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Historical Writings

Ancient Chinese Warfare

     Based on oracular inscriptions, archaeological finds, and traditional accounts, Ancient Chinese Warfare not only recounts warfare's early history, but also provides detailed examinations of important aspects including intelligence, metallurgy, logistics, horses, and the chariot in a dozen dedicated chapters.  


     "This is overall a richly detailed, highly readable, very enjoyable account of the important subject of warfare in the early East Asian heartland."  Early China  


     "Ancient Chinese Warfare is an important, informative, and exciting book. Written with panache and based on a level of knowledge that would challenge any expert, Sawyer's work has transformed singe-handedly our understanding of ancient Chinese military history. Readers will find in this book a solidly informed and vivid account of China's ways of warfare from the Shang dynasty to the mid-first millennium BC."  Prof. Nicola Di Cosmo, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study


   "The book marks a major advance in the state of our knowledge, a rich repository to be mined not only by historians of China but also world historians, scholars of comparative military history, and students of the origins of war and the state. Its impact will be substantial, far-reaching, and unsuperseded for many years to come." Michigan War Studies Review

Conquest and Domination: Rise and Demise of the Western Zhou

    Conquest and Domination recounts the Zhou's rise and unexpected conquest of their overlords, the Shang, in the decisive battle of Mu-yeh in 1045 BC. Generally regarded as the progenitors of Chinese culture, the Zhou managed to retain power until a foreign invasion effectively ended their dominance in 771 BC.

     Based upon exhaustive research into traditional historical accounts, contemporary bronze inscriptions, and innumerable archaeological reports, Conquest and Domination examines how the Zhou managed to impose their rule over the fractured realm, suppress an early internecine rebellion, and establish the institutions that allowed it to prevail for nearly three centuries. Numerous chapters chronicle the state's response to external threats from contiguous peoples and ponder the military and administrative factors that contributed to its demise. Throughout the book contemporary accounts and insights from China's corpus of theoretical military writings are employed to analyze the era's military history.


     "The latest contribution in [Sawyer's] long series of books on traditional China's military history and thought …  Sawyer displays an impressive command of all the sorts of evidence available for the Western Chou." Journal of Military History

Tao of Spycraft

   No nation employed spies, assassination, and subversive practices earlier or more extensively than China, nor developed a more thorough and coherent theory of spycraft. In an expansive work of some 600 pages, the Tao of Spycraft charts the theoretical developments and proliferation of actual practices, including estrangement, assassination, subversion, and the recruitment and deployment of spies, many still studied and employed today.


     The Tao of Spycraft "is a tour de force on ancient Chinese 'spycraft' that is culled and selected by the author from the vast storehouse of Chinese literature. The author uses his wide knowledge of the various military classics, particularly his famous translation of the Seven Military Classics, the well-known Tso Chuan, Chan-kuo Ts'e, and the Shih Chi, to delineate in considerable detail the conduct of 'spycraft' in ancient China."  War in History


     "Ralph Sawyer has once again written a text which combines the virtues of scholarly integrity, shrewd analysis, and plain fun. This book is not only for those interested in the history and theory of intelligence, but for those simply intent on a good read."  Prof. Robert L. O'Connell

   "The Sawyers have collaborated on the daunting task of scanning China’s military classics and its twenty-five dynastic histories to produce the first thorough discussion of the theory and practice of Chinese intelligence operations." Journal of Military History

The Tao of Deception: Unorthodox Warfare in Historic and Modern China

   Over the centuries Chinese warfare has been guided by fundamentally different principles and concepts than witnessed in Europe, including the vital concept of the "unorthodox" (ch'i / qi), first articulated in Sun-tzu's Art of War. Empowered by deception, unorthodox tactics allow armies to leverage their strategic power (shih) to wrest victory in every circumstance, whether advantageous or disadvantageous. The Tao of Deception not only charts the concept's evolution and tactical realization over China's lengthy history, it offers an overview of modern interpetations and possible implementation.


