Chinese Spring & Autumn Period (Shang and Zhou Dynasties):
Significance of Sun Tzu & His Book “The Art of War”
Today, the People’s Republic of China has become one of the most successful and innovated countries in the world, however, ancient China is much different from what we know to be the modern-day China. Before becoming one massive country, China was divided into various kingdoms between two very significant rivers, the Yangtze, and Yellow rivers. Today, historians conclude that they have been able to discover proofs about the Chinese dynasties to as early as 1700 B.C. Artifacts, bronze weapons, and written records show the successes of an era known as the Shang and Zhou dynasty.
The Shang Dynasty, known to be the longest dynasty in the history of China, was ruled by 31 Emperors and Kings. Every king was portrayed as more than just a ceremonial official, but rather a religious icon, they served as a connection between their people and to the spirit world. The people created the idea of the mandate of heaven which would also be adopted by many following dynasties. The mandate of heaven explains that the heavens give the power to the kings to keep successful rule over the society if it is done in the way of pleasing the gods and protecting the interests of the nation and its people. This Dynasty was largely agricultural, most of the population had participated in farming, people often were called upon to participate in wars or to construct large-scale projects. This meant that landlords were very influential, however, to avoid any conflicts of interests among the landlords with the government, the king himself appointed only family or close relatives to govern such lands.
This Dynasty had many contributions to Chinese innovation, but three, define this dynasty: the introduction of bronze technology, the development of a hierarchy government, and the development of writing,
To begin, This Dynasty existed during China’s bronze age, throughout this time, bronze signified authority and capital. Only individuals with any influence within the kingdom had access to bronze. The Shang perfected the skill of designing, forging, and mastered complicated practices that involved creating specialized weaponry and vessels, the innovation of bronze technology and the manufacturing of bronze weapons had equipped the Shang forces with a significant advantage over their enemies and entirely changed the ways of warfare. They had also designed a newly-sophisticated weapon, the horse-drawn chariots. Chariots enabled superiors to oversee their troops across great distances and made them mobile.
Secondly, the Shang political system was prearranged into a hierarchy system, meaning that it had many levels of jobs and social class. The invention of writing had a profound effect on the Shang government and its capability to rule. It amplified the government’s capability to reform on a substantial level, whether it be facilitating the mining of large quantities of bronze, the construction of city walls, or to wage organized military campaigns.
Lastly, Historians have demonstrated that this Dynasty has already developed the principles of modern writing techniques. In fact, Chinese literature has undergone relatively limited amounts of change since it was first developed. Documents were initially noted on strips of silk and bamboo that have since been decomposed.
After numerous years of ruling, the Shang dynasty was overthrown by an influential power known as the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty incorporated the same system of the previous dynasty, however, changes were made. It continued to practice the Shang’s scheme of dividing the kingdom into sub-states. But if the gods were dissatisfied with the king, the mandate would be taken away from him, thus having him overthrown and replaced by a new ruler. The concept of the mandate had definitively become the structure of Chinese tradition. The Zhou had constructed numerous laws for its society to keep a strong government. This enabled them to begin agricultural production and to incorporate the use of iron. Over time, the Zhou Dynasty became corrupt and avaricious. Governs and Landlords were appointed, and not elected, all of which were only relatives or loyal friends of the state, to minimize any suggestion of a rebellion. However, taxes had been drastically increased. During this time, large factions began to speak up and exhibited rebellions.
The decline of the Zhou dynasty had commenced, as the power of the central government began to weaken, and conflicts between different principalities began to escalate due to the influx of rising taxes and corruption. Many principalities had believed that the king was no longer competent, this created many rebellions. Due to the increase of wars, many military commanders had gained much influence, especially the most renown, Sun Tzu. He is known as a philosopher, military tactician, and military commander in the 6th century, he is commonly recognized for his work of the book “The Art of War”, a 2,500-year-old book on military strategy. To this day, most of his teachings are still applicable. The 13-chapter book is regarded as one of the finest documentation of ancient military strategy. The book mainly deals with the objective of winning battles with minimum conflict, effort, losses and maximum operational efficiency. The book has become a handbook for military leadership. The solid qualities of a leader determine the success achieved on the battlefield, whereas his weaknesses will lead his army to defeat. This very statement is relevant in conferring the role of military leaders in today’s modern-day conflicts. The book emphasizes on three major traits/qualities of an effective leader: sternness, trust, and intelligence.
Sternness, to succeed in the mission/objective, superiors must be strict. They must be prepared to do what others may refuse to do, it is vital for a superior to enforce discipline upon those who do not obey an order. A famous example was when Sun Tzu had ordered a group of women to perform a simple drill, however, when he had ordered them to perform the drill, the women had burst into laughter, he then ordered that those two individuals be beheaded as an example for the rest of the army.
“If words of command are not clear and distinct, and if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the General is to blame. But, if orders are clear and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” ? Sun Tzu
Trust, if a leader fails, to be honest, he may lose the respect of those who he leads and the overall mission integrity is put at great risk. A leader must develop mutual trust among his troops, Tzu emphasized the importance of rewards and punishments, to avoid discouraging troops of service.
“If troops are punished before their loyalty is secured they will be disobedient. If not obedient, it is difficult to employ them. If troops are loyal, but punishments are not enforced, you cannot employ them”
Intelligence, the ability to collect and effectively use the information against the enemy to your advantage, is a significant characteristic of a General. A General must also be able to comprehend the information, the spymaster is required to control the spy. The general must use spies, but should never reveal their identity to each other, mainly to maintain the structural integrity of the intelligence network. Sun Tzu organizes his intelligence sources into five categories:
Local Spies: Recruited from the general population of the enemy state.
Internal Spies: Corrupt officials from the government of the enemy state (the ambitious, miserable, suppressed, punished and the reckless).
Reverse Spies (Double Agents): They are enemy agents who have been turned (with bribes and promises), and they now spy against their former master or send back false information.
Dead Spies (Counter Intelligence): They are agents who spread unactionable intelligence to enemy agents to manipulate them (doing strategic planning openly for the purpose of deception and allowing friendly spies to know of the identities of the enemy spies) and having them executed.
Surviving Spies: Spies who return with actionable intelligence from the enemy’s camp, and operate effectively in enemy territory and behind enemy lines.
“The Supreme Art of War is to subdue the enemy without fighting” – Sun Tzu
In conclusion, The Shang and Zhou Dynasties created a time of warfare and corruption, however, it was the longest and most successful of its time. The conflicts that had led up to “The Art of War” has considerably influenced modern day warfare. Ever since The Art of War was published, military leaders have been following its advice, executives and lawyers use the teachings of “The Art of War” to get the advantage in negotiations. The Art of War presents the basic principles of warfare. Its 13 chapters offer specific battle strategies, but they also offer more general advice about conflicts and their solutions, this 2,500-year-old book still resonates with a 21st-century audience and still influences our actions to this day.