As per my construction working life, I believe this 36 strategies is something most Chinese in this industry know and learn of.
Either they learn it in their families from father/uncle's stories, or maybe it was taught in SKJC (Chinese school). Whatever way, this is embedded in Chinese culture, and you will see it in the way they handled business, work or anything competitive.
This is different from Sun Tzu Art Of War. These are actually idioms, 4 word idioms that are easy to memorise in Chinese language.
And if you read HK's comics, you will find these idioms all over, for example the word "Selagi ada nyawa selagi itu ada rezeki" uttered by the defeated kung-fu guy in the HK comic illustrate the last point in 36 Strategies = "If all else fails, retreat".
The Malay idiom seldom have this kind of "competitive" spirit type of idiom, simply because Malay people were not as war-mongering as the Chinese in Mainland China during the Chinese history, mainly the Warring period and the Three Kingdom Period.
Malays are very peaceful people, living in a blessed country where there shouldn't be any famine because the land is fertile (except one recorded in history is not-so-quite recent Baling famine, but then it involve too much politics) and because of this, it strips off the competitve spirit.
The Chinese who migrated to Malaysia, sees the Malay people as not having the same competitive spirit as theirs.
Nevertheless, nowadays, where city life is not so much different from the "survival of the fittest", the idioms may provide wisdom for those who read upon it.
Source from Wikipedia.
The Thirty-Six Stratagems are divided into a preface, six chapters containing six stratagems each, and an afterword that was incomplete with missing text. The first three chapters generally describe tactics for use in advantageous situations, whereas the last three chapters contain stratagems that are more suitable for disadvantageous situations. They are in the form of four-character idioms. Each proverb is accompanied by a short comment, no longer than a sentence or two, that explains how said proverb is applicable to military tactics. These 36 Chinese proverbs are related to 36 battle scenarios in Chinese history and folklore, predominantly of the Warring States Period and the Three Kingdoms Period.
Chapter 1: Winning Stratagems
1. Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean
Prepare too much and you lose sight of the big picture; what you see often you do not doubt. Yin (the art of deception) is in Yang (acting in open). Too much Yang (transparency) hides Yin (true ruses).
This stratagem references an episode in 643 AD, when Emperor Taizong of Tang, balked from crossing the sea to a campaign against Koguryo. His general Xue Rengui thought of a stratagem to get the emperor across and allay his fear of seasickness: on a clear day, the emperor was invited to meet a wise man. They entered through a dark tunnel into a hall where they feasted. After feasting several days, the Emperor heard the sound of waves and realised that he had been lured onto a ship! General Xue drew aside the curtains to reveal the ocean and confessed that they had already crossed the sea: Upon discovering this, the emperor decided to carry on and later completed the successful campaign.
This stratagem means that you can mask your real goals, by using the ruse of a fake goal that everyone takes for granted, until the real goal is achieved. Tactically, this is known as an 'open feint'; in front of everyone, you point west, when your goal is actually in the east. By the time everyone realised it, you have already achieved your goal. Harro von Senger notes in the German-Language "Die List" that to grasp the full meaning, it would be something like "to deceive the holy virgin Mary" in the West.
This stratagem makes use of the human failing to become unaware of common everyday activities, or events that appear normal. The best secrets are carried out in broad daylight. The best hoax is to repeat it so often that people are convinced that the next move is also a hoax. When this happens, it is the best moment to carry out one's previously hidden true objective.
2. Besiege Wèi to rescue Zhào
When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that he cannot be superior in all things. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead.
The origin of this proverb is from the Warring States Period. The state of Wèi attacked Zhao and laid siege to its capital Handan. Zhào turned to Qí for help, but the Qí general Sun Bin determined it would be unwise to meet the army of Wèi head on, so he instead attacked their capital at Daliang. The army of Wèi retreated in haste, and the tired troops were ambushed and defeated at the Battle of Guiling, with the Wèi general Pang Juan fled on the field. Note that this campaign is also described explicitly in the Art of War of Master Sun Bin the younger.
The idea here is to avoid a head on battle with a strong enemy, and instead strike at his weakness elsewhere. This will force the strong enemy to retreat in order to support his weakness. Battling against the now tired and low-morale enemy will give a much higher chance of success.
3. Kill with a borrowed knife
Attack using the strength of another (in a situation where using one's own strength is not favourable). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy's own strength against him.
The idea here is to cause damage to the enemy by getting a 3rd party to do the deed.
4. Wait at leisure while the enemy labors
It is an advantage to choose the time and place for battle. In this way you know when and where the battle will take place, while your enemy does not. Encourage your enemy to expend his energy in futile quests while you conserve your strength. When he is exhausted and confused, you attack with energy and purpose.
The idea is to have your troops well-prepared for battle, in the same time that the enemy is rushing to fight against you. This will give your troops a huge advantage in the upcoming battle, of which you will get to select the time and place.
5. Loot a burning house
When a country is beset by internal conflicts, when disease and famine ravage the population, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat. This is the time to attack.
Keep gathering internal information about an enemy. When he is weakest, attack without mercy and destroy him totally to prevent future troubles.
6. Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west
In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy, surprise can still be employed by attacking where he least expects it. You must use a feint to create an expectation in the enemy's mind.
The idea here is to get the enemy to focus his forces on one location, and then attack a weakly defended spot.
Chapter 2: Enemy Dealing Stratagems
7. Create something from nothing
A plain lie. Make somebody believe there was something when there is in fact nothing.
One method of using this stratagem is to create an illusion of something's existence, while it does not exist. Another method is to create an illusion that something does not exist, while it does.
8. Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passage of Chencang
Deceive the enemy with an obvious approach that will take a very long time, while surprising him by taking a shortcut and sneak up to him. As the enemy concentrates on the decoy, he will miss you sneaking up to him.
