Guo Ziyi (Kuo Tzu-i; Traditional Chinese: 郭子儀, Simplified Chinese: 郭子仪, Hanyu Pinyin: Guō Zǐyí, Wade-Giles: Kuo1 Tzu3-i2) (697 – July 9, 781), formally Prince Zhōngwǔ of Fényáng (汾陽忠武王), was a general during the Tang Dynasty who ended the An Shi Rebellion, and participated in expeditions against the peoples of Huihe (the Uyghur Khaganate) and Tubo (the Tibetan Empire). Guo Ziyi is reputedly one of the greatest generals in Chinese history and was revered as the most powerful Tang general before and after the Anshi Rebellion. After his death, he was immortalized in Chinese mythology as the God of Wealth and Happiness (Lu Star of Fu Lu Shou)
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. Guo Ziyi was a Nestorian Christian.
Guo Ziyi was born into a family of a middle-class civil servant in Huá Prefecture (華州, present-day Hua County in Shaanxi).
In 735, or thereabouts, while still a common soldier, Guo Ziyi, was saved from a court martial by the poet Li Bai, who intervened on his behalf with the local commander.
Unlike other members of his family, Guo Ziyi entered political life through a martial test (a test for military officers) instead of a literary test (for civil servants). In 749 AD, he passed a martial test and became an officer in the border regions of the Tang Empire and quickly rose through the ranks to become a Jiedushi (regional military governor).
Limited records exist about Guo Ziyi before the An Shi Rebellion; it was during the rebellion that he earned his fame. When the rebellion began in 755, Guo Ziyi was assigned to protect the Tong Pass, a strategic location on the Chinese frontier. A large force of a ten thousand rebels were marching toward the Pass. Guo Ziyi took advantage of the situation by luring the rebels onto the plains in front of the pass where there were only scarce settlements. The rebels saw little to loot and were discouraged, while the Tang troops were prepared to fight hard, motivated by the desire to protect their families in the Tong Pass and the capital of Chang’an. In a matter of days, Guo eliminated seven thousand rebels at the Battle of Qingbi and scattered the rest while suffering few casualties to his own force, winning his first victory.
By the following year, 756, the capital fell due to the ineptitude and corruption of the chancellor Yang Guozhong and his eunuchs. The emperor, Xuanzong, fled the city, accompanied by his personal guard and members of the Yang family, including his consort Yang Guifei. Members of the entourage, including the troops, resented Yang Guozhong, holding him responsible for the failed strategy that led to the fall of Chang’an. Yang Guozhong was denounced and executed 24 ounce thermos. Following this, the emperor’s own troops also forced him to execute his beloved Yang Guifei. The emperor then fled with the remainder of the entourage under difficult conditions, ultimately reaching the city of Chengdu.
Meanwhile, Guo Ziyi confronted a great force of one hundred thousand led by rebel commander Shi Siming. Although Guo had only ten thousand men, he decided to stall for time until reinforcements could arrive. He managed to trick Shi Siming into thinking he would be ambushed if he moved against Guo, and was able to hold him off for forty days. By then, the commander of Tang, Li Guangbi, came to Guo’s relief with ninety thousand men. The opposing forces clashed, resulting in few Tang losses, but leaving ten thousand rebels dead. Shi Siming quickly gathered up what was left of his force and retreated back to Fanyang, the rebels’ stronghold free drink bottles. Li recommended Guo to Emperor Xuanzong, and Guo quickly asked the emperor for permission to launch an immediate counter-attack to destroy the remaining rebels, but Xuanzong refused him.
In the meantime, Xuanzong’s son, Suzong, seized his throne and began organizing a counter-attack against advancing rebels. From this time on, Xuanzong was known as the “Retired Emperor”, and after the retaking of Chang’an from the rebels he returned there, where he lived until his death in 761.
The crisis spawned by the rebellion decreased the power of the Imperial Court. Thus, after assuming power, Suzong’s authority was weak and many Tang generals cared little about orders from the emperor. There were few generals of Chinese descent remaining in the Tang army and Guo was one of these. Guo was given the post of Imperial Commander and Suzong provided support for his military operations. This was rewarded with great successes. By 757, Guo Ziyi had entered the Shaanxi battlefront, and many locals supported him against the rebels; Guo’s force may have increased twice in size at this time. The rebels suffered dramatic losses, including the deaths of many notable rebel generals, and Guo declared victory on the Shaanxi front.
