An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Li Guang 李廣

Sept 27, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Li Guang 李廣 (died 119 BCE) was a general of the early Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE).

He hailed from Longxi 隴西 (modern Gansu) and was a skilled rider and archer. Emperor Wen 漢文帝 (r. 180-157 BCE) made him a court gentleman (lang 郎) and attendant-in-ordinary of the militant cavalry (wuji changshi 武騎常侍) because of his successful defense of a city against the hordes of the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴.

Under Emperor Jing 漢景帝 (r. 157-141 BCE) he was promoted to Commander-in-chief (duwei 都尉) of Longxi, leader of the gentlemen of cavalry (jilangjiang 騎郎將) and Commandant of the imperial guard (xiaoji duwei 驍騎都尉) and was governor (taishou 太守) of several commanderies successively. Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) made him Chamberlain for the Palace Garrison (Weiyang weiwei 未央衛尉), General of the imperial guard (xiaoji jiangjun 驍騎將軍 and governor of Youbeiping 右北平, a crucial border region in the area of modern Beijing.

He was feared by the Xiongnu and was called by them the "Flying General" (fei jiangjun 飛將軍). Inspite of all his merits in the defence of Chinese territory against the Xiongnu he was never granted a title of nobility. In 119 he took over the command of part of the army of Wei Qing 衛青 in the large campaign against the Xiongnu. During that campaign his contingent lost its way in the wilderness, and ashamed of such a failing, he committed suicide. The whole army is said to have burst in tears when they heard of his fate.

Cang Xiuliang 倉修良, ed. (1996). Hanshu cidian 漢書辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 296.