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Classical Strategists series

Jiang Taigong:   The Supreme Strategist



Graphic picture of Jiang Taigong

In our global society, Sunzi’s (Sun Tzu) Art of War is known as the most well-written and popular strategy classic from China. Some of the other popular Chinese military classics are Sun Bin’s The Art of War, Huang Shek Gong’s Three Strategies and Wuzi’s Art of War. Before Sunzi’s Art of War was written, there was Jiang Taigong’s (JTG) Six Secret Strategic Teachings (also known as Six Strategies of War).

Jiang Taigong was a real historical character named Lu Shang (also known as Jiang Ziya) who, in the 11th century BC, became advisor to King Wen and his son King Wu, founders of the Zhou dynasty (1122-771 BC). He was supposedly instrumental in aiding the fall of the Shang Dynasty (approximately 1700 BCE - 1045 BCE) and in establishing the Zhou (1045 BCE – 221 BCE). He was the prime minister for the first Zhou emperor and his loyalty and farsightedness in governing spread his fame throughout China.

The legend of Jiang Taigong captured popular imagination. Jiang Taigong is honored throughout Chinese history as the first great military advisor and the father of strategic studies.

He was credited with the feat of writing the first military strategic book Liutao (Six Secret Strategic Teachings). Liutao has been considered a highly important and proven source for military wisdom over the centuries, where it continues to be held in high esteem among contemporary Chinese professionals.

History

Note:   The many interpretations of Jiang Tai Gong’s biography propelled this writer to focus on the apparent.

Jiang Taigong (first known as Lü Shang of Lù-shi clan) was later known as Jiang Shang, then Jiang Ziya and Jiang Taigongwang).

As Lu Shang, he served King Zhouwang, the last ruler of the Shang dynasty (16th to 11th century BC) as an expert in military strategic affairs. The Shang ruler was a tyrannical and corrupted ruler who spent his days carousing with his favorite concubine Daji and mercilessly executing or punishing honorable officials and all others who objected to his ways.

After many years of working for the Shang ruler, Lu Shang detested him so much that he hoped that some day someone would call on him to help overthrow this evil tyrant. One day the Shang ruler came up with the extravagant goal of building 'Lu Tai' (deer platform) palace that would glorify him as a deity. This task became such a burden to the people that the hungry and sick were dying in the countryside.

Lü Shang abandoned his post and left with his wife Ma-shi to go to the west. They suffered many years in poverty and his wife later left him. During that period, Lu Shang knew that he would have another opportunity that would utilize his talent. All he needed to do was to be patient. Lu Shang waited till he was 72 years old for the next opportunity to come along.

Meeting King Wen

After his wife left him, Lu Shang went to Wei-shui River (near today’s Xi'an) to fish, knowing that the future Zhou ruler Wenwang (located in central Shaanxi) would come along one day and meet him. The opportunity occurred one day, when King Wen decided to go hunting in the area near the river, where he saw Lu Shang sitting on the grass, fishing with a bamboo pole that had a barbless hook attached to it. (Some claimed that there was no hook on the line.) The hook was then positioned a few feet above the surface of the water.

This unique act of fishing is based on Jiang’s theory that the fish would come to him of their own volition when they were ready. This action requires the fisherman to be patient and devise the philosophy of "if one waits long enough, things will come their way."

As King Wen of the Zhou state (central Shaanxi), saw Lu Shang fishing, he was reminded of the advice of his father and grandfather before him, which was to search for talented people. In fact, he had been told by his grandfather (the Grand Duke of Zhou), "… that one day a sage would come and help him to rule the Zhou state."

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