Book of Spies


A nineteenth century Chinese spy manual in translation.

The only premodern contemplation of spies ever written apart from Sunzi’s brief but incisive Art of War chapter, Zhu Feng-jia wrote Jian Shu (Book of Spies) in the last century of the severely weakened Qing dynasty to address pressing defensive needs. The first third of the book ponders the nature of clandestine intelligence gathering, including estrangement and disinformation, two crucial elements in the activist orientation that characterized China’s theory and practice from the outset; agent categories and their missions; aspects of historical evolution; and the critical need for their skills despite the misgiving, even condemnation, of Confucian oriented officials. The remainder of the book consists of fifty-three historical exemplifications that show the techniques and their effects in practice. Interspersed with theoretical analysis and drawn from over 2500 years of strife and intrigue, they represent a veritable window on the practice of Chinese spycraft that remains of contemporary interest in the PRC.