Those words may be more than 2,000 years old but they continue to resonate in modern day China.

To conquer by strategy rather than direct confrontation is the central idea behind China's plan to outfox the US and top the Olympic medal table for the first time in history.

Medal factory

Gymnasts are frontline warriors in China's art of Olympic war [GALLO/GETTY]
Beijing's Shichahai school in the east of the Chinese capital is an Olympic medal factory. Its graduates include more than 30 world and Olympic champions.

The daily routine is relentless - classes in the morning, followed by sport every afternoon and evening.

The disciplines coached are ones where government strategists believe gold medals can be won.

What is the point, they say, of investing huge amounts of cash in swimming or athletics only to still see the US win?

This school focuses on gymnastics, badminton, taekwondo and table tennis - all fertile medal ground for China.

IN DEPTH


Coverage from the 29th summer Olympics

Most of the children are selected to come here at the age of six but the gymnasts can be even younger. Up close they look almost freakishly well developed.

Watching them pushed through an afternoon of punishing exercise is an uncomfortable experience. Smiling faces are thin on the ground.

No room for sentiment

The system may be effective but it leaves no room for sentiment. At the age of 11 gymnasts are told if they are good enough for the national team. If you do not make that cut, your sporting career is all but over.

China finished within four gold medals of the US at the last Olympics.

Their planning ahead of Beijing could well see them beat the Americans while rarely confronting them in direct sporting competition.

The founder of the modern Olympic movement Pierre de Coubertin famously said: "The most important thing in sport is not the winning but the taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering all but fighting well."

That is a philosophy you will not find many people advocating here in China.