He was born during the Spring Autumn period, into a noble family, one of his ancestors was a prince of the state of Chen. His family settled into the state of Qi, but in a non-political role (handicraft industry minister), to prevent any opposition. The political astuteness seems to have ran in the blood.
In Chinese history, the Spring Autumn period was a time of drastic social, economic changes; frequent military and cultural upheavals, as China was not united under one emperor then - It was divided into kingdoms/states, giving rise to complex political situations.
His family grew into power, and owing to the influence of his family and the times then, he was interested in military activities since his childhood, and studied to become a strategist from a young age, actually. He was a product of his time, simply.
He moved to the State of Wu to realise his ambitions of becoming a strategist, and mixed with several scholars and strategists to learn, following developments closely.
He was subsequently introduced to the ruler of the State of Wu at the recommendation of a friend. He had several friends in high places.
Contrary to what The Liquid Laser said, he led battles actually. All of his strategies were refined from his experiences on actual ground.
--> all of these points Ne to me.
re GZA on peace: His mindset was that peace could only come if you were strong enough to win a war.
He was a strategist first and foremost - the avoidance of bloodshed was a question of the utilisation of resources, simply. If you could win a war by simpler means, subterfuge, you'd do it, because bloodshed carries a higher cost, in terms of moral of the people, cost of training troops, feeding them, vs for e.g. marrying to form an alliance.
Tellingly, his life did not end on the battlefield. He quit while he was ahead - he retired from politics in great success when his overlord became more caught up in waging wars and politicking. Some would argue that was the most brilliant move of all.
I'd say he was never interested in becoming king. His choice was to be the power behind the throne.
- based on the above, I'd have guessed Ne, Ti.