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    Greater China
     Mar 15, 2008
Ancient tactics for modern battles
The 36 Secret Strategies of the Martial Arts by Hiroshi Moriya with translation and foreword by William Scott Wilson

Reviewed by Michael Jen-Siu

When groups of protesters tire out Chinese officials with relentless payment demands after state-sponsored heists of their property, savvy authorities often settle disputes without a stroke of a baton or even a sentence in a labor or re-education camp. They research each protest leader looking for exploitable weaknesses. Some agitators shut up if they get paid. Others go away if faced with a minor threat against a relative. Eventually the local government weakens the whole movement by indulging the weaknesses of enough potential threats.

Payoffs, threats and other bloodless sneak attacks happen

throughout ambitious, but largely lawless, China today. Government agencies use these methods to take people's land for rapid, lucrative redevelopment and then squelch dissent. University students quietly flatter or bribe weak-willed teachers to get good grades after months of cutting classes. No-name job seekers send gullible prospective employers anonymous notes to smear more illustrious fellow applicants.

The core strategies for foiling opponents came from China centuries before any of today's practitioners of the tactics were born, author-professor Hiroshi Moriya would argue in his book The 36 Strategies of Martial Arts. In the early 1980s, Moriya, an accomplished scholar of Chinese culture and philosophy, analyzed and explained these strategies in a book published in Japanese. Now, renowned translator William Scott Wilson has translated the original Chinese maxims and Moriya's interpretive research into English.

The ancient Chinese generally didn't want a bloody fight, especially if there were high odds of losing, Moriya argues. Today's officials, wary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, know they would lose an international public relations battle if they used violence against protesting citizens. So they, and other modern Chinese in schools, offices and even big messy families, use some of these old battle strategies to get one over on perceived adversaries while minimizing aftershocks.

The strategies, taken from the I Ching, which was theoretically written almost 5,000 years ago, rely on deception and other psych-outs, eliminating the need for much real firepower, Moriya effectively explains. His 255-page guide to shafting your enemy concisely describes each strategy and gives examples of how Chinese dynastic leaders would wield it in battle. Several chapters describe how Mao Zedong's armies applied the theories, and how those ruses were adopted by the former Soviet Union and Germany in World War II and elsewhere.

Among the more memorable strategies: Make an enemy think you're doing one thing while you sneakily do another; divide a strong army geographically and then reduce it by attacking the weak points; exploit dissent within enemy ranks and keep faking attacks until an enemy thinks you're not really up for a real fight - then finally wage war when least expected. A garrison commander during the Tang Dynasty, for example, twice lowered 1,000 soldier-like straw mannequins down a fortress wall in front of rebel forces, who rolled their collective eyes. When he sent in real soldiers later, the enemy imagined mannequins again and quickly lost the battle.

Another strategy explains how ancient Chinese would delude an enemy into suspecting internal dissent among powerful leaders, leading to the elimination of the people most likely to win a battle. In that spirit, Stalin executed a top general, Marshal Tohachevski, after Hitler secretly fabricated documents that accused him of treason.

"Recent times have produced good examples of this strategy, even though you might think that such a transparent, wedge-driving ploy would no longer be effective," Moriya writes. He adds that this strategy "has an equally comfortable home in the relations between individuals as well".

Other lessons, we learn, can be used to beat bigger rivals in business, say by introducing niche products that mega-companies haven't produced. "I would request strongly that it be read as a book whose practices can enliven our present world," Moriya writes.

But 90% of the examples come from Chinese history, dropping barrages of obscure names and places that could be cited in generic terms without detracting from otherwise concise and fluidly narrated stories about how the strategies were used. The emphasis on historical detail will frustrate a non-scholar of Asian history who reads to get hints about battle plans against an industry competitor or personal rival.

Some strategies have also been compromised by law-driven modern societies. If the modern incarnation of Japanese swordsman Yamamoto Kansuke punched a hole in a business competitor's boat as he did in the book's foreword, he'd simply be charged with vandalism. A special prosecutor would be assigned to sniff out fraud in a developed country if someone today followed Hitler's example of preparing fake documents to convince Stalin that his general was a traitor. Moriya needs to bring the strategies up to date.

The book is available now in Japan and will be out in Europe and Australia plus elsewhere in Asia this May.

The 36 Secret Strategies of the Martial Arts: The Classic Chinese Guide for Success in War, Business and Life by Hiroshi Moriya with translation and foreword by William Scott Wilson. Kodansha International Ltd, Japan (April 3, 2008) . ISBN-10: 4770030649. Price US$19, 256 pages.

Michael Jen-Siu is a freelance writer in Greater China.

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