Deception Stratagems

​第二十五计     TWENTY FIVE


Replace the beams with rotten timbers
tōu liáng huàn zhù


  • Sabotage your enemy's formations, hinder with his methods of operations, change the rules which he is used to follow, go against his standard training.
    By that you erase the supporting pillar, i.e. the common link that makes a group of people a functioning fighting force.


  • Destroy or damage the supporting structures on which your enemy depends and attempt to replace these with systems which you control.

  • Make the other side dependent on you so later pull the rug from beneath them at your convenience. Compromise the credibility of their friends and advisors so they do not know who to trust.


Qin and Jin faced each other across the river. Neither was trying to cross as it would make them vulnerable. Qin offered to move back so Jin could cross for a fair fight, although Qin were actually planning to double back and attack Jin when they crossing the river.
However, Jin had beforehand infiltrated soldiers into the Qin ranks who spread rumors that Qin was retreating in fear of a powerful attack by JIn. The Qin troops panicked and fled.


Lu Buwei of Zhao impregnated a concubine while tricking the prince (Yi Ren) of Qin into marrying her and naming her first child as his heir.
Lu then poisoned the prince's father, which appointed Lu as prime minister.
Yi Ren then mysteriously died and as the young boy's protector, Lu Buwei took over.

​第二十六计     TWENTY SIX 


Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree

zhǐ sāng mà huái


  • Indirectly discipline, curse, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation, usually by the use of analogy and innuendo.

  • As names are not directly named, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity.

  • Use indirect means of reaching your aim or to show what you mean/want.

  • Do not call names so you cannot be accused. Use intermediaries or other third parties.

  • Being indirect can be effective in situations where being direct could cause problems.


Sun Tzu wanted to prove to the king of Hu that also women could be trained to be invulnerable. He created two divisions from court women and put the king's two most-liked concubines in charge of each.

Sun Tzu then gave them marching orders, however the women just giggled.
He beheaded the concubines and put two women from the front rows in charge and gave the order again. This time they obeyed.

第二十七计     TWENTY SEVEN


Pretending to be insane but remaining smart
jiǎ chī bù diān


  • Pretend to be a fool, a drunk, a simpleton or a madman to create confusion about your intentions.

  • Tempt the enemy into underestimating your ability until he drops his guard out of overconfidence.

  • Play foolish or weak so your enemy will not take you seriously. Hide your strengths until it is the right time to expose them.

  • Speak less and listen more. Encourage others to speak while you listen. Give the impression of lack of interest or confusion. Make the enemy believe that you are trying but missing key points.

  • Succeeding in this approach will cause the enemy to drop his guard or ignore you – which will make it easier for you to surprise with an attack.

  • The risk in applying this stratagem is that your enemy may be actually tempted to attack or remove you.


When Liu Bei was plotting to overthrow Cao Cao, he pretended to be crazy in case Cao Cao knew about the plot, by that avoiding the plot to be detected.


After being defeated in the Second World War and its army diminished to a small size, Germany acted humbly while building a powerful industrial nation, which some countries now claim is used to rule Europe again.

​第二十八计     TWENTY EIGHT

Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof
shàng wū chōu qī


  • Lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Once there, cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape. To save himself he must fight both your troops and the elements of nature.

  • Eliminate the options for retreat when ambushing your enemy.

  • It can be implemented to prevent your own troops from retreating, thus to ensure that they continue to advance or keep position. 

  • Tempt your opponent to make bold public commitments, where going against these would cause shame and harm in his status.


Han Xin located his prime troops with their backs to the river. He then sent a weak force forward to fight Zhao's main troops. 
The weaker force then retreated, luring Zhao's fighters to pursue them. As a result, Han Xin's main troops were forced to fight where they stood, with an easy retreat being cut off by the river. 

Liu Qi invited Liang Zhuge to an upper room for some advice. Once up there, Liu removed the staircase below. 

​第二十九计     TWENTY NINE


Deck the tree with false blossoms
shù shàng kāi huā


  • Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is alive and blooming.

  • Use deceit and disguise to make something of little or no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful.

  • Give the impression of being powerful even if you actually have far less power.

  • Make it appear that you have more manpower, weapons and resources to keep a stronger enemy away.

  • On the contrary, one can appear weak to lure forward a weaker enemy.

  • You can make things appear more than they are by adding items that have no significant worth, or by hiding your real ability until it is the right time to act.

  • Power is not merely the actual potential one has, it is also the assumptions of power that others attribute you. 


Yu Xu was blocked at a pass by the Qiang tribe. He spread a rumor that he was waiting for reinforcements This resulted in many Qiang soldiers leaving for other activities.
When Qiang got depleted, Yu Xu's and his troops forced their way through the weakened enemy line.
When Qiang gave chase, Yu Xu ordered to double the number of campfires to be set each night and so appear with much more soldiers than he had in reality.

In addition, he sent soldiers out through one gate and in through another, ordering them to change clothes and repeat the act, like that, again, to appear as a larger force.

Qiang retreated but fell into an ambush where they were destroyed.



Emperor Yangdi tried to impress visiting merchants with grand concerts, free feasts, and even by hanging silk flowers on winter trees to make it appear as if spring had already arrived.

​第三十计     THIRTY


Make the host and the guest exchange roles

fǎn kè wéi zhǔ


  • Assume leadership in a situation where you are subordinate.

  • Infiltrate your target. At first, in order to be accepted pretend to be a guest, but develop from inside in order to later become the owner.

  • Infiltrate you enemy with spies and double agents who take on strategic roles. Pretend to promote cooperation by using peace talks, surrender and treaties. Act first as a guest and then gradually become increasingly dominant.

  • Cause the other side to depend on you. This is useful to absorb both allies and enemies.


Liu Bang conquered Qin, but let his stronger ally Xiang Lu take over as ruler. While Xiang Lu was calm and off guard, Liu Bang built up his forces, with whom he later attacked and conquered Qin.


The British Empire brought opium into China and encouraged its use, thereby weakening any Chinese opposition.


It is a well-known strategy for strong countries to 'help' smaller countries but in fact taking over control.

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