King Wu inquired of the T’ai Kung: “I want to attain our aim [of overthrowing the Shang], but I have three doubts. I am afraid that our strength will be inadequate to attack the strong, to estrange his close supporters within the court, and disperse his people. What shall I do?”

The T’ai Kung replied: “Accord with the situation, be very cautious in making plans, and employ your material resources. Now in order to attack the strong, you must nurture them to make them even stronger, and increase them to make them even more extensive. What is too strong will certainly break; what is too extensive must have deficiencies. Attack the strong through his strength. Cause the estrangement of his favored officials by using his favorites, and disperse his people by means of the people.

“Now in the Tao of planning, thoroughness and secrecy are treasured. You should become involved with him in numerous affairs and ply him with temptations of profit. Conflict will then surely arise.

“If you want to cause his close supporters to become estranged from him, you must do it by using what they love–making gifts to those he favors, giving them what they want. Tempt them with what they find profitable, thereby making them disaffected, and cause them to be unable to attain their ambitions. Those who cover profits will be extremely happy at the prospects, and their remaining doubts will be ended.

“Now without doubt the Tao for attacking is to first obfuscate the king’s clarity and then attack his strength, destroying his greatness and eliminating the misfortune of the people. Debauch him with beautiful women, entice him with profit. Nurture him with flavors, and provide him with the company of female musicians. Then after you have caused his subordinates to become estranged from him, you must cause the people to grow distant from him while never letting him know your plans. Appear to support him and draw him into your trap. Do not let him become aware of what is happening, for only then can your plan be successful.

“When bestowing your beneficence on the people, you cannot begrudge the expense. The people are like cows and horses. Frequently make gifts of food and clothing and follow up by loving them.

“The mind is the means to open up knowledge; knowledge the means to open up the source of wealth; and wealth the means to open up the people. Gaining the allegiance of the people is the way to attract Worthy men. When one is enlightened by Sagely advisors, he can become king of all the world.”


I first read that passage in The T’ai Kung‘s Six Secret Teachings, the first in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, in the late ’90s, about the time that it was coming out that Bill Clinton had quietly sold nuclear secrets to the Communist Chinese. Many of the pieces fit then.

They fit even more now.

Setting the Stage – The T’ai Kung

Peter Nealen

Peter Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006, and again in 2007, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Bn. After two years of schools and workups, including Scout/Sniper Basic and Team Leader's Courses, he deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, I MEF. Since he got out, he's been writing, authoring many articles and 24 books, mostly Action/Adventure and Military Thrillers, with some excursions into Paranormal Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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