Sun Wu, more commonly known by the alternative spelling of his name Sunzi or Sun Tzu, is traditionally thought to have been a military strategist, general, philosopher, and author of The Art of War, who lived around the 6th and 5th centuries BC. The exact dates are unknown. The Art of War has been highly influential throughout Asian history in instructing generals on how to conduct warfare, particularly during the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). More recently the book has become influential among western readers, gaining particular popularity in the business world where it is believed that Sun Tzu’s military principles are equally applicable. His work remains influential today across both Asia and the West.
Evidence and records give conflicting evidence as to the origins and life of Sun Tzu, casting his authenticity as an individual into doubt. However, accounts agree that he served the King of the State of Wu towards the end of the 6th Century BC. His success as a general and strategist gave him the impetus to write The Art of War.
Given its title, the book itself and the philosophy on warfare contained within it surprisingly advocates avoiding warfare at all costs, saying how it is a waste of men and resources. What the book teaches is the best and most efficient way to conduct warfare if there is no other option. Sun Tzu’s philosophy was that if warfare is conducted in the best possible way, the battle will have been won before troops even meet in combat. In this way, the Sun Tzu concerns himself more with the strategy surrounding warfare such as the use of spies and tactics away from the battlefield to defeat enemies, rather than specific troop movements or formations.
Sun Tzu’s historical legacy is commemorated on one of five coins, which make a set featuring influential figures from Chinese history, issued in 1985. He appears on the reverse face of one of four 5 yuan 22g silver coins in the five-coin set, and is pictured against a background of chariots riding into battle.