When Lionel Giles began his translation of Sun Tzu's ART OF
WAR, the work was virtually unknown in Europe. Its introduction
to Europe began in 1782 when a French Jesuit Father living in
China, Joseph Amiot, acquired a copy of it, and translated it
into French. It was not a good translation because, according to
Dr. Giles, "[I]t contains a great deal that Sun Tzu did not
write, and very little indeed of what he did."
The first translation into English was published in 1905 in
Tokyo by Capt. E. F. Calthrop, R.F.A. However, this translation
is, in the words of Dr. Giles, "excessively bad." He goes
further in this criticism: "It is not merely a question of
downright blunders, from which none can hope to be wholly exempt.
Omissions were frequent; hard passages were willfully distorted
or slurred over. Such offenses are less pardonable. They would
not be tolerated in any edition of a Latin or Greek classic, and
a similar standard of honesty ought to be insisted upon in
translations from Chinese." In 1908 a new edition of Capt.
Calthrop's translation was published in London. It was an
improvement on the first -- omissions filled up and numerous
mistakes corrected -- but new errors were created in the process.
Dr. Giles, in justifying his translation, wrote: "It was not
undertaken out of any inflated estimate of my own powers; but I
could not help feeling that Sun Tzu deserved a better fate than
had befallen him, and I knew that, at any rate, I could hardly
fail to improve on the work of my predecessors."
Clearly, Dr. Giles' work established much of the groundwork
for the work of later translators who published their own
editions. Of the later editions of the ART OF WAR I have
examined; two feature Giles' edited translation and notes, the
other two present the same basic information from the ancient
Chinese commentators found in the Giles edition. Of these four,
Giles' 1910 edition is the most scholarly and presents the reader
an incredible amount of information concerning Sun Tzu's text,
much more than any other translation.
The Giles' edition of the ART OF WAR, as stated above, was a
scholarly work. Dr. Giles was a leading sinologue at the time
and an assistant in the Department of Oriental Printed Books and
Manuscripts in the British Museum. Apparently he wanted to
produce a definitive edition, superior to anything else that
existed and perhaps something that would become a standard
translation. It was the best translation available for 50 years.
But apparently there was not much interest in Sun Tzu in English-
speaking countries since it took the start of the Second
World War to renew interest in his work. Several people
published unsatisfactory English translations of Sun Tzu. In
1944, Dr. Giles' translation was edited and published in the
United States in a series of military science books. But it
wasn't until 1963 that a good English translation (by Samuel B.
Griffith and still in print) was published that was an equal to
Giles' translation. While this translation is more lucid than
Dr. Giles' translation, it lacks his copious notes that make his
Dr. Giles produced a work primarily intended for scholars of
the Chinese civilization and language. It contains the Chinese
text of Sun Tzu, the English translation, and voluminous notes
along with numerous footnotes. Unfortunately, some of his notes
and footnotes contain Chinese characters; some are completely
Chinese. Thus, a conversion to a Latin alphabet etext was
difficult. I did the conversion in complete ignorance of Chinese
(except for what I learned while doing the conversion). Thus, I
faced the difficult task of paraphrasing it while retaining as
much of the important text as I could. Every paraphrase
represents a loss; thus I did what I could to retain as much of
the text as possible. Because the 1910 text contains a Chinese
concordance, I was able to transliterate proper names, books, and
the like at the risk of making the text more obscure. However,
the text, on the whole, is quite satisfactory for the casual
reader, a transformation made possible by conversion to an etext.
However, I come away from this task with the feeling of loss
because I know that someone with a background in Chinese can do a
better job than I did; any such attempt would be welcomed.
Sun Wu and his Book
Ssu-ma Ch`ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzu: 
Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch`i State. His ART OF
WAR brought him to the notice of Ho Lu,  King of Wu. Ho
Lu said to him: "I have carefully perused your 13 chapters.
May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight
Sun Tzu replied: "You may."
Ho Lu asked: "May the test be applied to women?"
The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements
were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzu
divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King's
favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them