Guo Huai

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Guo Huai
General of Cao Wei
Born (Unknown)
Died 255[1]
Traditional Chinese 郭淮
Simplified Chinese 郭淮
Pinyin Guō Huái
Wade–Giles Kuo Huai
Courtesy name Boji (traditional Chinese: 伯濟; simplified Chinese: 伯济; pinyin: Bójì; Wade–Giles: Po-chi)
Posthumous name Marquis Zhen (traditional Chinese: 貞侯; simplified Chinese: 贞侯; pinyin: Zhēn Hóu; Wade–Giles: Chen Hou)

Guo Huai (died 255), courtesy name Boji, was a military general of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. He started his career in the late Eastern Han Dynasty as a military officer under the warlord Cao Cao. During Cao Pi's reign, he rose up the ranks and became a subordinate of the Wei marshal Sima Yi. Guo Huai defeated the Qiang and Di tribes several times and defended Cao Wei from Jiang Wei's campaigns.

Early career[edit]

Guo Huai had a somewhat prestigious heritage. His father was a commandery Grand Administrator, and his grandfather had been the Minister of Finance, one of the Nine Ministers of the Han court. He came to work for Cao Pi, who was the General of the Gentlemen of the Household for All Purposes at the time, in 205 and Cao Pi was very impressed by Guo Huai. He told his father of Guo Huai and by 214 he had been promoted to be one of Cao Cao’s personal advisers.

Role in the Hanzhong campaigns[edit]

In 215, Cao Cao led a campaign against Zhang Lu in Hanzhong and brought along Guo Huai as an adviser during this campaign. After a brief battle, Zhang Lu surrendered to Cao Cao. Subsequently, Cao Cao left Xiahou Yuan in charge of pacifying the northwest (which he had been doing since 211 anyway), and he left Guo Huai behind to advise Xiahou Yuan. The two got along extremely well and Guo Huai became Xiahou Yuan’s Major, making him second-in-command of Xiahou Yuan’s personal troops.

Throughout 217 and 218, the Wei forces under Xiahou Yuan successfully repelled various incursions by Liu Bei’s forces. However, in 219 Liu Bei advanced to occupy Mount Dingjun, and Xiahou Yuan decided to go and force him out. He had intended to send Guo Huai but Guo Huai was ill so he went himself. Xiahou Yuan was killed in the ensuing Battle of Mount Dingjun. Guo Huai partly blamed himself for this.

Immediately following Xiahou Yuan’s untimely demise, there was some great confusion among his soldiers. In spite of his illness, Guo Huai stepped up and took command of the troops. He led them safely away from the frontlines. In order to prevent Liu Bei from advancing deeper into Cao Cao’s territory, they took up a position north of the Han River. Most of the soldiers wanted to camp at the river bank to repel any attackers. Guo Huai, though, thought it was better to camp a short distance away from the river bank – that way, any crossing army would be split up by the river and Guo Huai’s forces would be able to break them apart piece by piece, rather than fighting them all at once. Though Liu Bei advanced as far as the Han River, Fa Zheng recognized the danger posed by Guo Huai and convinced Liu Bei not to cross. Cao Cao heard of this as he was advancing to Hanzhong. He wholeheartedly commended Guo Huai’s efforts. Ultimately, Cao Cao decided to withdraw his forces from Hanzhong, rather than try to force Liu Bei out of the strongholds he had settled into.

Pacifying the northwest[edit]

Cao Cao died the next year, in 220, and Cao Pi took command of the army as King of Wei. He rewarded Guo Huai’s efforts by enfeoffing him as an Interior Marquis. He further appointed Guo Huai to be Zhang He's chief assistant and also named him as Protector of the Qiang, which made him responsible for affairs involving the Qiang tribes. From 221 to 227 he helped Zhang He subjugate various rebellions in the northwest (with a short time where Guo Huai was in command of this front when Zhang He took part in Cao Pi's 222/223 campaign against Wu). During Guo Huai’s early days in office, a famous Qiang leader named Pi Fan instigated a large revolt in Anding commandery. Guo Huai personally led his army to Anding and pacified the revolt with ease.

