Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 12: The Attack by Fire

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
    • 22 Favorites on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 19
    Previous Chapter
    XII. THE ATTACK BY FIRE

    [Rather more than half the chapter (SS. 1-13) is devoted to
    the subject of fire, after which the author branches off into
    other topics.]

    1. Sun Tzu said: There are five ways of attacking with
    fire. The first is to burn soldiers in their camp;

    [So Tu Mu. Li Ch'uan says: "Set fire to the camp, and kill
    the soldiers" (when they try to escape from the flames). Pan
    Ch'ao, sent on a diplomatic mission to the King of Shan-shan [see
    XI. ss. 51, note], found himself placed in extreme peril by the
    unexpected arrival of an envoy from the Hsiung-nu [the mortal
    enemies of the Chinese]. In consultation with his officers, he
    exclaimed: "Never venture, never win! [1] The only course open
    to us now is to make an assault by fire on the barbarians under
    cover of night, when they will not be able to discern our
    numbers. Profiting by their panic, we shall exterminate them
    completely; this will cool the King's courage and cover us with
    glory, besides ensuring the success of our mission.' the
    officers all replied that it would be necessary to discuss the
    matter first with the Intendant. Pan Ch'ao then fell into a
    passion: 'It is today,' he cried, 'that our fortunes must be
    decided! The Intendant is only a humdrum civilian, who on
    hearing of our project will certainly be afraid, and everything
    will be brought to light. An inglorious death is no worthy fate
    for valiant warriors.' All then agreed to do as he wished.
    Accordingly, as soon as night came on, he and his little band
    quickly made their way to the barbarian camp. A strong gale was
    blowing at the time. Pan Ch'ao ordered ten of the party to take
    drums and hide behind the enemy's barracks, it being arranged
    that when they saw flames shoot up, they should begin drumming
    and yelling with all their might. The rest of his men, armed
    with bows and crossbows, he posted in ambuscade at the gate of
    the camp. He then set fire to the place from the windward side,
    whereupon a deafening noise of drums and shouting arose on the
    front and rear of the Hsiung-nu, who rushed out pell-mell in
    frantic disorder. Pan Ch'ao slew three of them with his own
    hand, while his companions cut off the heads of the envoy and
    thirty of his suite. The remainder, more than a hundred in all,
    perished in the flames. On the following day, Pan Ch'ao,
    divining his thoughts, said with uplifted hand: 'Although you
    did not go with us last night, I should not think, Sir, of taking
    sole credit for our exploit.' This satisfied Kuo Hsun, and Pan
    Ch'ao, having sent for Kuang, King of Shan-shan, showed him the
    head of the barbarian envoy. The whole kingdom was seized with
    fear and trembling, which Pan Ch'ao took steps to allay by
    issuing a public proclamation. Then, taking the king's sons as
    hostage, he returned to make his report to Tou Ku." HOU HAN SHU,
    ch. 47, ff. 1, 2.] ]

    the second is to burn stores;

    [Tu Mu says: "Provisions, fuel and fodder." In order to
    subdue the rebellious population of Kiangnan, Kao Keng
    recommended Wen Ti of the Sui dynasty to make periodical raids
    and burn their stores of grain, a policy which in the long run
    proved entirely successful.]

    the third is to burn baggage trains;

    [An example given is the destruction of Yuan Shao's wagons
    and impedimenta by Ts'ao Ts'ao in 200 A.D.]

    the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;

    [Tu Mu says that the things contained in "arsenals" and
    "magazines" are the same. He specifies weapons and other
    implements, bullion and clothing. Cf. VII. ss. 11.]

    the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.

    [Tu Yu says in the T'UNG TIEN: "To drop fire into the
    enemy's camp. The method by which this may be done is to set the
    tips of arrows alight by dipping them into a brazier, and then
    shoot them from powerful crossbows into the enemy's lines."]

