Biography (SGZ): Guo Jia (Fengxiao)

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Guo Jia (Fengxiao)
郭嘉 (奉孝)
Lived: 170–207

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
Translator Notes in Green
Translated by Wang Qing Fei
Edited by Matthew Pernsteiner

Guo Jia, a native of Yingchuan, was a famous strategist under Cao Cao.

Guo Jia first went to Yuan Shao and Shao respected him greatly. A while later Guo said to other strategists of Yuan, Xin Ping and Guo tu, "A wise man serves a wise lord. Lord Yuan simply wants to imitate Lord Zhou in being kind to men of talent, he does not know how to make full use of them and he always hesitates before making a decision. It would be hard to gain ultimate dominion of China under his leadership. Therefore I wish to leave him. What about you?" The other two men said, "Yuan has been kind to the world and many want to follow his leadership. What's more, Lord Yuan is the strongest lord, who would be better than he that we could serve?"

At first Xi Zhicai, a famous man of letters, was Cao Cao's consultant and Cao valued Xi very much. However, Zhicai died at an early age, so Cao wrote to Xun Wenruo asking for a recommendation of a worthy man to replace Xi. Xun Yu recommended Guo Jia after receiving the letter from Cao. Cao called upon Guo Jia and after Cao and Guo had discussed the affairs of the time Cao said delightedly, "It must be he whom can help me attain total dominion!" Guo also said happily, "I have found the right lord to serve!" Cao appointed Guo an official. From then on Cao trusted in Guo's ability tremendously.

That same year Lü Bu saved Liu Bei. But before long Liu had gathered around ten thousand warriors which sparked Lü Bu's envy. He and his army therefore attacked Liu and routed Xuande. Liu turned to Cao Cao for aid and Mengde treated Liu kindly. Cao named Liu Bei the governor of Yuzhou. A man suggested to Cao, "Liu has boundless ambition, it would be ill for us if we do not get rid of him quickly." Cao consulted with Guo Jia who said, "Ours is a force of justice which stamps out tyranny. This is why people come to us. Liu has a good name with the common people and if we killed such a hero who should come to us if we were in a poor position? Many talented men would not see you as a wise lord and would likely join others. Then who shall you, my lord, be able to rely on to support your great cause? It is not wise to lose the world for a single person!" Cao commented, "You are indeed a wise man!" He then offered Liu provisions and sent Xuande to Pei (Pei County is in modern day Jiangsu). Liu gathered his men against Lü.

In the year AD 197, Yuan Shao sent a letter to Cao filled with arrogant contempt, which irritated Cao. Cao said to Xun Yu and Guo Jia, “I want to attack Yuan, but I am afraid I am not his equal.” The two said, “As we know it, Liu Bang was not the equal to Xiang Yu, yet Liu won with his great intelligence. Now, my lord, you have ten advantages versus Yuan’s ten disadvantages. Though Yuan is strong, he is incapable. He uses too many rules and not enough justice, he has inferior administration, he treats his officers inferior to those of his family, and is too suspicious. Though full of ideas he hesitates too much. He listens only to praise, his men abuse each other and all try to flatter him. Furthermore, he cannot tell right from wrong. And finally, he is incapable in military affairs."

Cao said laughingly, “I am afraid that I do not deserve your wise words!”

Guo said, “Yuan has gone to the north to go to war with Gong Sun Zan, we can take this opportunity to defeat Lü Bu. If Yuan launched an attack, and Lü answered, that would be a problem.”

Xun said, “It will not easy to get He Bei if we do not take Lü first.”

“That is it!” Cao said, “But I worry that if Yuan attacks Guan Zhong he will ally with the Qiang and Hu (two minority tribes) in the West and Shu and Hu in the South, however, we just have the Yang and Yu against the rest which comprise almost five sixths."

Xun said, “The generals in Guan Zhong are not equal to the others, Han Sui and Ma Teng are the strongest. If they see the fight here they would first protect themselves. And if we offer our kindness to them we will make a temporary peace. After we straighten everything out, we will be made so firm that nobody will be in danger. The official Zhong is wise, there would be no problem if we rely on him in the West.”

Cao then reported to the Emperor and appointed Zhong executive of Guan Zhong, in charge of the other generals. Zhong proceeded to Chang’an (modern day Xi’an) and wrote to Han and Ma. The two sent their sons to the capital as hostages.

