12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.

財竭則急於丘役

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu is saying that when a country’s resources are depleted, the people who live in rural areas (the “peasantry”) will be subjected to heavy taxes and other burdens. This is because the ruling class will try to extract as much wealth as possible from the peasantry in order to maintain their own power and position. In other words, Sun Tzu is saying that when a country is weakened by a lack of resources, the ruling class will take advantage of the situation to extract more wealth from the peasants in order to maintain their own power.

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