Zhuge Liang’s northern campaigns[edit]

In 228, Zhuge Liang of Shu attacked Wei in the first of his five northern campaigns. Zhuge Liang directed his main army at Mount Qi. He also sent Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi to make an attack on Mei in hopes of drawing the majority of the Wei defenders there. To Zhuge Liang’s good fortune, rebellions broke out in the three commanderies of Tianshui, Nan’an, and Anding. His attack was stopped when both Zhao Yun and the vanguard, led by the general Ma Su, were defeated by Cao Zhen and Zhang He. While Zhuge Liang sent Ma Su to lead the vanguard, he also sent a trusted general named Gao Xiang to offer support from Lieliu city. While Zhang He fought Ma Su, Guo Huai attacked and crushed Gao Xiang at Lieliu. After the Shu armies were defeated, Cao Zhen, Zhang He, Guo Huai, and Xu Miao (Inspector of Liang) set about pacifying the rebelling commanderies. Guo Huai led his army to Fuhan, where he defeated a rebelling Qiang leader named Tang Ti.

In the spring of 229, Zhuge Liang regrouped his forces in Hanzhong and invaded Wei again for his third campaign. He sent the general Chen Shi to attack the commanderies of Wudu and Yinping while he personally led the bulk of the Shu army to Jianwei. His plan was to keep Guo Huai engaged in Wudu and Yinping, leaving Mount Qi and Chang’an undefended. However, Guo Huai observed the movements of the Shu army and decided that it was best to abandon Wudu and Yinping in order to block Zhuge Liang’s advance. As a result, Chen Shi was able to occupy Wudu and Yinping, though Zhuge Liang was not able to advance any farther and retreated.

Failed invasion of Shu and later northern campaigns[edit]

In 230, Cao Zhen, Zhang He and Sima Yi led a large Wei army in an invasion of Shu. Guo Huai was sent to the Qiang tribes to gather allies from among them. Wei Yan was sent on essentially the same mission for Shu. Both had small forces from Wei and Shu, as well as Qiang allies. The two armies met at Yangqi where Wei Yan defeated Guo Huai quite soundly, forcing him to retreat. Due to local flooding, the Wei army was unable to advance into Hanzhong and the main Wei and Shu forces never met. The rest of the Wei army retreated unscathed. The year after that, 231, Zhuge Liang invaded Wei for the fourth time. Cao Zhen became ill after the 230 invasion, probably due to the weather experienced during the campaign. So Sima Yi was transferred to Chang’an to defend against Shu. Guo Huai made arrangements with his Qiang and Hu allies to guard the army’s supply route as Sima Yi led the army and ultimately forced Zhuge Liang to retreat.

In 234, Zhuge Liang made his final attempt to take Chang’an. He advanced as far as Mei, and Sima Yi led his army south of the Wei river to prevent Zhuge Liang from advancing against Chang’an. Guo Huai worried that Zhuge Liang would try to go around Sima Yi’s position and occupy Beiyuan. Sima Yi was convinced that this was a valid concern and sent Guo Huai to Beiyuan with an army to defend it. Guo Huai arrived quickly and constructed a temporary fortress. Just as Guo Huai predicted, Zhuge Liang attacked Beiyuan. Guo Huai’s defenses easily repelled the Shu army. As a result, Zhuge Liang was unable to advance and instead settled down in the Wuzhang plains. The two armies faced each other for several months until Zhuge Liang died at which point the Shu army fell apart as various commanders turned to infighting, putting an end to the danger.

The next year, Sima Yi was promoted to Grand Commandant, though he remained in Chang’an. When he was dispatched to conquer Liaodong in 238, a respected official and general named Zhao Yan was sent to replace him as the overall commander in the west. Yong was peaceful for a few years, but in 240 Shu attacked again. Jiang Wei went among the various tribes and tried to organize an invasion against Wei. Guo Huai easily ran off Jiang Wei and the Shu forces, then made a larger campaign against the Qiang and Di tribes. He defeated a number of tribal leaders, most notably the Qiang chieftain Mi Dang. He also had rebellious tribes relocated farther away from Shu, where they could be better kept track of. For this work, Guo Huai was promoted to General of the Left.