Guo Ziyi then immediately turned his attention to retaking Chang’an. He attacked with fifteen thousand men, where the rebels were able to assemble only ten thousand men. The result was a great victory for the Tang, with many historians noting that the number of rebels corpses was so great that they covered the battlefield. Guo’s devastating victories in Shaanxi and at Chang’an contributed to in-fighting among the rebel ranks. The leader of the rebels, An Lushan, was killed by his son, An Qingxu, who gathered up what was left of the rebels and retreated to Luoyang. When Suzong arrived at Chang’an, it is said that he shed tears and said to Guo, “This may be my country, but it is recreated by your hand.” 「雖吾之家國，實由卿再造。」
In 758, Guo Ziyi, Li Guangbi, and other Jiedushi were ordered to eliminate the last remaining rebels in Yi. However, Emperor Suzong was worried about the growing power of the Jiedushi and placed his eunuchs in charge of the campaign. This was once again a disaster, but Guo Ziyi managed to make the best out of the situation by convincing his fellow Jiedushi that they could have one easy victory if they laid siege to the rebel city. All of them agreed to this strategy and the rebel’s supplies were depleted during the siege. When the time came to assault the city, however, there were no commander-in-chief to coordinate the attack since all the Jiedushi were of equal rank, and it proved ineffective. In the meantime, reinforcements under Shi Siming arrived to reinforce An Qingxu. The Tang forces missed the opportunity to eliminate the rebels once and for all. A bloody battle followed in 759, fought in poor weather and again with no central command for the Tang. Although a victory for the Tang, both sides suffered a tremendous losses (the rebel leader Shi Siming himself was killed, as were most of the Mongolian rebels) and the result of the battle was unacceptable to the emperor, since the Tang army had been known to win battles while suffering relatively few casualties. The many Jiedushi began to blame one another, and many of them targeted Guo, placing much of the blame on him. In fact, Guo Ziyi was the only Jiedushi that the Chinese population would have followed other than the Emperor himself. Suzong, worried by Guo’s popularity, used this as a pretense to decrease Guo’s power, demoting him while generously rewarding the other Jiedushi.
Although the An Shi Rebellion would finally be put down in 763, Tang China was now facing another threat, this time from the Tibetans. Tibet had benefited from Tang China’s prosperous period, when aid to it from the Tang Dynasty was frequent. During the An Shi Rebellion, it reached the height of its power, and it betrayed the aid the Tang had given it by supporting the rebels. Although the Tibetans had signed a peace treaty with the Tang, the Tibetans only observed the treaty so long as the Tang remained strong. Weakened by the An Shi Rebellion, the Tibetans began to harass the Chinese border. Most Jiedushi who were not born ethnically Chinese and had little incentive to defend the Tang Empire, especially when it was ruled by a weak emperor. In response, Suzong re-promoted Guo Ziyi, but only as a military figurehead with no power, in the hope that merely the threat of sending Guo against them would keep the Tibetans at bay. In 762, a general named Wang Yuanzhi murdered Li Jingzhi, the commander of Shaanxi, claiming that the troops were still so loyal to Guo that they demanded he be reinstated as Jiedushi. Suzong was forced to return Guo Ziyi to his former position. When Guo Ziyi arrived, however, instead of thanking Wang he condemned the general for his disloyalty in killing his commander. He also pointed out that such an act disrupted the chain of command, which might embolden the Tibetans to attack. General Wang submitted to his mistakes and committed suicide. Guo Ziyi quickly assumed command of the post and the Tibetans did not dare to attack Chinese border towns.
Not long after, Suzong died and was succeeded by his son Daizong. The new emperor was worried about Guo Ziyi’s fame and called him back to Chang’an. Guo Ziyi advised the emperor to take a note of the threat posed by the Tibetans, but the emperor largely ignored this.
In 763, an invading force of perhaps one hundred thousand Tibetans penetrated China so far as to surround the capital city, Chang’an. This height of Tibetan power was also a height of Guo’s career. Guo ordered cavalry scouts to go forward and light fires, in places which the Tibetans could see, and to then retreat. Guo also sent secret messages to Chang’an, ordering citizens to strike gongs and shoot off fireworks. The Tibetans, confused by these actions, panicked, scattering when the rumor spread that Guo Ziyi moved against them with a large force. With the Tibetans retreating from their positions, the battle was concluded without loss to either side. Many Chinese military historians considered this victory to be the best example of Sun Tzu’s idea of the cleanest kind of battle, “a war with no loss on either side but simply played out with the desired effect for the victor.” There are discrepancies in the number of cavalry troops Guo dispatched; some Chinese texts state that Guo had sent out only thirteen scouts, but a Tibetan text source indicated there had been two hundred. Nevertheless, it was a great victory, and when Guo Ziyi arrived at Chang’an with his “large” force, Daizong appeared to him and stated, “By employing the Elder not sooner: so many deaths reached, woe is this!” 「用卿不早，故及於此。」
The next two years were peaceful, but the Tibetans attacked again in 765, when the Uyghur Jiedushi Pugu Huai’en sent false messages to Trisong Detsen, the emperor of Tibet, stating that Guo Ziyi had died. The Tibetan emperor was eager to avenge his earlier defeat, and dispatched a large force to attack Tang China again. Various Uyghur chieftains, also believing that Guo was dead, joined force with the Tibetans. The Tibetan force was recorded as more than thirty thousand (including a few thousand of Uyghurs), almost the entire Tibetan military at the time.