    2. In order to carry out an attack, we must have means
    available.

    [T'sao Kung thinks that "traitors in the enemy's camp" are
    referred to. But Ch'en Hao is more likely to be right in saying:
    "We must have favorable circumstances in general, not merely
    traitors to help us." Chia Lin says: "We must avail ourselves
    of wind and dry weather."]

    the material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.

    [Tu Mu suggests as material for making fire: "dry vegetable
    matter, reeds, brushwood, straw, grease, oil, etc." Here we have
    the material cause. Chang Yu says: "vessels for hoarding fire,
    stuff for lighting fires."]

    3. There is a proper season for making attacks with fire,
    and special days for starting a conflagration.
    4. The proper season is when the weather is very dry; the
    special days are those when the moon is in the constellations of
    the Sieve, the Wall, the Wing or the Cross-bar;

    [These are, respectively, the 7th, 14th, 27th, and 28th of
    the Twenty-eight Stellar Mansions, corresponding roughly to
    Sagittarius, Pegasus, Crater and Corvus.]

    for these four are all days of rising wind.
    5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet
    five possible developments:
    6. (1) When fire breaks out inside to enemy's camp, respond
    at once with an attack from without.
    7. (2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy's
    soldiers remain quiet, bide your time and do not attack.

    [The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the
    enemy into confusion. If this effect is not produced, it means
    that the enemy is ready to receive us. Hence the necessity for
    caution.]

    8. (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height,
    follow it up with an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay
    where you are.

    [Ts'ao Kung says: "If you see a possible way, advance; but
    if you find the difficulties too great, retire."]

    9. (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from
    without, do not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your
    attack at a favorable moment.

    [Tu Mu says that the previous paragraphs had reference to
    the fire breaking out (either accidentally, we may suppose, or by
    the agency of incendiaries) inside the enemy's camp. "But," he
    continues, "if the enemy is settled in a waste place littered
    with quantities of grass, or if he has pitched his camp in a
    position which can be burnt out, we must carry our fire against
    him at any seasonable opportunity, and not await on in hopes of
    an outbreak occurring within, for fear our opponents should
    themselves burn up the surrounding vegetation, and thus render
    our own attempts fruitless." The famous Li Ling once baffled the
    leader of the Hsiung-nu in this way. The latter, taking
    advantage of a favorable wind, tried to set fire to the Chinese
    general's camp, but found that every scrap of combustible
    vegetation in the neighborhood had already been burnt down. On
    the other hand, Po-ts'ai, a general of the Yellow Turban rebels,
    was badly defeated in 184 A.D. through his neglect of this simple
    precaution. "At the head of a large army he was besieging
    Ch'ang-she, which was held by Huang-fu Sung. The garrison was
    very small, and a general feeling of nervousness pervaded the
    ranks; so Huang-fu Sung called his officers together and said:
    "In war, there are various indirect methods of attack, and
    numbers do not count for everything. [The commentator here
    quotes Sun Tzu, V. SS. 5, 6 and 10.] Now the rebels have pitched
    their camp in the midst of thick grass which will easily burn
    when the wind blows. If we set fire to it at night, they will be
    thrown into a panic, and we can make a sortie and attack them on
    all sides at once, thus emulating the achievement of T'ien Tan.'
    [See p. 90.] That same evening, a strong breeze sprang up; so
    Huang-fu Sung instructed his soldiers to bind reeds together into
    torches and mount guard on the city walls, after which he sent
    out a band of daring men, who stealthily made their way through
    the lines and started the fire with loud shouts and yells.
    Simultaneously, a glare of light shot up from the city walls, and
    Huang-fu Sung, sounding his drums, led a rapid charge, which
    threw the rebels into confusion and put them to headlong flight."
    [HOU HAN SHU, ch. 71.] ]

    10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do
    not attack from the leeward.

    [Chang Yu, following Tu Yu, says: "When you make a fire,
    the enemy will retreat away from it; if you oppose his retreat
    and attack him then, he will fight desperately, which will not
    conduce to your success." A rather more obvious explanation is
    given by Tu Mu: "If the wind is in the east, begin burning to
    the east of the enemy, and follow up the attack yourself from
    that side. If you start the fire on the east side, and then
    attack from the west, you will suffer in the same way as your
    enemy."]

