三十六计 Thirty-Six Stratagems


Author: unknown

第一套 胜战计

Chapter 1: Winning Stratagems

第一计 瞒天过海

crossing the sea under camouflage


Mask your real goals, by using the ruse of a fake goal, until the real goal is achieved. Tactically, this is known as an ‘open feint’: in front of everyone, you point west, when your goal is actually in the east.

第二计 围魏救赵

relieving the state of Zhao by besieging the state of Wei


When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that he cannot be superior in all things. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead. The idea here is to avoid a head-on battle with a strong enemy, and instead strike at his weakness elsewhere. This will force the strong enemy to retreat in order to support his weakness. Battling against the now tired and low-morale enemy will give a much higher chance of success.

第三计 借刀杀人

killing someone with a borrowed knife


When you do not have the means to attack your enemy directly, then attack using the strength of another. Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy’s own strength against him.

第四计 以逸待劳

waiting at one’s ease for the exhausted enemy


It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose.

第五计 趁火打劫

plundering a burning house


When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.

第六计 声东击西

making a feint to the east and attacking in the west


In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed by attacking where he least expects it. To do this you must create an expectation in the enemy’s mind through the use of a feint.

第二套 敌战计

Chapter 2: Enemy Dealing Stratagems

第七计 无中生有

creating something out of nothing


You use the same feint twice. Having reacted to the first and often the second feint as well, the enemy will be hesitant to react to a third feint. Therefore the third feint is the actual attack catching your enemy with his guard down.

第八计 暗渡陈仓

advancing secretly by an unknown path


Deceive the enemy with an obvious approach that will take a very long time, while surprising him by taking a shortcut and sneak up to him. As the enemy concentrates on the decoy, he will miss you sneaking up to him.

第九计 隔岸观火

watching a fire from the other side of the river


Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in at full strength and pick up the pieces.

第十计 笑里藏刀

covering the dagger with a smile


Charm and ingratiate yourself with your enemy. When you have gained his trust, move against him in secret.

第十一计 李代桃僵

palming off substitute for the real thing


There are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat strategy whereby someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.

第十二计 顺手牵羊

picking up something in passing


While carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight.


Chapter 3: Attacking Stratagems

第十三计 打草惊蛇

beating the grass to frighten the snake


Do something unaimed, but spectacular (“hitting the grass”) to provoke a response of the enemy (“startle the snake”), thereby giving away his plans or position, or just taunt him.

Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy’s suspicion and disrupt his thinking.

More widely used as “[Do not] startle the snake by hitting the grass”. An imprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.

第十四计 借尸还魂

resurrecting a dead soul by borrowing a corpse


Take an institution, a technology, a method, or even an ideology that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose.

Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or bring to life old ideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to fit your purposes.

第十五计 调虎离山

luring the tiger out of his den


Never directly attack an opponent whose advantage is derived from its position. Instead lure him away from his position thus separating him from his source of strength.

第十六计 欲擒故纵

letting the enemy off in order to catch him


Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom.

His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy’s morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.

第十七计 抛砖引玉

giving the enemy something to induce him to lose more valuable things


Bait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him react to it (“toss out a brick”) and obtain something valuable from him in return (“get a jade gem”).

第十八计 擒贼擒王

capturing the ringleader first in order to capture all the followers


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 disperse or come over to your side.

If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.


Chapter 4: Chaos Stratagems

第十九计 釜底抽薪

extracting the firewood from under the cauldron


Take out the leading argument or asset of someone; “steal someone’s thunder”. This is the very essence of indirect approach: instead of attacking enemy’s fighting forces, the attacks are directed against his ability to wage war.

第二十计 混水摸鱼

muddling the water to catch the fish; fishing in troubled waters


Create confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals.

第二十一计 金蝉脱壳

slipping away by casting off a cloak; getting away like the cicada sloughing its skin


Mask yourself. Either leave one’s distinctive traits behind, thus becoming inconspicuous, or masquerade as something or someone else.

This strategy is mainly used to escape from enemy of superior strength.

第二十二计 关门捉贼

catching the thief by closing / blocking his escape route


To capture your enemy, or more generally in fighting wars, to deliver the final blow to your enemy, you must plan prudently if you want to succeed. Do not rush into action. Before you “move in for the kill”, first cut off your enemy’s escape routes, and cut off any routes through which outside help can reach them.

第二十三计 远交近攻

befriending the distant enemy while attacking a nearby enemy


It is known that nations that border each other become enemies while nations separated by distance and obstacles make better allies.

When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field.

第二十四计 假途伐虢

attacking the enemy by passing through a common neighbor


Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the first place.


Chapter 5: Proximate Stratagems

第二十五计 偷梁换柱

stealing the beams and pillars and replacing them with rotten timbers


Disrupt the enemy’s formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules in which they are used to following, go contrary to their standard training.

In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force.

第二十六计 指桑骂槐

reviling/abusing the locust tree while pointing to the mulberry


To discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendo. Without directly naming names, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity.

第二十七计 假痴不癫

feigning madness without becoming insane


Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.

第二十八计 上屋抽梯

removing the ladder after the enemy has climbed up the roof


With baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he must fight both your own forces and the elements of nature.

第二十九计 树上开花

putting artificial flowers on trees


Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful.

第三十计 反客为主

turning from the guest into the host


Usurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate. Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to be accepted, but develop from inside and become the owner later.


Chapter 6: Desperate Stratagems

第三十一计 美人计

using seductive women to corrupt the enemy


Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This strategy can work on three levels.

First, the ruler becomes so enamoured with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allows his vigilance to wane.

Second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behaviour that inflames minor differences hindering co-operation and destroying morale.

Third, other females at court, motivated by jealousy and envy, begin to plot intrigues further exacerbating the situation.

第三十二计 空城计

presenting a bold front to conceal unpreparedness


When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretense of military preparedness, act calmly and taunt the enemy, so that the enemy will think you have a huge ambush hidden for them.

It works best by acting calm and at ease when your enemy expects you to be tense.

第三十三计 反间计

sowing discord among the enemy


Undermine your enemy’s ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and his friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population. While he is preoccupied settling internal disputes, his ability to attack or defend is compromised.

第三十四计 苦肉计

deceiving the enemy by torturing one’s own man


Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat.

The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.

第三十五计 连环计

coordinating one stratagem with another


In important matters, one should use several stratagems applied simultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one strategy fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.

第三十六计 走为上

decamping being the best; running away as the best choice


If it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat, then retreat and regroup. When your side is losing, there are only three choices remaining: surrender, compromise, or escape.

Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat.

As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance.This is the most famous of the stratagems, immortalized in the form of a Chinese idiom: “Of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is best”.


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