Guo Kan

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Guo Kan
Governor of Baghdad
In office
Succeeded by Ata-Malik Juvayni
Personal details
Born 1217
Died 1277
Nationality Han chinese
Military service
Allegiance Mongol Empire, Ilkhanate, Yuan dynasty
Rank General
Battles/wars Mongol–Jin War, Siege of Baghdad (1258), Battle of Xiangyang
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Guo.

Guo Kan or Kuo K'an (Chinese: 郭侃; pinyin: Guō Kǎn), (1217–1277) was a famous general of Han Chinese descent that served the Mongol Khans in their Western conquests and the conquest of China itself. He was descended from a lineage of Chinese generals. Both his father and grandfather had served the Khan, while his ancestor is Guo Ziyi, a famed general of the Tang Dynasty.[1] He was not a Senior Mongol commander but was in charge of Chinese artillery units under the Mongolian Empire. He was one of the foreign legions that served for the Mongol Empire, and some of the later conquests of the Mongols were done by armies under his command. The biography of this Han Chinese commander in the Yuan Shi ("History of Yuan") said that Guo Kan's presence struck so much fear in his foes, that they called him the "Divine Man".

Birth and lineage[edit]

Guo Kan was raised in the household of Prime Minister Shi Tianzhe (who was also a Han Chinese, and whose father and two brothers all served the Yuan).

Military legacy[edit]

He took part in the final drive in the conquest of the Jin Dynasty, including the capture of Kaifeng, and may have served in the European campaign with Subutai a few years following the fall of the Jin Dynasty. He then served in Hulagu's invasion of the Middle East, playing a major role in the capture and Battle of Baghdad, reportedly devising the strategy of using the dikes to drown the Caliph's army, and supervising the reduction of Baghdad's walls.[2] He was then appointed Governor of Baghdad by Hulagu.[3][4][5][6][7] and at some point after Khubilai Khan's accession as Khan, Guo Kan went to serve him, instead of his brother, and assisted Khubilai Khan in the conquest of the Southern Song, and ultimately the unification of China proper under the Yuan Dynasty.[8]

The Yuan Shi[edit]

The Yuan Shi is known to contain many errors. Many events after 1259 in Guo Kan's biography are false since he returned to Mongolia with Hulagu Khan after the death of Möngke Khan in China. Hulagu did not return to Mongolia, something which is supported by Gregor of Akanc in his History of the Nation of Archers. Rashid al Din in his detailed account of Hulegu never refers to Hulegu returning to Mongolia either. Yet in poorly cited secondary literature, the story of Hulegu returning to Mongolia persists to this day. The argument that Hulegu returned to Mongolia may be based on the Mongols' use of the Kurultai to select the new Great Khan. As a grandson of Genghis Khan like Mongke and Kublai, Hulegu may have been eligible to succeed as Great Khan or his presence would at least have been appropriate.

The Yuan Shi in many ways resembled historical fiction, claiming all manner of conquests by Guo Kan which were not true, but nonetheless were legend in China for many years. Contrary to claims in the Yuan Shi, the Mamluks of Egypt crushed the Mongol occupation army and their Christian allies at Ain Jalut led by Hulagu's lieutenant Ked-Buka;[9] and the Crusader Kingdoms Mecca and Cyprus were neither conquered by the Mongols.[10] Moreover, Guo Kan's Yuanshi biography refers to him crossing the sea and subjecting the Fulang, which we know from other Chinese transcriptions, to be the Franks. This has been argued to be Cyprus by modern apologists, only because we know with certainty that Europe was not subdued by Guo Kan. Yet the history of Cyprus in the Middle Ages is also well-documented, and we know that it was not subjugated by the Mongols. Rather than admit that the account of Guo Kan's actions in 1259 and 1260 are largely fiction, modern apologists for the garbled biography of Guo Kan in the Yuanshi have attempted to demonstrate that the Fulang across the sea must be referring to Cyprus, the nearest Frank territory. In fact, the Yuanshi biography of Guo Kan clearly says that he subjugated the "Fulang" and multiple kings, suggesting the author was imagining that all of Europe was conquered. That account ends with "Thus the entire Western Regions were subjugated." In all likelihood, the Yuanshi author simply claimed that Guo Kan conquered all of Europe because it was so geographically and historically remote, that such a claim would not fall under scrutiny to a Chinese readership, nor were the facts entirely important.

This biography of Guo is mostly factually muddled[citation needed] in what seems to be an attempt to hide the crushing defeats inflicted on the Mongols at Ain Jalut, and on Hulagu by Berke Khan in the first Mongol on Mongol war in the Transcaucasus.[9] Ain Jalut took place while Guo Kan was in Mongolia with Hulagu during the selection of a Great Khan. Of course, we must remember that not a single primary source from the period, including Rashid al Din, Hulegu's own letter to Louis IX, Vardan Areweltsi, Grigor of Akanc, Bar Hebbraeus, or any of the Mamluk biographies of Baybars mention Hulegu ever returning to Mongolia. Indeed, if Guo Kan, were with Hulegu in Mongolia, then this is not something that can be confirmed by any sources from the time. Guo Kan, like Hulagu, had believed the force left to occupy Palestine was sufficient enough to deal with the Mamluks, which it was obviously not, and that the Ilkhanate could defeat the Golden Horde, which it equally could not.

