Back when I was still in university, I wrote a series about the 36 Stratagems. For those unfamiliar, the 36 Stratagems are a collection of ancient warfare tactics originating throughout China’s early history. My goal with this series was to take each stratagem and apply them in some way to a university setting. This is my longest completed series to date, and I wanted to make it more accessible.
For the sake of preserving this as an archive project, it will remain unedited in its original form on The Bolt News, where it was first published. Keep that in mind, as my style was still a bit rough back then.
The 36 Stratagems: An Introduction
“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.”
Stratagems 1-6: Commanding Superiority
“First off is Stratagem 1, which is to Deceive The Heavens And Cross The Ocean. This may sound complicated at first glance, but it’s actually rather simple in execution. You just mask your real goal, distracting those who would otherwise get in the way. You’re deceiving the heavens, crossing the oceans of obstacles to reach your actual goal. Set up a false front, make it seem like your goal is something else and, as a result, lower their guard. By the time they realize what’s happening, it should be too late. As an example, let’s use customer service. Whether you’re volunteering as part of a course or working part-time to earn some money, chances are you’ll be interacting with other people. Even if you don’t like your role, try not to make it obvious. Your real goal may be to earn money or volunteer hours, but the customers should believe that you like what you’re doing. If you actually do like your role, then that’s great! If not, then keep this stratagem in mind; your job will only become harder if people start complaining about your attitude.”
Stratagems 7-12: Confrontation
“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.”
Stratagems 13-18: Attack
“In the library alone, there are many different places to study. There’s the computer lab, where you can find things online. In the basement, groups of people can meet together to share information. Upstairs, there are solitary cubicles where you can silently review. Different places work for different people, and it’s just a matter of finding the right place for your needs. Stratagem 15, Lure The Tiger Out Of The Mountains, works based on the principle of leading your enemy to an area which is favorable for you. Need some quiet time? Give the cubicles upstairs a try. Want quick access to the internet and the printers? The computer lab is the place for you. Prefer studying in groups? The basement can accommodate large groups and small groups alike. When you find that place, you can do what you need to do in the area which benefits you most, whether that’s in the library or elsewhere.”
Stratagems 19-24: Confused Situations
“One way to deal with chaos is to embrace the chaos–you can do this by using existing chaos, creating new chaos, and confusing your enemy so you can then gain the upper hand. That’s the strategy behind Stratagem 20, Fish in Troubled Waters. For example, if you’re trying to come up with a sensible writing topic but writer’s block keeps getting you down, then try writing about the most absurd thing you can come up with. If that absurdity can inspire you, then go for it!”
Stratagems 25-30: Gaining Ground
“Regarding the Great Wall of China, did you know that a third of it has been lost due to a combination of vandalism and natural erosion? The wall itself dates back 2700 years, but most of what remains is the brick and stone reinforcements added during the Ming Dynasty. How does this relate to my next point? It doesn’t, it’s just filler content–there’s an interesting historical fact for you. Stratagem 29, Deck The Tree With Bogus Blossoms, is to make something with little value appear more valuable than it actually is. You might’ve thought I was going to use that information to demonstrate a relevant point, but it’s just there as an interesting piece of trivia. It’s meant purely to extend the space taken by this entry, just as this sentence is doing right now. My examples here have no subtlety whatsoever, but with better word and/or phrasing choices, then you too can extend the amount of words you take up within a paragraph in case you need to reach some sort of word limit.”
Stratagems 31-36: Desperate Straits
“Last but not least is Stratagem 36: If All Else Fails, Retreat. When defeat is imminent, it may be best to just cut your losses and escape while you can. By retreating, you’ll live to fight another day. If there’s no way for you to pass a certain course, you have the option of withdrawing from it. As long as you do it before the deadline, your GPA won’t be affected and it won’t appear on your permanent record. Likewise, you can withdraw your enrolment from Concordia itself. University isn’t for everyone, and it’s better to withdraw and cut your losses than it is to pay thousands of dollars for an unpleasant experience. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; some battles are just impossible to win.”