Warfare ethics in Sunzi's Art of War? Historical controversies and contemporary perspectives

Ping Cheung Lo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter shows how the classical Confucian understanding of a punitive expedition against a tyrant might compare with contemporary discussions and models of humanitarian intervention. In the period of classical Confucianism, punishment of a tyrant was doubtless rendered as 'summary justice' by a king or lord-protector, but in fact the matrix of criminal justice, involving a magistrate and higher review, was recognized and operative in Confucian society. In addition to justifying punitive expeditions for the righteous causes, Mencius and Xunzi used the Confucian norms to articulate important principled limitations on how military force was deployed. In Western discussions of humanitarian intervention understood broadly to mean coercive military action taken against a state in order to protect its citizens from grievous harm there appear to be two paradigmatic models currently competing for attention. One is a legalistic model and the other is a revisionary moral model. The first is sometimes called 'the traditional understanding'.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChinese Just War Ethics
Subtitle of host publicationOrigin, Development, and Dissent
EditorsPing Cheung Lo, Sumner B. Twiss
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781317580966, 9781315740706
ISBN (Print)9781138824355, 9781138729216
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2015

Publication series

NameWar, conflict and ethics

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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