OK, I have just concluded my interview with SF U’s Professor Jeremy Brown of the history department. His area of study is ancient China, so I thought he would be a perfect interviewee. I managed to find his email on the directory, an contacted him. He was pleased to accept, and the key points of the interview (via email) were:

Q:  What was the general area like? How did the environment work to Sun Tzu’s Favor?

A: “At one point during the Warring States Period there were more than 100 states: some as big as a European nation, others controlling no more than one or two walled cities.  They didn’t have very well defined borders.  Eventually, big states swallowed up the smaller ones, and the bigger states were the only ones that remained.  According to one source, the Zuozhuan, in the 259 years between 722 and 463 BC, there were more than 500 battles between states and over 100 civil wars within states.  So there was a market for Sun Tzu’s ideas.”

Q: Why were Sun Tzu’s tactics so effective?

A: ” Sun Tzu thought that heroism in battle was useless.  He also promoted the controversial idea that the best military leaders actually avoided war whenever possible. . . Knowledge is key to Sun Tzu: know your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, know your own strengths and weaknesses, know the terrain, weather, economics, psychology.  Be as good at defense as at offence.”

Q: Why are Sun Tzu’s tactics still effective and in continuous use?

A: “The short answer is “because more often than not, they work.”  It’s rare to have evenly matched military opponents in a conflict.  More often we see asymmetry between opponents (guerrilla insurgencies or small terrorist cells versus established armies, for example)–but both sides can learn from Sun Tzu’s ideas.  As for why Sun Tzu’s philosophy has become popular in self-help and business books, I think it’s more of a fad.”

Q: Why was no one else using these tactics in China?

A: “Before Sun Tzu, it used to be that noble military leaders were qualified to command troops because their fathers had led before them.  It was hard for established military leaders to break away from hereditary rule and to go with a more practical instructional manual based on expertise rather than inheritance.  This required a change in the entire structure of society.”
All this information is very useful, an I plan to incorporate it into my speech and learning center (still to come). See you next time,


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