Guo Ziyi

Guo Ziyi appears in the next story – No. 13 Kunlun Slave.

Along with Li Jing and Xue Rengui, Guo is one of the most famous Tang Dynasty generals. While Li and Xue were instrumental in the founding of Tang Dynasty, Guo was largely responsible for preserving it during its middle period by putting down the An Shi Rebellion. Li and Xue changed world history by their defeat of Eastern Turks, starting the chain of events leading to the westward migration of Turkic people to establish the Ottoman Empire. Guo changed the balance of power in central Asia forever with his victories against the Tibetan invaders.

This is the famous painting by Li Gonglin 李公麟 depicting General Guo’s meeting with Uyghur chief: in 765, rebel general Pu Gu Huai En plotted the overthrow of Tang Dynasty by forging an alliance with the Uyghurs and Tibetans. He convinced them to join by passing on false news that Guo – the most feared Tang general, was dead. Unlike Tibet, the Uyghurs had not invaded Tang before. Many of its tribal chieftains just thought this was a great opportunity.

They were right, as the Tang side was very weak and unprepared. When Guo was charged to repel the invasion (for a long time his career was an endless cycle of being stripped of his command by paranoid emperors after winning major battles), he had but a few thousand men, not enough to defeat the joint Uyghur-Tibetan alliance. Against all advice, Guo rode out with only a handful men to greet the Uyghur chief without any arms or armor. Shocked that Guo was alive, and awed by his causal confidence, the Uyghur were quickly convinced to switch sides. With their help Guo routed the Tibetans. Some records suggest Tibet committed almost all of its military force during the invasion. The resulting defeat was such that militarily, Tibet ceased to be a key player in the region ever since.

Guo’s men in the first panel are holding two of my favorite weapons: three-pointed double-edged dao, and ji. Note how small the spear head is on the ji. That makes sense: on a long weapon, the heavier the tip, the harder to control it is. On thing Guo Ziyi had in common with Li Jing and Xue Rengui is that he was famous for his ji.

So great was his contribution to the survival of Tang empire, he was made Prince of Fenyang. In the next story he was referred to as 盖天之勋臣一品 – Level One Rank official Whose Merit (is so vast it) Covers the Earth, or simply Level One, similar to how 4-star general David Petraeus is nicknamed P4 today.

As the expression goes, Guo went “as high up as anyone could while still being a subject”, however throughout his life he had always been extremely humble. The following is a story that summed up all of above:

The emperor Daizong married his daughter Princess Pingyang to Guo’s son Guo Nuan. Two years into the marriage, the young couple was having a typical husband-wife argument: at one point Guo Nuan said, “you think you’re so special because your father is the emperor? My dad didn’t even want to be one. So what’s the big deal anyway?” Enraged, the princess stormed out and went straight to her father. After calming her down, Daizong said “what you don’t know is that what he said is true. If Guo Ziyi wanted to be emperor, the country wouldn’t belong to our family right now.” And with that, he sent her back.

When Guo Ziyi found out, he tied his son up and brought him to the emperor, begging for forgiveness. The emperor uttered a line that all parents-in-laws can appreciate: unless you can be intentionally deaf and dumb, you cannot be a parent to grown, married children.

Guo Ziyi still gave his son a good beating afterward though. It must have worked, because his son and many members of succeeding generations had long, highly successful careers in governments. And they were all known for their prudence and self-restraint. This is a very rare achievement indeed. For all of these reasons, Guo has been deified by the people as God of Wealth and Happiness.


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