     "The Tao of Deception is a striking success and the first book to link ancient Chinese texts to current Chinese military planning. It has long been suspected that Chinese leaders today draw many specific lessons from their ancient classics. Ralph Sawyer, after a lifetime of translating classic Chinese military texts, has made a dramatic breakthrough to help us all understand the source of potential Chinese calculations – and miscalculations."  Michael Pillsbury

   "Proceeding in systematic fashion from ancient times to the present, The Tao of Deception offers a sustained and highly focused examination of what has arguably been the central concept in Chinese military thought for well over two thousand years. It draws upon virtually all the relevant material, not only the ancient military treatises but also later theoretical discussions, historical examples, and even popular fiction such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Moreover, the author seeks to understand the strategic and operational doctrine of the People's Republic of China (PRC) today in light of its martial legacy from the Chinese past. The result is a tour de force."  Journal of Military History


     "Ralph Sawyer continues his long career as a leading expert on ancient Chinese warfare with the publication of The Tao of Deception. …The Tao of Deception is a great analysis of an important theoretical concept and practical component of Chinese warfare."  Parameters


     "Ralph D. Sawyer, noted scholar of Chinese strategic thought, has produced an enlightening study of the beginnings and evolution of deception in Chinese political and military history.  It abounds with examples how a little deception or unconventional application can have a great effect on outcomes."  Naval War College Review

Lever of Power: Military Deception in China and the West

     Lever of Power challenges the validity of a long held view, one fraught with contemporary geostrategic implications, that Chinese warfare has always been inherently deceptive and stressed maneuver and manipulation whereas Western warfare eschewed the use of deceit and was direct and confrontational.

     The theoretical portion analyzes deception's theoretical evolution in China and the West while the remainder of the book, configured as an extensive topical compendium of historical application, examines the pre-modern deceptive practices employed in both cultures. Critical chapters focus on disinformation, feigned retreats, pseudo defectors, false treaties, obscuration, feints, and feigned vulnerability. Relevant passages from the Chinese, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine theoretical military writings are provided throughout. Lever of Power is not just as a contribution to military and intelligence history, but also to the study of the theory and practice of deception itself.


     "Lever of Power: Military Deception in China and the West is an extraordinary work that brings together a vast array of primary sources on the subject of military deception with insightful analysis of the content and relevance of each work. Sawyer, an expert on Chinese military and intelligence issues, has translated classic texts and written several books. Lever of Power shows that both China and the West have relied on deception and have employed similar practices in order to deceive. A major difference, however, is that the West lacks the extensive body of theory on deception the Chinese have developed, and that deception 'is not yet as integrated into military thinking and planning as it is in China.'"   CIA Studies in Intelligence


     "Ralph Sawyer, a leading student of intelligence and strategy, is the world's authority on Chinese theory and practice. The research is phenomenal, and the book summarizes his ideas with power and elegance. No one interested in deception and strategy can afford to miss it."   Dr. John Ferris, Authorized Historian, GCHQ

Fire and Water: The Art of Incendiary and Aquatic Warfare in China

   In the struggle for conquest, Chinese tacticians early on exploited the two most frightening and uncontrollable forces in nature, fire and water. Fire and Water charts the development of theory and evolution of practice over the centuries, both to survive and subjugate.

   "A highly troubling depiction of the development and immense power of incendiary and aquatic warfare in China." General Liu Cheng-wen

Lust and Assassination in Early China

     Contrary to impressions, personal strife and virtually interminable warfare beset early China. Moreover, as lust, assassination, and political murder proliferated in the Spring and Autumn period (722–481 BC), the accounts began to fascinate Chinese audiences and stimulate imitators. Their motivation varied from personal animosity or a desire for revenge to a blatant quest for power, the impact of their actions from miniscule to the extinction of entire families and quashing of clans. Some assassinations prompted immediate retribution, others triggered far reaching events and spawned murderous links with epochal consequences. Targeted killing, which became part of subversive political programs with the passage of time, then resulted in the assassination of several prominent generals, facilitating Ch'in's subjugation of the realm.

