The 36 Strategies Of Ancient China
Historians today have still been unable to establish the exact time period and authors of the famous "Thirty-six Strategies". The most commonly used strategy, Strategy 26, "Escape - the best strategy" (三十六计, 走为上策), was first mentioned in "The Biography of Wang Jingze" (王敬则传) , a chapter appearing in Nan Qi Shu (南齐书) which writes that among "the thirty-six strategies of Master Tan, escape is the most supreme strategy" (檀公三十六策, 走为上计). The details of the escape of Master Tan or Tan Daoji (檀道济), a famous Song General, from the state of Wei was narrated in the 15th chapter of Nan Shi (南史), "The Biography of Tan Daoji" (檀道济传). The same phrase regarding the supremacy of the art of escape also appears in "Yuan Cai" (渊才), a chapter in The Night Tales of Leng Zhai (冷斋夜话). Judging from records, the "Thirty six Strategies" should have a history of near two thousand years.
Although the "Thirty-six Strategies" is a summary of some of the war strategies used by the ancient Chinese warriors, the name "Thirty-six Strategies" may have come from Yi Jing's (or I-Ching) (易经) "Yin Yang Theory" (阴阳学说) which uses the Tai Yin number of 66 (太阴六六之数) to mean "many tricks". The main statement which sums up the "Thirty-six Strategies" writes:
Six multiplied by six is 36. The word "calculation" (数) conceals another word, namely "strategy" (术). In the application of a strategy, careful calculation is required. Once one is able to calculate the pattern of how situations develop, he will find the required strategy. A strategy cannot be detached from an objective assessment of a situation. It cannot work by subjective imagination.
Generally, the Thirty-six Strategies are grouped under 6 categories. Each category contains 6 strategies. The six categories in turn can be used in two types of situations. The three categories, the "Advantageous Strategies" (胜战计）, the "Opportunistic Strategies" (敌战计） and the "Offensive Strategies" (攻战计） are used in a winning situation. The other three categories, the "Confusion Strategies" (混战计）, the "Deception Strategies" (并战计） and the "Desperate Strategies" (败战计） are used in a disadvantageous situation. However, the application and usage of these strategies can be mingled in various combinations. They are not intended to be used singly, nor are they only applicable in either a winning or losing situation. The possible combination and application of these strategies are limited only by the imagination and creativity of the strategist.
Other than Strategy 36, nobody can be certain of the content of the other thirty-five strategies. The most commonly-used version is that by an Anonymous author. Nevertheless, over the years, these strategies have been commonly cited and used by many generals as well chinese businessman.
Advantageous Strategies (胜战计)
The "Advantageous Strategies" are used in situations when time and resources are to one's advantage, when there is no need to rush, and detailed planning can be carried out. The six strategies in this category include the following:
1. "Deceiving the heavens to cross the sea"
2. "Besieging Wei to save Zhao"
3. "Killing with a borrowed knife"
4. "Conserving energy while the enemy tires himself out"
5. "Looting a house on fire"
6. "Making a feint to the east but hitting out in the west"
Opportunistic Strategies (敌战计)
The "Opportunistic Strategies" thrive on situations where vulnerabilities can be exploited. The idea is to capitalise on all opportunities so as to gain the advantage. The strategies include:
7. "Creating something out of nothing"
8. "Secret escape through Chen Cang"
9. "Observing the fire from the other side of the river"
10. "A dagger sheathed in a smile"
11. "The plum dies in place of the peach"
12. "Stealing a goat along the way"
Offensive Strategies (攻战计)
Like the Advantageous Strategies, the "Offensive Strategies" are used in situations when time and resources are not constraining factors. However, these strategies seek to gain victory through direct attack. The six strategies include:
13. "Hitting the grass to startle the snake"
14. "Borrowing a corpse to resurrect a soul"
15. "Luring a tiger from its lair in the mountain"
16. "Releasing the enemy to recapture him later"
17. "Tossing out a brick to get a jade"
18. "Disband the bandits by arresting their leader"
Confusion Strategies (混战计)
The "Confusion Strategies" aim to confuse a pursuing enemy to throw him off his guard. In this way, valuable time can be gained in making one's escape. These strategies include:
19. "Pulling out the firewood from beneath the cauldron"
20. "Catching a fish in troubled waters"
21. "Making an unnoticed escape like a golden cicada shedding its skin"
22. "Shutting the doors to catch the thief"
23. "Befriend the far and attack the near"
24. "Borrow a passage to attack Guo"
Deception Strategies (并战计)
Deception is commonly used in war to create advantages for oneself, and to handicap the enemy. Such strategies are designed to mislead the enemy. They include the following:
25. "Replace superior beams and pillars with inferior ones"
26. "Pointing at the mulberry but scolding the locust tree"
27. "Pretending to be insane but remaining smart"
28. "Remove the ladder after the enemy ascends to the roof"
29. "Deck the tree with flowers"
30. "The guest takes over as host"
Desperate Strategies (败战计)
In a desperate situation, one may have to resort to unconventional and unorthodox methods and means. As such, some of these strategies can be quite dramatic and "tragic". However, when used appropriately, such strategies can be very effective. These include:
31. "Beauty Scheme"
32. "Empty City Scheme"
33. "Double Agent Ploy"
34. "Self-injury scheme"
35. "A series of interconnected ploys"
36. "Escape - the best scheme"