In the German "Duden" dictionary, "List" (ruse) is defined as
As "ruse" is normally associated with deception, damage and harm, Senger used "stratagem" as a more neutral word to clarify that the second meaning, to reach a goal unorthodoxically, mostly by masquerading the intent and doing the unexpected, is meant.
Senger cites a Chinese newspaper article discussing whether stratagem expertise should be imparted in children's education, that comes to the conclusion that this was not a question of "if", but of "how". ("Die Kunst der List", 2001).
He states that there are two modes of stratagem usage:
This view, however, is not completely valid. For example, the surviving Roman and Byzantine manuals list several stratagems, many found in the list below, and political thinkers, such as Niccolò Machiavelli see ruses as perfectly good means of politics and warfare. Clausewitz actually encourages the use of stratagems when at disadvantaged position; he doesn't advocate them as silver bullets since they usually are more likely to fail than succeed and attempting them may divert resources off where they are needed (as happened with the Japanese in the Battle of Midway). Many of the stratagems listed in the 36 strategies have been carried out successfully in the West just as well.
Although the ability to use stratagems competently was important, stratagem expertise was necessary to discover stratagems used by others to damage oneself.
Cungen GE, a Chinese researcher of 36 Stratagems from the perspective of modern business competition, supports the ready-made six groups of classification of these stratagems in the book of Thirty-six Stratagems (The Secret of War):
It should be noted that the number thirty-six was used by Wáng as a figure of speech in this context, and is meant to denote numerous stratagems instead of any specific number. Wáng's choice of this term was in reference to the I Ching, where six is the number of Yin that shared many characteristics with the dark schemes involved in military strategy. As thirty-six is the square of six, it therefore acted as a metaphor for numerous strategies. Since Wáng was not referring to any thirty-six specific stratagems however, the thirty-six proverbs and their connection to military strategies and tactics are likely to have been created after the fact, with the collection only borrowing its name from Wáng's saying.
The Thirty-Six Stratagems have variably been attributed to Sun Tzu from the Spring and Autumn Period of China, or Zhuge Liang of the Three Kingdoms period, but neither are regarded as the true author by historians. Instead, the prevailing view is that the Thirty-Six Stratagems may have originated in both written and oral history, with many different versions compiled by different authors throughout Chinese history. Some stratagems reference occurrences in the time of Sun Bin, approx. 150 years after Sun Wu's death.
The original hand-copied paperback that is the basis of the current version was believed to have been discovered in China's Shaanxi province, of an unknown date and author, and put into print by a local publisher in 1941. The Thirty-Six Stratagems only came to the public's attention after a review of it was published in the Chinese Communist Party's Guangming Daily (光明日报) newspaper on September 16, 1961. It was subsequently reprinted and distributed with growing popularity.
The stratagem references an episode when Tang emperor Tang Gaozong balked from crossing the sea to a campaign against Koguryo. His General brought him the invitation of a wealthy peasant to supper. As the emperor entered this house, it began to shake - the General had deceivedly lured the emperor onto a ship! Upon discovering this, the emperor decided to carry on and later finished the successful campaign.This stratagem means that you mask your real goals, thus deceiving even the emperor / heavens itself with a fake goal, until they are confronted with finished facts. Harro von Senger notes in the German-Language "Die List" that to grasp the full meaning, it would be something like "to deceive the holy virgin Mary" in the western hemisphere.
Usage This strategy made use of the human weakness that, people eventually become unaware of common everyday activities, or events that keeps repeating itself. When this happens, it is the best moment carry out one's previously hidden true objective.
When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that he cannot be superior in all things. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead.The origins of this proverb is from the Warring States Period. The state of Wèi attacked Zhao and laid siege to its capital Handan. Zhào turned to Qí for help, but the Qí general Sun Bin determined it would be unwise to meet the army of Wèi head on, so he instead attacked their capital at Daliang. The army of Wèi retreated in haste, and the tired troops were ambushed and defeated at the Battle of Guiling, with the Wèi general Pang Juan slain on the field. Note that this campaign is also described explicitly in the Art of War of Master Sun Bin the younger.
