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Replace the Beams and Pillars with Rotten Timber


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Replace the Beams and Pillars with Rotten Timber

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 25

This group: Stratagems for Gaining Ground
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Destroy or damage the sustaining structures on which the enemy depends. Seek to replace these with systems which you control. When you have rebuilt their house, they are under your control, quite possibly without knowing this.

Use ambassadors, double agents, spies and so on to get close to them and whisper in their ears. Convert, bribe and blackmail to get the same effect from their own people.

Make them dependent and then pull the rug from beneath them at your convenience. Discredit their friends and advisors so they do not know who to trust.

Turn their strengths into weaknesses. Disrupt enemy plans and actions. Act in unexpected ways. Break rules of engagement. Do things so they will not know what to do next and will be paralyzed into inaction or panicked into disarray.

As well as using this stratagem to attack enemies, it also can help in turning allies into subordinates as you manipulate the situation to increase your power over them. A way of doing this is offer them increasing support, from advice to troops, until your people are largely in control.


This is the twenty-fifth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Gaining Ground

Alternative names

Replace the Beams with Rotten Timbers

Steal a Beam to Replace a Timber

Steal the Dragon and Replace with the Phoenix

Steal the Beams and Change the Pillars

Or even:

Defeat from the Inside

Attack the Legs

Confuse and Conquer


In 383 Qin and Jin faced each other across a river. Neither could move as trying to cross would make them vulnerable. Qin offered to move back so Jin could cross for a fair fight, although Qin were actually planning to double back and attack Jin when they crossing the river. But Jin had already infiltrated soldiers into the Qin ranks who spread rumors that Qin was retreating in the face of a powerful Jin attack. The Qin troops panicked and fled, turning a planned move into a rout.

Lu Buwei of Zhao impregnated a concubine and tricked Yi Ren, the prince of Qin, into marrying her and naming her first child as his heir. He then poisoned Yi Ren's father and the prince appointed him prime minister. Yi Ren then mysteriously died and Lu Buwei took over as the young boy's protector and even picked up again with the concubine.

In religion, putting churches on pagan sites and church celebration pagan days are both examples of replacing pillars.

Businesses have been known to plant employees in competitor firms who are delighted to accept what they see as someone skilled in the business. The first business can then use this implant to gain information and persuade them to make unwise moves.


In order to replace pillars you need careful manipulation and long-term thinking. It often requires that you first get close to the other side or their allies or advisors.

Advice and intelligence is based first on having trusted people. If these people make a suggestion it will be taken as valid and not suspected. If these people are not who they seem, then the party may be led into a trap or otherwise fail.

See also



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