Wisdom from Chinese classics on war still relevant
Published: Jun 04, 2024 12:04 AM
The Art of War bamboo slips.Photo:VCG

The Art of War bamboo slips.Photo:VCG

Chinese netizens have expressed diverse opinions on the news that Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB) plans to purchase two classic Chinese books on war - Understanding Space Strategy: The Art of War in Space and The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China.

The news story, "Watch & Learn From The Best: Pentagon Announces Purchase of Books on Russian Military Strategy," was reported by Russia's Sputnik news agency on Sunday. According to the report, Maxwell AFB, a well-known US Air Force installation in Alabama, plans to purchase 600 copies each of six major books on war.

This topic has been trending since Sunday, with diverse voices sharing a common question: Will the training pilots understand the key points of the Chinese classics? Mi Xionglü, a netizen based in East China's Anhui Province, posted that the wisdom in the books is quite deep and cannot be fully grasped through reading alone.

A Netizen named Elijah suggested pilot trainees learn Chinese before studying the strategies and tactics. Netizen GuanTianHuaRi commented that understanding the strategies requires knowledge of historical context, which goes beyond the books. Another netizen LanSe Akira observed that since the book list also includes Russian classics, the US military's efforts seem to align with the strategy of "Know thyself, know thy enemy," and should not be dismissed as a joke.

This is not the first time that US military organizations have tapped into Chinese wisdom. As early as 2007, the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, added The Art of War to its reading list for students.

Media reports indicate that while the book was well-known among faculty, only about 5 percent of the students had also read it.

In another book list featured in September 2012 by Foreign Policy, titled "Reading lists: The West Point history dept. selects its top 10 military classics," The Art of War, translated by G.H. Mendell and W.P. Craighill, was listed as one of the Top 10 Military Classics.

To know the real China, one needs to have a comprehensive understanding of China's history and culture, the character of the Chinese civilization, and the essence of key Chinese concepts. That enables one to know where China is from and where it is heading to, said Chinese Ambassador to the United States Xie Feng when he visited the Fairbank Center for China Studies at Harvard University on April 19.

"The Chinese people believe peace is of paramount importance. The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a must-read for students at West Point, the US National Defense University, and the US Naval Academy. From its name, some may assume it is all about power games and conspiracies, just like Machiavelli's The Prince, which believes the ends justify the means. But on the very contrary, the book begins with this observation, 'The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road to either survival or ruin. Hence it demands careful study,'" Xie pointed out during an in-depth exchange of views on China-US relations with experts and scholars at the center.

"Caution against war and value of peace and harmony have become an integral part of the Chinese culture," he said. "The Chinese people uphold rule by virtue, not rule by force. In the Chinese culture, 'A noble man is expected to embrace the world with virtue.' We focus on self-refinement culturally and ethically, rather than conquering the outside world."

"The Chinese people have a keen sense of history. The Chinese civilization is the only civilization that has run uninterrupted for over 5,000 years. During this process, we have learned to take history as our best guide, and view things with a historical, long-term perspective. We draw both inspiration and lessons from history and make decisions with eyes beyond horizon," Xie stressed, noting that the Chinese culture provides many inspirations for navigating around the "Thucydides trap."

It is important to keep abreast of the times and explore a right way for China and the US to get along in the new era, he noted.

Global Times