History Lessons

The Art of War

Sun versus Pang

During the Warring States period (475 – 221 BC), seven states spent decades feuding over turf. Sun Bin was a famous military strategist at the time in the state of Wei, and Pang Guan his good friend. But Pang, envious of Sun’s talent, plotted to have Sun killed and framed him for treason.

The rivalry between Pang and Sun has been adapted for the big screen, and the movie Warring States opens this Friday.

What can cinemagoers expect? The plot sees Sun flee to the State of Qi, where he serves as chief military advisor. In 354 BC, Wei attacked the state of Zhao, with Pang leading the Wei army. Zhao requested help from Qi, so the king of Qi commissioned Sun to lead an army in support. Sun proposed the strategy of ‘besieging Wei to rescue Zhao’ (still a well-known idiom in contemporary China, frequently cited by business leaders). So instead of rushing over to Zhao, Sun led the Qi army to attack the Wei capital city of Daliang, forcing the weary Wei army to turn back to save their own city, effectively lifting the siege on Zhao (see WiC13).

Eight years later, Pang led the Wei army to invade the state of Han, another ally of the Qi state. Sun was again put in charge of the Qi army.

At first, Wei seemed successful in fending off Qi’s attack. But Sun ordered his troops to reduce the number of cooking pits at night to create a false impression that the Qi army was shrinking in size. The pursuing Wei forces led by Pang, seeing the number of pits reducing night by night, were fooled into thinking that the Qi army had deserted. So Pang ordered his troops to pursue Qi, and they marched day and night to make contact. But they were in for a surprise. Not only did they march straight into an ambush of archers, they also discovered that they were far outnumbered. Pang ended up committing suicide (see WiC2).


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