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Classical Strategists series

Jiang Taigong:   The Supreme Strategist

This article is a continuation of Jiang's Tai Gong biography (Part 1). This second part focuses on his thoughts on strategy based on a question-and-answer conversation between Jiang Tai Gong and the Emperor Wen (and later Emperor Wu).

Six Secret Strategic Teachings
(Six Secret Strategies of Conflict)

The Six Secret Strategic Teachings is a good book for "newbies" who are interested in strategic consulting and advising. It consists of six chapters that guide the readers in the art and science of effective strategy and leadership from a top-down mode.

Note:   I will describe some of Jiang's concepts in a contemporary sense.

The first two "chapters" deal with the duties of the organization and the natural transition of power to the principal rival if the organization fails. This scenario can be described as a "respective" interplay of "yin and yang."

  1. The Civil Strategic Secret:   The first chapter stresses the importance of recruiting talent, managing the organization, and valuing developing a proper relationship within your client and your own organization. Once the bond of absolute trust is established, they will do almost anything for you.

  2. The Military Strategic Secret:   The second chapter accentuates the importance of how to prevail over the opposition and how to build a territorial domain by the following actions: Cultivating yourself and organizing your own group in order to govern your external settings and pacify the world. The concept of "conquering without a single tactical battle" is also greatly emphasized. (It is similar to Sunzi's concept of "winning a war without a battle.")

  3. The Dragon Strategic Secret:   The emphasis is on how to lead wisely through various situations by understanding and development operational command, order, and liaison.

  4. The Tiger Strategic Secret:   The emphasis is on the tactical essentials, including matters related to proper group-maneuvering procedures for certain scenarios.

  5. The Leopard Strategic Secret:   This chapter focuses on the tactical specifics for finding the critical path toward completing the objective

  6. The Dog Strategic Secret:   This final chapter focuses on the tactical specifics of trapping the target (i.e., encircling and intercepting). There are also good points on selecting and training the desired professionals and coordinating the personnel's and resources toward the target.

Note:   Many years ago an elderly scholar told me to first understand and master the content from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 (civil secret teachings and martial secret teachings). The first stage of any good consultant is to gain the client's trust by knowing the various ways of "suggesting" ideas and perspectives to the principal client. He also joked that the concepts behind Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 are similar to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but with a Dao-conceptualized viewpoint. If you want to start an uprising in your competitive arena, carefully study those two chapters.

Another lesson that I learned from reading Jiang's essay was the importance of "thinking big" in your own aspiration.

Six Secret Strategic Teachings was compiled into a single body of strategic work known as Wujing Qishu (also known as The Seven Martial Classics) during the Sung dynasty. It was designated as an essential material for the imperial military examinations and thus came to disproportionately affect subsequent military thought. Separately each of these seven classics complements each other in terms of strategic leadership.

This set of classics was read not only by military officials but also by high government officials, and played a great role in the socialization of scholars, officials, and military officers.


The thoughts of Jiang Taigong have been known for 3000 years ago and I believe that it still remains relevant for today's CEOs, managers, and leaders.

His concepts of effective strategy and leadership has been widely reinterpreted and applied in the corporate world today. A sound appreciation of Jiang's concepts is a requirement for both sophisticated and budding strategic leaders.

If you want to start an uprising in your strategic setting, reading this book is a good start.


M.E.H. logo

M.E.H. is a techie-strategy consultant who has written articles on "Pragmatic Daoism", "Application of Chinese Strategic Concepts in Modern Situations" and classic Chinese strategists (Sunzi, Sun Bin and Zhuge Liang).

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