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Gongsun Zan
Character information
Force(s): Han Dynasty
Gongsun Zan's forces
Significant Battle(s):
Historical information
Real name: Gongsun Zan
Chinese name: 公孫瓚
Style name:
Chinese name:
Born: ?
Died: 199

Gongsun Zan was a warlord.


Gongsun Zan, styled Bogui, as a teen befriended a youth of his own age named Liu Bei. The two formed a great friendship and Liu Bei even moved into Gongsun Zan’s cottage. Their friendship would continue on into their adult lives and while serving as Governor of Beiping, Gongsun Zan used his influence to have Liu Bei made Magistrate of Pingyuan. Zan possessed one of the largest armies in all China and he regularly fought against the Qiang people along the Northern Frontier. The Qiangs gave him the nickname General who Commands White Horses as he always made sure that the van was comprised of only white horses as they were considered sacred by the Qiangs. This tactic led to easy victories over the tribesmen as they would run from the sacred animals.

When Dong Zhuo overthrew the Emperor in AD 190, Gongsun Zan was one of the 17 lords called upon by Cao Cao to liberate the capital so he assembled a force of 15,000 and begun the march South. As his army marched through Pingyuan, he saw a small army approaching, this army was led by Liu Bei who was accompanied by his oath brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. Liu Bei had heard of the Governor’s approach and had led out his army to welcome him. Gongsun Zan was pleased to see his old friend and invited the three brothers to join him in his mission to restore the Han. Liu Bei accepted the invitation and the army resumed their march south. Gongsun Zan’s army met with the other allied armies and a great banquet was held, during which Yuan Shao was nominated to lead the alliance. The armies then began to advance on Luoyang with Governor of Changsha, Sun Jian, as leader of the Van and Yuan Shao’s brother Yuan Shu in charge of supplies. At River Si Pass, Sun Jian’s forces encountered Dong Zhuo’s forces led by Hua Xiong and after fierce fighting, Sun Jian’s troops camped at Liangdong and requested supplies from Yuan Shu. However, Yuan Shu was concerned that if their mission was a success then Sun Jian would be a more formidable foe than Dong Zhuo so he did not send aid. News of Sun Jian’s plight reached Hua Xiong who led an attack against the enemy camp and forced Sun Jian into retreat. When news of Sun Jian’s defeat reached Yuan Shao, he called a meeting of the allied lords. Gongsun Zan attended, taking the three brothers with him and during the meeting introduced Liu Bei to the gathered lords. Hearing of Liu Bei’s noble heritage, Yuan Shao bade him to take his own seat rather than standing behind Gongsun Zan as a subordinate. The meeting was interrupted by a scout who came to report that Hua Xiong was approaching with a small force. Yu Shu, an officer serving under Yuan Shu, went out to offer battle but was quickly killed by Hua Xiong, as was Han Fu's officer Pan Feng when he went out to challenge. With fear now gripping the assembled officers, Guan Yu offered to go and meet Hua Xiong but as he held no rank, Yuan Shao and Yuan Shu were outraged. Gongsun Zan and Cao Cao calmed the matter and persuaded Yuan Shao to allow Guan Yu to challenge Hua Xiong and within minutes Guan Yu returned with his opponent’s head. However, Yuan Shu was still outraged so Gongsun Zan led the brothers back to their camp in order to pacify him.

Dong Zhuo soon heard of Hua Xiong’s death and personally led out 200,000 troops to Tiger Trap pass accompanied by his best officers: Lu Bu, Li Ru, Li Jue, Guo Si, Fan Chou and Zhang Ji. In response, Yuan Shao dispatched Gongsun Zan and seven of the other lords to the Pass to meet Dong Zhuo’s force. Wang Kuang’s force arrived first but were easily scattered by Lü Bu as were Qiao Mao and Yuan Yi’s troops when they arrived, in short order Lü Bu had killed three officers, injured a fourth and slain many troops. When Lü Bu attacked again, Gongsun Zan went out to challenge him but even he could not stand against Lü Bu, so he fell back. As he retreated, Lü Bu pursued him and just as Lü Bu raised his halberd to strike, Zhang Fei came to Gongsun Zan’s rescue. Zhang Fei could not gain an advantage over Lü Bu so Guan Yu joined the fray but Lü Bu fought the two of them simultaneously. Liu Bei charged into battle too but the three of them could not defeat Lü Bu. Eventually Lü Bu began to tire so he drew off. Soon after this battle the alliance would start to crumble. The remainder of Sun Jian’s forces withdrew and Cao Cao’s forces suffered a crushing defeat causing them to retreat. Realizing that Yuan Shao would lead them all to ruin, Gongsun Zan along with Liu Bei left the alliance, each returning to their own city.

A year later, Gongsun Zan would receive a letter from Yuan Shao proposing a joint attack on Jizhou. The agreement was made but Yuan Shao secretly sent a message to Han Fu, who ruled Jizhou, informing him that Gongsun Zan intended to invade. Han Fu knew that he could not oppose Peiping’s army so he gave Yuan Shao joint administration of the region as means of protection. However, Yuan Shao quickly seized all power and Han Fu left to seek refuge in Chenliu. Gongsan Zan sent his younger brother Gongsun Yue to Jizhou to demand his share of the region but Yuan Shao refused to speak to him, stating that he would only speak with the Governor himself. Gongsun Yue left to return to Beiping but on the way was ambushed and killed by troops claiming to serve Dong Zhuo. Gongsun Zan saw through the deception when he heard of his brother’s death and led his entire army to attack Yuan Shao. The two armies met at River Pan, arrayed on opposite sides of the river. Gongsun Zan rode onto the bridge to challenge Yuan Shao shouting “Formerly you were regarded as loyal and public spirited, and we chose you chief of the confederacy. Now your deeds prove you cruel and base and wolf-hearted in behavior! How can you look the world in the face?” Enraged, Yuan Shao sent his officer Wen Chou to attack the enemy commander. Gongsun Zan was no match for his opponent so he retreated into his army, but Wen Chou pursued slaying soldiers as he went. Four of Gongsun Zan’s best officers attacked Wen Chou but he cut down one and the other three fled. Seeing this, Gongsun Zan panicked and bolted for the mountains, but still Wen Chou pursued and as Gongsun Zan reached the base of the mountains his steed fell and threw him from the saddle. Zan knew that death was certain but as Wen Chou approached a young warrior on horseback charged at him, doing battle long enough for Gongsun Zan’s soldiers to arrive, forcing Wen Chou to return to his own army. The young man bowed before the Governor and introduced himself as Zhao Yun. Zhao Yun had served under Yuan Shao but was on his way to offer his service to Gongsun Zan as he could no longer tolerate the way that his master treated his people.

