Of the numerous war strategies used by the ancient Chinese, perhaps the strategy of ‘On Bin Bu Dong’ or ‘Pacify the soldiers, not move’ is the least understood by the multitude.
The strategy, ‘On Bin Bu Dong’, was nonetheless put to good use by Li Mu of old, until the time was ripe for conquest:
“Li Mu was an able general on Chao’s northern frontier, who remained in Yenmen in the land of Tai to guard against the Huns. He appointed officers as he saw fit and had all the market taxes sent to his headquarters to meet army expenses. He slaughtered several oxen daily for his troops, trained his men in mounted archery, kept the beacons in readiness, made full use of spies and treated his soldiers handsomely. He enjoined on his men, ‘When the Huns make a raid, withdraw quickly to the ramparts. Whoever dares engage the enemy will lose his head.’
So whenever they were raided by the Huns, they lit the beacon fires and withdrew without fighting. This went on for several years, with no losses incurred. The Huns, of course, considered Li Mu a coward, while even his frontier troops thought him faint-hearted. But when the king of Chao reprimanded him, he carried on as before. Then the king angrily recalled Li Mu, sending someone else to take over the command.
For over a year the Chao troops gave battle every time the Huns raided, and were always defeated with heavy losses. The men of Chao could no longer farm or breed cattle on the frontier. But when asked to go back, Li Mu shut himself behind closed doors, pleading illness, till the king ordered him to get up and take command.
‘Very well, if your Majesty insists,’ he said. ‘But only if I can carry on as before.’
The king agreed to this. And Li Mu on his return used his old tactics.
For several years the Huns could get no advantage, yet still they thought him a coward. And the frontier troops, daily rewarded yet kept out of action, were spoiling for a fight. Then Li Mu chose thirteen hundred chariots, thirteen thousand horseman, fifty thousand brave fighters, and a hundred thousand archers. Having trained them well, he let cattle and men wander all over the plain. When the Huns made a small raid, he pretended to be defeated and abandoned several thousand men to the enemy.
The khan of the Huns, hearing this, attacked in full force. Then Li Mu, resorting to unconventional stratagems, deployed both wings of his army in attacks from right and left and routed and killed more than a hundred thousand of the Hun horsemen. He wiped out the tribes of Tanlan, defeated those of Tunghu, and subjugated those of Linhu. The khan fled and for ten years and more dared not approach the frontier again.”
[Records of the Historian – HY and Gladys Yang]