Liutao – Six Secret Strategic Teachings


The Master Sun Art of War is the most well-written and popular strategy classic from China. Other Chinese military classics that I recommend are: Sun Bin’s The Art of War, Huang Shek Gong’s Three Strategies and Wuzi’s Art of War. Before Master Sun’s Art of War there was Jiang Taigong’s (Lu Shang) Six Secret Strategic Teachings also known as The Six Strategies of War.

Jiang Taigong named ‘Lu Shang’ and Jiang Ziya in the 11th century BC, became advisor to King Wen and his son King Wu. These were the founders of the Zhou dynasty (1122-771 BC). Lu Shang aided in the fall of the Shang Dynasty (1700 BCE – 1045 BCE) and helped establish the Zhou (1045 BCE – 221 BCE). Lu Shang became Prime Minister for the first Zhou emperor. Lu Shangs loyalty and farsightedness in governing spread throughout China. The legend of Lu Shang captured imagination and is honored as the father of strategic studies. He wrote the first military strategic book Liutao (Six Secret Strategic Teachings).

Liutao is an important and proven source for military wisdom over the centuries and continues to be held in high esteem.

Meeting between Emperor Wen and Fisherman Lü Shang 

The Six Secret Teachings concerns civil and military strategy attributed to Lü Shang (aka Jiang Ziya), a general of King Wen of Zhou of the Zhou dynasty around the eleventh century BC. Written from the perspective of a statesman attempting to overthrow the ruling Shang dynasty, it is one of the Seven Military Classics explicitly written from a revolutionary perspective.

The Civil Strategy:
The Civil Strategy provides the narrative of how Jiang Ziya came to dictate the Six Secret Teachings to King Wen, and elaborates on how the state must be organized in order to provide a logistical base for any future military expansion. “Moral, effective government is the basis for survival and the foundation for warfare. The state must thrive economically while limiting expenditures, foster appropriate values and behaviour among the populace, implement rewards and punishments, employ the worthy, and refrain from disturbing and harming the people.”[2] This strategy teaches commanders never to delight in small advantages, or that is all they will achieve. It teaches that the greatest gains result from benevolence and helping others achieve their aspirations for a better world.

The Military Strategy:
The Military Strategy continues the previous section’s discussion of civil affairs, analyzes the current state of Zhou, and assesses the prospects of successfully overthrowing the Shang. “Attracting the disaffected weakens the enemy and strengthens the state; employing subterfuge and psychological techniques allows manipulation of the enemy and hastens its demise. The ruler must visibly cultivate his Virtue (德) and embrace government policies that will allow the state to compete for the minds and hearts of the people; the state will thus gain victory without engaging in battle.”[2] This strategy teaches commanders to achieve victory via benevolence and wit, preferably without actually fighting. It teaches commanders to outwit opponents through diplomacy and manipulation.

The Dragon Strategy:
The Dragon Strategy primarily discusses military organization, the necessary characteristics of military officers, and how to evaluate and select for these qualities. It discusses how to establish a system of rewards and punishments for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a general’s awesomeness and authority, and discusses the methods necessary to foster allegiance and unity in one’s soldiers. The Dragon Strategy’s secondary topics include: military communication and the need for secrecy; basic tactical principles (emphasizing flexibility and unorthodoxy); common errors of command and how to avoid them; various cues to interpret the enemy’s situation; and, a discussion of common military skills and equipment.[3] This strategy explores the subtle and complex aspects of critical situations without losing control to advisors or becoming confused. It emphasizes that the government depends on a centralized and orderly overview which must be well informed in order to function effectively.

The Tiger Strategy:
The Tiger Strategy discusses military equipment, tactical principles, and essential issues of command. Most of the section provides “tactics for extricating oneself from adverse battlefield situations. The solutions generally emphasize speed, maneuverability, unified action, decisive commitment, the employment of misdirection, the establishment of ambushes, and the appropriate use of different types of forces.” It emphasizes that a commander must guard against laxity and act in accord with ever-changing conditions. A commander must observe and utilize the effects and interactions of variables such as weather, terrain, and human psychology in order to achieve success.

The Leopard Strategy:
“The Leopard Secret Teaching emphasizes tactical solutions for particularly difficult types of terrain, such as forests, mountains, ravines and defiles, lakes and rivers, deep valleys, and other constricted locations. It also contains discussions of methods to contain rampaging invaders, confront superior forces, deploy effectively, and act explosively.” This section teaches commanders how to know their strengths, and how to direct those strengths against the weaknesses of their enemy.

The Dog Strategy:
The Dog Strategy discusses a number of diverse topics, miscellaneous to the other sections. The most important sections “expound on detailed principles for appropriately employing the three component forces – chariots, infantry, and cavalry – in a wide variety of concrete tactical situations,” and discusses the comparative battlefield effectiveness of these three forces. It discusses a variety of “deficiencies and weaknesses in the enemy that can and should be exploited immediately with a determined attack.” It discusses several other, general issues: “the identification and selection of highly motivated, physically talented individuals for elite infantry units and for the cavalry and chariots; and methods for training the soldiers.”[4] This strategy teaches never to attack an enemy when his morale is high, and to time a concentrated attack when the moment is right.

The translation that I recommend is by Ralph Sawer and can be purchased through Amazon here alternatively you can link on to the great site ChangingMinds:

These pages include brief notes on observed key learning points and further discussions of these. For detail and full translation, see Sawyer (1993). 1. Civil Secret Teachings1.1. King Wen’s Teacher1.2. Fullness and Emptiness1.3. Affairs of State1.4. The Great Forms of Etiquette1.5. Clear Instructions1.6. Six Preservations1.7. Preserving the State’s Territory1.8. Preserving the State1.9. Honoring the Worthy1.10. Advancing the Worthy1.11. Rewards and Punishment1.12. The Tao of Military2. Martial Secret Teachings2.1. Opening Instructions2.2. Civil Instructions2.3. Civil Offensive2.4. Instructions on According with the People2.5. Three Doubts3. Dragon Secret Teachings3.1. The King’s Wings3.2. A Discussion of Generals3.3. Selecting Generals3.4. Appointing the General3.5. The General’s Awesomeness3.6. Encouraging the Army3.7. Secret Tallies3.8. Secret Letters3.9. The Army’s Strategic Power3.10. The Unorthodox Army3.11. The Five Notes3.12. The Army’s Indications3.13. Agricultural Implements4. Tiger Secret Teachings4.1. The Army’s Equipment4.2. Three Deployments4.3. Urgent Battles4.4. Certain Escape4.5. Planning for the Army4.6. Approaching the Border4.7. Movement and Rest4.8. Gongs and Drums4.9. Severed Routes4.10. Occupying Enemy Territory4.11. Incendiary Warfare4.12. Empty Fortifications5. Leopard Secret Teachings5.1. Forest Warfare5.2. Explosive Warfare5.3. Strong Enemy5.4. Martial Enemy5.5. Crow and Cloud Formation in the Mountains5.6. Crow and Cloud Formation in the Marshes5.7. The Few and the Many5.8. Divided Valleys6. Canine Secret Teachings6.1. Dispersing and Assembling6.2. Military Vanguard6.3. Selecting Warriors6.4. Teaching Combat6.5. Equivalent Forces6.6. Martial Chariot Warriors6.7. Martial Cavalry Warriors6.8. Battle Chariots6.9. Cavalry in Battle6.10. The Infantry in Battle

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