The 36 Strategies

Disorder Your Enemy, Order Your Army


Loot A Burning House

Means that you have to disorder your enemy or wait for disordering by internal conflicts, diseases, corruption and crime. Also get all your troops together and organize them. Then this will be the right time to attack that leads to victory.

When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.

When the enemy falls into a severe crisis, exploit his adversity and attack by direct confrontation. This is the strong defeating the weak.


Warring States Era China

Qi and Han were allies when Chang Yi attacked Han with the combined forces of Qin and Wei. Han asked Qi for assistance.

The king of Qi said:" Han is our ally and since Qin has attacked her we must go to her rescue."

But his minister Tian-chen Su disagreed saying: "Your majesty's planning is faulty. You should merely agree to assist Han but take no action there. However, in the kingdom of Yan, their king has recently resigned the throne to his despised prime minister. This has enraged both the noble houses and the common people causing turmoil at court. Now if Qin attacks Han, Chu and Chao will surely come to her aid and this will be as good as heaven bestowing Yan upon us."

The king approved and promised the Han envoy assistance before sending him back to Han believing he had Qi's backing. When Qin attacked Han, Chu and Chao intervened as expected.

While all the major kingdoms were thus engaged in the battle for Han, Qi quickly and quietly attacked Yan. Within thirty days Yan was captured.


Originally this stratagem means: When someone's house is on fire, take advantage of the chaos and steal his valuables.

In the year 499 BC, the state of Yue was conquered by the state of Wu. The king of Yue, Gou Jian, became a slave of Wu. He tended the stables for three years before he was allowed to return to his state.

After seven years of rebuilding, Yue gradually became strong again. All the while, Gou Jian never forgot his humiliation.

Gou Jian bribed Wu's minister Bo Pi with eight beautiful women and a thousand ounces of gold. Wu's counsellor Wu Zixu had false charges pressed against him and he committed suicide.

Additionally, Wu was hit by a severe drought. Meanwhile, Wu's king Fu Chai wasted his resources on buildings for his pleasure. Instead of meeting the people's needs, Fu Chai led his army to the north to preside over a meeting of principalities.

Yue took advantage of Wu's natural disaster, popular unrest and weak defence to launch an attack. Fu Chai was given the choice of execution or suicide. He chose suicide.


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