Conquest of Song China[edit]

After he returned to Mongolia with Hulagu Khan after Möngke Khan's death, Guo Kan was taken from Hulagu's command, and assigned by Kublai Khan to aid him in the difficult conquest of Southern Song Dynasty of China. Khubilai's accession as Khan left him able to select the best of the Mongol Generals to serve him. Subutai and Jebe were both dead of old age, and Guo Kan was the last of the dreaded Dogs of War, and the new Great Khan Khubilai assigned Guo Kan to commander the final conquest of China.[11] Guo Kan reportedly urged him to adopt a Chinese-style dynastic title, establish a capital and central government, and build schools. He reportedly was the general who proposed capturing Xiangyang as a strategy for invading the Southern Song. He defeated Song forces in a battle at Xuzhou in 1262, and in 1266 urged Khubilai to establish military farms in Huaibei to provide supplies for an invasion of the Southern Song.[1] In 1268 and 1270 he suppressed local rebellions, and then he was sent to participate in the siege of Xiangyang. In 1276, the Song dynasty fell (except for the loyalist movement that lasted until 1279), and Guo served as a prefect for one more year before dying.

As example of Mongol meritocracy[edit]

More than any army in history until the 20th Century, and more so than many even in the Modern Era, the Mongols promoted strictly on the basis of military skill and ability. Like his brother "dogs of war", Jebe, son of an ordinary warrior in a tribe which had opposed Genghis Khan in his unification of the nomads, and Subutai, son of a blacksmith, Guo Kan, ethnically Han Chinese, represented the revolutionary concept of promoting the sons of the most humble, or foreign born, to command any of the Mongol nobility - including relatives of the Great Khan. Though Batu was nominally in charge of the invasion of Europe, it was Subutai who truly commanded.[10] Equally, Guo Kan devised the strategy which reduced the powerful walls of Bagdad in mere days, after destroying her small, but brave and disciplined army in mere hours by drowning them. Promotion by merit, not birth, was one of Genghis Khan's most important innovations, and Guo Kan, from an ethnic group of the Mongols' strongest rivals, was one of his prized generals, loyal to five generations of Great Khans.[11]

H. H. Howorth argues that Guo Kan is the corruption of the name of Mongolian commander Koke Ilge (ancestor of Chupan and descendent of Cila'un who saved Temujin when he was young) of the Jalayir.[12] Both Nasir al-Din Tusi, Rashid and Bar Heabreus mentions a certain Ali/Asutu bahadur as Hulagu's governor in Baghdad.[13] Peter Jackson and John Boyle also supported Howorth's hypothesis.


  1. ^ a b Prawdin, Michael. "The Mongol Empire".
  2. ^ Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War
  3. ^ Colin A. Ronan (1995). The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China. Volume 5 of The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China: An Abridgement of Joseph Needham's Original Text (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 250. ISBN 0-521-46773-X. Retrieved 2011-11-28. Moreover, many Chinese were in the first wave of the Mongolian conquest of Iran and Iraq - a Chinese general, Guo Kan, was first governor of Baghdad after its capture in ad 1258. As the Mongols had a habit of destroying irrigation and 
  4. ^ Original from the University of Michigan Thomas Francis Carter (1955). The invention of printing in China and its spread westward (2 ed.). Ronald Press Co. p. 174. Retrieved 2011-11-28. The name of this Chinese general was Kuo K'an (Mongol, Kuka Ilka). He commanded the right flank of the Mongol army in its advance on Baghdad and remained in charge of the city after its surrender. His life in Chinese has been preserved 
  5. ^ Thomas Francis Carter (1955). The invention of printing in China and its spread westward (2 ed.). Ronald Press Co. p. 171. Retrieved 2010-06-28. Chinese influences soon made themselves strongly felt in Hulagu's dominions. A Chinese general was made the first governor of Baghdad,5 and Chinese engineers were employed to improve the irrigation of the Tigris-Euphrates basin 
  6. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 377. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  7. ^ Lillian Craig Harris (1993). China considers the Middle East (illustrated ed.). Tauris. p. 26. ISBN 1-85043-598-7. Retrieved 2010-06-28. The first governor of Baghdad under the new regime was Guo Kan, a Chinese general who had commanded the Mongols' right flank in the siege of Baghdad. Irrigation works in the Tigris-Euphrates basin were improved by Chinese engineers (Original from the University of Michigan)
  8. ^ Hildinger, Erik. "Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1700"
  9. ^ a b Chambers, James, The Devil's Horsemen Atheneum, 1979, ISBN 0-689-10942-3
  10. ^ a b Nicolle, David. ?The Mongol Warlords
  11. ^ a b Saunders, J.J. The History of the Mongol Conquests
  12. ^ H. H. Howorth History of the Mongols from 9th to 19th century vol 1 Mongol proper and Kalmuks, p.160


  • Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1998
  • Chambers, James, The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe. Atheneum. New York. 1979. ISBN 0-689-10942-3
  • Hildinger, Erik, Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1700
  • Morgan, David -- The Mongols, ISBN 0-631-17563-6
  • Nicolle, David, -- The Mongol Warlords Brockhampton Press, 1998
  • Prawdin, Michael. The Mongol Empire
  • Reagan, Geoffry, The Guinness Book of Decisive Battles , Canopy Books, New York (1992)
  • Saunders, J.J. -- The History of the Mongol Conquests, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1971, ISBN 0-8122-1766-7
  • Sicker, Martin -- The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna, Praeger Publishers, 2000
  • Soucek, Svatopluk -- A History of Inner Asia, Cambridge, 2000