• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,081,386 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

Sun Tzu


I really have to read up on the Chinese classics—the the ancient classics. In light of the recent pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, The Art of War seems a relevant book to begin the journey. Sun-Tzu (ca. 450-380 B.C.E.) had a successful career as a general and military planner in one or more of the kingdoms of the Warring States Period into which China dissolved in the waning centuries of the Chou Dynasty.

The Art of War is a collection of his teachings, put together by his disciples after his death. The book has been so highly esteemed, and so much imitated, as it has been throughout the history of traditional China. Under the inveterate influence of Confucius, Chinese social philosophy has downplayed the political role of warfare, and has insisted that military matters had to be kept firmly under control of a civil bureaucracy.

On reading this book, I see that the apparent paradox resolves itself; it becomes clear that Sun Tzu was more a philosopher than a strategist, one who taught that the best victory is attained without a battle. (Is this the direction Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung is pursuing?) Sun Tzu was a realist who recognized that warfare sometimes could not be avoided, and then must be pursued with the utmost vigor to a successful conclusion. While his talent lay in teaching rulers how to deploy their forces to maximum advantage, he never glories warfare. His willingness to engage in no-holds-barred combat, his consistent and close attention to detail, and the clarity of his style, has led in modern times to a new vogue as a handbook for business management .

Wounds and Hatred

A newspaper article (South China Morning Post, Hong Kong) sent by a friend piques my interest in Chinese spies and the traitor government during the Second Sino-Japanese War. More than 70 years after Japan marched into large swathes of China, hatred of the invading nation remains strong. Whether it is an attempt to heal old wounds or to establish new ground to sustain this hatred, historians and academics never fail to find ways to remember the horrible tragedy the scale of the Holocaust that took place in Nanjing. In 1937 the Japanese invaded China and set up puppet governments across the country. Many historians have blamed the actions of these spies, or hanjian, which literally translates to Han evil, helped justify torture, murder and oppression on a scale that changed the collective personality of the country, creating hatred and mistrust for Japan that persists today. One of the most well-known traitors is Wang Jingwei, as portrayed in Lust, Caution, who advocated peace negotiation during the Second Sino-Japanese War and set up the Nanjing “Nationalist Government” puppet state with the assistance of Japanese Army. It’s difficult to judge if someone was really a traitor–maybe ambition or sense of public service prompted him to step forward and assert leadership in troubled times.

I read an article that discussed why China loves to hate Japan during my stay in Hong Kong. The problem is that just as Japanese soldiers once dehumanized Chinese, Beijing’s propaganda often paints Japanese as pure monsters. And indeed this is still the case in mainland. You don’t have to look far to see why Chinese grow up learning to hate Japan..Grade school textbooks recount the callous brutality of Japanese soldiers in graphic detail, and credit the Communist Party with defeating Japan.Why keep up the propaganda onslaught 60 years after Japan’s surrender? Many suspect (my father included) China’s unelected leaders hope to use anti-Japan sentiment to buttress their own legitimacy. Ever since the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989, support for the Communist Party has rested on the shaky foundation of economic growth. Nationalism, by contrast, could prove more enduring. Until China’s leaders have some new pillar of legitimacy, I think the Japanese will remain the devils for China.

I’m looking forward to reading this book, the third non-fiction on the roll.