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Chinese Literature
Simafa 司馬法 "The Methods of the Minister of War"

The Simafa 司馬法 "Methods of the Minister of War" is an ancient book on military strategy. It belongs to the corpus of the Seven Military Classics (Wujing qishu 武經七書). It is attributed to Sima Rangju 司馬穰苴, a general of the state of Qi 齊 during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). The book is therefore also known under the title of Sima Rangju bingfa 司馬穰苴兵法 or Sima bingfa 司馬兵法. The imperial bibliography Yiwenzhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 says, the book Junli sima fa 軍禮司馬法 "Methods of the Minister of War according to the military rituals" was 155 chapters long. The bibliography in the Suishu 隋書 speaks of a Simafa of 3 juan "scrolls" of length. The received version is only 1 juan long and includes 5 chapters. Not much is known about the life of Tian Rangju 田穰苴, who held the position of Minister of War (dasima 大司馬) at the court of Duke Jing of Qi 齊景公 (r. 547-490).
The Simafa is, among others, to be found in the collectanea Xu guyi congshu 續古逸叢書, which reproduced a Song period 宋 (960-1279) print, and the collection Wujing qishu.
Although the author operates with the six well-known Confucian terms like ritual (li 禮), humanity (ren 仁), trust (xin 信), righteousness or etiquette (yi 義), bravery (yong 勇) and wisdom (zhi 智), the so-called six virtues (liude 六德), he stresses that the values in a civilian state cannot be used in war. The benevolence in civilian government lies in creating trust, while in warfare, military spirit (wu 武) has to prevail, and while a civilian states operates on the base of harmony (he 和), in the ranks and files, only law (fa 法) can provide order. Harmony nevertheless plays a role among the troops, otherwise an army would not be able to fight concertedly with a united spirit. The author brings forward high requirements for a qualified generals. He must be an able person to incite the commitment of the officer corps and his troops. He has to calculate calmly and deep-sighted, also in face of imminent danger. The general has to care for his troops and to lit the necessary martial fire in their hearts. On entering the enemy's territory an army has to be kept together to avoid exposing weak points which the enemy could attack.
It is important, the author stresses, to consider five points (wulü 五慮) before beginning a campaign: Are time and place favourtable (tian shun 天順), are there sufficient funds (fu cai 阜財), is the fighting spirit of the troops sufficient (yi zhong 懌眾), is the territory adequate to engage in a battle (li di 利地), and are the weapons at hand qualified (you bing 右[=佑]兵). The enemy has to be investigated if his power can be challenged, where he deploys his troops, how he sets up the phalanx, and if his troops can be forced into undesired movements. Likewise, the spirit and potential of the own troops have to be compared with that of the inimical troops. The use of reconnaisance is recommended, and a close observation of all movements of inimical units. It is explained how troops have to be deployed to the field, and what points matter during the march to the battlefield. The author quotes many examples from antiquity to underline his statements.
The methods described in the Simafa were already used by generals during the Warring States period, and the famous warlord Cao Cao 曹操 from the very late Han period 後漢 (25-220) often quoted from the Simafa. In practical matters the Simafa had an influence which can easily be compared with the far more known Sunzi bingfa 孫子兵法.
There is a complete translation by Ralph D. Sawyer (1993), The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Boulder: Westview.

Source: Xu Yingli 徐英立 (1989). "Simafa 司馬法", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Junshi 軍事, vol. 2, pp. 943-944. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

1. 仁本 Renben Benevolence of the foundation
2. 天子之義 Tianzi zhi yi Obligations of the Son of Heaven
3. 定爵 Dingjue Determining rank
4. 嚴位 Yanwei Strict position
5. 用眾 Yongzhong Employing masses
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

November 18, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail