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Notes politics Psychology

Strategy 11: Trade Space for Time (The 33 Strategies of War)

To remain disciplined and calm while waiting for disorder to appear amongst the enemy is the art of self-possession.

Sun-tzu (fourth century B.C.)

In the 1930’s, Mao Tse-tung was a rising hero of the Communist army. His philosophy and guerilla tactics led them to many victories against the Nationalist party, even though he was often outnumbered. But a power struggle within the Communist party broke out, and the 28 Bolsheviks decided that Mao’s strategy was timid and toothless. Instead of using guerilla tactics, the 28B wanted to take on the enemy head on, the way the Russian Communists did in their country. They put Mao on house arrest, and surprisingly, he did not rebel. Mao stopped writing, and merely waited for time to pass. It was beginning to seem true that he was indeed too timid.

But the Communist army’s new strategies failed them, they began losing the war to the Nationalist party. And eventually, 100,000 of their soldiers were forced to retreat to the North. At this point, the red army stopped having faith in the 28 B. Mao spotted this as his opportunity to return. He criticized the strategy of moving as a large unit, it was too predictable. Instead, he opted for his old guerilla style tactics, and the Communists listened to him. They travelled lighter, and in the night, and they moved to the remote parts of China, where they would not be found.

Mao managed to take control over the Communists once again, and his clever strategies helped rebuild a better and stronger army. Mao led them to safety, and he accomplished what his predecessors couldn’t – he defeated the Nationalist army in 1949 for good and exiled them from mainland China.

Sometimes, there is strength in retreat. It is not always wise to engage a stronger enemy, for they may have the advantage over you. But if you use time to your advantage, and the Taoist philosophy of Wei Wu – you will learn to fight better without fighting at all. You will be able to recover, and to think more clearly. And if you refuse to fight, you infuriate your enemy, who becomes rash and arrogant.

Farmers in China know this well, sometimes the seasons can be harsh, and they need to bend their expectations, and be patient. Mao grew up in a farm and understood the power of inaction. At times, being trapped in one pattern of behavior can cripple you, it can force you into a corner. Trading opportunity for time can lead to better mental readiness, and a fresh perspective.  

Opportunities are changing ceaselessly. Those who get there too early have gone too far, while those who get there too late cannot catch up. As the sun and moon go through their courses, time does not go along with people. Therefore, sages do not value huge jewels as much as they value a little time. Time is hard to find and easy to lose.

HUAINANZI, CHINA, SECOND CENTURY B.C.

Read The 33 Strategies of War

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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