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Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 2

This group: Stratagems When Commanding Superiority
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To defend against attack by limbs, strike at the heart. Then defeat the limbs as they return to protect the heart.

Distract a powerful force that is threatening you by causing greater problems for it elsewhere, particularly by attacking those places it holds most dear.

Avoid direct attack. When you move, go to where the enemy is not.

A third party can gain allies by entering a conflict on the side of a weaker force. Alliances and partnerships are common ways for smaller parties to stand up to more powerful ones.


This is the second stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems When Commanding Superiority

Alternative names

Besiege the Kingdom of Wei to save the Kingdom of Zhao

Besiege Wei to Save Zhao

Surround One State to Save Another

Or even:

Attack Their Friend

The Achillies Heel Strategy

Distract Then Destroy


Sun Bin, a descendant of Sun Tzu (the author of The Art of War), was a brilliant advisor to the kingdom of Wei. Chief military advisor Pang Juan was envious and changed a letter to make it seem Sun Bin was going to defect. After grievous punishment, Sun Bin was saved by people from Qi.

Years later, when Pang Juan was sent to attack Zhao, Zhao turned to Qi for help. After allowing Wei's forces to weaken in siege for a year, Sun Bin set up an attack on the Wei capital. Pang Juan and 20,000 troops tried rushing back to help Wei, but were first harried by Zhao forces from behind and then decimated in an ambush that was orchestrated by Sun Bin with Qi's main forces.

In the first Iraq war, America kept the Iraqi front busy with bombing, while a secondary force raced around them through the desert. Its use of smart weapons meanwhile gave Bagdad plenty to worry about.

A common way of selling goods is to appeal to children who will then nag their parents into the purchase.

When interrogated suspects keep quiet, a common tactic (at least on TV and movie dramas) is to threaten to harm their friends or family.


This method uses a combination of warfare principles of direct and indirect, concentration and division, solidity and emptiness.

Direct attack on the heart is an indirect attack on the limbs. When Sun Bin attacked Wei, he forced Pang Juan to return to help.

When you divide your force, you can do this unevenly to allow you to use a concentrated force where it is most needed. Sun Bin used a smaller force to attack Zhao, just enough to panic them into recalling Pang Juan, then ambushed them with a large force. The attack on Zhao was effectively empty as the chance of winning was small. The more solid attack was against Pang Juan.

This method is particularly useful when faced with a larger, more powerful enemy, where a head-on attack would not work. Both alliance and unexpected attack are useful methods and may be used in combination, for example where the new ally enters the fray unexpectedly.

In argument, you can provoke a person to defend others, which can at least be a useful distraction. They may also be weaker when forced away from their current position and hence easier to convince or render them harmless.

A broader principle is to understand what will make a person react and provoke them into responses that are more helpful to you than their current actions.

See also

Flanking, Ambush, Lure

Art of War: Direct and Indirect, Choosing Moments, Deception


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