My dear Kacvey,

As Cambodia has already started to be dominated, vassalized or colonized by China, it would be important that your students should be aware of the unsaid, unexplained or unrevealed Chinese thinking that could help them when coming face to face with the invaders or colonizers. To learn to understand the Chinese is the only way that would enable them to deal vigorously and intelligently with the Chinese that had studied and understood Khmer attitude and thinking long, long time ago.

The Chinese are using the tricks that their ancestors had taught them since time memorial, and every Chinese from high school up knows them by heart, thinks, reasons and behaves accordingly, both in planning and negotiating, and in critical moments.

The present era is that the Chinese have put in actual application what they have learnt all along; they do it to the world, and by extension to Cambodia with the help of US trade deficit and US largess on sciences and technology since the historical Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972.

The fundamental ideas are contained in a very ancient and classic text called “The Thirty-Six Stratagems” (三十六计) that illustrated a series of stratagems used in politics, war, and in civil interaction.

Kacvey, you can argue that since the essay is available in every book store, why making such a big deal? You have indeed a very valid point, but the issue is not about availability of the material, but the knowledge that the material is important and should be studied. A book that is open but unread doe not make the person holding it knowledgeable.

Below is the list of stratagems contained in the 6 Chapters of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, and the basis of that, your students could begin to study further and deeper their meaning under different forms, situations or circumstances, bearing in mind that the value is not in the literal meaning of each Chinese character or their combination into phrase or idiom, it rather is in the figurative meaning that is hidden in the pictograph of the Chinese language.

Chapter 1: Winning Stratagems 胜战计

  1. Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean 瞒天过海
  2. Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao 围魏救赵
  3. Kill with a borrowed sword 借刀杀人
  4. Wait at leisure while the enemy labors 以逸待劳
  5. Loot a burning house 趁火打劫
  6. Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west 声东击西

Chapter 2: Enemy Dealing Stratagems 敌战计

  1. Create something from nothing 无中生有
  2. Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passage of Chencang 明修栈道,暗度陈仓
  3. Watch the fires burning across the river 隔岸观火
  4. Hide a knife behind a smile 笑里藏刀
  5. Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree 李代桃僵
  6. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat 顺手牵羊

Chapter 3: Attacking Stratagems 攻战计

  1. Stomp the grass to scare the snake 打草惊蛇
  2. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul 借尸还魂
  3. Entice the tiger to leave its mountain lair 调虎离山
  4. In order to capture, one must let loose 欲擒故纵
  5. Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem 抛砖引玉
  6. Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief 擒贼擒王

Chapter 4: Chaos Stratagems 混战计

  1. Remove the firewood from under the pot 釜底抽薪
  2. Disturb the water and catch a fish 浑水摸鱼
  3. Slough off the cicada’s golden shell 金蝉脱壳
  4. Shut the door to catch the thief 关门捉贼
  5. Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbor 远交近攻
  6. Obtain safe passage to conquer the State of Guo 假道伐虢

Chapter 5: Proximate Stratagems 並战计

  1. Replace the beams with rotten timbers 偷梁换柱
  2. Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree 指桑骂槐
  3. Feign madness but keep your balance 假痴不癫
  4. Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof 上屋抽梯
  5. Deck the tree with false blossoms 树上开花
  6. Make the host and the guest exchange roles 反客为主

Chapter 6: Desperate Stratagems 败战计

  1. The beauty trap (Honeypot) 美人计
  2. The empty fort strategy 空城计
  3. Let the enemy’s own spy sow discord in the enemy camp 反间计
  4. Inflict injury on oneself to win the enemy’s trust 苦肉计
  5. Chain stratagems 连环计
  6. If all else fails, retreat 走为上计

Your students should also be knowledgeable about the Chinese concept of “Tianxia” 天下  (or “All Under the Heaven”) that could be found comprehensively explained in the book “RENEWAL – The Chinese State and the New Global History” by Wang Gungwu 王賡武, a historian and professor.

Kacvey, please also warn your students that learning the above essay is like scooping up a bucket of water from the ocean of Chinese history and thinking, but like Laozi said in Chapter 64 of Dao De Jing 道德经: “A journey of a thousand leagues starts from where your feet stand”, 千里之行,始於足下.

Start the journey!