|Prince of Lanling|
Prince of Lanling at Itsukushima Shrine
Gao Changgong (died 573 AD) (Chinese: 高长恭; pinyin: Gāo Chánggōng), formal name was Gao Su (Traditional Chinese: 高肅; Simplified Chinese: 高肃; pinyin: Gāo Sù) or Gao Xiaoguan (高孝瓘), was a high-ranking general of the Northern Qi dynasty given a fiefdom in Lanling County, so he was also known as the Prince of Lanling (蘭陵王). Gao Changgong was the grandson of Gao Huan and the fourth son of Gao Cheng. According to the Book of Northern Qi, Gao Changgong had a beautiful face thus he always wore a terrible mask when he fought in battles. He is also known as one of China's Four Most Handsome Men.
Gao Changgong was born the fourth son of Gao Cheng, elder brother of the first emperor of Northern Qi and therefore a prince of Northern Qi. As his land was known as Lanling, he was given the title of Prince of Lanling. Gao Changgong was also made a general by Emperor Wucheng of Northern Qi (Gao Zhan), his uncle, and his distinction in battles as well as personal kindness and bravery led him becoming widely loved and admired. Legend has it that he looked beautiful like a woman so he wore a mask in battles to appear more fearsome to the enemy.
Gao Changgong repelled the Göktürks when they attacked Jinyang (晋阳, now the city of Taiyuan). His most famous battle however was the rescue of the siege of Jinyong (金墉, near modern Luoyang) in 564 A.D. Gao Changgong led only 500 cavalrymen and fought through an army of Northern Zhou, which was attacking the city with 100,000 soldiers. He fought his way to the gates the city, surprising the defenders. The soldiers of Jinyong didn't recognize him, so he took off his helmet and mask. The soldiers in the city rejoiced at his arrival and were refilled with courage. They opened the gates and joined the battle outside the city. Soon the army of Northern Zhou was defeated.
In order to celebrate the victory, the soldiers composed the famous song and dance "Prince Lanling in Battle” (兰陵王入阵曲). The song and the dance are long lost in China, however, it was introduced into Japan during the Tang Dynasty and is still being performed in some ceremonies today.
After the death of Gao Zhan, Gao Changgong's cousin Gao Wei ascended the throne. Gao Changong's reputation, competence and influence over the army upset the young emperor. Gao Wei asked Gao Changgong about the battle at Jinyong: "You penetrated too deeply into the formation; if you had suffered a military reverse, it would be too late to regret such an action." Gao Changgong replied: "I am responsible for our family affairs, I did it without considering the consequences." The emperor, hearing the reference to "family affairs" became suspicious. He was afraid that Gao Changgong might overthrow him. Many members of the Gao family had met their ends at the hands of brothers and cousins, and he became paranoid that he would have the same fate.
To avoid the emperor's suspicion and jealousy, Gao Changgong often pretended to be sick, staying away from wars and politics. No matter how low a profile he kept, the emperor still sent him a cup of poisonous wine one day in 573 A.D. Gao Changgong drank the wine and ended his life, probably in his early 30’s.
Four years after Gao Changgong's death, having lost one of its greatest generals, Northern Qi was destroyed by Northern Zhou. All the members of the Gao royal family were slaughtered.
In 1999, within the cave of Longmen, a message was found carved into a statue, indicates that the Prince of Lan Ling had living descendants.
Gao Changgong is one of the 32 historical figures who appear as special characters in the video game Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI by Koei. His story is also dramatized in the 2013 television series Prince of Lan Ling and 2016 television series Princess of Lanling King.