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Tao of War

   One response to the incessant warfare that plagued the Warring States period was Taoism, a broadly based, widely ranging philosophical perspective that emphasized harmony, according with the natural flux, and avoiding strife. Although marked by discord and contradictions, a multiplicity of overarching viewpoints, and even questions about its presumptions, the famous text known as the Tao Te Ching quintessentially expressed its spirit. Roughly a millennium after its completion, the carnage precipitated by An Lu-shan’s widely ranging rebellion in the middle of the T’ang dynasty prompted Wang Chen to extensively ponder the Tao Te Ching in his quest to fathom warfare’s causes and discover ways to bring about its cessation.

   An experienced border commander who had been deeply troubled by the devastation and interminable suffering about him, Wang envisioned an effective solution in the Tao Te Ching’s insights despite his jaded, Confucian perspective. His meditations constitute a book in themselves, but to facilitate understanding his vision we have also translated the traditional text in accord with his interpretations, thereby creating a second book within the larger work that might well be called the Martial Tao Te Ching. Brief commentaries have also been appended to each of the eighty-one chapters to explicate the less obvious aspects, integrate the core concepts, and set the Tao of War within its historical context.

"The latest offering from Ralph D. Sawyer, the distinguished translator of the Seven Military Classics and several other Chinese military treatises of the ancient and imperial periods. . . In his introduction and commentary, Sawyer ... disagrees with Wang’s Confucian take on the Tao Te Ching so often as to make one wonder why he even bothered to devote his impressive talent to this particular text. In the opinion of this reviewer, however, his effort was not wasted. Wang Chen’s ostensibly Taoist work provides a fascinating glimpse of the syncretic element in medieval Chinese thought." Journal of Military History