The 36 Strategies

Act Visible, Think Invisible


Cross The Sea Under Camouflage

Means that you do things that people can see by revealing your actions, but you must hide your intentions. Then you can say things that only a certain people knows; so that you can attack in secret. Then you will be unpredictable and that leads to victory

Moving about in the darkness and shadows, occupying isolated places, or hiding behind screens will only attract suspicious attention. To lower an enemy's guard you must act in the open hiding your true intentions under the guise of common every day activities.

The perception of perfect preparation leads to relased vigilance. The sight of common occurrences leads to slackened suspicion. Therefore secret machinations are better concealed in the open than in the dark, and extreme public exposure often contains extreme secrecy.


Japanese Folk Tale

There once lived a Samurai who was plagued by a large and clever rat who had the run of the house. This annoyed the Samurai to no end so he went to the village to buy a cat.

A street vendor sold him a cat that he said would catch the rat and indeed the cat looked trim and fit. But the rat was even quicker than the cat and after a week with no success the Samurai returned the cat.

This time the vendor pulled out a large and grizzled cat and guaranteed that no rat could escape this master mouser. The rat knew enough to stay clear of this tough alley cat, but when the cat slept, the rat ran about. Half the day the rat would hide, but the other half he again had the run of the place. The Samurai brought the cat back to the vendor who shook his head in despair saying he had given the Samurai his best cat and there was nothing more he could do.

Returning home with his money, the Samurai happened upon a monk and sought his advice. After hearing the Samurai's story the monk offered him the services of the cat that lived in the temple. The cat was old and fat and he scarcely seemed to notice when he was carried away by the doubtful Samurai.

For two weeks the cat did little more than sleep all day and night. The Samurai wanted to give the cat back to the temple but the monk insisted he keep him a while longer assuring him the rat's days were close to an end. The rat became accustomed to the presence of the lazy old cat and was soon up to his old tricks even, on occasion, brazenly dancing around the old cat as he slept. Then one day, as the rat went about his business without any concern, he passed close by the cat - who swiftly struck out his paw and pinned the rat to the floor. The rat died instantly.


After the founder of Sui Dynasty Yang Jian had conquered the last of the northern kingdoms during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, he decided in AD 589 that the time was ripe to move south of the Yangtze river to take the Chen kingdom and consolidate his empire.

He Nuobi was ordered to lead the expedition across the river. The general encamped on the northern bank of the river and set up tents and banners but did not immediately cross the river to launch an attack.

He Nuobi ordered his captain to disguise as a businessman to buy plenty of boats. The newly-bought boats were concealed and only a few broken vessels were placed in the river.

When the dissolute king of Chen, Chen Shubao learned that the enemy were just across the river, he was alarmed. One of his advisors told him, "Our enemy has only a few broken vessels and won't be able to cross the river."

A few days later, there was a sudden mass movement of troops and military manoeuvres on the other side of the river. Chen Shubao became agitated and ordered his troops to guard the southern bank. The military manoeuvres continued but there was no sign of them crossing the river.

The manoeuvres continued for several days but an attack did not seem imminent. Thinking that the enemy was just practising drills, the Chen forces relaxed their vigilance.

Under the cover of darkness, He Nuobi assembled his hidden boats and stealthily crossed the river. Chen Shubao was still in dreamland and did not have any defence ready. At dawn, He Nuobi's troops reached the other side of the river and mounted a surprise attack on the unprepared Chen forces.

The Sui troops easily took the Chen capital in today's Nanjing and destroyed the Chen kingdom. The fragmentation of China under the Northern and Southern Dynasties thus came to an end.


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