    11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a
    night breeze soon falls.

    [Cf. Lao Tzu's saying: "A violent wind does not last the
    space of a morning." (TAO TE CHING, chap. 23.) Mei Yao-ch'en
    and Wang Hsi say: "A day breeze dies down at nightfall, and a
    night breeze at daybreak. This is what happens as a general
    rule." The phenomenon observed may be correct enough, but how
    this sense is to be obtained is not apparent.]

    12. In every army, the five developments connected with
    fire must be known, the movements of the stars calculated, and a
    watch kept for the proper days.

    [Tu Mu says: "We must make calculations as to the paths of
    the stars, and watch for the days on which wind will rise,
    before making our attack with fire." Chang Yu seems to interpret
    the text differently: "We must not only know how to assail our
    opponents with fire, but also be on our guard against similar
    attacks from them."]

    13. Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show
    intelligence; those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an
    accession of strength.
    14. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not
    robbed of all his belongings.

    [Ts'ao Kung's note is: "We can merely obstruct the enemy's
    road or divide his army, but not sweep away all his accumulated
    stores." Water can do useful service, but it lacks the terrible
    destructive power of fire. This is the reason, Chang Yu
    concludes, why the former is dismissed in a couple of sentences,
    whereas the attack by fire is discussed in detail. Wu Tzu (ch.
    4) speaks thus of the two elements: "If an army is encamped on
    low-lying marshy ground, from which the water cannot run off, and
    where the rainfall is heavy, it may be submerged by a flood. If
    an army is encamped in wild marsh lands thickly overgrown with
    weeds and brambles, and visited by frequent gales, it may be
    exterminated by fire."]

    15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles
    and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of
    enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general
    stagnation.

    [This is one of the most perplexing passages in Sun Tzu.
    Ts'ao Kung says: "Rewards for good service should not be
    deferred a single day." And Tu Mu: "If you do not take
    opportunity to advance and reward the deserving, your
    subordinates will not carry out your commands, and disaster will
    ensue." For several reasons, however, and in spite of the
    formidable array of scholars on the other side, I prefer the
    interpretation suggested by Mei Yao-ch'en alone, whose words I
    will quote: "Those who want to make sure of succeeding in their
    battles and assaults must seize the favorable moments when they
    come and not shrink on occasion from heroic measures: that is to
    say, they must resort to such means of attack of fire, water and
    the like. What they must not do, and what will prove fatal, is
    to sit still and simply hold to the advantages they have got."]

    16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans
    well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

    [Tu Mu quotes the following from the SAN LUEH, ch. 2: "The
    warlike prince controls his soldiers by his authority, kits them
    together by good faith, and by rewards makes them serviceable.
    If faith decays, there will be disruption; if rewards are
    deficient, commands will not be respected."]

    17. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your
    troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless
    the position is critical.

    [Sun Tzu may at times appear to be over-cautious, but he
    never goes so far in that direction as the remarkable passage in
    the TAO TE CHING, ch. 69. "I dare not take the initiative, but
    prefer to act on the defensive; I dare not advance an inch, but
    prefer to retreat a foot."]

    18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to
    gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply
    out of pique.
    19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if
    not, stay where you are.

    [This is repeated from XI. ss. 17. Here I feel convinced
    that it is an interpolation, for it is evident that ss. 20 ought
    to follow immediately on ss. 18.]

    20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be
    succeeded by content.
    21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never
    come again into being;

    [The Wu State was destined to be a melancholy example of
    this saying.]

    nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.
    22. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good
    general full of caution. This is the way to keep a country at
    peace and an army intact.

    [1] "Unless you enter the tiger's lair, you cannot get hold of
    the tiger's cubs."
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 19
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Sun Tzu essay and need some advice, post your Sun Tzu essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?