A Review of T'ai Kung's "Six Secret Teachings"

A Review of T'ai Kung's "Six Secret Teachings"

From "The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China" translated By Ralph D. Sawyer


     T'ai Kung's Six Secret Teachings is the first of The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, a collection of texts translated by Ralph D. Sawyer with Mei-chün Sawyer.  According to the author, these seven military classics are widely available in the East, the material forming a plethora of additional translations, and published editions. In addition, according to the translator, many businesses, businesspeople, countries, and individuals around the world use many of the principles presented in the overall Seven Military Classics.

      The introduction to the volume provides a great deal of insight into the history, politics and civilization of the Chinese.  The initial introduction also provides an essential guide to gain better insights into the wide variety of themes, styles of strategy, and ideas presented. In addition to the initial introduction there are also individual introductions tailored to each text.  The volume also provides extensive appendixes for further exploration, copious notes, bibliography, indexes, and glossary with Chinese symbolic terms translated into English. 


        This first text of Sawyer's translations is of T'ai Kung's Six Secret Teachings that was written long after Sun-tzu's Art of War.  In fact, by the mention of various technological methods it is fairly safe to assume that warfare, its methods, and techniques was already quite old by Chinese standards at the time that the manual was written.  The manual of T'ai Kung's strategies is presented in the form of a dialogue between old King Wen and his sage military and civilian counselor, T'ai Kung. 


         The dialogue between King and advisor is a collection of their purported dialogues throughout their respective careers. There is, of course, the emphasis on military instructions however they are discussed in a manner that quickly lends their strategies to be employed in other sectors of life. Taoism figures prominently in this particular strategy manual and so their is discussion also of civilian life and the ordering of the state, the military camp, and also the mind necessary to be a king.  To quickly illustrate one of the possible side applications: the various systems of punishments and rewards for civilians and soldiers appears very useful not just to the military but also to business corporations (and their need to motivate workers and increase their efficiency). Many of international corporations have already applied these concepts and more than likely more companies will continue to do so in the future.  There are a variety of strategies and methods that do not actually involve violence whatsoever.  These particularly nonviolent strategies are best suited for developing plans that individuals and businesses can also use as they pursue the wide variety of their goals.


         What is most remarkable about T'ai Kung's strategies is the extensive use of "unorthodox" methods in order to achieve victory. Orthodox methods being, in some ways the traditional western way of war where frontal assault, masses of troops and weaponry are used on a wide front.  To contrast these traditional western ways, T'ai Kung reveals "unorthodox" methods that involve feigning weakness, when no weakness is present; or retreating in order to draw the opponent onwards and into a trap.  It is in particular the "unorthodox" methods that could be quickly applied to any sort of competitive situation from warfare between countries to the warfare in the boardroom or perhaps even to the warfare of the bedroom.  This is a fascinating read.