Gongsun Zan was very pleased with this turn of events and the next day he mobilized his army which he had now divided into two wings with 5,000 cavalry soldiers in the centre, his new officer Zhao Yun was given command of the rear, Yan Guang led the Van and Gongsun Zan himself commanded the middle. Meanwhile, Yuan Shao had appointed Yan Liang and Wen Chou as leaders of the Van and each was given 1,000 archers and crossbowmen that were placed on either side of the Van and ordered to fire at the opposite side of the oncoming army in order to create a crossfire. The centre of Yuan Shao’s army was led by Qu Yi who was accompanied by 10,000 soldiers and 800 bowmen while Yuan Shao himself commanded the rear of the army. The two armies advanced to the river again but Yuan Shao’s army would not give battle so Yan Guang charged at the enemy only to be met with a shower of arrows from Qu Yi’s 800 bowmen. The 2 wings of Gongsun Zan’s army could not help Yan Guang as they were held back by the 2,000 bowmen on the enemy wings and in the confusion, Yan Guang was killed by Qu Yi. Yuan Shao's army began to advance, killing Peiping’s standard bearer and capturing the flag as they went which sent Gongsun Zan into retreat but he was chased by Qu Yi. However just as Qu Yi was catching up, Zhao Yun rode forward, killed Qu Yi and started killing the enemy troops. With the tide turned, Gongsun Zan turned back and rejoined the fight. The scouts reported to Yuan Shao that Qu Yi had captured the enemy’s flag and was chasing down the enemy, so he rode out with ]]Tian Feng]] and a handful of soldiers to watch his victory. As Yuan Shao mocked his foe’s capabilities he saw a man riding towards him, but before the guards could act, Zhao Yun was upon them causing Yuan Shao and Tian Feng to flee. Gongsun Zan’s army had surrounded Yuan Shao so he could not run far but he was eventually saved by the arrival of his army who forced the attacking troops back across the river. With the battle now in his favor, Yuan Shao led his troops in pursuit of Gongsun Zan’s army but after two miles an ambush sprung upon them. Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei had brought a small force to help their friend and the brothers rode straight for Yuan Shao himself. Yuan Shao was terrified, he dropped his sword, fled for his life and was chased back across the river.

After the battle, Gongsun Zan thanked the brothers for their help as without them the day would have been lost. Neither Gongsun Zan nor Yuan Shao would risk another battle so both armies strengthened their defenses and for a month both armies did nothing. Word of the fighting reached the capital and Li Ru suggested to Dong Zhuo that as neither army wished to attack or withdraw, if an Imperial edict was sent to them ordering both armies to disperse then both commanders would be grateful to Dong Zhuo as he would be allowing them to retreat without losing face in front of their enemy. The edict was issued so Gongsun Zan withdrew his army and sent a letter praising Liu Bei who was promoted to Governor of Pingyuan. Zhao Yun and Liu Bei had been introduced to each other at the end of the battle and had become inseparable. Both were deeply grieved when they had to part ways and Zhao Yun confided in Liu Bei that he no longer wished to serve Gongsun Zan as he was not the man Yun had thought he was. Liu Bei assured his friend that they would meet again someday. Months would pass but Liu Bei’s prediction came true. When Kong Rong suggested that Liu Bei and he should attack Cao Cao in order to help the people of Xuzhou, Liu Bei visited Beiping to borrow some troops. Gongsun Zan was concerned for his friend and advised against attacking Cao Cao but would concede to loan Liu Bei 2,000 men along with Zhao Yun.

In AD 199, wars were being waged all across the land but there had been peace in Beiping for many years. However, that peace would not last. Yuan Shao had made plans to attack Cao Cao but those plans had been discovered, so in an attempt to smooth the situation, Yuan Shao proposed an alliance with Cao Cao suggesting that they attack Beiping together. Cao Cao was surrounded by enemies and saw this as a good opportunity to improve his position, so he sent a letter agreeing to the alliance but when Yuan Shao’s army left for Beiping, Cao Cao's marched on Xia Pi to attack Lü Bu instead.

Although Gongsun Zan had been caught off guard by Yuan Shao’s attack, he took a defensive strategy reinforcing his defenses, placing his supplies in an impenetrable tower and ordering his men to go out and fight in rotation so that some were resting while others were fighting. However, one of his officers became surrounded and requested aid which Gongsun Zan denied as he believed that the men would fight harder if they thought they would not be rescued. This decision caused outrage amongst his soldiers and many deserted to the enemy. With his army diminishing, Gongsun Zan had no choice but to retreat into the city. He retired to his chambers which were located in a large tower, but the enemy dug a tunnel into the city and started a large fire. With the flames closing in and no hope of escape, Gongsun Zan killed his wife and children then hung himself.