     Lust and Assassination in Early China recounts the significant asocial incidents that unfolded in the culturally definitive early period ranging from the semi-legendary era of the Sage Emperors to the Han, examines the psychology of motivation, and discusses assassination as a political weapon. Intended for a general audience rather than academic specialists, the book features extensive notes on aspects likely to be unfamiliar to non-Chinese readers. 


Seven Military Classics of Ancient China

   The founding classics of Chinese military science and the basis of its traditional tactical thought, seven texts still assiduously studied not only in China but throughout Asia, including Sun-tzu's Art of War. A complete translation, with introductions and annotations, of the famous Sung dynasty compilation: Sun-tzu Art of War, Ssu-ma Fa, Liu-tao (Six Secret Teachings), Wu-tzu, Huang Shih-kung San-lüeh (Three Strategies), and Wei Liao-tzu, all works from China's infamous Warring States period, and the T'ang dynasty Questions and Replies between Li Ching and T'ang T'ai-tsung


     "More than just translations, this large work contains useful background material and bibliographic references for the seven military classics. Those interested in national security matters will surely find it useful and rewarding. Not only do these works have much to instruct us about Asian strategic thought, they remind readers of the importance of the cultural dimensions of strategy."   Foreign Affairs

     "While almost 340 pages represent Ralph and Mei-chun Sawyer's 25 year effort to translate these books, the gold mine lies in the 205 pages of historical background, appendixes, notes, bibliography, glossary and indexes."  Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin

   "A grand introduction into Eastern strategic thought as it originated centuries ago and the perfect compliment to Sun-tzu." Marine Corps Gazette

Sun-tzu Art of War

   The oldest, most famous and influential work in China’s lengthy martial tradition, as well as one of the founding books of Chinese civilization. A single volume, expanded edition of the Art of War translation found in our Seven Military Classics which features an extensive historical introduction that sets the context and analyzes the state of Wu's military campaigns, additional tomb text passages, and greatly expanded notes.  


     "Sawyer's notes to both his introductory material and his translations are extremely thorough, providing a ready survey of the traditional commentaries to the text as well as a broad range of modern scholarship on them in Western and Asian languages."  Early China


     "Sawyer's willingness to treat [the Art of War] as suitable for a separate book is appropriate given the far-ranging and comprehensive manner in which he deals with the subject … the importance and value of separate book lies in its extensive introduction and well-written account of the historical background of this famous book. These factors are supplemented by equally impressive notes on the translation and notes pertaining to the historical background."  War in History


     "For the most part, Sawyer's translation follows the transmitted version of the Art of War, rather than the bamboo slip text recovered from the tomb at Lin-i, though he is careful to point out differences. His highly competent translation rarely strays very far from the wording of the original. His treatment of several key terms – such as shih ("strategic configuration of power"), hsing ("form" or "disposition"), and ch'üan ("imbalance of power") – captures these concepts better and more precisely than previous translations."  Asian Thought and Society


     "Sawyer has done a superb job of assembling a large amount of information and sifting it judiciously. Sawyer's translations are done with great fidelity to the text." China Review International


     "For the historian or theoretician who wants to know Sun Tzu and his work in depth and understand why Sun Tzu wrote what he did, Ralph D. Sawyer's new translation is the best. The result is a superb example of military historical scholarship. For the scholar, this is the most accurate, concise and usable English language translation available. The explanations of weapons and tactics and the historical references make seemingly obscure passages come alive." Military Review

Sun Pin Military Methods

   Lost for over two thousand years, Sun Pin's remarkable text is here reconstructed from hundreds of fragmented bamboo strips discovered just four decades ago, revealing the depth of the Sun family's military heritage and strategic thought. Critical topics include formations, terrain, motivation (qi), command and control, the character and abilities required for generals, and the crucial concept of the unorthodox.


