Wednesday, October 12, 2005


WAR doesn't seem to go out of fashion. Personally, it is rather sad. We all hope man will know better somewhere along the line before it's too late. Anyway, war is good business, like they say. Thus, the proliferation of books on war and strategies.

JUST when you get the feeling that you have read enough books on
management and the art of war to beat your rivals to the punch, talented
Wang Xuanming revives another Chinese classic in cartoon form and turns
out another must-read book.
Six Strategies for War, the third book of a series of Chinese military
classics and sequel to Thirty-Six Strategems, is accessible and has the
right amount of cartoon fun to make the various aspects of military
warfare comprehensible even to the uninitiated.
Innumerable volumes have been burnt and buried with the walls of China's
glorious and often turbulent past. Fortunately, some have survived and are
currently mini-modern-day classics, especially among the classroom
warriors of military academic institutions.
Those tomes which have been salvaged include a small collection called
Wu Shu Qi Jing or The Seven Books of War. The most famous of the
magnificent seven is The Art of War by Sun Zi. Lesser known but still
highly regarded by military commanders and emperors of ancient China is
Liu Tao or Six Strategies for War.
The Strategic Six as presented by Wang comes with colourful titles like
Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Hound, Military and Civil. The stories are short
and consist of documented cases from an era when kingdoms changed heads of
throne with monotonous regularity and despots were overthrown by ways of
The unidentified recluse who is credited with having written this book
sometime in 475-221 BC was obviously a person of high intellect gifted
with a deep understanding of leadership, society and the then prevailing
The Dragon Strategy propounds that even though authority is best centred
on one person, the wisdom of the masses cannot be ignored. The little
cartoon figures running across the pages of this book are of an immense
value in making light of what would otherwise be a complex subject by
scurrying the point across on a humorous plane.
The Military Strategy calls for wit and intelligence to attain victory
without spilling a drop of blood. The Leopard pounces on its prey and goes
for the weakest point - jugular or neck. In this approach, flexibility is
also deemed the strongest weapon.
Since the book was written by a man who lived during the Warring States
period in China, all the case studies regarding the various strategies are
recorded chronicles. They serve to illustrate the moves employed by the
military strategists who had to contend with all kinds of people, weather
conditions and topographic situations to gain an advantage.
As one browses through the last chapter, on the Hound Strategy, which
deals with the art of encircling and intercepting a foe, the wisdom of the
previous lessons becomes increasingly clear - that there is no single
solution to a problem. The answer could come in a combination of solutions
and even then, the same problem at a different time could call for a
different strategy.
It would be a major boost for subsequent books on such a popular topic
as military warfare if the illustrations could be in colour. Although
costs would no doubt be a serious consideration in the introduction of
colour, readers and fans of Asiapac publications would surely be willing
to pay a little more for an attractive literary package.
Gems of Chinese Wisdom, another Wang Xuanming effort, is a translation
of the classic known as Zhinang, a 300,000-word masterpiece by Feng
Menglong (1574-1646) who lived in the twilight years of the Ming Dynasty.
This book is reported to have been written in just 60 days in 1626. The
stories were sourced from official and unofficial documents, legends,
Chinese literature and historical records.
They touch on supreme wisdom, delve into understanding, expound the
virtue of astute observation, elaborate on strategy, and praise the
intuition of women.
However, a number of the tales are obscure in their message and even
after a second or third reading remain ambiguous. For that reason, this is
not a book for those who seek instant enlightenment.
Certain ideas are not effectively conveyed either, for example, that of
the wisdom of employing crooked thinking to avoid disasters and attain
happiness. In cartoon form, the message stumbles from one picture frame to
another and emerges slightly tainted.
Wang probably knows that not all things can be easily explained,
particularly in pictures. When this is so, the book suffers.
The other stumbling block, particularly for the reader who is not well
versed in Chinese history, is the appearance from early on in the book of
historical names that he may not be familiar with.
Ming Emperor Wu Zhong and his senior official Yang Shizhai and army
general Jiang Pin may be enough to stop an impatient reader from
proceeding to the next chapter.

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