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Sacrifice a Plum Tree to Save a Peach Tree


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Sacrifice a Plum Tree to Save a Peach Tree

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number:

This group: Stratagems for Confrontation
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Accept a small loss in order to make a greater gain.

Make deliberate sacrifices to lull the enemy into a false sense of superiority such that they become careless.

Allow hills to be taken. Let small towns fall. Focus your troops on the bigger fish. Fight hard for that which gains you most.

You can also use this approach to lure them away from strategic places. If they think they can win an easy battle then they will likely take this choice rather than an uncertain one.


This is the eleventh stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Confrontation

Alternative names

Sacrifice the Plum to Save the Peach

Let the Plum Tree Wither in Place of the Peach Tree

Or even:

Give up a Pawn to Save a Chariot

Rob Peter to Pay Paul


Sun Bin helped Tian Ji to win a horse race by putting his best horse in the second race, rather than against other best horses in the first race. The principle also worked in the third and other races.

In battle, Sun Bin put his worst troops against Pang Juan's best, his medium troops against the enemy's medium troops and his best troops against the worst of the other side. His best troops quickly wiped out Pang Juan's worst troops and then joined his medium troops to destroy the opposing medium troops. All Sun Bin's forces then combined to overwhelm Pang Juan's best troops.


Making this stratagem work can require a careful balancing act and speed can be an important success factor to get an effective sequence of events to quickly gain the upper hand.

In war, losses are inevitable. In some sense, losses are chosen and smaller losses are preferable to larger ones. This can be done with a strategic intent, where letting the enemy win a small battle may make them careless, for example where they chase a fleeing force into an ambush.

You cannot win them all, so ensure the ones you win are the important ones by ensuring the ones you lose are the unimportant ones.

In business, be prepared to dispose of cash cows as they near the end of their useful lives. Encourage competitors' thoughts that you will fight for these so they put a lot of effort into attacking your current cash cow, while you put your effort into your rising stars, beating competitor rising stars that are now starved of cash, so that your stars will become the next cash cows. You can use this principle elsewhere to drain competitor resources while you invest in areas that will ultimately be more profitable.

See also

Speed in war, Sacrifice in war


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