Project Business and Chinese Stratagems


Pt. 2: Deceptive Stratagems


Project Business Management


By Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany

“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince


Stratagems 7 to 12 of the 36 Chinese stratagems (sānshíliù jì, 三十六計) describe manipulative and deceptive trickery to win a battle. They can also help improve Project Business

More stratagems will be discussed in the coming articles.

The Second Set of Stratagems

In the first set of six stratagems[1] collected in ancient China, the application was for a situation of strength. In this second article of the series, written for professionals in Project Management and even more in Project Business Management[2], the focus of the next six stratagems is on deception.

Many of the following explanations are more warnings to not get deceived than recommendations.

The Series of Articles

The stratagems are ordered into six groups, which are each discussed in dedicated article:

  1. Introduction, Stratagems for a position of strength3 (previous article)
  2. Deceptive stratagems (this article)
  3. Stratagems for attacks
  4. Stratagems for confusion
  5. Stratagems to win ground
  6. Stratagems in the moment of defeat

The Deceptive Stratagems

In a position of obvious strength, one may want to avoid exhausting resources unnecessarily and taking avoidable risks. The following six stratagems can help win in such situations:

Create something out of nothing


Illusions can influence human behavior.

There is a story behind the stratagem: In the year 756 A.D., the An Lushan Rebellion, one of the most bloody civil wars of all times, disrupted China. During the uprise, a pivotal battle was the siege of the fortress of Yongqiu. Commander Zhang Xun defended the city with 1,000 soldiers against an army of 40,000 rebels under General Linghu Chao.

Each night, Commander Xun let his men beat the war drums to give the impression that they were about to sally out and attack his enemies, which they didn’t. But the besieging rebel army could not sleep, as they had to expect the assault at any moment, and, as the nights passed, its soldiers grew tired of the drums and let their guard down. Then, Xun ordered his troops to sally out at night and kill rebel soldiers sleeping in their tents. His soldiers swiftly returned to the fortress before the enemies could overwhelm them.

Later during the siege, the defenders faced a shortage of arrows. To betray General Chao, Commander Xun ordered the manufacturing of 1,000 straw dummies, which they equipped with real weapons. His soldiers lowered them by night outside the walls, making them look like abseiling fighters. Chao’s archers immediately tried to bring them down with myriads of arrows. After a while, the defenders pulled the dummies back up and filled their quivers with the arrows sticking in them. Later, when Zhang Xun attempted the same trick with more dummies, Linghu Chao saw through the ruse and ignored them. In response, Xun lowered actual warriors from the walls, who ultimately succeeded in launching a violent attack on Linghu Chao’s sleeping forces.

Figure 1: Zhang Xun

After some more cheats by Xun, Chao’s demoralized and humiliated army retreated, and the city was rescued.


To read entire article, click here

Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Oliver Lehmann, author of the book “Project Business Management” (ISBN 9781138197503), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2018. See author profile below.

How to cite this article:  Lehmann, O. F. (2023). Project Business and Chinese Stratagems, Pt. 2: Deceptive Stratagems; Project Business Management, series article, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/pmwj131-Jul2023-Lehmann-PBM36-Stratagems-2.pdf

About the Author

Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany


Oliver F. Lehmann, MSc, ACE, PMP, is a project management educator, author, consultant, and speaker. In addition, he is the owner of the website Project Business Foundation, a non-profit initiative for professionals and organizations involved in cross-corporate project business.

He studied Linguistics, Literature, and History at the University of Stuttgart and Project Management at the University of Liverpool, UK, where he holds a Master of Science Degree (with Merit). Oliver has trained thousands of project managers in Europe, the USA, and Asia in methodological project management, focusing on certification preparation. In addition, he is a visiting lecturer at the Technical University of Munich.

He has been a member and volunteer at PMI, the Project Management Institute, since 1998 and served as the President of the PMI Southern Germany Chapter from 2013 to 2018. Between 2004 and 2006, he contributed to PMI’s PM Network magazine, for which he provided a monthly editorial on page 1 called “Launch,” analyzing troubled projects around the world.

Oliver believes in three driving forces for personal improvement in project management: formal learning, experience, and observations. He resides in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, and can be contacted at oliver@oliverlehmann.com.

Oliver Lehmann is the author of the books:

His previous articles and papers for PM World Journal can be found here:

[1] (Lehmann, 2023)
[2] (Lehmann, 2018)