Cheat and run

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Cheat and run

“The Thirty-Six Strategies” is a book that offers us a peek into the thinking behind Chinese military strategies. Although written by an unknown writer, with an unknown publication date, it gives us a collection of practical, yet ingenious warfare tactics along the lines of other military books such as “The Art of War.”

Practical ingenuity, or “playing games” in other words, can help us bring the enemy under our control by using less force. There is a clear distinction between “me” and “the enemy” and the concept provides us with many ideas that can be deployed when confronting an opponent.

The first strategy among the 36 listed in the book is to cheat. Its title is “Cheating Heaven and Crossing the Sea.” When Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty in China was pondering whether to invade Goguryeo, he was reluctant to cross the sea. It is said that his gung-ho subordinates built a large comfortable house on the boat to trick him into crossing the ocean. That is why the Chinese have an axiom that you can even cheat an emperor to accomplish a goal.

After beginning by advising us to cheat, the last of the 36 strategies recommends that we take flight if things aren’t working out. Even after having followed the previous 35 ideas, if things don’t look good, then it’s best to just run away.

China is particularly proud of its military strategies. The belief that books on military strategy were written before Taoism or Confucianism is plausible, considering that from the primitive era, people were probably fighting before they came up with high-minded ideologies.

But although they may at first glance seem like words of wisdom, at the core of such thinking is cheating. The book presents a collection of the skills necessary to successfully cheat others. That is behind the old saying, “During war, we can’t help but cheat.”

As we watch the crisis of melamine-tainted Chinese food unfolding, it reminds us of the cheating and deceit in The Thirty-Six Strategies. It forces us to question whether there isn’t some kind of relationship between traditional military strategies and the pervasiveness of fake products in China.

However, we can’t just point the finger at China. The bigwigs on Wall Street who ushered in an international economic crisis are worse. They were well aware that ordinary borrowers lacked the means to repay mortgages, and yet they endlessly created derivatives to make huge profits.

Judging by Wall Street’s ability to cheat and then run away, perhaps they, too, have been reading about military strategies.


The writer is deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Yoo Kwang-jong [kjyoo@joongang.co.kr]
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