The Weiliaozi 尉繚子 "Master Wei Liao" is a military classic of ancient China. It was compiled during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) and is attributed to an author called Wei Liao 尉繚. The Weiliaozi belongs to the canon of the Seven Military Classics (Wujing qishu 武經七書). The received version of the book has 24 chapters in 5 juan "scrolls". There are also fragments of four chapters written by the Tang period 唐 (618-907) writer Wei Zheng 魏徵, which are preserved in his book Qunshu zhiyao 群書治要. In 1972 an excavation of a Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) in Yinqueshan 銀雀山, Shandong, brought to light fragments of six chapters of the Weiliaozi. The content of these chapters is largely identical of those of the the received version. Who the author was, is not clear. The imperial bibliography Jingjizhi 經籍志 in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書 says that Wei Liao served King Hui 梁惠王 (r. 379-335) of Liang/Wei, but it seems also plausible that Wei Liao lived under the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇 (r. 246/221-210 BCE). Traditional Chinese scholars brought forward that the book was a forgery, yet from the textual material it can, in a comparative study, be seen that the book was written during the 4th century BCE.
The size of the book ranges from 24 chapters to 29 or 31 chapters. It might be that some chapters have been lost since the Han period, when the book was first mentioned in the imperial bibliography Yiwenzhi 藝文志 of the Hanshu 漢書, where a book of a certain military expert called Ziwanzi 子晚子 is mentioned, which might be partially identical to the received Weiliaozi. Both books are listed under the category of miscellanous masters (zajia 雜家), and not under the heading of military masters (bingjia 兵家). Tang period 唐 (618-907) sources speak of only 4 chapters.
The book Weiliaozi explains how victory can be achieved by employing reward and punishment. The book interrelates warfare with politics and economy. It explains the ways of warfare and strategic planning, as well as the structure of armies and how to command the troops. The author stresses the importance of the peasantry as a source to fill the ranks and files of the army. Only the government's care for the population will make the country rich, and only a rich country will be able to wage war successfully. Although the will of Heaven and the influence of cosmic forces like Yin and Yang 陰陽, or ghosts and spirits, also influence the outcome of a battle, the most important element is man and his abilities. Military art can not exist for itself but has to rely on a well-conducted civilian government.
A general has first to undergo reconnaissance before deploying his troops. He has to keep a balance between the flexible and the fixed positions (jī [sic!] zheng 奇正) to be able to take the initiative. During attack skirmishers have to be sent out first. In a defensive war, excursions have to be undertaken, to stay active and to hold up the fighting spirit of the troops. The commander has also to make sure that the contact with the besieged army and the relief army is not interrupted. On the march, vanguards have to secure the territory, and the rearguard has to safeguard the main body of the army.
The general and his martial engagement have to be a paradigm for officers and common soldiers. He shares all hardship with his troops. Reward and punishment have to be applied in a just and clear way. For military exercises it has to be made clear that the whole corps fights together, and that the objective of all activities is victory. Military commands have to be unmistakable, and the accomplishment of orders must be perfect. It is shortly described how orders are delivered, how the formations of the lines are made, how generals, officers and the common troops communicate with each other, how camps are erected, and what signals were used in the contemporary armies.
The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Liu Yin 劉寅 has written a commentary to the Weiliaozi, the Weiliaozi zhijie 尉繚子直解.
The Weiliaozi is much more practically oriented than the theoretical constructs of the Sunzi bingfa 孫子兵法. It therefore attracted much attention by later scholars, like Du Mu 杜牧, He Yanxi 何延錫 and Zhang Yu 張預 whose commentaries to the Sunzi often quote from the Weiliaozi.
There is a complete English translation by Ralph D. Sawyer (1993), The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Boulder: Westview.
Qiu Xigui 裘錫圭 (1992). "Weiliaozi 尉繚子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 3, pp. 1207-1208. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Xie Guoliang 謝國良 (1989). "Weiliaozi 尉繚子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Junshi 軍事, vol. 2, pp. 1063-1064. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
1. 天官 Tianguan Heavenly offices
2. 兵談 Bingtan Military discussions
3. 制談 Zhitan Discussion of regulations
4. 戰威 Zhanwei Combat awesomeness
5. 攻權 Gongquan Tactical balance of power in attacks
6. 守權 Shouquan Tactical balance of power in defense
7. 十二陵 Shierling Twelve insults
8. 武議 Wuyi Martial plans
9. 將理 Jiangli The general as a law official
10. 原官 Yuanguan The source of offices
11. 治本 Zhiben Governing the foundation
12. 戰權 Zhanquan Tactical balance for power in warfare
13. 重刑令 Zhongxingling Orders for severe punishments
14. 伍制令 Wuzhiling Orders for the squads of five
15. 分塞令 Fensailing Orders for segmenting and blocking off terrain
16. 束伍令 Shuwuling Orders for binding the squads of five
17. 經卒令 Jingzuling Orders for regulating the troops
18. 勒卒令 Qinzuling Orders for restraining the troops
19. 將令 Jiangling Orders for the general
20. 踵軍令 Zhongjunling Orders for the vanguard
21-22. 兵教上下 Bingjiao Military instructions 1-2
23-24. 兵令上下 Bingling Army orders 1-2