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The Mandate of Heaven

Strategy, Revolution, and the First European Translation of 'Sunzi’s Art of War' (1772)

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Adam Parr

The Mandate of Heaven examines the first European version of Sunzi’s Art of War, which was translated from Chinese by Joseph Amiot, a French missionary in Beijing, and published in Paris in 1772. His work is presented in English for the first time. Amiot undertook this project following the suppression of the Society of Jesus in France with the aim of demonstrating the value of the China mission to the French government. He addressed his work to Henri Bertin, minister of state, beginning a thirty-year correspondence between the two men. Amiot framed his translation in order to promote a radical agenda using the Chinese doctrine of the “mandate of heaven.” This was picked up within the sinophile and radical circle of the physiocrats, who promoted China as a model for revolution in Europe. The work also arrived just as the concept of strategy was emerging in France. Thus Amiot’s Sunzi can be placed among seminal developments in European political and strategic thought on the eve of the revolutionary era.