The name of the collection comes from the Book of Qi, in its seventh biographical volume,Biography of Wáng Jìngzé (王敬则传). Wáng was a general who had served Southern Qi since the first Emperor Gao of the dynasty. When Emperor Ming came to power and executed many members of the court and royal family for fear that they would threaten his reign, Wáng believed that he would be targeted next and rebelled. As Wáng received news that Xiāo Bǎojuàn (萧宝卷), son and crown prince of Emperor Ming, had escaped in haste after learning of the rebellion, he commented that "of the thirty-six stratagems of Lord Tán, retreat was his best, you father and son should run for sure"(檀公三十六策，走为上计，汝父子唯应走耳). Lord Tán here refers to general Tán Dàojì (檀道济) of the Liu Song Dynasty, who was forced to retreat after his failed attack on Northern Wei, and Wáng mentioned his name in contempt as an example of cowardice.
This stratagem references an episode in 643 AD, when Emperor Taizong of Tang (唐太宗 tánɡtàizōnɡ), balked from crossing the sea to a campaign against Koguryo. His general Xue Rengui (薛仁贵 Xuē Rénɡuì) thought of a stratagem to get the emperor across and allay his fear of seasickness: on a clear day, the emperor was invited to meet a wise man. They entered through a dark tunnel into a hall wher they feasted. After feasting several days, the Emperor heard the sound of waves and realised that he had been lured onto a ship! General Xue drew aside the curtains to reveal the ocean and confessed that they had already crossed the sea: Upon discovering this, the emperor decided to carry on and later completed the successful campaign.
The origin of this proverb is from the Warring States Period (战国时期 zhànɡuóshíqī). The state of Wèi attacked Zhao and laid siege (围攻 wéiɡōnɡ) to its capital Handan (邯郸 Hándān). Zhào turned to Qí for help, but the Qí general Sun Bin determined it would be unwise to meet the army of Wèi head on, so he instead attacked their capital atDaliang (大梁 Dàliánɡ). The army of Wèi retreated (撤回 chèhuí) in haste, and the tired troops were ambushed (伏击 fújī) and defeated at the Battle of Guiling (桂陵之战 Guìlínɡzhīzhàn), with the Wèi general Pang Juan (庞涓 Pánɡ Juān) slain on the field. Note that this campaign is also described explicitly in the Art of War of Master Sun Bin the younger.
During the Spring and Autumn Period, there were three fearless warriors (勇士 yǒnɡshì) in Qi by the name of Gongsun Jie, Tian Kaijiang and Gu Yezi. They were very arrogant because of the accomplishments on the battlefield and even showed disrespect towards the king of Qi, Jing Gong. So when Jing Gong planed to remove them to avoid any future troubles, the prime minister, Yan Ying (晏婴 Yàn Yīnɡ) suggested killing the three warriors with two peaches. Two peaches were to be awarded to the two of them who deserved it the most. Gongsun Jie and Tian Kaijiang thought they were deserved and took one peach each, while Gu Yezi angrily pulled his sword and challenged the other two to a duel (决斗 juédòu). At last Gongsun Jie and Tian Kaijing felt ashamed of arguing fiercely just for two peaches and then committed suicide with their swords. Having watched this, Gu Yezi killed himself the same way. Thus Yan Ying was able to remove three potential threats to the country of Qi without lifting a finger.
This phrase is derived from The Art of War authored by Sun Tzu (《孙子兵法》Sūnzǐbīnɡfǎ), “to be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is exhausted, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished—this is the art of husbanding one’s strength.(以近待远，以佚待劳，以饱待饥，此治力者也。)” In 684 BC, the Qi army attacked the state of Lu. Lu Zhuang Gong (鲁庄公 Lǔzhuānɡɡōnɡ) then decided to embark on an expedition with his warriors. Cao Gui (曹刿 Cáo Guì), a warrior went with him. The Qi-Lu parties set the battlefield in Chang Shao (长勺 Chánɡsháo). Qi took the lead to beat drum. Soldiers rushed over like a flood. But Cao Gui persuaded Lu Zhuang Gong just to keep up with a good defense. Qi began to launch the second round of attacks. They beat the drums again. But Lu stayed on the defensive and didn’t attempt to strike. Because of this, Qi thought Lu was timid and then relaxed. When Lu heard Qi beating the drums for the third time, Cao Gui commanded their troops to attack. The Qi army was exhausted after two attacks. Meanwhile, the Lu soldiers had been in resting for a long time and were finally ready to attack (蓄势待发 xùshì-dàifā). As a result, the Lu soldiers beat the Qi army and won the battle.