In 244, Cao Shuang and Xiahou Xuan organized a campaign to invade Shu. Though he objected to the campaign, Guo Huai was assigned to lead the vanguard. Knowing that the invasion was poorly planned and a bad idea, he acted with great caution during the campaign. The Shu general Wang Ping occupied strategic points to block the Wei army and Guo Huai did not attempt to dislodge him. When the Shu Grand General Fei Yi arrived with reinforcements, Xiahou Xuan convinced Cao Shuang to retreat. Due to Guo Huai’s caution, the Wei army was able to withdraw without difficulty.

In 247, a number of Qiang tribes rebelled against Wei, and Jiang Wei was sent with a contingent of soldiers from Shu to reinforce them. Guo Huai led Xiahou Ba and some other generals to pacify this rebellion. Guo Huai advanced to Didao, then proceeded to crush the rebels at Fuhan. Jiang Wei tried to outflank Xiahou Ba, but Guo Huai predicted this and led his army to reinforce Xiahou Ba, then planted troops to ambush the Shu force. Jiang Wei fell into the trap and was quickly defeated. Some of the Qiang leaders and their soldiers fled to Shu along with Jiang Wei. Guo Huai then proceeded to campaign against the rebellious tribes and easily pacified them.

The next year (248) there was some more trouble with the Qiang, particularly the tribes led by the chieftains Zhesai and Wudai. Zhesai led his troops to occupy He Pass, as well as Baibao, taking a defensive position along the river. Guo Huai was worried that Shu would come to help the revolt since Shu had been trying to open a new front for Wei for a few years now, so he wanted to put down this revolt quickly. Guo Huai crossed the river some distance upriver from Zhesai’s position and was able to descend upon him unexpectedly at Baibao, quickly routing the rebels. Another rebel Qiang, Wudai, tried to bring reinforcements to Zhesai, but Guo Huai ambushed him at Longyi and crushed his army. Having received word of the fighting, Shu did send Jiang Wei and Liao Hua to assist the rebels. The Shu forces joined up with the remnants of Zhesai and Wudai’s armies. Jiang Wei remained at Qiangchuan, while Liao Hua went to Mount Chengzhong to build fortifications and gather the other scattered Qiang. Guo Huai attacked Mount Chengzhong but Liao Hua held him off. This posed a problem for the Wei forces. Jiang Wei had gathered a large army and could not be overpowered easily, while Liao Hua was planted quite firmly in a narrow pass and could not be dislodged. However Guo Huai devised a strategy to separate Jiang Wei from the tribes in order to decrease the size of his army. First, he led his soldiers through side paths in order to attack Liao Hua’s forces from behind. Threatened in this unexpected manner, Liao Hua sent messages to Jiang Wei requesting reinforcements. Jiang Wei abandoned Qiangchuan to aid Liao Hua. While Jiang Wei was on the march, Guo Huai had his allies from the Hu tribes harass Jiang Wei’s flanks and keep his soldiers weary. He also sent false messages to Jiang Wei’s army on where Guo Huai's army was moving to attack next in order to keep him running around and tired. This strategy greatly weakened Jiang Wei’s army, and separated him from his tribal allies who were moved to places to defend against a Wei attack that never came. Finally, Guo Huai had Xiahou Ba took a side path to the rear of Jiang Wei’s army, and attacked him from two sides. This resulted in an easy victory for Wei. Liao Hua was overpowered by Guo Huai’s surprise attack and also defeated. For this victory, Guo Huai’s enfeoffment was increased.

In 249, Sima Yi killed Cao Shuang and took control of the Wei government. Xiahou Xuan was summoned to Luoyang and made Grand Herald. Guo Huai was selected to replace him as the overall commander in the northwest, so he was promoted to General Who Conquers the West as well as Marshal of Yong. The talented Chen Tai was selected to replace Guo Huai as Inspector of Yong. Also in this year, Sima Yi appointed his subordinate, Deng Ai, to be the Grand Administrator of Nan’an, a commandery frequently attacked by Shu and the Qiang. The three men became close and the much younger Deng Ai and Chen Tai became in a way students, and protégés of his.

