Sword guard with a section of blade China, Western Han dynasty (202 BCE-9 CE),Jade, bronze, sword guard: 1 x 2 1/2 x 1 1/4 in (2.5 x 6.4 x 3.2 cm) blade: 4 5/16 x 1 1/4 x 1/4in (11 x 3.2 x .6cm), Gift of R.H. Norton, 50.6

July 23 to November 13, 2011 – Norton Museum of Art

About 2,600 years ago, one of the most influential books on military strategy, The Art of War (孫子兵法, Sunzi Bing Fa) was written.  The author was probably a general named SUN Wu (孫武, 544 – 512 BCE). He commanded 30,000 troops in the service of HE Lu (阖闾), ruler of the State of Wu (吴国, Wu Guo). He Lu, a member of the Ji (姬) family who founded the Zhou dynasty, bestowed the honorific title of “master” on Sun. He is known to this day as Sun Zi (孫子, Master Sun).  This book is probably a combination of information passed down from father to son in the Sun military family and Sun Wu’s own ideas, which are aligned with the Chinese philosophy of Taoism.

The Art of War has been studied through the ages by famous military men such as Napoleon, and warlords in Japan. Both ideas from this book, and East Asian art, provide inspiration for heroes and villains in contemporary tales and film.  For example, film director George Lucas’ interest in the samurai warriors of Japan is clearly manifested in the creation of the Star Wars characters, such as Darth Vader.  In the end, Vader came to understand one of the key concepts in The Art of War: “If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.”

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