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Li Guang

Li Guang
General of the Western Han dynasty
Born (Unknown)
Died 119 BC
Traditional Chinese 李廣
Simplified Chinese 李广
Pinyin Lǐ Guǎng
Wade–Giles Li Kuang
Other names "Flying General" (simplified Chinese: 飞将军; traditional Chinese: 飛將軍; pinyin: Fēi Jiāngjūn; Wade–Giles: Fei Chiang-chün)

Li Guang (died 119 BC), born in Tianshui, Gansu, was a general of the Western Han dynasty. Nicknamed "Flying General" by his Xiongnu enemies, he fought primarily in the campaigns against the Xiongnu peoples to the north of Han China. He was known to the Xiongnu as a tough opponent when it came to fortress defense, and his presence was sometimes discouraging enough for Xiongnu to abort the siege. Li Guang committed suicide shortly after the Battle of Mobei in 119 BC. He was blamed for failing to arrive at the battlefield in time (after getting lost in the desert), creating a gap in the encirclement and allowing Yizhixie Chanyu to escape after a confrontation between Wei Qing and the Chanyu's main force, whom the Han army narrowly managed to defeat. Refusing to accept the humiliation of a court martial, Li Guang took his own life. Li Guang was a descendant of Laozi and an ancestor of the Western Liang rulers and the Tang dynasty emperors, this family was known as the Longxi Li lineage (隴西李氏).


According to Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian, Li Guang was a man of great build, with long arms and good archery skills,[1] able to shoot an arrow deeply into a stone (which resembles the shape of a crouching tiger) on one occasion. At the same time, like his contemporaries Wei Qing and Huo Qubing, he was a caring and well-respected general who earned the respect of his soldiers. He also earned the favour of Emperor Wen, who said of him: "If he had been born in the time of Emperor Gaozu, he would have been given a fief of ten thousand households without any difficulty" (Chinese:萬户侯).

Li Guang first distinguished himself during the Rebellion of the Seven States, where he served under the Grand General Zhou Yafu. However, Emperor Jing was unhappy that he had accepted a seal given by Liu Wu, the prince of Liang, hence Li did not get promoted to a marquisate despite his anti-rebellion achievement.

However, Li Guang's late military career was constantly haunted by repeated incidents of what would be regarded as "bad luck" by later scholars. He had a nasty tendency of losing direction during mobilisations, and in field battles he was often outnumbered and surrounded by superior enemies. While Li Guang's fame attracted much of his enemies' attention, Li Guang's troops relative lack of discipline and his lack of strategic planning often put him and his regiments in awkward situations. Li Guang himself narrowly escaped capture after his army was annihilated during an offensive campaign at Yanmen (雁門) in 129 BC, was stripped of official titles and demoted to commoner status with fellow defeated general Gongsun Ao (公孫敖) after paying parole.[2] During a separate campaign in 120 BC, Li Guang, this time with his son Li Gan (李敢) by his side, was surrounded again by superior enemies.[3] His 4,000 troops suffered heavy casualties[4] before reinforcements led by Zhang Qian (張騫) arrived in time for the rescue.[5] The rules of the Han army dictated a commander's achievement was measured only according to his number of enemy kills minus the casualties of his own side. These, together with Li Guang's political naivety, denied him of any chance of promotion to a marquisate, his lifelong dream. Emperor Wu even secretly ordered Wei Qing not to assign Li Guang to important missions (such as the vanguard position), on the grounds of Li Guang's famed "terrible fortune".[6]


  1. ^ 為人長,爰臂,其善射亦天性,雖子孫他人學者莫能及
  2. ^ 敖、廣贖為庶人
  3. ^ 行數百里,匈奴左賢王將四萬騎圍廣,廣軍士皆恐
  4. ^ 胡急擊,矢下如雨。漢兵死者過半,漢矢且盡
  5. ^ 博望侯軍亦軍,匈奴乃解去。漢軍邑,弗能追。是時,廣軍幾沒,罷歸
  6. ^ 大將軍陰受上指,以為李廣數奇,毋令當單于,恐不得所欲


  • Joseph P Yap. Wars With The Xiongnu - A translation From Zizhi Tongjian, Chapters 3-4. AuthorHouse (2009). ISBN 978-1-4490-0604-4.
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