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Sun Tzu — Writer of the Art of War

Sun Tzu (about 545 BC — 470 BC), personal name Sun Wu, courtesy name Changqing, respected as Sun Tzu or Sun Zi, was an accomplished general of the State Wu, the author of the military masterpiece the Art of War, and one of the most eminent military strategist in history.

Earliest Version of the Art of War, Unearthed from Yinqueshan Han Tomb

Earliest Version of the Art of War, Unearthed from Yinqueshan Han Tomb (around 140 BC — 118 BC) — Shandong Museum

Noble Descendant Sun Tzu and His Early Life

Sun Tzu was born into a noble family, a descendant of the famous King Shun

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC), kingdoms kept competing and fighting, and many smaller states were annexed.

Stronger states, however, either kept expanding or suffering from internal political conflict, such as the State Qi that Sun Tzu’s family had been serving. 

Bronze Tableware Fu of the Spring and Autumn Period

Bronze Tableware Fu of the Spring and Autumn Period — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

After Sun Tzu grew up, the infighting of the State Qi became intenser, which was quite disappointing to this ambitious young man.

 

Hence, he left the chaos and started searching for another kingdom that could realize his political dreams.

On his way traveling around, he met a great friend named Wu Zixu (about 559 BC — 484 BC), who highly appreciated Sun Tzu’s talent. 

Therefore, Sun Tzu came to State Wu, where Wu Zixu was serving now.

Unearthed Bronze Weapon Ge with Inlaying Gold Patterns and Inscriptions (Wang Zi Yu Ge)

Unearthed Bronze Weapon Ge with Inlaying Gold Patterns and Inscriptions (Wang Zi Yu Ge), Produced for the Current King of Wu — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Meeting of Sun Tzu and the King of Wu

After Sun Tzu arrived in State Wu, he lived in seclusion for a few years, when he wrote many articles regarding military strategy and tactics.

 

These are believed important sections of the masterpiece Art of War. 

Later, He Lv (537 BC — 496 BC) became the King of Wu, and Wu Zixu was nominated as prime minister.

 

Meanwhile, they decided to attack their neighboring country, the State Chu. 

Wu Zixu then recommended Sun Tzu to the King of Wu seven times, until the king agreed to meet Sun.

Unearthed Bronze Wine Scoop (Dou) of the Kingdom Chu

Unearthed Bronze Wine Scoop (Dou) of the Kingdom Chu — Jingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Sun Tzu presented his brilliant articles, which impressed the king and other officials.

 

However, King He Lv wondered that without real battlefield experiences, Sun Tzu was more than just a theorist.

 

Hence, he organized a few hundred concubines and maids in his palace and asked Sun Tzu to train them into an army.

Within a few days, surprisingly, Sun Tzu turned those delicate and inattentive women into a troop with combat effectiveness.

Afterward, Sun Tzu was nominated as the commander of State Wu.

Unearthed Bronze Tiger with Inlaying Gold and Silver of the Spring and Autumn Period

Unearthed Bronze Tiger with Inlaying Gold and Silver of the Spring and Autumn Period — British Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Expanding of the State Wu

In the next decades, Sun Tzu and Wu Zixu became almost invincible. 

After years of preparation, they finally won over the Kingdom of Chu.

 

Around 30,000 of Wu’s well-trained soldiers, within about half a month, defeated around 200,000 of State Chu’s warriors and occupied their capital city. 

Sun Tzu finally helped his friend Wu Zixu complete his vengeance, whose entire family was executed by the King of Chu. 

Unearthed Bronze Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period

Bronze Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period — Hebei Provincial Institute of Archaeology (Photo by Dongmaiying)

After King He Lv passed away, Sun Tzu and Wu Zixu kept serving the next King Fu Chai (? — 473 BC). 

King Fu Chai was an ambitious monarch in the beginning.

 

He trusted Sun Tzu and Wu Zixu and, under their assistance, defeated their strong enemy State Yue. 

Wu Zixu suggested King Fu Chai execute Gou Jian (about 520 BC — 465 BC) the King of Yue, but other officials that took many bribes insisted otherwise. 

Later, a stunningly beautiful woman named Xi Shi was sent from State Yue. 

Fu Chai fell in love with Xi Shi at the first sight, and soon released Gou Jian the King of Yue. 

Unearthed Bronze Wine Container (He) of Fu Chai the King of Wu

Unearthed Bronze Wine Container (He) of Fu Chai the King of Wu — Shanghai Museum 

The inscriptions said that it was made for a woman, under the command of Fu Chai the King of Wu. This woman is widely believed as the civilian born Xi Shi, whose name could not be carved on a valuable bronze ware for certain reasons.

Seclusion Life of Sun Tzu and the Art of War

Besides gorgeous Xi Shi, State Yue also tributed plenty of treasures to Wu’s important officials that kept trying to alienate Wu Zixu and King Fu Chai.  

A few years later when Wu Zixu was on a diplomatic mission in another state, he was framed up and accused of treason.

 

Hence, he was forced to commit suicide, under the command of King Fu Chai. 

After Wu Zixu’s death, Sun Tzu disappeared as well.

In some historical documents, Sun Tzu lived in seclusion, while in others he was sentenced to death by King Fu Chai during the same time.

However, it was clear that Sun Tzu had never left State Wu, the country that he had served and contributed to, the place where he met and buried his best friend.  

Unearthed House Shaped Bronze Incense Burner of the Spring and Autumn Period

Unearthed House Shaped Bronze Incense Burner of the Spring and Autumn Period — Sen-oku Hakuko Kan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Sun Tzu reorganized and wrote many military treatises during his seclusion time, yet the famous book Art of War was the only one preserved and disseminated in the history of China. 

Only about ten years after Wu Zixu’s death and Sun Tzu’s departure, Gou Jian the King of Yue led his army to attack the Kingdom of Wu and achieved huge success. 

King Fu Chai committed suicide, the former strong Kingdom Wu got perished, which opened the chapter of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC) in ancient China. 

Unearthed Sword of Gou Jian the King of Yue

Unearthed Sword of Gou Jian the King of Yue — Hubei Museum

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