What is 死間 in English and the second way of describing this?

All I know it is a type of spy. Is the English word kind of technical?


The term 死間 (doomed spies) came from the last chapter of 《孫子兵法》(The Art of War)

13: 用間 - The Use of Spies



Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system.

Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy.

In modern term, 死間 (doomed spies) are basically "deception / sabotage agents" Their actions are visible. In contrast to 生間 (surviving spies) , whose main function are to secretly gather and report information to their own state.


Spying will always be a risky business. I think 孙子's categories:有鄉間、有內間、有反間、有死間、有生間 are arbitrary and overlapping.

If you are a spy and you get caught, especially in time of war, you will be mined for information, i.e. tortured and most probably summarily executed,because you are not a soldier in his uniform except if you are useful in a prisoner swap.It is not a case of "OK, $ 20 fine and don't do it again, off you go."

The best word I can think of in English for 死間 is French, but has been adopted by 'les Anglais': agent provocateur. Basically, provoke a reaction from the other side.

What is not clear to me from this explanation gleaned from baidu is, does the 死間 know his or her information is false? (I know I have been warned not to believe everything baidu has, but this explanation seems to fit.)


  • I think 孙子's categories:有鄉間、有內間、有反間、有死間、有生間 are arbitrary and overlapping. -- 鄉間、內間 refer to the locations of the spies being deployed. 反間 is a double agent, which is a unique and powerful tool. As for 死間 and 生間, they refer to agents who act openly and agents who act secretly. Of course they will overlap. A 鄉間 can also be a 反間 and 死間. A 內間 can also be a 生間. The five categories of spies are not five different type of spies. They are general descriptions of different attributes of spies.
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 6 '16 at 6:00
  • I meant 死間 are spies we send out and expect them to be captured in order to deceit the enemy; 生間 are the spies we send out and expect them to report back in secret and remain undetected.
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 6 '16 at 6:15
  • If the spymaster expects them to get captured, in modern jargon they are 'burned'. If they believe the info they have is true, which is why they only reveal it under torture and the enemy then believes it. If 內間, which is logical, refers to 'inner location', how come 死间 does not refer to a location and Giles interprets it as 'doomed spy'? Gile refers to all categories as 'spies', not locations. His interpretation is not so hot? I do not believe any spy would willingly walk into his death by torture, which is why they are not told the info is false.
    – Gangosa
    Dec 6 '16 at 10:31
  • I read 'The Art of War' and my understanding of 用間(The Use of Spies) is as follow: 1.鄉間= local spies (citizen of the enemy country); 2. 內間= inward spies (the officers of the enemy government or army) ; 3. 反間= converted spies (enemy country' spies converted to our side) ; 4. 死間= doomed spies(spies intentionally be captured to prove false information to the enemy, they should know the information is false, otherwise they may die without giving out the information we want the enemy have); 5. 生間=surviving spies/ living spy ( stay hidden and send report back to their own country) .
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 6 '16 at 12:18
  • As I mentioned before, these terms can overlap. A 生間 can be 鄉間, 內間 or 反間. On the other hand, 鄉間, 內間, even 反間 and 生間 can be converted into 死間. It may be cruel, but it is a very effective way to employ spies. Doomed spies are supposed to die for their country and consider it is an honor- at least it was the common belief of the time. We live in advanced countries may not consider using 死士, but back in the warring states periods in China, being 死士 was an honor. 死間 is just a 死士 who happened to be a spy. Not much different from the terrorists' belief of modern day
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 6 '16 at 12:42

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