Guo Jia, styled Fengxiao, was born in Yangzhai, Yingchuan Commandery in the year 170. (Presently Yu County in Henan Province).
Guo Jia was recommended by Xun Yu to join Cao Cao. When Cao Cao’s family was slain by a bunch of bandits in Tao Qian’s province of Xuzhou he launched a huge attack against him killing many people. Liu Bei sent a letter to Cao Cao telling him to please back off. Cao Cao was enraged by this letter and was about to put the messenger to death when Guo Jia spoke up and said, “Liu Bei has come from afar to help Tao Qian, and he is trying the effect of politeness before resorting to arms. I pray you, my lord, reply with fair words that his heart may be lulled with a feeling of safety. Then attack with vigor and the city will fall.” Cao Cao agreed with Guo Jia’s advice, but before he could act Lu Bu had attacked him and he retreated from Xuzhou. Guo Jia also urged Cao Cao to become friends with Liu Bei to keep an eye on him.
Cao Cao was able to keep an eye on Liu Bei when he was summoned and kept at the capital that Cao Cao had obtained. Cao Cao’s officers urged him to kill Xuande, but Guo Jia replied to their requests, “A bad scheme,” said Guo Jia. “You are the popular champion, pledged to relieve the people from oppression, and only by truth and rectitude can you secure the support of the noble-minded. Your only fear is lest they stay away. Now Liu Bei is a clear hero. He has come to you for help and protection, and to put him to death would be to alienate all good people and put fear into the hearts of all the able advisers. Hampered by these difficulties, where will you find those whose help you need? To remove the dangers represented by one man and thereby injure yourself in the eyes of all humankind is a sure means of destruction. These conditions need careful consideration.” “What you say exactly fits in with what I think,” said Cao Cao, greatly pleased with these remarks.
Cao Cao was now thinking of attacking Yuan Shao. Guo Jia replied to his thoughts and said, “My lord, you know well who lost, and why, in the conflict between Liu Bang, the Supreme Ancestor, and Xiang Yu, his rival. The former won only by superior wisdom. Xiang Yu was the stronger, but in the end he was overcome. Your rival has ten weak points whereas you have ten strong ones, and, though his army is large, it is not terrible.” “Yuan Shao is overmuch devoted to ceremony and deportment; while you are sympathetic and natural; this is an excellence in conduct. He is antagonistic and drives; you are conciliatory and lead; so you have the advantage of popular approval. For many years the government has been lax, and he makes it more so; you strive vigorously after efficiency; this is the excellence of able administration. He is outwardly liberal but grudging at heart, and too given to nepotism; you appear exacting, but you understand and use people after their ability; this is the advantage of correct appreciation. He is a visionary but lacking in decision; you are a man of prompt decision and direct action; this is an advantage in policy. He loves to gather about him people of renown; you treat people as you find them regardless of their reputation; this is where you excel in moral virtue. He is compassionate to those at hand, but careless about those out of sight; your care is all-embracing; this is where you excel in humanity. He lends a ready ear to calumny and is misled; you may be flooded with evil counsel, but you preserve independence; this is where you excel in perspicacity. His sense of right and wrong is confused; your appreciation is accurate and clear; this is where you excel in administrative capacity. He loves the make-believe force, but is ignorant of military essentials; you would overcome with far inferior numbers as you possess military genius; this is where you excel in war. With your ten superiorities, you will have no difficulty in overcoming Yuan Shao.” “How can I be worth as much as you say?” said Cao Cao, smiling. “What Guo Jia has said about the ten points in your favor agrees exactly with what I think,” said Xun Yu. “Yuan Shao's army is not formidable in spite of its size.” “The real and dangerous enemy is Lu Bu,” said Guo Jia. “When Yuan Shao has gone north to destroy Gongsun Zan, we ought to sweep away Lu Bu and so clear away our danger from that side; for if this is not done, our attack on Yuan Shao will be the signal for an attempt on the capital. That would be most serious.” Cao Cao took this advice at heart and used it. Later when assaulting Lu Bu Guo Jia made a plan to drown out Lu Bu and it worked.
Cao Cao was now making plans to with his officers to plan what he would do next when Guo Jia came in. “If I attack Liu Bei, then Yuan Shao is to be feared. What do you think of it?” said Cao Cao. Guo Jia said, “Yuan Shao by nature is dilatory and hesitating, and his various advisers are jealous of each other. He is not to be feared. Liu Bei is getting together a new army and has not yet won their hearts. You could settle the east in one battle.” “This advice is in harmony with my thinking,” said Cao Cao. As so it was in many cases with Guo Jia’s advice.
Cao Cao had now won against Yuan Shao at the battle of Guan Du. He was now puzzled as of what to do because he wasn’t able to win against the Yuans. He asked Guo Jia for advice. Guo Jia said, “There is dissension among the Yuans because the elder has been superseded in the succession. The brothers are about equally strong and each has his party. If we oppose them, they unite to assist each other; but if we have patience, they will be weakened by family strife. Wherefore send first a force to reduce Liu Biao in Jingzhou, and let the fraternal quarrels develop. When they have fully developed, we can smite them and settle the matter.” This advice was perfect and it worked.
Yuan Shang and Yuan Xi both fled to some tribes in the north. Cao Ren proposed a plan to kill them, but Guo Jia spoke against him. “You are wrong,” said he. “Though the prestige of our lord fills the empire, yet the peoples of the desert, relying upon their inaccessibility, will not be prepared against us. Wherefore I say attack, and we shall conquer them. Beside Yuan Shao was kind to the nomads, and the two brothers have been more so. They must be destroyed. As for Liu Biao he is a mere gossip, who needs not cause the least anxiety. And Liu Bei is unfit for any heavy responsibility and will take no trouble over a light one. You may leave the base with perfect safety and make as long an expedition as you choose. Nothing will happen.” Cao Cao mobilized his forces to do as Guo Jia advised.
Guo Jia had speedily fallen victim to the effects of the climate in the desert, and at this time he lay in his cart very ill. Cao Cao's tears fell as he said, “My friend, you are suffering for my ambition to subdue the Gobi Desert. I cannot bear to think you should be ill.” “You have always been very good to me,” said the sick man, “and I can never repay what I owe you.” “The country is exceedingly precipitous, and I am thinking of going back. What think you?” Guo Jia replied, “The success of an expedition of this kind depends upon celerity. To strike a sudden blow on a distant spot with a heavy baggage train is difficult. To ensure success the need is light troops and a good road to strike quickly before an enemy has time to prepare. Now you must find guides who know the road well.” Then the sick adviser was left at Yezhou for treatment. Guo Jia was never able to see his lord return for he had died at age 38 in the year 208. His coffin was placed on the bier in a hall of the government offices, and Cao Cao went thither to sacrifice to his manes. Cao Cao mourned for him, crying, “Alas! Heaven has smitten me: Guo Jia is dead!” Then turning to his officers he said, “You, gentlemen, are of the same age as myself, but he was very young to die. I needed him for the future generation, and unhappily he has been torn from me in the flower of his age. My heart and my bowels are torn with grief.” The servants of the late adviser presented his last testament, which they said his dying hand had written, and he had told them to say, “If the Prime Minister shall follow the advice given herein, then Liaodong will be secure.” Cao Cao opened the cover and read, nodding his head in agreement and uttering deep sighs. But no other person knew what was written therein.
At the loss of Chi Bi Cao Cao cried that he would have not lost if Guo Jia had been alive. Guo Jia seemed to always give Cao Cao advice and had proven to him that he was a great advisor.
Copyright © 2002–2003 Dan Liao
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong