The 36 Stratagems: Confrontation

By Tyler DeWacht


Well done, you’ve made it through the month of January! I knew you could do it. Don’t let your guard down just yet, though; it only gets tougher from this point onwards. Keep at it, I believe in you! I may not be able to support you in person, but I can pass down to you some ancient Chinese wisdom from the 36 Stratagems, which you can use yourself in order to attain success. Just in case you missed the first introduction, they’re a set of Chinese warfare tactics which can be applied to many scenarios, and my goal here is to apply them all to a university setting. I covered the Stratagems For Commanding Superiority, which are designed for the purpose of dominating your opposition. In this issue, I’ll be covering the second set of the 36 Stratagems, the Stratagems For Confrontation. This set of stratagems is dedicated towards situations in which you and your enemy stand on equal footing, when brains are more valuable than brawn.


Stratagem 7, Create Something Out Of Nothing, is to make your opponent think you have something when you don’t really have anything. It can be applied vice versa as well: make them think you have nothing when you actually do have something. That’s all there is to it. To be honest, I couldn’t come up with any good examples for this one. Anything I could come up with would likely backfire on you the moment you use it. It’s easy to use, but surprisingly difficult to apply in a university setting. Sorry, but I can’t help you here.


Next up is Stratagem 8, which is to Openly Repair The Walkway, But Sneak Through The Passage Of Chencang. For another round of historical context, the name of this stratagem refers to an event known as the Chu-Han Contention. When the short-lived Qin Dynasty collapsed, it was divided into various kingdoms. Two of these kingdoms were known as Western Chu and Han, led by Xiang Yu and Liu Bang respectively. These two men both played significant roles in the downfall of the previous emperor, and when it came time to divide the land, a dispute broke out which quickly turned into a territorial conflict. Liu Bang lost, and he was sent off to govern a remote region from where he couldn’t pose much of a threat in the future. As he and his troops left, they destroyed the roads behind them so they couldn’t be easily trespassed upon. Later on, some of those troops were sent back by Liu Bang to fix them. Xiang Yu noticed this, but he decided to just keep an eye on them without doing anything since the repair work would take a long time. While this distraction was happening, a larger group of troops cut through the small valley town of Chencang in order to invade Western Chu. Xiang Yu’s forces were caught off-guard by this surprise assault, and this loss would soon lead to Xiang Yu’s total defeat and the subsequent establishment of the Han Dynasty.


That exposition went on a bit longer than I meant it to, but I found this event interesting, so I wanted to go into a bit more detail about it. The main point to take away from this conflict is that setting up a distraction while moving in secret towards your actual goal can be a very effective strategy. This may sound very similar to the first stratagem, but the key difference between the two is that the distraction in this case is also a goal you want to work towards; the roads had to be repaired eventually anyways, so you might as well get a headstart on it while working towards your main goal. As an example, let’s use writing for The Bolt. You can earn money by writing in here–did you know that? Like any paying position, some might believe I’m only in this for the money. However, that’s not my main goal. My main goal is to gain writing experience so that I can be a better writer in the future; the money I earn while doing this is just a nice incentive.


Do you regularly engage in competitive sports? If so, then Stratagem 9, Watch The Fires Burning Across The River, may apply to you. Your strength is important, but your endurance is just as important. There’s no point in having a lot of power if you can’t use that power for longer than 5 minutes before you become too exhausted to continue. It’s important to conserve some of that strength so that you’re not wasting it all at once. Keep some strength in reserve, go on the offensive when your opponent starts losing energy, and it’ll be more difficult for them to defend. That’s the idea behind this stratagem: strike hard and fast once your opponents have exhausted themselves. Don’t just charge straight in to fight those fires, wait until the fires start to die down before you go in.


Group presentations can be hard, but when everyone puts in their fair share of work, it usually works out in the end. Unfortunately, you may end up in a group where someone’s not pulling their weight. In this situation, one way to deal with them is Stratagem 10, Hide A Knife In A Smile. Make them think you’re not a threat by playing along and gaining their trust, then once you have that trust, turn it against them. Don’t give them any help; watch them fail the individual portion of the presentation. Yes, I know it’s cruel, but this tactic is cruel by design. There’s no good way to exemplify this stratagem that doesn’t involve some form of betrayal. Let’s put it this way: that student is a known slacker who never learns their lesson, and pure shock factor is the only way to get the message through to them. Think of it as a last-resort tactic, one that should be used only after all of your other options are exhausted. Hopefully, you’ll never have to actually use this stratagem.


Which do you like more, peaches or plums? Personally, I prefer peaches. If I had to choose one, I’d go with the peaches every time. Why am I talking about fruit? Sometimes, you have to make a choice–one thing or the other, you can’t choose both. If you like peaches and plums and you want to grow them yourself but only have enough money for one tree, then you may have to Sacrifice The Plum Tree To Preserve The Peach Tree, which is the essence of Stratagem 11. Returning to the topic of fires, let’s say there’s an actual fire at Concordia, not just a fire drill or the burning passion of a sports game. You learn that the fire started near your locker and all of your textbooks are still inside it. You’re close to the exit, and you could leave safely, but those textbooks cost you a lot of money. Which do you value more–your textbooks or your life? You can always buy new books, but you can’t buy yourself a new body. Keep that in mind the next time there’s a fire drill.


You know, it can be really hard to come up with ideas sometimes. When I said it was difficult to apply the seventh stratagem to a university setting, that was the truth, but that explanation I gave really was an example of something. The problem with writing an example for it is that it requires specific scenarios which aren’t normally provided within a university setting. I want to make the examples relevant to as many people as possible, but I couldn’t come up with anything that would work for a sizable percentage of the university population. You’ll likely find your own way to implement it at some point, which is what I did. I’m still not entirely happy with my example, but it was the best opportunity I could come up with, so I took it. At least it gives me a good way to transition into Stratagem 12, Take The Opportunity To Pilfer A Goat. You should consider taking any opportunities that come your way, whether it’s a bit of impromptu writing, a friendly competition, or an assignment topic. It helps to remain flexible in your plans. That way, you can take that opportunity when it rolls around. If that goat could potentially be useful, no matter how little value it might be, then pilfer that goat.


Hopefully, you can use some of these strategies to give you that intellectual edge over your opponents. This has been the second set of the 36 Stratagems, the Stratagems For Confrontation. The next issue will focus on the third set of the 36 Stratagems, the Stratagems For Attack, in which intimidation is the key to winning before the game even begins. You’re doing great so far; hang in there!


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