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Sun Wu

Sun Wu was a native of the State of Qi during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). The family name of his ancestors, who were Qi nobles, was Tian. Sun Wu's grandfather, Tian Shu, was a high-ranking official who excelled in military affairs. He was awarded land and given the family name Sun by the King of Qi for his meritorious service during an expedition to the State of Ju (present-day Juxian County of East China's Shandong Province). Sun Ping, Sun Wu's father, was one of the king's top officials.

Sun Wu's privileged family background provided good conditions for his studies. He began reading the classics in his childhood and achieved a high standard of scholarship. Being a descendant of generations of generals, Sun Wu had unique and ideal conditions under which to study the art of war. He read all the established martial classics, and also experienced war firsthand.

When Sun Wu was in his teens, the State of Qi began to decline, and internal struggles for power within the court became increasingly fierce. Disgusted with these internal struggles, Sun Wu decided to go to a place far from home in order to realize his ambitions. In 517 BC when he was 18, Sun Wu went to the State of Wu and became acquainted with Wu Zixu, a famous general.

In the State of Wu, Sun Wu lived a hermit's life deep in the mountains and summarized the results of his research in his 13-chapter book The Art of War .

Later, on the recommendation of Wu Zixu, Sun Wu was appointed general by the State of Wu. He was strict with his troops and exercised able leadership in war maneuvers. In 512 BC, he won victory after victory in battles against the two small states of Zhongwu and Shu.

In 506 BC the State of Chu attacked the State of Cai -- a vassal state of Wu. The king of Wu, together with Wu Zixu and Sun Wu, led 30,000 troops against the Chu. At the command of Sun Wu, the Wu troops changed their route, abandoned their warships, and went deep into the Chu hinterland where they took the Chu troops by surprise, forcing them to retreat in defeat. Upon the Chu capital being captured, the king fled in confusion.

In this battle, Sun Wu's principles of using both direct and indirect maneuvers and of "speed being everything in the conduct of war" were fully applied, enabling him to amazingly lead his 30,000-strong force to victory over the 200,000-strong enemy, giving a perfect illustration of how a smaller force can defeat a force much superior in number.

In 484 BC, with the help of Sun Wu and Wu Zixu, the State of Wu became the strongest state of that time.

Unfortunately, when the State of Wu rose to prominence during the Warring States Period, Fu Chai, the king of Wu, became arrogant. He rejected worthy men and welcomed those of low quality, disregarding the criticism of those loyal to him and killing those who had rendered outstanding service. He even forced Wu Zixu to commit suicide, which boded ill for the future.

As for Sun Wu, after years of experience on the battlefield and in officialdom, he shunned all worldly vanities, and retired from his post in order to write scholarly works. He revised The Art of War based on his experiences in military training and operations.

No one knows of Sun Wu's last whereabouts. However, he left a timeless piece of work -- Sun Zi Art of War. More than a century later, another great strategist, Sun Bin, appeared in Chinese history. Some people say he was a descendant of Sun Wu, and certain historical works endorse this. Sun Bin also bequeathed humankind an eternal martial classic, Sun Bin Art of War .

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