During the An Lushan (安禄山 ān Lùshān) rebellion in 756 AD the Tang general Zhang Xun (张巡 Zhāng Xún) was under siege by the forces of general Linghu Chao. Outnumbered twenty to one, the defending Tang forces soon ran out of arrows. To remedy this general Zhang ordered his men to make straw dummies (稻草人 dàocǎorén) and to dress them in black uniforms. That night the dummies were lowered over the city walls by ropes, accompanied to the beat of war drums (战鼓 zhàngǔ). General Linghu thought the enemy was launching a surprise night offensive and ordered his archers to shower the figures descending the walls with arrows. once the dummies wher riddled with arrows the Tang soldiers pulled them back up the walls and thus restored their supply of arrows. The next night the Tang again lowered the dummies but General Linghu ordered his men to ignore (不予理会 bù yǔ lǐhuì) them believing it was the same trick to get more arrows. When general Zhang saw that no one was firing at the straw dummies, he ordered that five hundred of his best troops (部队 bùduì) be lowered instead. They made a lightning raid (突袭 tūxí） on the encamped soldiers who were caught completely by surprise. The siege was lifted and general Linghu’s army fled the field.
In the story of Journey to the West (《西游记》 Xī Yóu Jì), Xuan Zang (玄奘 Xuánzànɡ) and his disciples embarked on a pilgrimage to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures. They passed through a temple on the way to their destination. The abbot (方丈 fānɡzhànɡ） hospitably received them. He requested to borrow Xuan Zang’s beautifulcassock (袈裟 jiāshā) to get a better look and Xuan Zang agreed. In the dead of night, the abbot bolted the door when Xuan Zang and his disciples fell asleep, and then set the bedroom on fire. Meanwhile, the Monkey King(美猴王 měihóuwánɡ) had stayed awake due to his suspicions of the evil intentions of the abbot. To spoil the abbot’s scheme, he transformed himself into a honeybee and lingered outside. The Monkey King blew a strong puff of wind. The enormous fire spread to the entire temple and all of the Buddhist monks joined the task of extinguishing the flames. However, a black bear monster came out unexpectedly. He concealed the cassock under the shield of the fire. Although the Monkey King had severely penalized the black-hearted abbot, he lost the master’s cassock once again. With no idea of its current possessor or how to reclaim it, he turned to the Bodhisattva Guanyin (观音菩萨 ɡuānyīn púsà) for assistance. She helped him defeat the black monster and finally acquired the cassock.
At the end of the Eastern Han, there was a peasant uprising that became known as the"Yellow Scarves Rebellion" (黄巾起义 huánɡjīnqǐyì).The government sent Zhu Jun (朱隽 Zhū Jùn) to suppress the insurgents of the Yellow Scarves Rebellion who were then approaching Wan Cheng (宛城 wǎnchénɡ). Zhu Jun’s army scored an advantage: they had heavily barricaded Wan Cheng. Radicals of the Yellow Scarves Rebellion were packed together like turtles in a jar (瓮中之鳖 wènɡzhōnɡzhībiē) and appeared to be in great disarray. Zhun Jun said that his army was to attack the southwest part of Wan Cheng and then created a big display to mislead (误导 wùdǎo) the Yellow Scarves Rebellion. When the news reached them, the Yellow Scarves Rebellion was thrown into chaos. The entire army rushed to the southwest to defend themselves. But little did they know that the message sent by Zhu Jun was bogus. It was created to deceive them. His intended target (目标 mùbiāo) was the city’s northeast wher, as it turned out, no one was present to defend. Wan Cheng was overpowered and taken into possession by Zhu Jun soon.
The phrase originated from the Chu-Han contention (楚汉之争 ChǔHànzhīzhēng), wher Liu Bang (刘邦 Liú Bāng) retreated to the lands of Sichuan to prepare for a confrontation with Xiang Yu (项羽 Xiàng Yǔ). once he was fully prepared, Liu Bang sent men to openly repair the gallery roads (栈道 zhàndào) he had destroyed earlier, while secretly moving his troops towards Guanzhong through the small town of Chencang (陈仓 Chéncāng) instead. When Xiang Yu received news of Liu Bang repairing the gallery roads, he dismissed the threat since he knew the repairs would take years to complete. This allowed Liu Bang to retake Guanzhong (关中 Guānzhōng) by surprise, and eventually led to his victory over Xiang Yu and the birth of the Han Dynasty.
Chapter 2: Enemy Dealing Stratagems 敌战计 Sun Bin helped Tian Ji (田忌 ) to win a horse race (赛马 ) by putting his best horse in the second race, rather than against other best horses in the first race. The principle also worked in the third and other races. In battle, Sun Bin put his worst troops against Pang Juan’s best, his medium troops against the enemy’s medium troops and his best troops against the worst of the other side. His best troops quickly wiped out (消灭 xiāomiè) Pang Juan’s worst troops and then joined his medium troops to destroy the opposing medium troops. All Sun Bin’s forces then combined to overwhelm (攻破 gōngpò) Pang Juan’s best troops.