The phrase originated from the Chu-Han contention, where Liu Bang retreated to the lands of Sichuanto prepare for a confrontation with Xiang Yu. Once he was fully prepared, Liu Bang sent men to openly repair the gallery roads he had destroyed earlier, while secretly moving his troops towards Guanzhongthrough the small town of Chencang instead. When Xiang Yu received news of Liu Bang repairing the gallery roads, he dismissed the threat since he knew the repairs would take years to complete. This allowed Liu Bang to retake Guanzhong by surprise, and eventually led to his victory over Xiang Yu and the birth of the Han Dynasty.
This tactic is an extension of the "Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west" tactic. But instead of simply spreading misinformation to draw the enemy's attention, physical baits are used to increase the enemy's certainty on the misinformation. These baits must be easily seen by the enemy, to ensure that they draw the enemy's attention. At the same time, the baits must act as if what they meant to do what they were falsely doing, to avoid drawing the enemy's suspicion.
9. Watch the fires burning across the river
Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves. Then go in at full strength and pick up the pieces.
10. Hide a knife behind a smile
Charm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust, move against him in secret.
11. Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree
There are circumstances in which you must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. This is the scapegoat stratagem whereby someone else suffers the consequences so that the rest do not.
12. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat
While carrying out your plans be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight.
Chapter 3: Attacking Stratagems
13. Stomp the grass to scare the snake
Do something unaimed, but spectacular ("hitting the grass") to provoke a response of the enemy ("startle the snake"), thereby giving away his plans or position, or just taunt him. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking. More widely used as "[Do not] startle the snake by hitting the grass". An imprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.
14. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul
Take an institution, a technology, a method, or even an ideology that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or bring to life old ideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to fit your purposes.
15. Entice the tiger to leave its mountain lair
Never directly attack an opponent whose advantage is derived from its position. Instead lure him away from his position thus separating him from his source of strength.
16. In order to capture, one must let loose
Cornered prey will often mount a final desperate attack. To prevent this you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom. His will to fight is thus dampened by his desire to escape. When in the end the freedom is proven a falsehood the enemy's morale will be defeated and he will surrender without a fight.
17. Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem
Bait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him react to it ("toss out a brick") and obtain something valuable from him in return ("get a jade gem").
This proverb is based on a story involving two famous poets of the Tang Dynasty. There was a great poet named Zhao Gu and another lesser poet by the name of Chang Jian. While Chang Jian was travelling in Suzhou, he heard news that Zhao Gu would be visiting a temple in the area. Chang Jian wished to learn from the master poet, so he devised a plan and went to the temple in advance, then wrote a poem on the temple walls with only two of the four lines completed, hoping Zhao Gu would see it and finish the poem. Zhao Gu acted as Chang Jian foresaw, and from this story came the proverb.
18. Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief
If the enemy's army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money, superstition or threats, then take aim at the leader. If the commander falls the rest of the army will disperse or come over to your side. If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty then beware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.
Chapter 4: Chaos Stratagems
19. Remove the firewood from under the pot
If something must be destroyed, destroy the source.
20. Disturb the water and catch a fish
Create confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals.
21. Slough off the cicada's golden shell
It's a stratagem mainly used to escape from an enemy of superior force. Mask yourself. Either leave flamboyant traits behind, thus going incognito, or just masquerade yourself and create an illusion to fit your goals and distract others.
22. Shut the door to catch the thief
To deliver capture the enemy, you must plan prudently if you want to succeed. Do not rush into action. Before you "move in for the kill", first cut off your enemy's escape routes, and cut off any routes through which outside help can reach them.
23. Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbour
It is known that nations that border each other become enemies while nations separated by distance and obstacles make better allies. When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field. This policy is associated with Fan Sui of Qin, circa 269 BC.
24. Obtain safe passage to conquer the State of Guo
Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the first place. See Duke Xian of Jin.
Chapter 5: Proximate Stratagems
25. Replace the beams with rotten timbers
Disrupt the enemy's formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules in which they are used to following, go contrary to their standard training. In this way you remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force.
26. Point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree
To discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendo. When names are not used directly, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity.
27. Feign madness but keep your balance
Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
28. Remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof
With baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain. Then cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape. To save himself, he must fight both your own forces and the elements of nature.
29. Deck the tree with false blossoms
Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful. This stratagem is identical to that of the Potemkin village.
30. Make the host and the guest exchange roles
Usurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate. Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to be accepted, but develop from inside and become the owner later.
Chapter 6: Desperate Stratagems
31. The beauty trap (honey trap)
Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This stratagem can work on three levels. First, the ruler becomes so enamoured with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allows his vigilance to wane. Second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behaviour that inflames minor differences hindering co-operation and destroying morale. Third, other females at court, motivated by jealousy and envy, begin to plot intrigues further exacerbating the situation.
32. The empty fort strategy
When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretense of military preparedness and act calmly so that the enemy will think you are setting an ambush. This stratagem has to be used sparingly and only after one has first developed a reputation for military prowess. This also depends on having a clever opponent who, in perceiving a trap, may over-think his reaction.
33. Let the enemy's own spy sow discord in the enemy camp
Undermine your enemy's ability to fight by secretly causing discord between him and his friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers, and population. While he is preoccupied settling internal disputes, his ability to attack or defend, is compromised.
34. Inflict injury on oneself to win the enemy's trust
Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.
35. Chain stratagems
In important matters, one should use several stratagems applied simultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one stratagem fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.
36. If all else fails, retreat
If it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat, then retreat and regroup. When your side is losing, there are only three choices remaining: surrender, compromise, or escape. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat. As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance.