In the mid-1990s, I picked up the military classic Art of War hoping to find insight into my new career as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
I was not the only one looking for insights from the sage Sunzi, also known as Sun Tzu, who died over 2,500 years ago. Art of War has long been mined for an understanding of China’s strategic tradition and universal military truths. The book’s maxims, such as “know the enemy and know yourself,” are routinely quoted in military texts, as well as business and management books.
Initially, I was disappointed. It seemed Sunzi’s advice was either common sense or in agreement with Western military classics. However, a few years later the Marine Corps trained me as a China scholar, and I spent much of my career working on American policy in the Indo-Pacific region.
This deepened my desire to understand how leaders in the People’s Republic of China see the world and choose strategies. Looking for insight, I turned to classical Chinese philosophy and finally encountered concepts that helped illuminate the unique perspective of Sunzi’s Art of War.
Today, I am an academic researching how Chinese philosophy and foreign policy intersect. To comprehend Art of War, it helps readers to approach the text from the worldview of its author. That…