Sun Tzu's Original Art of War

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A beginner's TUTORIAL on how to read, understand and translate the Chinese for Sun Tzu's Original Art of War.

~ by translator andrew w. zieger


Sun Tzu wrote the Art of War some 2500 years ago using Chinese pictographs. Most all of these pictographs are still used today in modern Chinese, Japanese and Korean, although sometimes with different meanings.

While the Chinese characters that Sun Tzu used in the Art of War have made it into modern language, the grammar he used bears little resemblance to modern Chinese. With little or no contemporary punctuation and extremely abbreviated grammar structures, his poetic writing style can sometimes seem obscure.

Compared to modern Chinese, it is roughly like Shakespeare — or more accurately Chaucer — is to modern English.

But it's easier than you might think for a complete beginner to learn to get a handle on reading Sun Tzu's Art of War in the original Chinese. The text is comprised of only 765 unique Chinese characters, and a mere one hundred of those characters cover a full two thirds of the text.


By simply working through the Chinese text line by line — from the beginning — most readers will learn to recognize the most common Chinese characters and grammar structures, and perhaps get a feel for how to break and read sentences.

In addition, by comparing our English text to Lionel Giles widespread 1910 translation, readers can get a sense of the thought processes involved in creating a translation that clearly reflects the original writer's intended thoughts, images and meaning.

In the first tutorial we talk about the title.


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