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The Art of Chinese PhilosophyEight Classical Texts and How to Read Them$
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Paul Goldin

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691200798

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691200798.001.0001

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(p.153) Chapter Seven Sunzi
The Art of Chinese Philosophy

Paul R. Goldin

Princeton University Press

This chapter deals with Sunzi or Sunzi Bingfa (Master Sun's Methods of War). This is a military treatise attributed to Sun Wu (which means Grandson Warlike), an all too appropriately named general who is said to have transformed the harem of King Helu of Wu (r. 514–496 BC) into a fearsome battalion in order to demonstrate his qualifications. But the vocabulary of the text is not in keeping with the world of 500 BC. The philosophical lexicon suggests a milieu in which concepts such as Heaven and the Way had already become influential. Although the author or authors of Sunzi may have had real combat experience, one of its rhetorical purposes was to carve out a place for military affairs in philosophical discourse. Sunzi anticipates an audience well versed in classical philosophical literature and argues that “the commander” should be added to everybody's list of technical terms.

Keywords:   Sunzi, Sunzi Bingfa, Sun Wu, the commander, philosophical terms, military treatise, military affairs, philosophical lexicon

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