Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: An Animated Chapter-by-Chapter Breakdown of the Ancient Chinese Treatise

Though not a long book, The Art of War is nev­er­the­less an intim­i­dat­ing one. Com­posed in the Chi­na of the fifth cen­tu­ry BC, it comes down to us as per­haps the defin­i­tive analy­sis of mil­i­tary strat­e­gy, applic­a­ble equal­ly to East, West, antiq­ui­ty, and moder­ni­ty alike. Hence the minor but still-pro­duc­tive indus­try that puts forth adap­ta­tions, exten­sions, and rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of The Art of War for non-mil­i­tary set­tings, trans­pos­ing its lessons into law, busi­ness, sports, and oth­er realms besides. But if you want a han­dle on what its author, the gen­er­al and strate­gist Sun Tzu, actu­al­ly wrote, watch the illus­trat­ed video above.

A pro­duc­tion of Youtube chan­nel Eudai­mo­nia, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for a sim­i­lar­ly ani­mat­ed exe­ge­sis of Machi­avel­li’s The Prince, it runs more than two and a half hours in full. Far though it exceeds the length of the aver­age explain­er video, it does reflect the ten­den­cy of Sun Tzu’s suc­cinct obser­va­tions to expand, when seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered, into much wider and more com­plex dis­cus­sions. To each of the orig­i­nal tex­t’s chap­ters the Eudai­mo­nia video devotes a ten-to-fif­teen-minute sec­tion, con­vey­ing not just the con­tent of its lessons but also their rel­e­vance to the his­to­ry of human con­flict in the rough­ly two and a half mil­len­nia since they were writ­ten.

In chap­ter two, on wag­ing war, Sun Tzu writes that “in order to kill the ene­my, our men must be roused to anger.” It was in this spir­it that, dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the Unit­ed King­dom’s Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion launched a media “anger cam­paign” meant to “increase resolve against the Ger­mans, as until then, the British had lit­tle sense of real hos­til­i­ty towards the aver­age Ger­man.” In the chap­ter on weak­ness­es and strengths, Sun Tzu rec­om­mends “the divine art of sub­tle­ty and secre­cy” as a means of becom­ing invis­i­ble and inaudi­ble to the ene­my — much as Julius Cae­sar did in the Gal­lic Wars, when he sent scout­ing ships “paint­ed in Venet­ian blue, which was a sim­i­lar col­or to that of the sea.”

Oth­er exam­ples come from diverse chap­ters of his­to­ry. These include the Amer­i­can Civ­il War, Gand­hi’s nego­ti­a­tion of Indi­an inde­pen­dence, the Napoleon­ic Wars, the British defeat in Zul­u­land, Joan of Arc’s siege of Orléans, the revolt against the Turk­ish led by T. E. Lawrence (bet­ter known as Lawrence of Ara­bia), and even Steve Jobs’ turn­around of a near­ly bank­rupt Apple. Most of us will nev­er find our­selves in sit­u­a­tions of quite these stakes. But giv­en that none of us can entire­ly avoid deal­ing with con­flict, we’d could do worse than to keep the guid­ance of Sun Tzu on our side.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Machiavelli’s The Prince Explained in an Illus­trat­ed Film

10 Rea­sons Why Hannibal’s Mil­i­tary Genius Still Cap­tures Our Imag­i­na­tion Today

What Ancient Chi­nese Phi­los­o­phy Can Teach Us About Liv­ing the Good Life Today: Lessons from Harvard’s Pop­u­lar Pro­fes­sor, Michael Puett

Hear an Ancient Chi­nese His­to­ri­an Describe The Roman Empire (and Oth­er Voic­es of the Past)

How Many U.S. Marines Could Bring Down the Roman Empire?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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