The River

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Among the ancients, those who excelled in employing the military invariably emphasized authority over the realm and investigated the thoughts of the feudal lords. One who is not fastidious about the weightiness of tactical power will not know the relative imbalance of the light and heavy, the strong and weak. One who is not particular about probing emotions will not know hidden evils or the transformations of movement and rest. For heaviness nothing is more important than being thoroughly knowledgeable; for probing nothing is more difficult than raising everything. In affairs nothing is more difficult than invariably being successful. A true Sage can undertake these three.

Therefore, military techniques that achieve a hundred victories in a hundred battles are not the height of excellence. Rather, subjugating the enemy’s forces without engaging in combat is the pinnacle of excellence. The pinnacle employs plots and plans; the next highest, human affairs; the lowest undertakes warfare by attacking. Those who employ plots and plans mystify and confuse the enemy’s ruler, secretly influence his slanderous ministers to affect his affairs, muddle him with sorcerers and soothsayers, and cause him to respect ghosts and serve spirits. They cause him to indulge in colors and embroidery while cheapening the value he places on grains and foodstuffs, thereby emptying out his granaries and warehouses. They send him beautiful women to unsettle his mind and dispatch skilled carpenters to inveigle him into constructing palaces, rooms, and high towers in order to exhaust the state’s wealth and dissipate their strength in labor, thus changing the ruler’s nature and inducing licentious practices.

When he has become extravagant, brutal, arrogant, and dissipated, his worthy ministers will bite their tongues, unwilling to provide correctives or support. When he grants overflowing rewards and perverts the punishments, determining them solely by his own happiness and anger, the orders of government will not be implemented. When he believes in divination and looks for ghosts; contravenes the loyal but advances sycophants; publicly holds private audiences but lacks wise men in government; provides positions to those he loves and rank to those without merit; rewards people without achievement but pardons crimes because he is happy and perverts the laws to execute people when his is angry, then although there are laws, the ruler is merely indulging his inclinations and orders are not implemented. When he believes in divination by turtle shell and milfoil casting; when sorcerers and soothsayers, sycophants and slanderers, the strange and the skillful, are favored and prevalent within his gates; and whatever he considers correct is actually incorrect, what he terms “incorrect” all correct, a chasm separates the ruler and his ministers.

When you block off the ruler’s access to external information and debauch him with licentiousness, attack him with the lure of profits, pleasure him with music, nurture his tastes, and cause him to regard the deceitful as the trustworthy, the trustworthy as the deceitful, the loyal as the rebellious, and the rebellious as the loyal, then those who offer loyal remonstrance will perish while sycophants will be rewarded. When he exiles worthy men to the wilds, retains menial men in official positions, issues urgent orders, and imposes brutal punishments, the people will not sustain his mandate to rule. This is termed “overthrowing the ruler through secret plots without fighting.” When the destruction of his state has thus been achieved, if you follow up with troops, the ruler can be captured, his state subjugated, his cities seized, and his masses scattered.

-- Li Ch'uan of the T'ang dynasty in "Techniques for Secret Plots", cited inThe Tao of Spycraft, Ralph D. Sawyer; pgs. 243-244

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