Usage The idea here is to avoid a head on battle with a strong enemy, and instead strike at his weakness elsewhere. This will force the strong enemy to retreat in order to support his weakness. Battling against the now tired and low-morale enemy will give a much higher chance of success.
Attack using the strength of another (in a situation where using one's own strength is not favourable). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy's own strength against him.Usage The idea here is to cause damage to the enemy, by getting a 3rd party to do the deed.
It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose.Usage The idea is to have your troops well-prepared for battle, in the same time that the enemy is rushing to fight against you. This will give your troops a huge advantage in the upcoming battle, of which you will get to select the time and place.
When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.Usage Keep gathering internal information about an enemy. If the enemy is currently in its weakest state ever, attack it without mercy and totally destroy it to prevent future troubles.
In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed by attacking where he least expects it. To do this you must create an expectation in the enemy's mind through the use of a feint.Usage The idea here is to get the enemy to focus his forces in a location, and then attack elsewhere which would be weakly defended.
A plain lie. Make somebody believe there was something when there is in fact nothing.Usage One method of using this strategy is to create an illusion of something's existence, while it does not exist. Another method is to create an illusion that something does not exist, while it does.
Deceive the enemy with an obvious approach that will take a very long time, while surprising him by taking a shortcut and sneak up to him. As the enemy concentrates on the decoy, he will miss you sneaking up to him.
The phrase originated from the Chu-Han contention, where Liu Bang retreated to the lands of Sichuan to prepare for a confrontation with Xiang Yu. Once he was fully prepared, Liu Bang sent men to openly repair the gallery roads he had destroyed earlier, while secretly moving his troops towards Guanzhong through the small town of Chencang instead. When Xiang Yu received news of Liu Bang repairing the gallery roads, he dismissed the threat since he knew the repairs would take years to complete. This allowed Liu Bang to retake Guanzhong by surprise, and eventually led to his victory over Xiang Yu and the birth of the Han Dynasty. Usage This tactic is an extension of the "Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west" tactic. But instead of simply spreading misinformation to draw the enemy's attention, physical baits are used to increase the enemy's certainty on the misinformation. These baits must be easily seen by the enemy, to ensure that they draw the enemy's attention. At the same time, the baits must act as if what they meant to do what they were falsely doing, to avoid drawing the enemy's suspicion.
Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in at full strength and pick up the pieces.
Charm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust, move against him in secret.
There are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat strategy whereby someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.
Cao Cao of the Three Kingdoms Period demonstrated this strategy. During a siege, Cao's supplies ran low so he called in the supply captain and told him to dilute the rice with water to save grains. When the soldiers started to complain, Cao ordered for the captain to be killed. He would explain to his troops that the captain had been selling supplies to the enemy. This raised the army's morale and they were victorious in a few more days.
While carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight.
Do something unaimed, but spectacular ("hitting the grass") to provoke a response of the enemy ("startle the snake"), thereby giving away his plans or position, or just taunt him. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking. More widely used as "[Do not] startle the snake by hitting the grass". An imprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.
Take an institution, a technology, or a method that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or bring to life old ideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to fit your purposes.The Olympic Games, rather than being used to foster brotherhood among Greeks, now is used to foster amity between nations.
At the end of the Medieval period when nation-states would field conscripted armies armed with firearms, personal body armour fell out of fashion for field infantry. The 1800s saw the early development of the ballistic vest but it did not become standard issue for modern armies until the 1990s.
Never directly attack an opponent whose advantage is derived from its position. Instead lure him away from his position thus separating him from his source of strength.At the Battle of Hastings the Normans were initially unable to break the Saxon shield wall placed at the top of a hill, however by feigning retreat they were able to entice some of the Saxons to break ranks and opened a gap that allowed them to scatter the Saxon army.
Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom. His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy's morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.
Bait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him react to it ("toss out a brick") and obtain something valuable from him in return ("get a jade gem").
