While of ancient origin and being still relevant today, much is speculation about the military classic 'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu. Even the existence of the author is disputed. He allegedly served the state of Wu which ceased to exist 473 B.C., making his thoughts his only legacy. Anyway it originated in China and was adopted worldwide.

I'm quite curious as to when and where it was adopted first outside of China.

I'd mostly like to know that it found an audience, in that it was written about and present in the library of discerning readers. But I'll settle for translated and published, as these are easier to date.

I'm inclined to say this would have been Japan, being close by and having a thriving military tradition. But I could not find any reference.

  • 1
    I've edited the question to explain what I understand as 'adopted'.
    – Bookeater
    Jan 28, 2017 at 21:20
  • All the sources I was able to dig up say "AD 750 Japan". Same as here Jan 29, 2017 at 15:47
  • @Gallifreyan Wow more than a millennium to travel there. Much longer than I thought.
    – Bookeater
    Jan 29, 2017 at 16:31
  • @GarethRees It does seem odd to put the author name into a title tag, but please see this meta post. Unfortunately, we have no way to create a tag hierarchy so that one tag can be clearly associated with another.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 7, 2018 at 15:20

1 Answer 1


This article about The Art of War gives a brief summary of its history of adoption in various countries:

What they do know is that copies of the book, typically written on sets of sewn-together bamboo slats, ended up in the hands of politicians, military leaders and scholars across China. From there, translated copies of “Sun Tzu’s” work found their way to Korea and Japan. (The oldest Japanese version dates from the 8th century A.D.)

For more than 1,000 years, rulers and scholars across Asia consulted The Art of War as they plotted their military maneuvers and imperial conquests. Japanese samurai, for example, studied it closely. However, it did not reach the Western world until the end of the 18th century, when a Jesuit missionary translated the book into French. (Historians say that the French emperor Napoleon was the first Western leader to follow its teachings.) It was finally translated into English in 1905.

-- History.com (emphasis mine)

I've done some fact checking and found sources for each of these claims:

  • Japan: Wikipedia, sourced to M. R. McNeilly, Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare (2001), claims that The Art of War reached Japan (presumably in a translated version) in about 760 AD, and quickly became popular among generals and military leaders there. However, this academic article, sourced to the 1971 Samuel Griffith translation of The Art of War itself, claims that it reached Japan in around 516 AD via Korea.

  • Korea: if the last article linked above is correct, then The Art of War was presumably translated into Korean some time in the 5th or 6th century AD. But unfortunately I haven't been able to find any more details about this.

  • Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh seems to have been the person who introduced The Art of War to Vietnam and translated it to Vietnamese, presumably in the late 1930s or early 1940s. See this interview with William Duiker, professor of East Asian studies and author of Ho Chi Minh's biography.

  • France: The Art of War first reached the western world when Father Amiot, a Jesuit missionary, translated it into French in 1772. It was this translation that first made the title The Art of War (Art de la Guerre). The French translation remained obscure until Napoleon used it to conquer half of Europe. See this article from Science of Strategy.

  • England: Lionel Giles, a Victorian sinologist, is often credited as being the first to translate The Art of War into English, in 1910; his version is still considered the 'canonical' one to this day. See Wikipedia and this edition's acknowledgements for examples of this claim. In fact, the first English translation was published in 1905 in Tokyo by one Captain Calthrop, but it was roundly criticised by Giles before he produced his much better translation. See this article for more details.

  • You can delete "since the original Chinese title would be better translated as Competitive Methods". I own five Chinese dictionaries; they all translate 兵 as soldier, troops, military or the pawn in Chinese chess, and never into something as innocuous as "competition", regardless what ScienceOfStrategy.org says.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 25, 2021 at 21:21

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