General Geng Gong of Han Dynasty — A Legendary Hero and His Epic Returning
Geng Gong was a heroic general of the Han Dynasty. He led a few hundred soldiers to fight in severe conditions, defended their country, crossed precipitous snow mountains, and finally marched back to his hometown.
They had been attacked, tempted, enclosed, and isolated in a remote city for over a year by vastly outnumbered and aggressive enemies, but they achieved the final success.
Their legendary story was a glorious chapter in official historical documents of the Han Dynasty about remarkable braveness and sincere loyalty.
Soldiers of the Han Dynasty Painted By Hou Zhen
Brave General Geng Gong and His Mission
Geng Gong, courtesy name Bozong, was born into a military family; his uncle was an important and contributive marshal who assisted Liu Xiu (5 BC — 57 AD), Emperor Guangwu of Han, in re-establishing the Eastern Han Dynasty.
Geng Gong lost his father when he was a kid and was raised by his mother. After he grew up, he joined the army of the Han Empire, just like his uncle and father.
At that time, Liu Xiu’s son Liu Zhuang (28 — 75), another good monarch, had already ascended to the throne as Emperor Ming of Han.
Filigree Gold Dragon of the Eastern Han Dynasty Decorated with Gems — Dingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
A few decades ago, when Wang Mang, Liu Xiu, and other uprising armies were fighting against each other, Xiongnu and other nomadic regimes took over some places in the western part of China.
After Emperor Liu Xiu reestablished the Eastern Han Dynasty, he didn’t try to take back those lost land through wars since he felt his priority was to recover the economy.
After his son, Liu Zhuang, inherited the throne, an extraordinary diplomat named Ban Chao and a great general persuaded or defeated most nomadic regimes and made them comply with the Han Empire again.
But the remaining force of Xiongnu refused to surrender and escaped far away.
Gradually, Han recovered reign to those lost lands and reset government agencies there.
Geng Gong was a general with hundreds of soldiers, garrisoning a military site in this region, which was also a significant strategic passage.
Attack and Enclose of Xiongnu
In the year 75, when Xiongnu was attacking a kingdom named Jushi that had already complied with Han, Geng Gong sent an army of three hundred soldiers to assist them.
However, this time, Xiongnu organized over 200,00 cavalrymen to Jushi, easily defeated their army, and killed Jushi’s king.
After having ambushed and perished the troop that Geng Gong sent, Xiongnu enclosed the site where Geng Gong was garrisoned.
Geng Gong applied poison to arrows, but he told the Xiongnu soldiers that Han’s arrows had magic and that whoever got shot by these magical arrows would suffer severe pain worse than death.
Inlaying Gold and Silver Bronze Crossbow (Nu Ji) of the Han Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Soon, when Xiongnu soldiers were shot, their skin started to fester quickly, and the wound kept expanding. These unusual injuries scared them, so they retreated.
That night, Geng Gong led hundreds of soldiers to raid the Xiongnu’s base, achieving considerable success. The commander of the Xiongnu then led his army left in a hurry.
But Geng Gong knew that they would come back soon.
So he moved to a bigger and stronger city named Shule nearby, which was easier to defend; he then further strengthened the defensive mechanism there and recruited more warriors.
Relic Site of Shihezi in Xinjiang Province, Believed as the Shule City that Geng Gong had been Garrisoning, Photo Provided by Xinjiang Antique Archaeology Institute.
Intense Defense War in the Shule City
About four months later, the King of Xiongnu led more soldiers to return and attacked Geng Gong more intensely.
However, General Geng Gong’s excellent commands and his warriors’ braveness and strong will, with the help of advanced weapons, protected the city very well.
Then, Xiongnu enclosed this site and cut off upstream of the only river there.
Afterward, Geng Gong and his army had no water supply; later, they had to squeeze horse dung to quench their thirst.
But some time later, luckily, Geng Gong found a rich spring inside their city after he had sincerely prayed to heaven.
When Geng Gong led his people, standing on their city wall and spraying water to heaven, Xiongnu again felt that immortals protected the Han army, so they retreated.
Unearthed Cavalry Figurines of the Western Han Dynasty — Xianyang Museum
Vastly Increased Enemies and Losing of Resources
In the next month, Han’s current emperor Liu Zhang departed.
Hence, some complied regimes rebelled.
The Kingdom Jushi too. Its new king allied with Xiongnu and started to fight against Geng Gong.
With Han’s government busy dealing with the old emperor’s departure and the new emperor’s enthronement, they didn’t send any armies to help Geng Gong and other generals attacked by those rebelled regimes.
Hence, Geng Gong and his soldiers were all on their own.
After months of intense fights, they kept losing warriors and resources; they even boiled some of their armor made of animal leather to eat.
Fortunately, the queen of Jushi was from the Han Empire, and she secretly provided Geng Gong with some useful military information and resources.
However, her supply was far from enough.
The situation in Shule City worsened, but Geng Gong and his soldiers were still well-defended.
