Sun Tzu and The Art of War

1 Mar, 2018 950 History of Asia

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas attributed to Sun Tzu (544-496BC, according to tradition), a legendary figure from the beginning of the Iron Age in China, around the time of Confucius. He may have been the historical figure Sun Wu, a military adviser at the court of King Helu of Wu (who reigned between about 514 and 496 BC), one of the kings in power in the Warring States period of Chinese history (6th - 5th century BC). Sun Tzu was credited as the author of The Art of War, a work on military strategy that soon became influential in China and then Japan both for its guidance on conducting and avoiding war and for its approach to strategy generally. After The Art of War was translated into European languages in C18th, its influence spread to military academies around the world.

Listen on BBC Sounds website


  • Hilde De Weerdt 6 episodes
    Professor of Chinese History at Leiden University
  • Tim Barrett 8 episodes
    Professor Emeritus of East Asian History at SOAS, University of London
  • Imre Galambos No other episodes
    Reader in Chinese Studies at the University of Cambridge

Reading list

  • Military Culture in Imperial China
    Nicola Di Cosmo (Ed.) (Harvard University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • Tibetan Printing: Comparison, Continuities, and Change
    Hildegard Diemberger, Karl Ehrhard and Peter F. Kornicki (eds.) (Brill, 2016) Google Books →
  • Early China: A Social and Cultural History
    Li Feng (Cambridge University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History
    Alastair Iain Johnston (Princeton University Press, 1995) Google Books →
  • Sun Bin: The Art of Warfare: A Translation of the Classic Chinese Work of Philosophy and Strategy
    D. C. Lau and Roger T. Ames (State University of New York Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • Sanctioned Violence in Early China
    Mark Edward Lewis (State University of New York Press, 1990) Google Books →
  • Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide
    Michael Loewe (ed.) (Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1993) Google Books →
  • The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China including The Art of War
    Ralph D. Sawyer (Basic Books, 1993) Google Books →
  • Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare: The First English Translation Incorporating the Recently Discovered Yin-ch'ueh-shan Texts
    Sun-tzu (trans. Roger Ames) (Ballantine Books, 1993)
  • Sun Tzu on the Art of War: The Oldest Military Treatise in the World
    Sun Tzu (trans. Lionel Giles) Google Books →
  • The Art of War
    Sun-tzu (trans. John Minford) (Viking Press, 2002) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b09smh59

Episode page:

Auto-category: 951.03 (Chinese history)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, quote, The art of war is vital to the state, a road either to safety or to ruin, end quote.