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New Art Of War: Stay Low Until the “Right Time”

New Art Of War: Stay Low Until the “Right Time”

PARK Jae-Hee

Feb. 5, 2008


Hello, I am Jae-Hee Park on The New Art of War.

Since Hu Jintao took office as China’s fourth generation of leadership, China has begun to voice increasingly assertive opinions not only in economic matters but also in politics. Underlined by its determination “to adopt an active approach to problems,” China has finally begun to show the world the prowess it harnessed over 20 years of opening.

Traditionally, China’s approach to international matters followed the maxim of “concealing one’s light and developing one’s capabilities.” This idea was encouraged by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s’ as China opened to the global market. For 20 years since then, this idea has been the centerpiece of China’s involvement in international matters. Now let’s see how some trace of this idea have played out in the course of Chinese history.

In the Romance of the Three Kindoms, Zhuge Liang’s perspective on China separating into three states made him appreciate “concealing one’s light and developing one’s capabilities”. Zhuge Liang advised his warlord Liu Bei “to conceal one’s light and develop one’s capabilities” by ruling the Shu area, surrounded by mountains, thereby harnessing enough power to combat much larger states like Wei and Wu.

Zheng Banqiao, a famous painter/calligrapher and one of Yangzhou’s Eight Eccentrics during the Qing Dynasty, also agreed with this idea by coining the phrase "It's hard to act like a fool." By acting like a fool, others will underestimate you and be unsuspicious of you. This is when one begins to truly cultivate one’s ability.

A passage from The Art of War mentions similar ideas. “By discovering the enemy's disposition and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy's are divided.” When your counterpart remains ignorant of your tactics, it is more likely they will succeed. In other words, success and prosperity belongs to those who hide their intentions. Going further with this idea, Sun Tzu emphasized that letting others know of you in just the way you intend is essential in turning the tables in your favor. If circumstances present themselves, you should know how to be the smartest person, while under different circumstances, you should pretend to be the most thoughtless person.

Jiang Taigong, a great strategist from 3,000 years ago, wrote in his Six Secret Teachings, “Just as a hawk pulls back its wings and flies low to catch its prey, a beast raises its ears and crouches low to attack. Likewise, a wise person “acts like a fool” while making headway for his ambitions.” To capture a valuable opportunity, hiding one’s intentions goes a long way.

Here are some verses written by Zheng Banqiao.

To play a wise man is difficult but not as difficult as playing a fool. For a wise man to play a fool is even more difficult. Drop one part and take a step back And soon you will feel more peace at heart. Then, whether you planned it or not, fortune will come knocking at your door Remember to look long. Although time may not favor you now, a day will come when opportunity will arise. Until then, don’t let circumstances dishearten you, and continue pursuing your ultimate goal.

This has been a lecture on The New Art of War by Jae-Hee Park.

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