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Sun Tzu: Did he really exist?


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#1 Guest_clio001_*

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Posted 01 March 2007 - 12:06 AM

I was just reading a translated version of the Art of War and was wondering, when did Sun Tzu actually write the Art of War. And originally, were there 13 chapters like what we have today?
I've read somewhere that Sun Tzu might not even be a real person (something like Homer.) And even if he was a real person, nobody knows for sure when he wrote the Art of War. From what I gathered, he might have lived somewhere in between 4th - 6th century BC or sometime during the Warring States period.
Any thoughts/evidence on this?

#2 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 01 March 2007 - 12:32 AM

One of the prevalent theory in the west in the early 20th century was that Sun Zi was actually Sun Bin, and not Sun Wu, as proclaimed in the Shi Ji. The reason given was that the Sun Zi Bing Fa contain many large scale operation, deceptive strategy, and asymetrical warfare which could have only appeared during the warring states which Sun Bin lived in. However, ever since 1972, when the Sun Bin Bing fa was discovered alongside the Sun Zi Bing Fa in Linyi, Shandong. The older theory went out of existence. Most scholars in China now assert that Sun Wu is indeed Sun Zi.
There was also a difference between the Sun Bin and Sun Zi art of wars. The latter was cautious about siege, vague on formations, and mentioned no independent horse units. The former was instructive about siege warfare, gave detailed description of the numerous formations, and mentioned horses as a unit separate from the chariot and infantry. In conclusion, Sun Zi seems to be more focused on the grand strategy of the state, while Sun Bin was more focused on the actual battlefield tactics. It also shows an evolutionary trend in military equipment. The former theory that highly developed deceptive warfare only existing in the warring state is probably also invalid, it might well have rose by the end of the spring and autumn period.

#3 fcharton

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Posted 01 March 2007 - 04:07 AM

One of the prevalent theory in the west in the early 20th century was that Sun Zi was actually Sun Bin, and not Sun Wu, as proclaimed in the Shi Ji. The reason given was that the Sun Zi Bing Fa contain many large scale operation, deceptive strategy, and asymetrical warfare which could have only appeared during the warring states which Sun Bin lived in. However, ever since 1972, when the Sun Bin Bing fa was discovered alongside the Sun Zi Bing Fa in Linyi, Shandong. The older theory went out of existence. Most scholars in China now assert that Sun Wu is indeed Sun Zi.


Actually, the doubts about the historical existence of Sun Wu are much much older than that. According to Loewe (in Early Chinese Texts, A bibliographical guide), the idea that Sun Wu might not be the author of the art of war, and therfore might not have existed, dates at least from the Ye Shi, at the turn of the 13th century. It was the position held by most chinese historians, from the Song to the Qing, and until the middle of the 20th century.

Still according to Loewe, the link between Sun Bin and Sun Wu was first made by Liang Qichao (1873-1929).

Both are typical of the many doubts chinese historians harbored towards the authenticity of all classics since the Song. In perspective, old western editions of the classics (most of the translations from the 19th and early 20th century) are much more supportive of the traditional explanation (ie Sun Wu wrote the Art of War, Zuo Qiuming the Zuozhuan and Guoyu, etc...). I have the impression that the situation was somehow reversed in the recent past, though.

But as you said, the discovery in Yinqueshan closed part of the doubts on the authenticity, and put the composition of the Sunzi back in the last years of the Springs and Autumns. It seems to me that the usually acccepted date is the first half of the 5th century BC, ie a little later than the traditional dates (the Sunzi, we are told, would have been read by Helu, who reigned from 514 to 495 BC), but pretty close to the period when Sun Wu is said to have lived.

Personally, I think the Sunzi is actually a Spring and Autumn text, which probably had an author, or a compiler, which we might as well call Sun Wu (as we have very little biographical details about him, just two sentences in the Shiji). Most of the stories about Sun Wu (and his link to king Helu of Wu) are probably later embellishments, though.

Francois

Edited by fcharton, 01 March 2007 - 04:08 AM.


#4 CARDINAL009

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Posted 01 March 2007 - 06:22 PM

Actually, the doubts about the historical existence of Sun Wu are much much older than that. According to Loewe (in Early Chinese Texts, A bibliographical guide), the idea that Sun Wu might not be the author of the art of war, and therfore might not have existed, dates at least from the Ye Shi, at the turn of the 13th century. It was the position held by most chinese historians, from the Song to the Qing, and until the middle of the 20th century.

Still according to Loewe, the link between Sun Bin and Sun Wu was first made by Liang Qichao (1873-1929).

Both are typical of the many doubts chinese historians harbored towards the authenticity of all classics since the Song. In perspective, old western editions of the classics (most of the translations from the 19th and early 20th century) are much more supportive of the traditional explanation (ie Sun Wu wrote the Art of War, Zuo Qiuming the Zuozhuan and Guoyu, etc...). I have the impression that the situation was somehow reversed in the recent past, though.

But as you said, the discovery in Yinqueshan closed part of the doubts on the authenticity, and put the composition of the Sunzi back in the last years of the Springs and Autumns. It seems to me that the usually acccepted date is the first half of the 5th century BC, ie a little later than the traditional dates (the Sunzi, we are told, would have been read by Helu, who reigned from 514 to 495 BC), but pretty close to the period when Sun Wu is said to have lived.

Personally, I think the Sunzi is actually a Spring and Autumn text, which probably had an author, or a compiler, which we might as well call Sun Wu (as we have very little biographical details about him, just two sentences in the Shiji). Most of the stories about Sun Wu (and his link to king Helu of Wu) are probably later embellishments, though.

Francois


Nice write up.
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#5 naruwan

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 01:23 AM

indeed. great article.

also if Sun Wu existed at the time legend had it. For Wu, Yue to completely destroy the other is the real beginning of Warring States. And large scale military organization will be needed to accomplish such tasks.
mudanin kata mudanin kata. kata siki-a kata siki-a. muhaiv ludun muhaiv ludun. kanta sipal tas-tas kanta sipal tas-tas. kanta sipal tunuh kanta sipal tunuh. sikavilun vini daingaz sikavilun vini daingaz.

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#6 Yun

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 07:34 AM

We had a discussion on this question in this thread too: http://www.chinahist...showtopic=14612
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