The 36 Strategies

Test Your Enemy To Reveal His Strategy


Beat The Grass To Startle The Snake

Means when you don't know what your enemy is up to, you first must launch a direct but weak attack, to observe the reactions of your enemy and that will reveals his strategy and that leads to victory.

When you cannot detect the opponent's plans launch a direct, but brief, attack and observe your opponent reactions. His behavior will reveal his strategy.

Any suspicion about the enemy's circumstances must be investigated. Before any military action, be sure to ascertain the enemy's situation; repeated reconnaissance is an effective way to discover the hidden enemy.


Song Dynasty China

One day, in the county of Jian-zhou, there was a man who lost a precious object.

The local magistrate Chen Shu-ku, was called in to investigate. He questioned several people, but no one could tell him who the thief was. So Magistrate Chen laid a trap for those he suspected.

"I know of a temple," he told them, "whose bell has great spiritual power that can tell a thief from an honest man. Since my investigation is at a standstill we must employ the supernatural powers of the bell to solve the matter."

The magistrate had the bell brought to the courthouse and displayed in the rear chamber. Then he had the suspects brought in to testify to their guilt or innocence. He explained to them that if an innocent man touched the bell it would remain silent, but, if a guilty man touched the bell it would ring out. After lighting incense and chanting prayers, the magistrate had curtains erected around the bell. Previously he had instructed one of his assistants to secretly smear ink on the bell after the curtains were closed.

Each suspect was then told to place his hand through the curtain and touch the bell. As they withdrew their hands Chen would examine them. Everyone's hands were stained except those of one man, who confessed to the theft. He did not touch the bell for fear it would ring.


During the Tang dynasty, there lived a corrupt county magistrate named Wang Lu. The people made an indirect attack on him by accusing his bookkeeper of embezzlement. Without thinking Wang wrote, "By merely beating the grass, you have startled the snake within".

In the year 627 BC, Qin general Meng Mingshi led his forces to attack the state of Zheng bordered by Jin. Before he set off, Qin's top advisor Qian Shu cautioned him, "Beware of enemy ambushes when you pass Mount Xiao in Jin."

The Qin troops arrived at Mount Xiao. He was about to order his troops to advance when his two assistant generals Xi Qi and Bai Yi warned him: "We are attacking Zheng after Hua. The overlord of state of Jin won't like this. Now that we are at Mount Xiao we should be careful." "Mount Xiao is a dangerous place. We should search out its paths to make sure it's safe."

Meng Mingshi did not think it was neccessary to take precautions. Upon seeing some Jin's troops, Meng Mingshi ordered his troops to charge to finish them off. The Jin troops disappeared and the mountain path was sealed off.

Meng Mingshi ordered the Jin flag to be brought down. As the flag fell, war cries broke out. Qin's troops were encircled by the Jin forces and slaughtered.


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