This proverb is based on a story involving two famous poets of the Tang Dynasty. There was a great poet named Zhao Gu (趙嘏) and another lesser poet by the name of Chang Jian (常建). While Chang Jian was traveling in Suzhou, he heard news that Zhao Gu would be visiting a temple in the area. Chang Jian wished to learn from the master poet, so he devised a plan and went to the temple in advance, then wrote a poem on the temple walls with only two of the four lines completed, hoping Zhao Gu would see it and finish the poem. Zhao Gu acted as Chang Jian foresaw, and from this story came the proverb.
If the enemy's army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money or threats, then take aim at the leader. If the commander falls the rest of the army will disperse or come over to your side. If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.
Take out the leading argument or asset of someone; "steal someone's thunder".
Create confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals.
Mask yourself. Either leave flamboyant traits behind, thus going incognito; or just masquerade yourself and create an illusion to fit your goals and distract others.With the Battle of Gallipoli evacuation the British and Anzac forces were able to retreat without being routed by creating the illusion that their trenches remained occupied.
In the Biblical story of the judge, Gideon in the Book of Judges, the smaller Israelite army, led by Gideon, was able to defeat the larger Midianite army by first carrying torches and trumphets, thus appearing as the torch bearers of a much larger force that had surrounded the Midianite encampment.
If you have the chance to completely capture the enemy then you should do so thereby bringing the battle or war to a quick and lasting conclusion. To allow your enemy to escape plants the seeds for future conflict. But if they succeed in escaping, be wary of giving chase.
It is known that nations that border each other become enemies while nations separated by distance and obstacles make better allies. When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field.Otto von Bismarck made the League of the Three Emperors and treaties with the British Empire and Italy in order to isolate France, from which he feared an attack.
Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the first place.The Peninsular War started when Napoleon attempted to conquer Spain by stealth, under the guise of friendship and forming an alliance against Britain and Portugal.
Disrupt the enemy's formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules in which they are used to follow, go contrary to their standard training. In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force.
To discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendo. Without directly naming names, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity.
Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
With baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he must fight both your own forces and the elements of nature.The Grande Armee was destroyed in the 1812 invasion of Russia by a combination of the Russian winter, a scorched earth strategy, and the Russian army. Napoleon had been spurred on by the prize of capturing Moscow and with it the defeat of Russia; however, all he found was a burnt out and empty city and his forces cut off in hostile terrain and weather with no supplies.
Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful. This is the same stratagem as Potemkin villages.
Usurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate. Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to be accepted, but develop from inside and become the owner later.
Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This strategy can work on three levels. First, the ruler becomes so enamoured with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allows his vigilance to wane. Second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behaviour that inflames minor differences hindering co-operation and destroying morale. Third, other females at court, motivated by jealousy and envy, begin to plot intrigues further exacerbating the situation.Even though this has been done many times, perhaps the most famous historical example is Xi Shi who was sent to the State of Wu during the Spring and Autumn Period.
When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all presence of military preparedness, act calmly and appear disrespect of the enemy, so that the enemy will think you have hidden huge power and you want to trap them into the fort with your calm and easiness. This has to be used when in most of the cases, you do have huge power hidden under the disguise and you only play the real empty rarely. Use this against people who are really smart.
Undermine your enemy's ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and his friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population. While he is preoccupied settling internal disputes, his ability to attack or defend, is compromised.During the Second World War the German intelligence agency the Abwehr under Wilhelm Canaris actively colluded with the Allies to undermine the Nazi regime.
Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.This strategy was perhaps best demonstrated during the Spring and Autumn Period. After his defeat by King Fuchai of Wu, King Goujian of Yue pretended to go to Wu to become a servant of Fuchai. After gaining Fuchai's trust, Guo Jian was allow back to Yue. There he strengthened his military and in 482 BC while Fuchai was trying to gain hegemony, he attacked and conquered the capital. Some years later in 478 BC, he annexed Wu and forced Fuchai to commit suicide.
In important matters, one should use several stratagems applied simultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one strategy fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.
If it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat, then retreat and regroup. When your side is losing, there are only three choices remaining: surrender, compromise, or escape. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat. As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance.
This is the most famous one of the 36th strategy, immortalized in the form of a Chinese idiom: "Of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is best." (三十六計，走為上策 - sānshí liù jì, zǒu wèi shàng cè)