In autumn of 249, Jiang Wei invaded Wei once more. He constructed a fortress at Mount Chu and incited several Qiang tribes to rebel in the neighboring counties. The situation was not as favorable for Shu as it appeared, though. These particular Qiang were rebelling under duress, only serving Shu because Jiang Wei had collected hostages from among the tribes in order to force them to obey him. Also as Chen Tai noted, although the fortress at Mount Chu was strong, it was far from Shu and it would be easy to cut off the supply route. Guo Huai led Chen Tai and Deng Ai to besiege Mount Chu. They cut off the supply route without difficulty, and then held their ground, waiting for the soldiers in the fortress to run out of food and surrender. Jiang Wei had been camped at Mount Niutou and brought his soldiers to reinforce Mount Chu. On Chen Tai’s advice, Guo Huai led his army to occupy Mount Niutou, blocking Jiang Wei’s line of retreat and cutting him off from Shu – and supplies. Thus the forces in Mount Chu were isolated, as was Jiang Wei’s army. Realizing that he had been trapped, Jiang Wei fled using side paths, abandoning the soldiers at Mount Chu, who quickly surrendered. Some troops in the fortress would not surrender and tried to attack Chen Tai when he entered the fortress, but they were easily defeated. Guo Huai then led his army to the western regions to suppress the Qiang who had been rebelling there. Fearing that Jiang Wei had not gone far and might return while he was away, he left Deng Ai behind to defend against Shu in his absence. Sure enough, Jiang Wei sent Liao Hua to make a diversionary attack against Deng Ai while he himself tried to attack Tao city. Deng Ai realized that Liao Hua was just a diversion and led his army to occupy Tao in secret. So when Jiang Wei arrived, he ran straight into Deng Ai’s main force and was quickly defeated.

In 250, for his incredible services, Guo Huai was promoted further, to the position of General of the Chariots and Cavalry. He was also granted a special honor. He was now supposed to be treated with the same ceremony and respect given to the Three Excellencies (the Grand Commandant, Minister Over the Masses, and Minister of Works), the three highest officials of the state. This was an extraordinarily rare honor that was almost never given to anyone. While a few tyrants such as Dong Zhuo and Li Jue had commanded that they be honored this way regardless of their rank, it was extremely rare for such honor to be bestowed upon a general. This honor was given to Guo Huai because there was basically no other way to continue promoting him. While he could have been made one of the Three Excellencies, he was far more valuable as a general.

Also in 250, Jiang Wei led an army to attack Xiping, but he was stopped by Guo Huai’s forces before he got there and, outnumbered, pulled back following a minor battle.

In 251 Guo Huai's wife found herself in danger. First, word came out that his brother-in-law, Wang Ling, had been plotting to depose Emperor Cao Fang and replaced him with Cao Biao, one of Cao Cao’s more talented sons. Having received word of this, Sima Yi led an army to Shouchun. Knowing that there was no way he would be able to beat Sima Yi, Wang Ling surrendered. Though officially pardoned, he committed suicide on the way to the capital. For plotting rebellion against the emperor, Sima Yi executed most of Wang Ling’s relatives – however, because of the long friendship between them and the service Guo Huai had rendered to Wei, Wang Ling’s sister (Guo Huai’s wife) was spared. Lady Wang left to attend her brother’s funeral and gather his personal effects, but along the way she was ambushed and captured by some of the Qiang and Hu tribes. Guo Huai received word of this and took a part of his army to go and rescue his wife. Technically, this was an illegal thing for him to do – Shu had attacked almost every year, and Guo Huai was abandoning his post to attend to personal matters. He sent a letter to Sima Yi that basically said he was going to save his wife and if Sima Yi wanted to punish him that would be fine, but he was going to save her regardless. Upon receiving this letter, Sima Yi pardoned Guo Huai for abandoning his post. So Guo Huai was able to save his wife and was not punished for doing so.

In 255, Guo Huai died. He was at least 70 at that time. Sima Shi gave Guo Huai a lavish funeral and honored him with the title Marquis Yuezhen. His son Guo Tong inherited his land and titles, while Chen Tai was promoted to take over affairs in the northwest.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

In the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Guo Huai has much the same role as a commander of Cao Wei troops against Jiang Wei, but his end is altered; he is killed by Jiang Wei in the Battle of Lintao in 253 AD, rather than dying of illness.

In popular culture[edit]

Guo Huai is first introduced as a playable character in the seventh and eighth instalments of Koei's Dynasty Warriors video game series.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Guo Huai's biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms mentioned that Guo died in the 2nd year of the Zhengyuan era (254-256) in Cao Mao's reign. (正元二年薨,追贈大將軍,謚曰貞侯。)