This is a translation of Chapter 4 of The Art of War by Sunzi. No English sources were used.


Do not first seek victory. Establish conditions such that you cannot lose.


Then await an opportunity to win.


You can, with skill, survive, but only the enemy can permit your victory.


Victory can be foreseen, but cannot be forced.


If you cannot win, defend. If you can win, attack.


Defend when your forces are insufficient. Attack when your forces are ample.


The capable defender hides under the nine earths. The capable attacker strikes from the nine heavens. Protect yourself and obtain total victory.


Forseeing victory when the masses cannot is an imperfect perfection. Obtaining victory by moving everything under heaven is an imperfect perfection.


It is like like lifting up the vellus hair of autumn's newborn fauna. Noticing the sun and moon does not indicate a keen eye. Hearing thunder does not indicate a keen ear.


The great generals of history defeated weak enemies. They employed neither cleverness nor courage.


They did not win by a hair. Victory was assured.


Firmly established, all they did was not lose.


Victorious armies first seek victory and then fight. Defeated armies first fight and then seek to win.


Good commanders maintain proper military governance in order to govern the outcome of war.


You must pay attention to:

  1. the territory
  2. the quantities
  3. the numbers
  4. the names
  5. victory

The territory determines the quantities. The quantities determines the numbers. The numbers determine the names. The names determine victory.


The victorious soldier weighs a kilo and is called a gram; the defeated soldier weighs a gram and is called a kilo.


The good general embodies the form an unstoppable river with a thousand tributaries.

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This chapter felt more allusive than the earlier ones. It kind of reminds me of sword manuals where the writer assumes the reader already has had F2F training and is "pointing" instead of "explaining".

I looked up "the nine heavens" and it didn't help much. Maybe the phrase changed meaning over time? It seems to have been connected to the planets after Ptolemy's model reached China, but I don't know if Sunzi wrote before or after that. If after, I wondered if maybe were some sort of planets/pantheon/astrology linkages, that would mean something to someone who caught more references than I do?

I see that The Art Of War has 13 chapters. If you had done them all, I'd have probably binged the whole sequence this evening :-)


Nitpick: Are you missing a "not" in "Noticing the sun and moon does indicate a keen eye"?

Fixed. Thanks.

Also "weighs a kilo [and] is called a gram"

Fixed. Thanks.