The 36 Strategies

Combine Tactically To Create Superiority


The Tactic Of Combining Tactics

Means that you have to combine all possible tactics and to create one new and superior strategy. If one strategy fails, you can always fall back on your other strategies. On this way, you will look like you're superior and that leads to great victory.

In important matters one should use several strategies applied simultaneously. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; in this manner if any one strategy fails you would still have several others to fall back on.

When the enemy possesses a superior force, do not attack recklessly. Instead, weaken him by devising plots to bring him into a difficult position of his own doing. Good leadership plays a key role in winning a war. A wise commander gains Heaven's favour.


Warring States Era China

In 284 BC the state of Yan attacked and defeated Qi.

The remaining Qi forces under the command of Tien Tan fled to the city of Ji Mo for a last stand. First, Tien Tan had the womenfolk line the city walls and beg for a peaceful surrender while he sent gold and treasure collected from the city's wealthiest citizens to general Qi Che with a note asking that the women and children be spared in return for the peaceful surrender of the city.

These events convinced Qi Che that the city was truly about to capitulate and he allowed his troops to relax their guard. After this careful preparation Tien Tan felt the time was right to launch his counter attack.

First he had the citizens of the city gather with drums and cooking pots and instructed them that on a signal they were to make as much noise as possible. He then had breaches made along the city walls from the inside. Next a herd of cattle was painted in bizarre patterns and knives and sickles tied to their horns and torches tied to their tails.

Just before daylight three events occurred in rapid succession. The citizens within the city struck up a cacophony of noise that startled the sleeping Yan troops. Then the torches on the tails of the cattle were lit and they were released through the breaches in the wall. The enraged animals ran madly about the Yen camp killing stunned troops with their horns and setting fire to tents with their tails. Then Qi's crack troops rushed out from the gates to attack the now terrified and utterly confused troops. Tien Tan defeated the Yan army and went on to take more than seventy cities.


In the late Spring and Autumn period, the chief minister of Qi, Tian Chang, instigated Duke Jian to destroy the state of Lu for he wanted to ursurp power.

In order to save his home state, Confucius despatched his most eloquent disciple Zi Gong to Qi to dissuade Qi from attacking Lu.

Zi Gong called on Tian Chang, "Lu is not easy to subdue. It's small, porrly fortified and weak. Why not attack Wu instead? It's large, well-fortified and has a powerful army. It'be easy to capture." Tian Chang became angry, "You're using reverse logic to mock me. What's your motive?"

Zi Gong said, "By attacking the powerful Wu, you can turn it ito a weapon against your enemies. If you attack the weak Lu, although victory is assured, the generals and ministers will share the glory and strengthen their positions. It'll be difficult then for you to carry out your plan of seizing power."

After thinking through, Tian Chang agreed with Zi Gong. But the army was already on its way to Lu. Zi Gong said, "I can talk the king of Wu into attacking Qi to save Lu. Then Qi will be justified in fighting Wu instead of Lu."

Zi Gong met Fu Chai, the king of Wu, "Why don't you send your army to save Lu? If you ally yourself with Lu to defeat Qi, you can eventually have the forces of both state to realize your military ambitions."

Fu Chai said, "But I hear Yue is plotting against Wu. It would be better for me to subdue Yue before attacking Qi." Zi Gong reassured Fu Chai, "I can persuade the king of Yue to lead troops to help you in attacking Qi."

Zi Gong arrived in Yue and told the king of Yue, Gou Jian, "I've come to express my condolences." When asked to explain, Zi Gong said, "Fu Chai suspects youre are a plotter and wants to destroy Yue before attacking Qi."

Gou Jian asked Zi Gong for advice. Zi Gong told him, "Inform Wu that you're willing to help in subduing Qi. Fu Chai will then be mollified."

Zi Gong reported back to Fu Chai, "Make use of Yue troops, but don't insist that Gou Jian should take part."

After some thought, Zi Gong realised that if Wu wins, it might turn on Lu. He decided that he needs to borrow Jin's influence to discourage Wu. Zi Gong thus proceeded to meet Duke Ding of Jin, "After defeating Qi, Wu will challenge Jin for dominance." Duke Jin prepared to resist Wu.

In the year 484 BC, Fu Chai led the forces of Wu, Yue and Lu to crush Qi. Fu Chai's next target was Jin. But Jin was well-prepared and Fu Chai couldn't realize his ambition.


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