The 36 Stratagems: An Introduction

By Tyler DeWacht


It’s the beginning of a new term and we are each preparing ourselves for a new learning experience. To the new students, welcome to Concordia! I hope you enjoy your time here and that the time you spend here will be one of the best times of your lives. To the returning students, keep it up! You’re doing a great job; be proud of the efforts you’ve put in so far! As for the teachers and staff, thank you for all your hard work in making this university such a great place to be. It wouldn’t be the same without you!

So, are you prepared for the new year? What strategies do you have in place to handle any difficulties which may come your way? It’s not a question we often think about, but it’s a very important question to ask yourself. Do you just go with the flow, or should you stick to a schedule? Are you going to ask others for help when you’re having trouble? Can you balance your schedule properly? The answers may vary for everyone, but it’s important to have some sort of answer nonetheless. If you don’t have everything figured out, and I’m sure this applies to a lot of us, then I’d like to introduce a certain set of tactics to you.

I’m talking about the 36 Stratagems, a collection of warfare tactics ranging throughout the early history of China. First off, let’s start with some historical context. There is no exact date or author for any of them individually, but the phrase ‘36 Stratagems’ can be dated back in written records to the Book of Southern Qi, a history book detailing the Southern Qi Dynasty which began in 479 and ended in 502. While the phrase was initially just a figure of speech meaning that there were numerous stratagems, it later evolved into a specific set of stratagems with set meanings. Some of the stratagems may have been around since the invention of basic weapons, and others could’ve come from influential people such as Sun Tzu or Zhuge Liang, but we’ll likely never know for sure since accurate records dating back that far are scarce.

How can an old set of Chinese warfare tactics relate to a Canadian university student? The great thing about the 36 Stratagems is that they’re not limited to a warfare context. Struggling with an assignment? The 36 Stratagems can help. Big game coming up soon? The 36 Stratagems can offer advice. Deadline difficulties? Consult the 36 Stratagems. They’re useful in so many different scenarios; businesses and militaries worldwide incorporate them into their models to some extent, and you can use them as well!

My goal within this series will be to explore each of the 36 Stratagems, and to show you how each one of them can be applied in a university setting. This is my introduction to this series, the next issue will be focusing on the first set of the 36 Stratagems, the Stratagems For Commanding Superiority. Hopefully, you can use them to your advantage to make your university experience that much greater!

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