Gongsun Zan

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Gongsun Zan
Gongsun Zan Qing illustration.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Gongsun Zan
Inspector of You Province (幽州刺史)
In office
193 (193) – March 199 (March 199)
Monarch Emperor Xian of Han
General of the Vanguard (前將軍)
In office
192 (192) – March 199 (March 199)
Monarch Emperor Xian of Han
General of Uplifting Martial Might
In office
189 (189) – 192 (192)
Monarch Emperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Born Unknown
Qian'an, Hebei
Died March 199
Yi County, Hebei
  • Gongsun Yue (second cousin)
  • Gongsun Fan (second cousin)
Children Gongsun Xu
Occupation General, warlord
Courtesy name Bogui (伯珪)
Peerage Marquis of Yi (易侯)

Gongsun Zan (died March 199), courtesy name Bogui, was a warlord who lived in the late Eastern Han dynasty.


Map showing the major warlords of the Han dynasty in the 190s, including Gongsun Zan

Little is known of Gongsun Zan's early life. He and Liu Bei studied under the tutelage of Lu Zhi. At the time, the administrator of his home commandery appreciated Gongsun Zan's impressive looks and booming voice, so he arranged for his daughter to marry him. Gongsun Zan was deployed by He Jin to quash rebellions in the north which he did successfully. Following a misunderstanding with his lord, Liu Yu, he attacked him and won control of the surrounding areas; however, contrary to popular belief, he was never formally appointed as a commandery administrator. During this time his former classmate Liu Bei came to serve him and got allocated the city of Pingyuan to defend.

Zhao Yun displays valour in front of Gongsun Zan

Two brothers now formed the power in China, Yuan Shao in the north in direct competition with Gongsun Zan and Yuan Shu. Following a disagreement between the two, Gongsun Zan formed an alliance with Yuan Shu and sent his second cousin, Gongsun Yue, to help Yuan Shu's general Sun Jian retake Yangcheng. However, Gongsun Yue died in the campaign. Using this pretext, Gongsun Zan fought against Yuan Shao after a plan to gain Han Fu's lands went awry. However, Gongsun Zan eventually lost to Yuan Shao at the Battle of Yijing. He committed suicide by setting himself on fire, after killing his wife and sisters.


  • Gongsun Yue (公孫越), Gongsun Zan's younger second cousin. Gongsun Zan sent him with 1,000 troops and supplies to assist the warlord Yuan Shu, who was in a proxy war with his half-brother Yuan Shao. Gongsun Yue died after being hit by a stray arrow during the Battle of Yangcheng in 191 while fighting alongside Sun Jian (Yuan Shu's proxy) against Zhou Yu (Renming) (Yuan Shao's proxy). Gongsun Zan used Gongsun Yue's death as an excuse to declare war on Yuan Shao.
    • In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Gongsun Yue is Gongsun Zan's younger brother. Gongsun Zan sends Gongsun Yue as a messenger to demand that Yuan Shao keep his promise by dividing Ji Province between him and Gongsun Zan after seizing it from Han Fu, but Yuan Shao refuses. While Gongsun Yue is on his return journey, Yuan Shao orders his men to pretend to be Dong Zhuo's soldiers and then ambush and kill Gongsun Yue. Gongsun Zan sees through Yuan Shao's ruse and subsequently declares war on him.
  • Gongsun Fan (公孫範), Gongsun Zan's younger second cousin. He leads troops from Bohai Commandery (勃海郡) to join Gongsun Zan. He also fought in the Battle of Jieqiao alongside Gongsun Zan against Yuan Shao.
  • Gongsun Xu (公孫續), Gongsun Zan's son. During the Battle of Yijing (198–199), Gongsun Zan sent him to seek reinforcements from the Heishan bandits led by Zhang Yan. They returned too late as Gongsun Zan had already been defeated by Yuan Shao and had committed suicide along with the rest of his family. Gongsun Xu later met his end at the hands of the Tuge (屠各), a Xiongnu tribe.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

Gongsun Zan is a character in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which romanticises the events before and during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He leads an elite cavalry unit and has served on the northern and eastern frontiers of the Han Empire by defending the borders from incursions by various non-Han Chinese tribes. In 191, Gongsun Zan joins the coalition against Dong Zhuo, the warlord who seized power in Luoyang and holds the figurehead Emperor Xian hostage. After the coalition breaks up, he gets into a rivalry with Yuan Shao over the territories in northern China and engages him in a series of battles throughout the 190s, starting with the Battle of Jieqiao and ending with his defeat and death at the Battle of Yijing.

In the novel, Gongsun Zan is nicknamed "White Horse General" because the elite cavalry unit he leads is made up completely of horses of pure white. The reason for doing so is that he knows that the non-Han Chinese tribes consider white horses sacred animals so they will run away when they encounter an enemy unit riding white horses in battle.

See also[edit]