In ancient China, wars left millions dead and the leaders in search of a new way of governing. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu recommended a strategic method to win that rarely required actual war. Spies, diplomats, deception, and a well organised internal structure were his main tools. If it came to war though, he had detailed insight into its methods and strategies.

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Popular Art of War Quotes

Here are a few of the more popular quotes from the Art of War:

Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, recently quoted Sun Tzu when speaking about terrorism:

"If we are to win the war against terrorism, we must, as Sun Tzu in "The Art of War" says, "Understand the enemy." And we must, all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims, Americans, Europeans, Arabs, and Asians, unite against it.  But we must create the conditions that will make this essential unity possible.

HBO Series character, Tony Soprano:
"Been reading that-- that book you told me about. You know, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I mean here's this guy, a Chinese general, wrote this thing 2400 years ago, and most of it still applies today! Balk the enemy's power. Force him to reveal himself. You know most of the guys that I know, they read Prince Machiavelli, and I had Carmela go and get the Cliff Notes once and -- he's okay. But this book is much better about strategy."

Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, ret. U.S. Marine Corps:
"As a reflection of the Chinese mind, this little work is as relevant as any Confucian classic."

Lawyer for Pilipino mutineers on his clients' apology to the government:
"I can only understand the apology as consistent with [the book] 'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu. The No. 1 rule there is deception"

Britain's Secret Intelligence Service lecturers at the service's training school draw the attention of recruits to a line from Sun Tzu's The Art of War: "Unless someone has the wisdom of a sage, he cannot use spies; unless he is benevolent and righteous, he cannot employ spies; unless he is subtle and perspicacious, he cannot perceive the substance in intelligence reports. It is subtle, subtle, subtle."


{webgallery indent="33%"}Sun Tzu Statue at his family residence{/webgallery}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil.   When full, starve them.   When settled, make them move.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"} In conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement, surprising actions generally lead to victory.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}Thus those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle .... They conquer by strategy.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}In war, numbers alone confer no advantage.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}To ... not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}What is of the greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed: One cannot afford to neglect opportunity.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}The general must be first in the toils and fatigues of the army. In the heat of summer he does not spread his parasol, nor in the cold of winter don thick clothing ... . He waits until the army's wells have been dug and only then drinks; until the army's food is cooked before he eats; until the army's fortifications have been completed, to shelter himself.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}A sovereign of high character and intelligence must be able to know the right man, should place the responsibility on him, and expect results.{/typography}


{typography quote type="default" boxstyle="float: none; margin: 5px;"}If an enemy has alliances, the problem is grave and the enemy's position strong; if he has no alliances, the problem is minor and the enemy's position weak.{/typography}