Sun Tzu translations?


July 19, 2005, 06:27 AM
I have been wanting to read this but I'm finding at least 10 translations. Which one(s) are considered to be the better ones?

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Fred Fuller
July 19, 2005, 07:57 AM
It's been almost a decade since I had to worry about stuff like this for a living, but I will do the best I can with it. I ran 'sun tzu' at Amazon and got almost 300 hits, I wouldn't be surprised if someone hadn't extrapolated Sun Tzu to cover flower arranging at this point.

I am not familiar with all the translations by any means. The original is pretty short, so any 'translation' you see that runs a couple hundred pages or more is going to be an interpretation as well as an attempt at translation. Of this sort of effort my personal favorite is the Griffith effort. He was a USMC general officer who took a PhD in Chinese military history at Oxford-
_Sun Tzu: The Art of War_. translated and with an introduction by Samuel B. Griffith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963

Of the genuine translations I liked-
Tao Hanzhang. _Sun Tzu's Art of War: The Modern Chinese Interpretation_. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1987. A newer effort that has gotten good reviews is the Denma translation, it separates translation and commentary. I have not seen this one though.

Take a look at for an interesting electronic diversion. Probably the best site is , if you are a student.

See the Giles translation at Project Gutenberg- .

Heck, read 'em all- it'll do you good 8^). While you are at it get a copy of the two- volume second edition of Robert Asprey's _War In The Shadows_ and read that too. You'll enjoy it.


July 19, 2005, 08:02 AM
Funny you should mention "Griffith" I have a copy of his "Mao Tse-Tung on Guerilla Warfare". I didn't know he translated Sun Tzu as well.

July 19, 2005, 08:43 AM
I have the Sawyer version which gives a very detailed account of the evolution of warfare throughout the dynasties in China and explains the history. That is most of the book, then at the end the Art of War translations are presented.

July 19, 2005, 08:47 AM
One of my favorite translations is packaged in the book "Seven Military Classics of Ancient China", found here:

I'm not up to speed on all the various translators, but this one was translated by Ralph Sawyer.

July 19, 2005, 08:56 AM
I'll ditto Jason. Anyone with an inerest in military history should own that book.

July 19, 2005, 02:44 PM
With TAOW, the translator is not critical to correct understanding because the concepts are clearly stated and easily understood... nothing is vaguely or poetically phrased. Granted, the context and culture is different - but the concepts appeal to common-sense and human nature, which is enduring. That's the main reason that the book is not some obscure, lost text... it makes sense today.

Many have found application for Sun Tzu's concepts in various aspects of modern life - typically those that involve strategic planning or human conflict of any kind. I gave a copy of TAOW to each of my children.

Standing Wolf
July 19, 2005, 06:21 PM
Anyone with an inerest in military history should own that book.

I'd say anyone with an interest in history should read it a time or two.

July 19, 2005, 06:25 PM
Book of the 5 Rings is also useful.

Working Man
July 19, 2005, 06:38 PM
Another dito for Jason.

July 20, 2005, 05:18 AM

Texian Pistolero
July 20, 2005, 09:34 AM
It is VITAL that you get a large book with historical commentary!Too many people read some little California hot tub fortune cookie version, and start waxing Zen and poetic.

Sun Tzu is about as Zen and poetic as a turd in a punch bowl! He makes Machavelli (sp?) look like a wuss!

You almost have to be a student of OTHER military tactics to cut through the cherry blossom crap and understand what he's really saying.

My copy is in storage, but I'll try to get the author/editor's name.

Or, you could read the biography of Chesty Puller. That will teach you 90 % of what you need to know.

Aloy, the classic Col. Henderson biography of Stonewall Jackson.

EDITED: After doing a bit af research, I think it is the John Minford version of Sun Tzu that I like so much.

July 20, 2005, 09:57 AM
One of my copies back home had several stories that had the leader "doing the right thing" and beheading his soldiers as punishment.

My commander said that no matter how good of a translation it came from I was NOT allowed to behead any of my soldiers :what: .


Seriously, read several. So much of it is clean cut and general that you can apply it anywhere.

July 20, 2005, 01:20 PM
another +1 for Jason's suggestion. I have that book, and have read through it many times. Each time finding a new morsel.

July 20, 2005, 06:04 PM
Ralph D. Sawyer is who translated my copy. I found it to be very understandable and very well put together by him.

July 21, 2005, 11:31 AM
Fpr a more modern understanding of the Sun Tzu tactics, read "The Phantom Soldier" by LTC Poole.

When I first started reading Sun Tzu, I had difficulty translating his teachings into a modern context (just how do you "make your enemy think you are strong where you are weak, close when you are far", etc). Poole does it quite well and should be (and probably is) REQUIRED reading for anyone expecting to face a non-NATO opponent (which is all of us).

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