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There seems to be multiple versions of this idiom, with slightly different characters:

Baidu: 将在外,君命有所不受

汉典: 将在军,君命有所不受

And a big bunch of variants:

  • 将在外,军令有所不受
  • 将在外,军令有所不从
  • 将在外,君令有所不受
  • 将在外,军令有所不为
  • 将在外,军令有所不授

There may be more that I have missed.

So in general, these variants are: 将在[外|军],[君|军][命|令]有所不[受|从|为|授].

A few variants are documented too (sometimes attributed the same person!):

春秋·齐·孙武《孙子兵法·变篇》:“城有所不攻,地有所不争,*君命*有所不受。”

《史记·孙子吴起列传》:“ 孙子 曰:‘臣既已受命为将,将在**, *君命*有所不受。’遂斩队长二人以徇。”

司马光·宋·《资治通鉴》:“五十七年(癸卯,前258)将在外,*君令*有所不受”

亮曰:“彼本无战心,所以固请者,以示武于其众耳。将在**,君命有所不受,苟能制吾,岂千里而请战邪!”(晋书.帝纪第一)

《史记·魏公子列传》:“ 侯生 曰:‘将在外,*主令*有所不受,以便国家。’”

  1. Which ones are correct, which ones are incorrect?
  2. For the variants that are correct, are there subtle differences in their meaning?
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Nice question... –  Question Overflow Oct 29 '13 at 3:11
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As a general comment: please provide sources or evidence where possible, otherwise I have no idea which answers are correct :) –  congusbongus Oct 29 '13 at 3:39
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5 Answers

It should be 君令有所不受. The whole sentence 将在外,君令有所不受 means: (if) the general is far away (at the battlefield), he does not have to obey all emperor's orders. The deeper meaning is that the general should judge and act according to the real situations at the battlefield and thus doesn't need to obey all the orders.

将在军 means the same as 将在外. 军 there means at war as well. Hence 将在军 is also correct.

君命 is the same as 君令. Both and mean order/command there. Hence both 君命 and 君令 are correct. 军命 is not correct. It does not have the right meaning.

主令 means one's master's order, means master. So it means the same as well.

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When you say it should be "君令有所不受", do you mean that both "将在军" and "将在外" are correct? What about 君命, is it incorrect? –  congusbongus Oct 29 '13 at 22:36
    
Yes, "将在军" and "将在外" are correct. 君命 is correct (as I have explained, it means the same as 军令). –  user58955 Oct 29 '13 at 23:55
    
I don't think 君命(君王的命令) is the same as 军令(军事上所发布的命令). A general can issue a 军令, but not a 君命. –  Question Overflow Oct 31 '13 at 3:10
    
Ah, you are absolutely right. It's a typo I made in the comment, I should have written 君令. I meant 君命 and 君令 are the same –  user58955 Oct 31 '13 at 4:45
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It has lots of variants however all of them should be "君" (emperor), other than "军".

Just to mention another implied meaning of this sentence. Although it means "A general at battle field far away does not have to strictly obey all the orders from the emperor", it implies something else in many cases in the history, as wars are so frequent and certain general has the ability to rebel.

Spies or opponent of the general may say this to the emperor to imply the general is actually disobeying his order (further implying rebellion). Generals may say this to imply that he is going to rebel. Deputy or counselor may say this to the general or soldiers to cover the general's intention of rebellion or to give the excuse of making preparation of rebellion.

That is all because Chinese are complicated.

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I think "将在外,君命有所不受" is correct. it is a ancient idiom in china. It means if one army general is having a war with enemy, he can do something against the idea of the emperor, in China the method to win a war is changing by many conditions. for example weather, location or the superiority of the soldier. so the decision of general is very flexible. if you are out of office for a product show, but you find your booth is too boring, you want to change the style of you booth, but you boss calling you don't do that. you can say"将在外, 君命有所不受, 我坚持要换展台", maybe you will be cursed roundly by your boss if you come back to office. maybe your decision get a big success, and your boss will praise you. but anyway, if you say such a idiom, it means you will response the result of your decision. so be careful.

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I think "将在外,君令有所不受" is right. Its meaning in Chinese should be "如果一个将军在外行军打仗,那么他有一切临命专断之权"。If you change "君" to “军”, the meaning isn't right.How can a general reject all the commands in his army?!

But the extended meaning is "将在外,君王的(军令)或者任何其它命令可以不接受。"

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Usually we use the first one:将在外,军令有所不受, which means the general doesn’t have to wait for the king’s order in a war, because things change very fast in a war, so a good general should have the ability to decide what to do without waiting for his king’s order.

军令 means “military orders”, 君令and 君命 both mean "king’s orders". 不受 and 不授 both mean "don’t accept", 不从 means "don’t follow", 不为 means "don’t do".

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