Warfare ethics in Sunzi's art of war? Historical controversies and contemporary perspectives

Ping Cheung LO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Contemporary English and Chinese scholars alike have interpreted Sunzi's Art of War as advocating amoralism in warfare. That charge has a long history in pre-modern China and has not been fully refuted. This essay argues that the alleged amoral Machiavellianism is more appropriate for ancient Qin military thought than for Sunzi. The third chapter of Sunzi's treatise contains a distinctive moral perspective that cannot be found in the military thought of the state of Qin, which succeeded in defeating all other states in the Period of the Warring States. Such a moral perspective contains both ad bellum and in bello norms. I submit that my interpretation of Sunzi's warfare ethics can provide an important resource for the People's Liberation Army of China to construct full-scale just war ethics that is similar to Western understandings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-135
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Military Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy

User-Defined Keywords

  • amoral realism
  • Art of War
  • Clausewitz
  • Henry Sidgwick
  • last resort
  • Machiavellianism
  • Michael I. Handel
  • Michael Walzer
  • People's Liberation Army (PLA)
  • proportionality
  • Shang Yang
  • Sunzi (Sun Tzu)


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