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Ralph D. Sawyer, one of America’s leading scholars in Chinese warfare, has worked extensively with major intelligence and defense agencies. After studying at MIT and Harvard and a brief stint of university teaching, Sawyer has spent the past thirty years lecturing and doing international consulting work focused on China.
Ralph D. Sawyer, one of America's leading scholars in Chinese warfare, has worked extensively with major intelligence and defense agencies. After studying at MIT and Harvard and a brief stint of university teaching, Sawyer has spent the past thirty years lecturing and doing international consulting work focused on China.
I purchased this book because, as the cover states, it seemed to be the perfect companion to Sawyer's excellent translation of the Art of War. I'm afraid that claim isn't very accurate. On the surface this book does appear quite promising--Sawyer has translated ninth-century commander Wang Chen's commentary on the classic Tao Te Ching and has even retranslated the source text itself; and a Taoist-military perspective on the nature of combat and conflict is certainly enough to catch one's attention. The historical importance and timelessness of the matter treated provide further value to the work.
So why only 3 stars? Well, my first problem involves the organization of this book. Sawyer provides an introduction to Wang's commentary in which he briefly addresses historical details and the purpose of composition, and then moves on to address certain salient issues within the text. I found this introduction basically worthless, however. Sawyer appears to be merely going through the motions here--his scholarship in this introduction is lacking compared to what he did with the Art of War--and much of the introductory text consists of quotes and summaries from the pages to come. In other words, it offers little new insight; if you're going to be looking at extensive quotations, why not just read the book itself? I realize that criticizing the introduction usually doesn't offer much information about the text as a whole, but in this case I believe it does. I say this because the book follows a format of Tao Te Ching > Wang Chen > Sawyer, with each offering an interpretation of the previous one.Read more ›
Let me first describe what this book is, because I did not know when I ordered it, but I was pleasantly surprised. If you have read the Tao Te Ching you know that it is broken up into a lot of "chapters" each consisting of a short blip of wisdom. This book is broken up into these same chapters, with the Tao Te Ching text first, then Wang Chen's commentary discussing how this verse applies to leadership, thus the description of it as martial Tao Te Ching. Sawyer then comments on each chapter of the text.
This is a book that is about Taoism more than anything else. Sawyer's commentary in the chapters discusses Wang Chen's interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, and in this commentary you will find most of what is discussed previously in the introduction, so read the background information on who Wang Chen was and the time in which he lived, and skip the rest of the introduction.
This book does bring up some interesting ideas about war and peace in relation to Taoism in an abstract philosophiocal sense, but this is mostly a book about Taoism (which is why I like the book) rather than a manual on the theory of warfare or a history of Chinese warfare as I thought it would be. If you want a history of Chinese warfare, look elsewhere, and if you want theory of warfare start with a copy of Clausewitz's famous treatise "On War," then learn about the Lanchester equations of combat (search the internet), and go from there.
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As discreetly acknowledged on the back cover, this book was originally published in hardcover as "The Tao of Peace." That edition, published by Shambhala, clearly identified itself on its cover as a translation of a work by the T'ang Dynasty general Wang Chen (about 800 C.E.), a product of one of the classical periods of Chinese history. The Westview Press version is a little harder to recognize for what it is.
In both versions, it is in fact a translation, with an introduction and commentary by the translators, of "Tao-te-Ching lun-ping yao-yi-shu," one of the more unusual of the many surviving Chinese commentaries on the "Tao Te Ching" or "Lao-Tzu." ("Daodejing" and "Laozi" in the current Pinyin transliteration; the Sawyers continue to use the familiar Wade-Giles system.) The "5000-character Classic" (as it is also known, and as Wang Chen sometimes cites it) was of exceptional importance to the T'ang; the supposed author was officially an ancestor of the dynasty, the Chinese roots of which were often questioned.
The Westview edition has been repackaged, slightly revised in references to the title, and expanded by a section of "Further Reading" which is in effect a catalogue of the translators' other books on Chinese military thought for Westview, rather than for study of the "Tao-Te-Ching." (For some suggestions, see below.)
Ralph D. Sawyer explains in the Preface that they have also provided a translation of the "Tao-Te-Ching" itself, which uses Wang Chen's apparent readings and parsing of the text, and so differs from the many earlier translations, and from the Sawyers' own understanding of the book.Read more ›
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