When news of the Tibetans reached Emperor Daizong, he sent Guo Ziyi out with a few thousand men. When Guo was within a day’s march from the enemy, he decided to go alone to see the Uyghur chieftains. His officers and son Guo Xi (郭晞) were so dismayed and panicked by his intention that they would not let go of his horse’s reins, declaring such an act would be suicide. Guo laughed and convinced his officers to let him go, but his son would not. Angered, Guo whipped his son’s hand so that he released the reins, reprimanding him and telling him that this was a life and death situation for the empire; their force was small and if they fought the Tibetans alone, both father and son, and their troops, would die. If he succeeded in his plan the empire would be defended, but if it failed only his own life would be lost.
When Guo arrived at the Uyghur’s camp, he did not reveal his identity and appeared to be a messenger who had been sent to tell them that Guo Ziyi was coming to see them. The Uyghur chieftains, many of who had joined the rebel side in the An Shi Rebellion, were surprised and panicked to hear that Guo was alive, deciding that they had to meet with him. Guo laughed at them and asked them why they would want to face Guo Ziyi again after their defeat at his hands during the An Shi Rebellion. The Uyghur chieftains replied they had been told that he was dead, but if they met with him and saw he was alive, they would retreat. Guo, however, insisted that Guo Ziyi did not seek their retreat but instead wanted them to join him against the Tibetans. The Uyghur chieftains, saying they had been deceived by the Tibetans about Guo’s death, decided to break the alliance with them. They even claimed that shamans had foretold that a great man would lead them to victory and that they now believed this man must be Guo, and agreed to join forces with the Tang.
Guo returned to his camp and ordered a thousand light horsemen to make a quick rush at the Tibetan camp at Xiyuan. When the Tibetans realized the Uyghurs had broken their alliance, they tried to withdraw, but Guo’s horsemen arrived and scattered their forces; at the same time, the Uyghurs arrived and prevented the Tibetans’ retreat. Over ten thousand Tibetans were killed in battle and another ten thousand were taken as prisoners of war. Guo continued to pursue the Tibetans and freed over four thousand civilians they had taken captive.
When the emperor of Tibet heard that his force had been defeated, he quickly sent a message to Emperor Daizong seeking a peace, stating that his army had been on a hunting trip and had had no intention of attacking the Tang Empire. Although Daizong did not believe this, he agreed to the peace and Tibet was never again a threat to China.
Guo was later made the Prince of Fenyang (汾陽郡王), and hence is sometimes called “Li Fenyang”. He lived to the age of 85 and was given the posthumous name of Zhongwu (忠武: “Loyal and Martial”) after his death.
There is a commonly remembered anecdote dated to the year 767 in which his son had an argument with his wife, a princess. During the argument, the princess and Guo’s son compared their fathers, Emperor Daizong and Guo Ziyi. Guo’s son was purported to have said, “What is so great about being an emperor? My father could become emperor at any time if he wanted to.” Guo was so angry at his son for implying such an idea of disloyalty to the emperor that he had him locked up and waited for Emperor Daizong to pass judgement on him. The princess regretted what had happened and asked Guo to forgive his son, but Guo refused. When Emperor Daizong arrived, he pardoned the son and said to Guo, “When the son and daughter fight, it is better as old men to pretend to be deaf.”：“不痴不聾，不作家翁。兒女子閨房之言，何足聽也！”
In another instance, the son hit his wife in a drunken rage. Again Guo was so angry at his son that he had him arrested again. But again the princess begged for her husband to be forgiven, and again Emperor Daizong stepped in and forgave his son-in-law. This story of Guo’s son and the princess was popularized by the rather literally titled Beijing Opera “Hitting the Princess While Drunk” 醉打金枝.
Popular folklore states that the Jade Emperor was so pleased with Guo’s actions in protecting the Tang Dynasty and in giving happiness to the people that he sent a fairy down from Heaven to ask Guo what his greatest desire was. Guo replied that he had fought for so long and had seen so much bloodshed that all he wanted was peace and happiness. As a reward, the Jade Emperor had Guo guided to Heaven and gave him the post of God of Prosperity and Happiness.
Guo Ziyi has been much credited by many historians with putting down the An Shi Rebellion, characterizing him as the man who single-handedly saved the Tang Dynasty. His impact on East Asia was also dramatic in that he renewed Tang relations with many of its Uyghur allies, who would later support the dynasty in campaigns against Tibet. After his various victories over them, the Tibetans were never able to restore their military might and lost much of their political strength in Asian affairs.
In 757, or thereabouts, Guo Ziyi successfully saved renowned poet Li Bai from a death sentence for treason, by offering to the new Emperor, Suzong, to trade his own official rank in exchange for Li Bai’s life. In the event, the Emperor commuted Li Bai’s sentence to exile, and later pardoned him, and Guo Ziyi was allowed to retain his rank how to tenderize a steak.
Future members of his family would also go to become famous generals, among them Guo Puyo, a general greatly used by Genghis Khan, and Guo Kan, one of the best generals of the Mongol Empire.