In the year AD 198, Cao fought with Lü Bu and Lü was defeated and retreated to Xia Pi. Cao’s forces made a long siege but could not take the city. Cao wanted to retreat but Guo Jia and Xun Yu suggested that although Lü was brave, he lacked wisdom. Lü Bu had lost three consecutive battles and was now dispirited, which would affect his soldiers’ morale. They also pointed out that although Chen Gong’s (Lü Bu’s advisor) skills as an advisor were superb; it was all too late for him to help Lü. Cao agreed with them and went on with the siege and used local flooding to enhance the attack. In December of that year Lü’s generals Hou Chen, Song Xie, and Gong Shun betrayed him. Lü therefore was defeated. Lü made then his surrender to the Prime Minister. However, Cao ordered Lü’s execution. After this war Cao got rid of one of his main competitors and laid the foundation to deal with Yuan and to unite the north.

In the year AD 199 Cao moved the emperor to Xu Chang and became a dictator. The emperor then became a ruler in name only. General Dong Cheng got a secret edict telling him to do away with Cao in collusion with Liu Bei and others. Liu, worrying that Cao might suspect him, tried to find a way to escape. At the chance that Yuan Shu (Yuan Shao's brother) offered to fight with general Zhu Ling halfway. Cao approved. Guo and others all said it was not proper. Cao then regretted this and sent his man to call

Liu back, but it was too late. Yuan Shu then escaped to Shou Chun and Zhu Ling also went back. In December, Liu took the opportunity when Cao was warring with Yuan Shao and killed Cao's general Che Zhou and defeated general Lu Daijun to take the cities Xu Zhou and Xia Pi, openly betraying Cao.

In the year 200 Dong Cheng and the others failed to kill Cao because their plot was leaked. Cao killed all the conspirators and their relatives. Liu was the only one who escaped and his forces were growing stronger and stronger. Cao wanted to get

Liu himself, however, his men were worried that Yuan would attack from behind and suggested that Cao should take on Yuan first. Cao said Liu was a hero and that if he did not take him on now it would be a big problem down the road. Guo also said "Yuan

is a suspicious man and a suspicious man would make quick and faulty action. Liu has just settled down and therefore would be easier to take over now rather than later." Cao therefore decided to attack Liu. The official of Yuan Shao, Tian Feng, suggested that

Yuan take the advantage and attack Cao from behind. But Yuan Shao said that his young son was sick and didn't want to. Liu hearing of Cao's coming was surprised and made only rough preparations. In the ensuing melee Liu lost both the battle and his family. Cao took the city Xia Pi. Liu's general Guan Yu having no other choice surrendered to Meng de. Cao then attacked Chang Xi whom Liu had turned to. Liu then escaped to the city of Ye and turned to Yuan Shao, gathering his men. In this war Cao beat Liu, which allowed the Prime Minister to not have to fight a two front war.

Because Sun Ce had borrowed men from Yuan Shu in the year AD 195, he had conquered most of the land in Jiang Dong district, and had become a warlord. At the same time, Sun heard that Cao was pit against Yuan and therefore wanted to attack Xu Chang. Cao's ministerial staff was surprised except Guo Jia. He had said that Sun had so many good warriors attracted to his cause because of Sun’s heroism, but he lacked wisdom and would be murdered by someone. Guo predicted right.

During the same year, with Guo’s aid, Cao beat Yuan. In the May of AD 201, Yuan with bitterness in his heart died. His younger son took his place and ordered his brother to defend Li Yang. In September Cao's forces overtook the city. Tang (the older son) sent for help. Shang, who was afraid that his brother might get too many soldiers, came himself.

In the February of the year 203 A.D. Cao launched a full-scale invasion and the Yuans lost. The two brothers escaped to Ye. In April Cao arrived at Ye. Lacking wheat his force hurried the harvest. The two Yuans grasped the opportunity to counter-attack. Cao was dealt a small defeat. Cao had intended to fight again but Guo suggested if Meng de attacked too much, the two brothers would unite as one; if not, the two would envy each other and fight with each other. He therefore suggested that it was better to wait and not attack them till they broke apart. Cao took this advice and retreated back to Xu Chang, leaving Jia Xin to guard the north.