     "Sun Pin's Military Methods provides a wealth of new insights. Readers of history will gain a new perspective on the formative years of a great civilization. Western students of warfare will now be able to enter a world in which nearly all of their basic assumptions, from the separation of war and politics to the triangular organization of military units, are challenged."  Bruce L. Gudmundsson 

     "The translation of such a battered and badly fragmented manuscript is an extremely difficult undertaking. Sawyer has mastered it in an admirable manner. We have to thank Sawyer for this excellent scholarly work." China Review International


     "Ralph Sawyer has prepared an excellent historical introduction that includes reconstructions of several of Sun Pin's greatest battles. His detailed historical and tactical analysis opens up a window onto a world of ancient warfare never glimpsed before."  Command Magazine


     "With this translation … Ralph D. Sawyer has produced another intriguing volume. The surviving manuscript is fragmentary, so Sawyer's able summary, commentary, and 100 pages of notes must bear most of the burden. Still, there is merit in plowing through this dense work, which offers another window into Chinese military thought."  Foreign Affairs


     "This reviewer acclaims Sawyer's procedure of translating each chapter and then following the translation with a commentary placing the chapter in context and providing pertinent reference to previous military theorists or historical events. This is a remarkable achievement. The 75 pages of historical introduction provide a succinct and excellent history of the Warring States period, and the notes to the introduction, translation, and commentaries, covering 111 pages, are a delight to any student of Chinese military history."  War in History


The Complete Art of War

     A single volume rendition of the incisive writings of Sun-tzu and Sun Pin, the Art of War and the Military Methods.


     "Ralph Sawyer is successful in his attempt to distill relevant aspects of ancient Chinese military strategy for broader interest groups. Sawyer was the first to publish an English translation of Sun Pin's work as Sun Pin: Military Methods. Although only fragments of the original bamboo manuscript survived … Sawyer was able to pierce together a coherent translation through his commentary, summaries, and extensive notes. The Sun Pin: Military Methods translation and commentary are effectively transferred and revised in this new edition to make them more accessible. Sawyer's index serves as a unique access tool to the original writings of these masters."  Journal of Military History

   "Stop what you are doing. Buy The Complete Art of War. Read it from cover to cover." Airpower Journal

The Essential Art of War

   Our translation of the  Art of War in a more accessible format, intended for contemporary readers who want to focus on the contents and implications.

One Hundred Unorthodox Strategies: Battle and Tactics of Chinese Warfare

   A distillation of one hundred essential military concepts and tactical princples, illustrated by an equal number of battles.

In addition to the orthodox and unorthodox, cthe book discusses such essential topics as the strategic configuration of power (shih), command and control, doubt, maneuver and deception, assessment, combat spirit, and the role of logistics.

It clearly shows that each of some forty paired possibilities can be unexpected, and thus unorthodox, depending upon the context.


     "Unorthodox Strategies presents an insightful, easy-to-read translation of Liu Po-wen's original work. Each of the book's 100 short sections considers a different strategic or tactical concept, includes a historical illustration from the original, and contains Sawyer's thought-provoking commentary. Readers will find this translation and interpretation enjoyable and enlightening."  Military Review


     "This reviewer, after a random critique of some of Sawyer's translation, found his renditions of the original Chinese text not only insightful but impeccable."  War in History

   "This is perhaps the best of all the translations I have seen of Chinese military philosophy; the real value of the work is that it gives a clear, graphic and dramatic idea of the difference between that thought and the western way of war." Military and Naval History Journal

Strategies for the Human Realm: Crux of the T'ai-pai Yin-ching

     Composed by Li Quan, a provincial military official who served in the middle Tang dynasty but is best known as one of the earliest and most insightful commentators to the Art of War, the Taibai Yinjing revitalized the theoretical study of warfare in China. Remarkably comprehensive, the first twenty-five chapters (translated here) focus upon the grand issues of government, warfare, human society, ethical values, and man's orientation within the universe while pondering the more concrete problems of the nature of command, methods for evaluating men, the role of rewards and punishments, and the implementation of subversive measures. In consort with the Art of War, Li's aim was victory without combat, preserving the state rather than debilitating it in warfare.


     "Each section included in the volume follows up a translation of Li Quan's text with Sawyer's own commentary explicating the material and situating it against the backdrop of earlier Chinese military writings. The translation is generally both reliable and readable, and Sawyer does a fine job of connecting the Taibai Yinjing with Li Quan's commentary on Sun Tzu and brining out certain tensions in Li's thought. This volume, then, serves splendidly for demonstrating continuity and locating Li Quan within an ancient and ongoing tradition of military thought."  Journal of Military History

The Essence of War

   The essential concepts and tactical principles from early Chinese martial science, compiled in an easily accessible categorical format.

Tao of War: The Martial Tao Te Ching

   Wang Chen's meditation on the causes and cessation of warfare, based upon his experience as a military commander but founded upon years of pondering the ancient Taoist classic, the Tao Te Ching. (A complete translation of the Tao Te Ching from a military perspective is included.)


     "Although Chen does not provide as many military lessons as Sun-tzu, his philosophy is an excellent source of insight into the Eastern military thought process."  Military Review


   "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. Wang Chen’s ostensibly Taoist work provides a fascinating glimpse of the syncretic element in medieval Chinese thought." Journal of Military History

Zhuge Liang: Strategy, Achievements, and Writings

    A surpassing historic figure, Zhuge Liang (Chu-ko Liang) has long been regarded as a brilliant strategist, superlative commander, outstanding administrator, as well as the originator of arcane wisdom and sagacious king maker. In addition to annotated translations of the martial writings traditionally attributed to Zhuge Liang, the extensive historical introduction outlines the military context, examines his strategic thought, and analyzes the numerous campaigns he personally directed, employing concepts and tactics from the Art of War and other classic Chinese military works familiar to Zhuge Liang for critical insights.


     "The Sawyers have provided the first book in English that exclusively discusses the life and thought of Zhuge Liang, a man East Asians regard as the epitome of a military genius. The book furnishes valuable insights into his career and military thought; as such it is a must read for anyone interested in China's Three Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280)."   Journal of Military History

Book of Spies

      The only premodern contemplation of spies ever written apart from Sunzi's brief but incisive Art of War chapter, Jian Shu (Book of Spies) was completed in the last century of the severely weakened Qing dynasty to address pressing defensive needs. The first third of the book ponders the nature of clandestine intelligence gathering, including estrangement and disinformation, two crucial elements in the activist orientation that characterized China's theory and practice from the outset; agent categories and their missions; aspects of historical evolution; and the critical need for their skills despite the misgiving, even condemnation, of Confucian oriented officials. The remainder of the book consists of fifty-three historical exemplifications that show the techniques and their effects in practice. Interspersed with theoretical analysis and drawn from over 2500 years of strife and intrigue, they represent a veritable window on the practice of Chinese spycraft that remains of contemporary interest in the PRC.


Ling Ch'i Ching

   One of China's three great divination texts (with the I Ching and T'ai Hsuan Ching), the Ling Ch'i Ching merits study not only as an oracle, but also as a window into an essential but generally de-emphasized aspect of Chinese thought and culture.


     "The Sawyers' Lingqijing is a worthy addition to the small array of English language versions of China's divination texts."

China Review International

Ruminations in a Grass Hut

     Standing at the end of a continuous literate tradition that dates back to Sun-tzu's Art of War, the expansive Ming dynasty Ruminations in a Grass Hut (Ts'ao-lu Ching-lüeh or Cao-lu Jinglüe) represents the final formulation of China's indigenous military tactics and highly sophisticated concepts. The book consists of 152 individualized discussions upon subjects as diverse as defense against foreign peoples, spies and military intelligence, assessment, logistics, vacuity and substance, deception, unorthodox warfare, and command and control, all loosely organized into twelve thematic sections. In a sort of modified casebook approach, each chapter cites several battles to illustrate the subject in application. In themselves, the 600 illustrations provide an extensive introduction to China's historic practice of warfare, as well as a window on its evolution as chariots gave way to cavalry, dagger-axes to swords and sabers, and finally even China's powerful bows and crossbows to cannon and muskets in the early Ming.