Sun Tzu's Original Art of War

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Sun Tzu's Original Art of War

Special Bilingual Edition

  • based on the latest archaeology
  • original wording and images
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The military strategy masterpiece recovered, with all the beauty, clarity and wisdom that sun tzu originally intended, and without the re-phrasing, summarizing and obscurities that mar other english versions. Adorned with the latest re-construction of the original chinese, translator andrew w. zieger brings the modern reader as close as possible to experiencing sun tzu as his readers first did some twenty-five hundred years ago.

Unlike most of the more wordy and interpretive translations of the Sun Tzu, Andrew Zieger gives us a unique bare bones rendering of this canonical text—a series of word pictures—that, in applying his own image-to-image technique, captures the poetically laconic force of the original. A highly accessible rendering of the influential work of military theory. Successfully evokes the careful, meditative response Sun- Tzu recommends to would be war-makers. Of use to anyone engaged in competitive endeavors, be they on the battlefield or at the poker table.

~Prof. Roger T. Ames

Top scholar, translator

Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare (1993)

The Art of Rulership (2007)

~Martin Harris

Poker journalist, fiction author

Same Difference (2010)

Hard-boiled Poker (blog)

Translator andrew w. zieger's tutorial shows the easy way to read the ancient Chinese — and how the most commonly published version veers away from sun tzu's original thoughts and images: our free ebook of the art of war gives readers a side by side comparison of the complete English text, and our sample section shows the complete first chapter from our bilingual hardcover special edition.


When reading the Sun Tzu in the original Chinese, one is struck by how it uses everyday expressions, ordinary images and commonplace concepts to articulate complex military principles.

Most other English versions of the Sun Tzu — in addition to complicating the text with undue abstractions — pay little heed to the structure and imagery Sun Tzu used to make the Art of War one of the most beautiful works ever written.

This translation was commissioned to translator Andrew W. Zieger and his team to create an English text that accurately captures the beauty, simplicity and wisdom of the original Art of War. ↑up


Unearthing the true Sun Tzu involved two key steps: first, verifying that the Chinese manuscript faithfully and accurately reflected the original Art of War; and second, that the English translation literally and authentically rendered the original Chinese.

By compiling and comparing the most trusted competing Chinese manuscripts with the latest archaeological and scholarly developments, we were able to distill what we believe to be the most uncontaminated version of the Chinese manuscript in existence.

Further, by painstakingly rendering that Chinese text into English using the same words, images and structures as Sun Tzu, we avoided the tendency of most other popular translations to re-phrase Sun Tzu rather than translate him. ↑up


The most common shortcoming in earlier translations of the Art of War is the practice of re-phrasing — instead of translating — the original Chinese. In the following examples you can see how our translator (Andrew W. Zieger) carefully shadows the words and images of the Chinese, while Lionel Giles' widespread 1910 version haphazardly re-phrases the Chinese.

i. extrapolating

In this example from the first chapter of the Sun Tzu, we can see how Zieger simply renders the images, while Giles extrapolates upon the meaning of the characters.

ZIEGER: Method is how systems are organized,
GILES: By method and discipline are to be understood the marshalling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers,
how approach is administrated, how power is utilized.
the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

Mixing Sun Tzu's images with these extrapolations creates a hybrid text where the voice of the translator dominates the voice of Sun Tzu. ↑up

ii. summarizing

This example, from the third chapter of the Sun Tzu, shows how Zieger closely follows the writing structure and writing style of Sun Tzu, while Giles disregards Sun Tzu's structures and simply summarizes the text:

ZIEGER: Taking a kingdom whole is better than destroying a kingdom,
GILES: the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.
taking an army whole is better than destroying an army,
So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it,
taking an battalion whole is better than destroying an battalion,
to capture a regiment,
taking an detachment whole is better than destroying an detachment,
a detachment
taking a unit whole is better than destroying an unit,
or a company entire than to destroy them.

This summarizing technique rephrases the Chinese into a text that reflects the translator's writing style rather than Sun Tzu's. ↑up

iii. widening

Sun Tzu wrote with a sparse, simple vocabulary that consistently evoked vivid images and avoided abstract concepts. These examples show how Zieger's word choice emulates the stark simplicity of the Chinese text, while Giles arbitrarily widens Sun Tzu's vocabulary.

This phrase occurs seven times throughout the Sun Tzu; Zieger uses the same translation each time, while Giles arbitrarily uses a different wording for each occurrence:

  1. those skilled at making war
  1. the skillful soldier
  2. the skillful leader
  3. the consummate leader
  4. a clever general
  5. skillful leaders
  6. the skillful tactician
  7. the skillful general

While Giles' variations do not always obscure meaning, they do arbitrarily misrepresent Sun Tzu's writing style. ↑up

iv. complicating

Compounding the effect of arbitrary variations in Giles is his propensity to complicate the text with unwarranted abstractions; Zieger, however, seeks to preserve Sun Tzu's voice by consistent use of renderings that match the simplicity of the original Chinese text.

With this character, Zieger translates it all seven times with a common root that matches the everyday sense of the original Chinese; Giles, however, in two of his renderings uses inexplicably obscure, supercilious phrasings:

  1. angry (2)
  2. anger (5)
  1. angry (2)
  2. anger (2)
  3. angrily
  4. of choleric temper
  5. to gratify his own spleen

This complicating of the Sun Tzu's voice is reflected in the stodginess of earlier translations — a stodginess that simply does not occur in the original Chinese, and that Zieger has ardently eradicated in his translation. ↑up


Translator Andrew W. Zieger was commissioned for this project to create a Accurate, Clear and Beautiful representation of the original Chinese text.

An experienced commercial translator and noted translation educator, he founded colors network in 2000, and soon after spearheaded the creation of the granville institute, Canada's first training facility completely dedicated to interpreting and translation. Under his directorship, Granville Institute for a time became the largest CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) interpreting and translation training facility in Canada, and the largest supplier of Japanese interpreting and translation training outside of Japan. From 2003 to 2008, Mr. Zieger also acted as executive editor of ColorsNews, Canada's first multilingual CJK newspaper.

His years of professional and academic experience have made him an expert in CJK translation and have placed him on the cutting edge of translation theory.

Mr. Zieger lives in Vancouver, presently focusing his time on translation, writing and multimedia projects. ↑up


The legendary Chinese general, apparently born into a family of moderate nobility, most likely wrote the world's first treatise on military strategy between 400 and 320 BC. Since then, the brilliance of his principles have been applied from Desert Storm to the World Series of Poker, his work becoming one of most influential and cherished texts the world has seen.

There is a somewhat shocking variety of Chinese texts of the Art of War in circulation. As with most ancient texts, there is some dispute as to which version is the most accurate, and a great deal of dispute about the inclusion, exclusion, and wording of certain passages.

While the choice of Chinese text used for this translation depended heavily the work of scholars and experts in the field, we were not distracted from keeping our focus on the voice of Sun Tzu. Accordingly, we determined it better to exclude something Sun Tzu said than include something he did not say: if two or more major versions disputed a passage, lacking convincing evidence one way or the other, almost without exception the shorter passage was chosen.

There are several theories of how the Art of War came to be written. Some suggest that what Sun Tzu wrote was compiled from oral tradition, and some even go so far as to suggest that Sun Tzu did not exist at all as a historical figure. Our Chinese text is primarily based on the three main versions in circulation: The Complete Specialist Focus, The Military Bible and The Complete Version of Sun Tzu's Art of War. Certain phrases were also adjusted according to the special considerations based on the latest archeological discoveries. Especially notable is the Yin-ch'ueh-shan Committee's 1985 reconstruction of the text, with helpful illumination on that reconstruction in Roger T. Ames 1988 translation The Art of Warfare. ↑up





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