In the year 203 a fierce disagreement happened between the two brothers Yuan. Tang was bested by Shang and sent his man to offer his capitulation to Cao. Cao, in Tang's name, attacked Ye. In July Shang lost and escaped to Zhong Shang. By October Cao had nearly destroyed the Yuans' forces. Tang, who had surrendered, betrayed Cao and attacked Gan Ling, An Ping, and more. He also assaulted his brother, Shang who was in Zhong Shang and forced Shang to flee to Gu An and turn to the governor of You Zhou, Yuan Xi. Tang gathered Shang's scattered force and settled in Long Cou city. Cao, under the pretext of Tang's betrayal, launched an attack on Yuan Shang. In the year 204 Cao overtook Nan Pi and killed Tang. All of the cities belonging to Tang now were controlled by Cao Cao. Guo now advised Cao to treat the common people kindly to gain their trust. Cao followed Guo's advice and his dominion over the newly conquer conquered cities was enhanced. Guo, for his great contribution, was promoted to a sir.

At that time the tribe Wu Heng allied with Yuan Tang and Yuan Xi who had fled to the barbarians. Cao, to complete his conquest of the north, went to war with the Wu Heng. Liu Bei immediately left for Jing Zhou to persuade Liu Biao to attack Xudu and save the emperor. Cao was quite worried and all of his generals suggested that he not go too deep into the land in case Liu Biao attacked Xudu. But Guo said, "The tribe probably only made rough preparations against you because they are far away and do not believe we will attack them. If we staged a quick assault we will win. What is more, this place used to be the Yuans' and they had been kind to the people here. The peasants honor just because of your strength, so if the Wu tribe were to rebel the people would join them which would set Qin and Ji cities in danger. Liu Biao is not the source of worry." Cao quickly got the point after hearing Guo and brought his army up north. At Zhi Yi (the northwest of modern day Shong) Guo offered another suggestion, "Speed is essential at this point in the war. Now we are traveling countless miles with countless vehicles and equipment. Should the barbarians hear of this they will make a strong defence against us. It is better to leave the heavy stuff behind and with quick speed attack them with the element of surprise." Cao followed this advice and took off with the cavalry. They streaked down the road day and night. At White Wolf Mountain Cao destroyed the main forces of the Wu Heng as well as the remaining armies of Shang and Xi. The forces of Cao killed some one hundred thousand men of Ta Dun and King Ming and took two hundred thousand soldiers as prisoners. Yuan Shang and Yuan Xi fled to Gongsun Kang, the governor of Liao Dong. Cao took Guo's suggestion and did not pursue the Yuans, claiming he was just waiting for Gong to send the heads of the brothers. In September Cao withdrew his army from the city of Lu and shortly thereafter Gong murdered the Yuans.

Up until now Cao had stamped out Yuan Shu, Zhang Xiu, Fengxian, and defeated Liu Bei and the Wu Heng in the north. The only other force that remained was the Lius in Jingzhou.

Guo Jia was a man of resourcefulness and Cao once said of him, "Guo is the only one who could wholey appreciate what is in my mind." During the expedition in the north, Guo caught a disease and died at the age of 38 soon after he got back to the capital. Cao was so grief-stricken that he said to all of the officials "All of you are venerable except Guo. I should have wanted to rely on him more in the great course, however he died at middle age. That, perhaps, is Heaven's intention." Then he announced to the whole world: Official Guo fought with me for eleven years. When I came to a difficult decision which I was hesitant on, Guo was always ready to give me a solution. He died before the accomplishment of the great undertaking. Never should we forget him and always we should remember and honor him. Then Cao reported to the court to appoint Guo the title of 'Loyal Marquis' and let Guo's son succeed to the honor.

Later, Cao lost at the battle of Chi Bi and he sighed, "Had Guo lived, I would not have suffered such a big failure." Chen Qun had chastised Guo for his rough behavior in the court but Guo had always taken it in stride. Cao valued him even more. Cao was also happy at Chen Qun being guardian of virtue and conduct. Guo Jia, as consultant, contributed much to Cao's dominion over the north and he is regarded as a rare strategist in history. It is really a pity that he died before the fulfillment of his dream.

Copyright © 2003 Wang Qing Fei. All Rights Reserved.
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi