relieving the state of Zhao by besieging the state of Wei
When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attack something
he holds dear. Know that he cannot be superior in all things. Somewhere there is
a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead. The idea here is
to avoid a head-on battle with a strong enemy, and instead strike at his
weakness elsewhere. This will force the strong enemy to retreat in order to
support his weakness. Battling against the now tired and low-morale enemy will
give a much higher chance of success.
killing someone with a borrowed knife
When you do not have the means to attack your enemy directly, then attack
using the strength of another. Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an
official to turn traitor, or use the enemy's own strength against him.
waiting at one's ease for the exhausted enemy
It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you
know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not.
Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve
your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and
plundering a burning house
When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine
ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be
unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.
making a feint to the east and attacking in the west
In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming
advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed
by attacking where he least expects it. To do this you must create an
expectation in the enemy's mind through the use of a feint.
Chapter 2: Enemy Dealing Stratagems
creating something out of nothing
You use the same feint twice. Having reacted to the first and often the
second feint as well, the enemy will be hesitant to react to a third feint.
Therefore the third feint is the actual attack catching your enemy with his
advancing secretly by an unknown path
Deceive the enemy with an obvious approach that will take a very long time,
while surprising him by taking a shortcut and sneak up to him. As the enemy
concentrates on the decoy, he will miss you sneaking up to him.
watching a fire from the other side of the river
Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become
exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in at full strength and pick up
covering the dagger with a smile
Charm and ingratiate yourself with your enemy. When you have gained his
trust, move against him in secret.
palming off substitute for the real thing
There are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives
in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat strategy whereby
someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.
picking up something in passing
While carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any
opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any
profit, however slight.
Chapter 3: Attacking Stratagems
beating the grass to frighten the snake
Do something unaimed, but spectacular ("hitting the grass") to provoke a
response of the enemy ("startle the snake"), thereby giving away his plans or
position, or just taunt him.
Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the
enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking.
More widely used as "[Do not] startle the snake by hitting the grass". An
imprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.
resurrecting a dead soul by borrowing a corpse
Take an institution, a technology, a method, or even an ideology that has
been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose.
Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or bring to life
old ideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to fit your purposes.
luring the tiger out of his den
Never directly attack an opponent whose advantage is derived from its
position. Instead lure him away from his position thus separating him from his
source of strength.
letting the enemy off in order to catch him
Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this
you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom.
His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end
the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy's morale will be defeated and he
will surrender without a fight.
giving the enemy something to induce him to lose more valuable things
Bait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him
react to it ("toss out a brick") and obtain something valuable from him in
return ("get a jade gem").
capturing the ringleader first in order to capture all the followers
If the enemy's army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money,
superstition or threats, then take aim at the leader.
If the commander falls the rest of the army will disperse or come over to
If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the
army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.
Chapter 4: Chaos Stratagems
extracting the firewood from under the cauldron
Take out the leading argument or asset of someone; "steal someone's
thunder". This is the very essence of indirect approach: instead of attacking
enemy's fighting forces, the attacks are directed against his ability to wage
muddling the water to catch the fish; fishing in troubled waters
Create confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals.
slipping away by casting off a cloak; getting away like the cicada
sloughing its skin
Mask yourself. Either leave one's distinctive traits behind, thus becoming
inconspicuous, or masquerade as something or someone else.
This strategy is mainly used to escape from enemy of superior strength.
catching the thief by closing / blocking his escape route
To capture your enemy, or more generally in fighting wars, to deliver the
final blow to your enemy, you must plan prudently if you want to succeed. Do not
rush into action. Before you "move in for the kill", first cut off your enemy's
escape routes, and cut off any routes through which outside help can reach
befriending the distant enemy while attacking a nearby enemy
It is known that nations that border each other become enemies while
nations separated by distance and obstacles make better allies.
When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the
second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field.
attacking the enemy by passing through a common neighbor
Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is
defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the
Chapter 5: Proximate Stratagems
stealing the beams and pillars and replacing them with rotten timbers
Disrupt the enemy's formations, interfere with their methods of operations,
change the rules in which they are used to following, go contrary to their
In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a
group of men an effective fighting force.
reviling/abusing the locust tree while pointing to the mulberry
To discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes
them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendo. Without directly
naming names, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their
feigning madness without becoming insane
Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion
about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating
your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
removing the ladder after the enemy has climbed up the roof
With baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then
cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he
must fight both your own forces and the elements of nature.
putting artificial flowers on trees
Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is
healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value
appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful.
turning from the guest into the host
Usurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate.
Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to be accepted, but
develop from inside and become the owner later.
Chapter 6: Desperate Stratagems
using seductive women to corrupt the enemy
Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This
strategy can work on three levels.
First, the ruler becomes so enamoured with the beauty that he neglects his
duties and allows his vigilance to wane.
Second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behaviour
that inflames minor differences hindering co-operation and destroying
Third, other females at court, motivated by jealousy and envy, begin to
plot intrigues further exacerbating the situation.
presenting a bold front to conceal unpreparedness
When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you
expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretense of military
preparedness, act calmly and taunt the enemy, so that the enemy will think you
have a huge ambush hidden for them.
It works best by acting calm and at ease when your enemy expects you to be
sowing discord among the enemy
Undermine your enemy's ability to fight by secretly causing discord between
him and his friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and
population. While he is preoccupied settling internal disputes, his ability to
attack or defend is compromised.
deceiving the enemy by torturing one's own man
Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the
enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be
an immediate threat.
The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending
the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.
coordinating one stratagem with another
In important matters, one should use several stratagems applied
simultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans
operating in an overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one strategy
fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.
decamping being the best; running away as the best
If it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to
defeat, then retreat and regroup. When your side is losing, there are only three
choices remaining: surrender, compromise, or escape.
Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not
As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance.This is the most
famous of the stratagems, immortalized in the form of a Chinese idiom: "Of the
Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is best".