Re-examining the Meaning of Sunzi’s Bu zhan er qu ren zhi bing 不戰而屈人之兵 and Its Practicality

Informa UK Limited
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Monumenta Serica, 2019, 67, (2), pp. 293-317
Issue Date:
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© 2019, © Monumenta Serica Institute 2019. This article re-examines the meaning of bu zhan er qu ren zhi bing 不戰而屈人之兵, one of the core notions of Sunzi 孫子, and discusses its practicality. The article questions the popularly pacific and defensive view on this expression and refutes the argument that it is an idealistic concept. By analyzing the context and historical background of Sunzi, this article argues that bu zhan er qu ren zhi bing is a realistic strategy developed to adapt to the increasingly fierce competition during the period of the Chunqiu 春秋 (770–5th c. B.C.E). The term can be applied to both offensive and defensive strategies. Its meaning does not equate to but includes subjugating the enemy or frustrating his strategic goals through famou 伐謀 and fajiao 伐交 rather than engaging in decisive battles. Through studying four historical cases from the Chunqiu, this article analyses how to apply famou and fajiao to achieve bu zhan er qu ren zhi bing in practice.
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