Soon, the King of Xiongnu sent a messenger to persuade Geng Gong to surrender and promised him the most honorable title, countless money, and beautiful women.
Geng Gong dragged the messenger into their city wall, killed, and grilled him in front of the Xiongnu, showing that he and his warriors were only loyal to the Han Empire and were willing to sacrifice for their country.
Scourer of Soldiers Quartering in Great Wall in the Western Regions of the Han Dynasty — Dunhuang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Impressed Emperor and The Overdue Rescue
Months later, the new emperor Liu Da (56 — 88), Emperor Zhang of Han, ascended to the throne and had everything settled to dust in his central government.
He was pretty touched after hearing what happened in this remote Shule city, so he sent 7000 soldiers to the Western Regions (Xi Yu).
This army of Han kept winning.
After a series of military successes, those rebelled regimes, including Kingdom Juchi, complied again; the Xiongnu escaped far away.
It was already in the year 76.
Some people in this rescue army doubted if Geng Gong and his soldiers were still alive.
Lacquer Wooden Spoon of Soldiers Quartering in Great Wall in the Western Regions of the Han Dynasty — Dunhuang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
The Shule city they had been protecting was located north of the Tianshan Mountains, a series of magnificent and gigantic mountains covered by snow, with an average altitude of 4000 meters.
Besides, Geng Gong only had a few hundred soldiers in the beginning; after over a year of intensive fights against such outnumbered cavalry troops of the Xiongnu in extremely severe conditions, they were pretty unlikely to stay alive.
But a general named Fan Qiang, who had worked with Geng Gong before, firmly believed that Geng Gong would hold onto his mission.
He believed in Geng Gong’s exceptional military skills, strong will, and loyalty.
Hence, Fan Qiang led 2000 soldiers and marched toward the Tianshan Mountains to rescue General Geng Gong.
Part of Magnificent Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang Province, Photo by Mange.
Crossing Magnificent Snow Mountain to Save Geng Gong
Fan Qiang and these 2000 soldiers tramped over the tremendous snow mountain in the winter (January to March). Finally, they arrived at Shule City, the important military site that Geng Gong and his warriors had been defending independently for more than a year.
No one recorded what they had suffered crossing such a gigantic mountain under harsh weather about 2000 years ago.
When they finally arrived and met with Geng Gong, all those brave soldiers burst into tears.
Only 26 people were left in this city, including General Geng Gong.
They could finally go home, summoned by their emperor, after completing their mission.
Geng Gong and His Soldiers Returning to Yumen Pass, Painted by Zuo Guoshun.
Together with the rescue army, they again crossed the Tianshan Mountains. With the horrible weather, many dangerous encounters, and some attacks from Xiongnu, many people died on their way home.
In the end, only Geng Gong and his other 12 soldiers arrived in a big city, the Yumen Pass (or Jade Gate Pass), which connected Han’s central and northwest areas.
The commander, also the most honorable governor of the Yumen Passy, was extremely touched and served those 13 heroes to change and bath.
They were then welcomed home and rewarded by their emperor.
Ruins of Yumen Pass or Jade Gate of the Han Dynasty, An Important Gateway in the Silk Road that Connected Middle Kingdom and West Regions — Dunhuang City, Gansu Province
Final Wars Against the Xiongnu
A decade later, great commander Dou Xian (? — 92), the brother of Emperor Liu Zhao’s queen, led Han’s troops to defeat the rest of the Xiongnu several times.
The most contributing marshals in this honorable troop were from Geng Gong’s family.
In 91, Dou Xian’s army achieved a significant and final success defeating Xiongnu in the Altai Mountains. The remaining people of the Xiongnu refused to surrender, fled westward, and never showed up in historical documents of the history of China again.
Golden Crown of the King of Xiongnu — Inner Mongolia Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
The former mighty, substantial Xiongnu Empire with large-scale first-class cavalry troops disappeared forever.
They were defeated by the Han Empire’s brilliant marshals like Wei Qing, brave generals like Geng Gong, and courageous warriors like Geng Gong’s soldiers.
The warriors of the Han not only could they defend their country and defeat powerful enemies but also had the capability of holding fast to their faith in incredibly harsh circumstances.
Brocade Barcer Unearthed In the Western Regions of the Han Dynasty — Xinjiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Ending of the House of Geng
The House of Geng had several accomplished and remarkable marshals, and they pledged their loyalty to the Han Empire for the next two hundred years.
At the end of the Han dynasty, Geng’s clan tried their best to fight against a powerful warlord who abducted Liu Xie, the last emperor of the Han Dynasty.
But they failed; most of their members were either sacrificed on the battlefield or sentenced to death.
The loyal and contributive Geng Clan perished with the dynasty they pledged to protect after giving up all of those honorable titles and big money that the warlord provided them.
Just like their ancestors, they always chose loyalty before wealth, no matter what it would cost them.
Statue of General Geng Gong under the Foot of Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang Province
Next Story: A Pioneer Diplomatist and A Brave General — Ban Chao
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