Attacking Stratagems

​第十三计     THIRTEEN


Hit the grass to scare the snake
dǎ cǎo jīng shé



  • Do something unaimed, but striking to provoke a response from the enemy, hereby giving away his plans or position, or just tease him.

  • Act unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will trigger the enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking.

  • Often implemented as 'do not scare the snake by hitting the grass'.
    A thoughtless or indiscreet act may give your position or intentions away.


  • If you cannot detect the enemy's plans, launch a direct, but quick, attack and observe your enemy's reactions. His behavior will reveal his strategy.

  • A surprise attack may reveal the plan of your enemy as he may very likely employ a key strategy in response. This gives you useful information as you retreat and prepare for the main battle.


The bookkeeper of an unpopular magistrate at the Tang dynasty called Wang Lu received a letter from the local people accusing him of corruption.
Wang Lu wrote on the letter 'by merely beating the grass, you have startled the snake hiding within'.

It may have implied that he recognized the ploy, and was ready to fight back.
Another assumption may be that he realized that the stratagem had worked well as a warning to him that the population wouldn't tolerate his corrupt behavior.

​第十四计     FOURTEEN


Borrow a corpse to resurrect a soul
jiè shī huán hún


  • Take a method, institution, technology, memory or an ideology that has been forgotten or abandoned and appropriate it for your own purposes.

  • Bring to life forgotten old ideas, symbols, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to serve your purposes.

  • Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose. 

  • Strategies and tactics from modern warfares are expected, but older methods may have been forgotten or assumed to be no longer of value.
    Reviving, modifying and re-using them may prove to surprise your enemy.


Empress Lu adopted groups of boys in order that they may 'succeed' her dead husband and so keep her in power.

Puppet rulers have been used throughout history, where the king or emperor is de facto under the control of army generals or business elite.

第十五计     FIFTEEN


Lure the tiger Out of the mountains 
diào hǔ lí shān


  • Never directly attack an enemy who derives his advantage from its position. Instead, lure him away from his position, by that separating him from his source of strength.

  • When the enemy is holding position on a high place, lure them out rather than trying to attack uphill.

  • Avoid attacking the enemy when he has an advantage where the cost of your attack is high.  Find some way of getting them away from their advantage.


Gen Yang wanted to defeat the mighty Fei brothers. He besieged one brother, Fei Gan, while waiting for Fei Yi, who was killed when coming to help his brother.
Gen Yang publicly displayed Fei Yi's head on a pole, leading Fei Gan and his people to flee.

Mao Zedong set up his bases in remote areas, forcing Chiang Kai Shek to come to him. In these areas, Chairman Mao had the upper hand in territory and superior knowledge of the land.

​第十六计     SIXTEEN


In order to capture, one must let loose
yù qín gū zhòng


  • Catch the enemy by letting him off the hook.

  • Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance to escape. His will to fight is thus diminished by his desire to survive.
    However, at the end when freedom is proven a falsehood, the enemy's morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.


Zhu Ge captured and released Meng Huo seven times in order to show his superiority and thus gained is alliance.

Tan Daoji had captured 4,000 people. To their relief and gratitude he released them, saying that 'The army of a true king takes high morals as its position, so it not necessary to slay the people'.
By this act he gained powerful allies.

​第十七计     SEVENTEEN


Tossing out a brick to get a jade
pāo zhuān yǐn yù


  • Trick your enemy by making him believe he gains something (or just make him react to it) and obtain something valuable in return.

  • Lay a trap for your enemy, then lure him into it by using bait. In war the bait is in the form of an illusion of an opportunity for gain. Outside the battlefield the bait is the illusion of wealth, power, and sex.

  • Offer your enemy something small in order to get in return something big.

  • Prepare a trap with attractive bait to lure your enemy into an ambush or just in order to move him to a position that is more advantageous to you.


When Chu were besieging Jiao, Chu sent woodcutters to chop down the fine trees outside the city walls.
The enraged commander of Jiao sent out some soldiers to capture the woodcutters, who as a result were handsomely rewarded.
The next day, when more woodcutters arrived, a large amount of Jiao's defenders rushed out hoping of getting their reward. They chased the woodcutters who led them into a trap.


Zhi was preparing to attack Wei and gave their king 400 horses. Wei became suspicious and thus increased their troops at the border. When Zhi saw this they realized their plan had not worked.


The poet Chang Jian, who lived during the Tang dynasty, wanted to the learn from the great poet, Zhao Gu. He wrote half a poem on a temple wall where Zhao was visiting, hoping he would complete it, which actually happened.

​第十八计     EIGHTEEN


Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief

qín zéi qín wáng


  • To catch brigands, first catch their king.

  • If the enemy's army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money, superstition or threats - then take aim at the leader.

  • If the commander falls the rest of the army will disseminate or come over to your side.

  • If enemy's forces are allied to their leader through loyalty then beware, as the army can continue to fight on after his death or capture out of a sense of revenge.

  • If the commander can be shown as weak or incompetent, then the faith of his troops will be significantly weakened as well.


A form of warfare in ancient China was that the two armies would line up against one another. The generals of each would then go forward and fight to death.
The winning army would then finish-off the losing army.

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