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Watch the Fires Burning Across the River


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Watch the Fires Burning Across the River

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 9

This group: Stratagems for Confrontation
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When there are multiple combatants, let others fight one another until they are exhausted, then march in with a fresh force to win the final battle.

This can also be used when you are in an alliance by putting the allies in the front or giving them the harder battles to fight.

Another use is to wait for internal conflicts to tear the enemy apart. You can help this by sowing stories of treachery or playing to the personal ambitions of individual generals.


This is the ninth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Confrontation

Alternative names

Watch the Fires Burning Across the River

Observe the Fire from the Opposite Riverbank

Watch the Fire from the Other Side of the River

Watch the Fire Burning Across the River

Sit on the Mountaintop and Watch the Tigers Fight

Or even:

First Let Others Fight, Then Step In

Win From Behind

When Latecomers are Winners


In wrangles between Chinese states, two Yuan brothers went to Gongsun Kang for help in fighting a third brother who had allied with the powerful Cao Cao (who knew about this move). Kang beheaded them and sent their heads to Cao Cao who made him a duke as a reward. Both had used conflict within the Yuan family to further their ends.

In the 1930s, Japan waited for the communist revolution in China to weaken the country before invading in 1938.

From the fifteenth century, a few European countries (including Britain, Holland and Spain) used widespread conflict within Europe as cover for building an overseas empire.


This stratagem is best when there are multiple warring parties, each trying to beat all the others. It can be helped by winding up individual sides, reminding individuals of grievances and so on.

One of the games of business politics is to provoke competition between other departments or rivals and let them get in trouble before the provocateur steps in to take over.

In business competition, the first people to market have to spend so much in developing products and customer need that they are weakened for the subsequent competitive battle as the market flattens and price competition comes to the fore. This is the opportunity for the low-cost producer to enter the market.

In business also, smaller companies can benefit from general competition between big countries who see the small company as being too small to pose a serious threat.

See also



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