The Meaning of Bing-fa (often referred to as Sun Tzu: The Art of War)

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The picture is of Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China – and that’s what Bing-fa is all about – not about combat, but about empire building.

Qin Shi Huang assembled the brightest minds from the known world and established academies of learning in the kingdom of Qin where they faced noble objectives: find a way to end war and build an empire of peace. They succeeded in a way that appeared magical to the common people (“None can see the strategies by which I succeed,” says the Bing-fa).

My twenty years of research in libraries and archives and consulting with authorities in various fields brought these new insights to life, while I uncovered several remarkable myths and mysteries. It is amazing to me that the accepted wisdom of Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu and the foundation of China is based more on myth than verified fact. My book addresses both the myths and the facts.

My work began with reading Sun Tzu: The Art of War, allegedly written by an army general from Chinese antiquity. Except that there is no verifiable evidence that there ever was a General Sun Tzu, and as a careful reading of The Art of War shows, it is not at all about war. The title is in fact a mistranslation of Bing-fa, a 2300 year-old expression that means The Art of Diplomacy. (Actually the more accurate translation is, “the art of managing organizations and relations between organizations.”)

To get to these findings requires breaking the Art of War code, and to break the code you need a Rosetta Stone. That stone is the Tao Te Ching, written around the same time as Bing-fa.

When one learns to appreciate that Bing-fa is about peace, and the Tao Te Ching is about good government, one is then ready to explore the date of creation of these works and the use to which they were applied. In fact my research worked in reverse. I travelled back from the evidence to discover primal causes. The Qin kingdom solved a 200 year period of inter-state war in a decade and built a remarkable empire, felled only by the emperor’s failure to ensure a competent successor was in place. What reasonable explanations can be found for such remarkable events?

With more evidence than can be ignored, we discover that Bing-fa and the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu, and many others, were the product of learned academies in the Qin kingdom, established – in part – by the man who would become the first emperor of China. It was the application of profound thinking and practice that ended the period of the Warring States and founded the first empire of China. Qin did all that with intelligence, not armament.

Despite significant evidence available from a wide range of sources, many historians insist that Qin battled and bludgeoned its way to victory. These historians invariably place their trust in a person known as “The Great Historian” – and he may have indeed been great in some areas. But this historian, Sima Qian by name, was not even good in his reports about Qin, the empire, the first emperor, or why the first empire fell. Sima Qian was a propagandist for the second empire, a tortured mouthpiece who served his masters far better than he served China.

The bulk of what passes for history of the foundation of China and how that was achieved is seriously flawed. The “histories” are usually just folktales, a replication of what others have written before, without the benefit of original research.  Only my work, and that of J.H. Huang, have succeeded in uncovering the truths behind Bing-fa; and before us, only Cleary came close to appreciating what was the real function of the Tao Te Ching. That function is articulated for the first time with precision in my book.

The Art of War commentary sees only war. And yet this myopic commentary is replicated again and again in essays, graduate thesis after graduate thesis, and books on conflict, war and management. It is a sad commentary itself on what  is permitted to penetrate and dominate these genres with a dearth of scholarship.  With great regret, we see that this focus on seeing war where war cannot be found has missed the best story of all – how China was founded – through peaceful means – and the role played by China’s first emperor.

Qin Shi Huang was a remarkable person who established an academic and technical community in Qin that defined benchmarks in many fields. But today, he is remembered as a tyrant who burned books, buried scholars alive, and who wasted resources and lives in such ego-driven projects as the Great Wall. All of these “remembrances” are inventions.

Sadly, we see these untruths in the publications and releases concerning Qin Shi Huang’s great tomb in Xi’an, and his terra cotta array. That array – claimed again and again to have been created by the first emperor to protect him in the afterlife – was his memorial to the end of war. It was intended to be visited by the Chinese people in a way that people visit great theme parks today.  What an insult it is to a great thinker and nation builder – to proclaim that he believed his hundreds of clay solders would protect him after he died.

China’s first emperor discovered how one successfully manages organizations, and relations between organizations without loss, and without conflict. Qin’s discoveries suggest remarkable possibilities for contemporary inter-personal, inter-organizational and international relations. The Qin methodology is as appropriate for union-management relations as it is for international diplomacy. It is spelled out and explained in detail in The School of Sun Tzu – a fascinating read by a Canadian author. It is available from and

Look for The School of Sun Tzu by these ISBN numbers.

Hardcover ISBN 978-1-4697-6912-7

Softcover ISBN 978-1-4697-6911-0


Interested in managing without conflict – in your personal and professional life? Think that war is inevitable? Here’s my book on the way to peace.



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