Thirty-Six Stratagems (2)


阅读与作文(英语高中版) 2019年3期

The Thirty-Six Stratagems[三十六计] was a Chinese essay used to illustrate a series of stratagems used in politics, war, as well as in civil interaction, often through unorthodox or deceptive means. No one really knows who the author was; instead, the prevailing view is that the Thirty-Six Stratagems may have originated in both written and oral history, with many different versions compiled by different authors throughout Chinese history.

The Thirty-Six Stratagems has six chapters containing six stratagems each. The first three chapters generally describe tactics for use in advantageous situations, whereas the last three chapters contain stratagems that are more suitable for disadvantageous situations. They are in the form of four-character idioms. Each proverb is accompanied by a short comment, no longer than a sentence or two, that explains how said proverb is applicable to military tactics. These 36 Chinese proverbs are related to 36 battle scenarios in Chinese history and folklore, predominantly of the Warring States Period and the Three Kingdoms Period.

The Culture column in June issue has shared with you the first three chapters of the essay, and this issue will continue to share the rest three chapters.

Chapter Ⅳ 混战计 Chaos Stratagems


Remove the firewood from under the pot

Comment: If something must be destroyed, destroy the source.


Disturb the water and catch a fish

Comment: Create confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals.


Slough off the cicadas golden shell

Comment: Its a stratagem mainly used to escape from an enemy of superior force. Mask yourself. Either leave flamboyant traits behind, thus going incognito, or just masquerade yourself and create an illusion to fit your goals and distract others.


Shut the door to catch the thief

Comment: To deliver capture the enemy, you must plan prudently if you want to succeed. Do not rush into action. Before you “move in for the kill”, first cut off your enemys escape routes, and cut off any routes through which outside help can reach them.


Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbour


Obtain safe passage to conquer the State of Guo

Comment: Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the first place.

Comment: It is known that nations that border each other become enemies while nations separated by distance and obstacles make better allies. When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field.

Chapter Ⅴ 并戰计  Proximate Stratagems


Replace the beams with rotten timbers

Comment: Disrupt the enemys formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules in which they are used to following, and go contrary to their standard training. In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force.


Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree

Comment: To discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendo. When names are not used directly, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity.


Feign madness but keep your balance

Comment: Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack. (Who do you think of? Hamlet!)


Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof

Comment: With baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he must fight both your own forces and the elements of nature.


Deck the tree with false blossoms

Comment: Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful.


Make the host and the guest exchange roles

Comment: Usurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate. Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to be accepted, but develop from inside and become the owner later.

Chapter Ⅵ 败战计 Desperate Stratagems


The beauty trap (honey trap)

Comment: Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This stratagem can work on three levels. First, the ruler becomes so enamoured with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allows his vigilance to wane. Second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behaviour that inflames minor differences hindering cooperation and destroying morale. Third, other females at court, motivated by jealousy and envy, begin to plot intrigues further exacerbating the situation.


The empty fort strategy

Comment: When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretense of military preparedness and act calmly so that the enemy will think you are setting an ambush. This stratagem has to be used sparingly and only after one has first developed a reputation for military prowess. This also depends on having a clever opponent who, in perceiving a trap, may over-think his reaction.


Let the enemys own spy sow discord in the enemy camp

Comment: Undermine your enemys ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and his friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population. While he is preoccupied settling internal disputes, his ability to attack or defend, is compromised.


Inflict injury on oneself to win the enemys trust

Comment: Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.


Chain stratagems

Comment: In important matters, one should use several stratagems applied simultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one stratagem fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.


If all else fails, retreat

Comment: If it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat, then retreat and regroup. When your side is losing, there are only three choices remaining: surrender, compromise, or escape. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat. As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance.