Sun Tzu's Art of War has influenced many notable figures. The Chinese Historian Sima Qian recounted that China's first historical Emperor, Qin's Shi Huangdi, considered the book invaluable in ending the time of the Warring States. In the 20th century, the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong partially credited his 1949 victory over Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang to The Art of War. The work strongly influenced Mao's writings about guerrilla warfare, which further influenced communist insurgencies around the world.
On April 10, 1972, the Yinqueshan Han Tombs were accidentally unearthed by construction workers in Shandong. Scholars uncovered a collection of ancient texts written on unusually well-preserved bamboo slips. Among them were The Art of War and Sun Bin's Military Methods. Although Han dynasty bibliographies noted the latter publication as extant and written by a descendant of Sun, it had previously been lost. The rediscovery of Sun Bin's work is regarded as extremely important by scholars, both because of Sun Bin's relationship to Sun Tzu and because of the work's addition to the body of military thought in Chinese late antiquity. The discovery as a whole significantly expanded the body of surviving Warring States military theory. Sun Bin's treatise is the only known military text surviving from the Warring States period discovered in the twentieth century and bears the closest similarity to The Art of War of all surviving texts.
America's Asian conflicts against Japan, North Korea, and North Vietnam brought Sun Tzu to the attention of American military Leaders. The Department of the Army in the United States, through its Command and General Staff College, has directed all units to maintain libraries within their respective headquarters for the continuing education of personnel in the art of war. The Art of War is mentioned as an Example of works to be maintained at each facility, and staff duty officers are obliged to prepare short papers for presentation to other officers on their readings. Similarly, Sun Tzu's Art of War is listed on the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program. During the Gulf War in the 1990s, both Generals Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. and Colin Powell employed principles from Sun Tzu related to deception, speed, and striking one's enemy's weak points. However, the United States and other Western countries have been criticised for not truly understanding Sun Tzu's work and not appreciating The Art of War within the wider context of Chinese society.
The Art of War was introduced into Japan c. AD 760 and the book quickly became popular among Japanese generals. Through its later influence on Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, it significantly affected the unification of Japan in the early modern era. Prior to the Meiji Restoration, mastery of its teachings was honored among the samurai and its teachings were both exhorted and exemplified by influential daimyōs and shōguns. It remained popular among the Imperial Japanese armed forces. The Admiral of the Fleet Tōgō Heihachirō, who led Japan's forces to victory in the Russo-Japanese War, was an avid reader of Sun Tzu.
Beginning around the 12th century, some scholars began to doubt the historical existence of Sun Tzu, primarily on the grounds that he is not mentioned in the historical classic Zuo zhuan, which mentions most of the notable figures from the Spring and Autumn period. The name "Sun Wu" (孫武) does not appear in any text prior to the Shiji, and may have been a made-up descriptive cognomen meaning "the fugitive warrior": the surname "Sun" can be glossed as the related term "fugitive" (xùn 遜), while "Wu" is the ancient Chinese virtue of "martial, valiant" (wǔ 武), which corresponds to Sunzi's role as the hero's doppelgänger in the story of Wu Zixu. The only historical battle attributed to Sun Tzu, the Battle of Boju, has no record of him fighting in that battle.
Skeptics who identify issues with the traditionalist view point to possible anachronisms in The Art of War including terms, Technology (such as anachronistic crossbows and the unmentioned cavalry), philosophical ideas, events, and military techniques that should not have been available to Sun Wu. Additionally, there are no records of professional generals during the Spring and Autumn period; these are only extant from the Warring States period, so there is doubt as to Sun Tzu's rank and generalship. This caused much confusion as to when The Art of War was actually written. The first traditional view is that it was written in 512 BC by the historical Sun Wu, active in the last years of the Spring and Autumn period (c. 722–481 BC). A second view, held by scholars such as Samuel Griffith, places The Art of War during the middle to late Warring States period (c. 481–221 BC). Finally, a third school claims that the slips were published in the last half of the 5th century BC; this is based on how its adherents interpret the bamboo slips discovered at Yin-ch’ueh-shan in 1972 AD.