Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The 36 Strategies: #1, Fool the Emperor to Cross the Sea

Next to Sun Tzu's the Art of War, the 36 Stratgies is probably the most famous Chinese strategy book. The 36 strategies are fundamentally what many manuevers boil down to. It pays for someone even casually interested in the topic of strategy to be familiar with them, if only to recognise when someone is trying to use one of these strategies on you.

The first one in the book is: Fool the Emperor to Cross the Sea. The folk story whence this stategy comes is that of an incident concerning the Tang Dynasty Emperor Tai Zong. The emperor was campaigning against the Koreans. His general advised him to cross the Yellow Sea to the Korean Peninsula, to suprise the Koreans behind their lines.

The problem was that the emperor was afraid of large bodies of water. The general had a large ship decorated as a country estate and had banners hung all around so that you could not see the ocean.

They told the emperor that a local aristocrat invited him to dine at his estate. Once aboartd, the emperor dined and was entertained all night. In the meantime, the ship quietly set sail.

The next morning, they arrived at their destination, with the Emperor none the wiser.

A more modern interpretation might be: Sneak across an ocean in broad daylight

This means to create a front that eventually becomes imbued with an atmosphere or impression of familiarity, within which the strategist may maneuver unseen while all eyes are trained to see obvious familiarities.


ms_lili said...

Maybe I misunderstood the story. The way it sounded to me is that the generals needed the emperor to cross the ocean to win their conflict, but the emperor was afraid of crossing the ocean, so they gave the emperor an illusion of not crossing the ocean to put his mind at ease. I didn't reach the same conclusion you did. What I saw is that, even though the emperor was aware he would be crossing the ocean, he was willing to suspend what he knew as truth in order to reach his goal. Or maybe that he was willing to be fooled into disregarding personal fears for the greater good of his people.

Rick Matz said...

The Emperor was duped by the familiar, in this case the illusion of a country estate.

Rick Matz said...

While it's on my mind, I'd like to write a little more about this.

Daoism is the about the study of nature, including human nature. We are flooded with so much information everyday, we are wired to NOT pay much attention to that which is most familiar.

Blending into the familiar is what this stratgy is all about.

ms_lili said...

I understand what the underlying message is of the strategy. I just think that particular story is somehow "tainted" by them throwing in the emperor's phobia of water.

Since I wanted to read more about the 36 strategies, but mainly wanted to find other examples illustrating the first strategy, I found 2 better stories. One about a pesky rat and one about a neighboring country who kept trespassing.

Oh, one more thing. The same symbol is used for both emperor and heaven. If I remember what the webpage said, it's heaven rules earth like the emperor rules the people. So possibly you could use your "blending into nature" to interpret strategy #1 as blend in with nature to get where you need to go.

Rick Matz said...


Compass360 Consulting Group said...

Ms. Lili,

The Wiles of War is a good introd to 36 Strategems