Guo Ziyi Deterring the Enemy Without Armour


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Guo Ziyi (郭子仪 697–781), posthumously bestowed the title Prince Zhongwu of Fenyang (汾阳忠武王) because of his birth place and his contribution to the court, was the greatest Tang-dynasty general. He played the key role in military campaigns against the Uyghur Khaganate and Tibetan Empire, enemies constantly threatening China from the north-west. After Guo Ziyi and his army successfully stabilised the frontier for years, the rumour about the death of the elderly hero disquieted the enemy around the year 765. The Turfan and the Uyghur tribes joined together, trying to invade the Central Plains (中原). The veteran Guo Ziyi had to be summoned again by the court to deal with the tough situation. What’s worse, he was given only a small army of ten thousand soldiers to confront a combined force of three hundred thousand.

Under the circumstances, Guo Ziyi staged a genius scene. He believed that utter sincerity could move even gods, let alone the Turfan and the Uyghur tribes. General Guo asked his lieutenants and army to stay put. Then, with this conviction and his unmatched valour, he went to the camp of the mighty enemy with only a small entourage. When the tribal chieftains saw the legendary general Guo in person, appearing without his armours on, they were all awed with deep respect. They dismounted and disarmed themselves, kowtowing to him, saying, ‘It is really you, our father (果吾父也)!’

image identification and literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Read Dr Ni’s blog here for more interesting discussion regarding the depiction and outfit of General Guo.


Fig 1: porcelain tile with overglaze enamelled decoration, Kangxi period (1662–1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of the Jie Rui Tang Collection

Fig 2: bamboo brush holder with carved decoration, 17th-century, courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Fig 3: porcelain dish with overglaze enamelled decoration, Kangxi period (1662–1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Fig 4: porcelain beaker vase with underglaze blue decoration, Chongzhen period (1628–44), Ming dynasty, courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the UK

Fig 5: hanging scroll (detail), ink and colour on paper, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), courtesy of Beijing Painting Academy

Fig 6: handscroll (detail), ink on paper, Li Gonglin (1049–1106), courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei

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