The Thirty-Six Stratagems is an ancient book on the art of war based on ancient Chinese military thoughts and war experience.
The term "Thirty-Six Stratagems" had been around for quite some time before it was more frequently used in the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. And someone observant collected information from a wide range of books and compiled the book The Thirty-Six Stratagems. It's hard to find exactly who the author was and when the book was composed.
The Thirty-Six Stratagems are arranged according to the names of stratagems. There are a total of six categories of stratagems. They are: the advantageous stratagems, the opportunistic stratagems, the offensive stratagems, the confusion stratagems, the deception stratagems and the desperate stratagems. The first three categories are for advantageous situations and the last three for adverse situations. Each category contains six stratagems, so there are a total of thirty six stratagems.
The stratagem names in the book have different origins. Some are from historical stories, such as "Surrounding Wei and Saving Zhao"; some are from ancient military terms, such as "Conserving Energy while Enemies are Tired Out" and "Feigning an Attack in the East and Attacking in the West"; and some are from idioms, such as "Sloughing off the Cicada's Shell" (meaning "false appearances mislead the enemy.") and “Pointing at the Mulberry but Scolding the Locust Tree“. Each stratagem name is followed by its explanation and notes. The notes are mostly incisive statements quoted from war examples before the Song Dynasty as well as from famous ancient strategists like Sun Wu and Wu Qi etc.
After the composition of The Thirty-Six Stratagems, it has been widely read in the general public and the phrase "of all Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is the best" is frequently used.