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Despite his fame as the reputed author of The Art of War and an extensive biography in China’s first comprehensive history, Sun Tzu (the Shiji, Sunzi, or Master (zi) Sun of the late 2nd century BCE) remains an enigma. Moreover, the absence of his name in any of the records that chronicle the late Spring and Autumn Periods (722–481 BCE) has not only stimulated doubts about his activities and achievements but also prompted questions about his very existence.

A contemporary of Confucius, Sunzi apparently numbered among the early itinerant political advisors and military strategists who sought employment with the era’s increasingly despotic monarchs. When he suddenly appeared in the troubled southeastern state of Wu about 512 BCE, Holu, the usurper, retained him as part of his ...

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