Gou Xi (died 311), courtesy name Daojiang, was a military commander of the Jin Dynasty (266-420). Due to his achievements in putting down Sima Ying's retainers, he became a very close associate to the Prince of Donghai and emperor's regent, Sima Yue. However, after their relationship turned sour in 311, Gou Xi devised a coup with Emperor Huai of Jin to remove him from power. Their association caused Yue to die from severe stress, but also left them vulnerable to the Xiongnu threat in northern China as their state of Han Zhao grew in power. Although a capable commander, Gou made the fatal mistake of leaving the emperor defenseless in Luoyang, indirectly causing the Disaster of Yongjia. He was eventually captured, and subsequently executed after his plot to assassinate the Han general Shi Le leaked out.

Gou Xi
Inspector of Yanzhou (兗州刺史)
In office
306 (306)–311 (311)
MonarchEmperor Huai of Jin
Personal details
Henei Commandery, Henan
RelationsGou Chun (brother)
Courtesy nameDaojiang (道將)
Nickname(s)Baron Butcher (屠伯)

War of the Eight Princes and suppressing Sima Ying's loyalistsEdit

Gou Xi began his career as an Assistant Officer to the Jin official Shi Jian (石鑒). Shi Jian later recommended him to the Prince of Donghai, Sima Yue, who he served as his General Secretary and Prefect of Yangping. After the Prince of Qi, Sima Jiong took over the government in 301 as Grand Marshal, he went to serve as his Right and then Left Assistant Clerk. When the Prince of Changsha Sima Ai killed Jiong the following year, Ai originally removed him from the government but then brought him back as his Assistant Officer of the Household.[1] In 304, civil war between Sima Yue with Sima Ying and Yong broke out. Gou originally sided with Sima Ying as his Adjutant of the Northern Army but after Ying abandoned Yecheng to Wang Jun, he defected over to Sima Yue's brother, Sima Xiao (司馬虓) and became the Inspector of Yanzhou.

The next year, Sima Ying's former general, Gongshi Fan (公師藩), raise troops and invaded Yecheng under his name. Sima Xiao sent Gou Xi to reinforce the city and Gou repelled the invaders. Gou Xi fought with Gongshi Fan again in 306, who was trying to flee by crossing the Yellow River and this time, Gou managed to kill him. Two of Gongshi Fan's followers, Ji Sang and Shi Le, survived the attack and raised their own army. Together they sacked Yecheng, killed the city's commander Sima Teng (司馬騰), and stole the coffin of Sima Ying. Gou Xi successfully campaigned against them, forcing Shi Le to seek refuge under Liu Yuan of Han Zhao while Ji Sang was killed by members of the Qihuo (乞活). Gou Xi 's contributions in defeating Gongshi Fan and Ji Sang made him famous as people compare him to the ancient generals Han Xin and Bai Qi. He became Commander of military affairs in Yanzhou and Qingzhou as well as a trusted associate of Sima Yue.[2]

During Sima Yue's regencyEdit

As acting commander of Yanzhou and Qingzhou, it was said that Gou Xi was very strict with the law while but also administered adequately. For instance, he had executed a cousin of his for breaking the law despite having a close relationship with his aunt. Meanwhile, Gou Xi and Sima Yue were already beginning to show cracks in their relationship. At the advice of Pan Tao (潘滔), Sima Yue appointed himself the Governor and Commander of military affairs of Yanzhou along with other important positions such as Prime Minister. Although Gou Xi retained his role of Inspector of Yanzhou and appointments in Qingzhou, Gou was still angered that his power in Yanzhou was diminished, as the province was strategically important.[3] When Gou arrived in Qingzhou to assume his posts, he implemented laws that were so strict that many people were executed each day, earning him the nickname 'Butcher Baron (屠伯)'. Shortly after his arrival, he dealt with a rebellion led by the Administrator of Dunqiu (頓丘, in present-day Qingfeng County, Henan) Wei Zhi (魏植) which he quickly took care of.[4]

At the time, a powerful bandit named Wang Mi was terrorizing Yanzhou and Qingzhou. After he had defeated Sima Yue's general Ju Xian (派鞠), Gou Xi sent his brother Gou Chun (苟纯), who prevailed over Wang Mi before during Liu Bogen's (劉柏根) rebellion in 306, and Chun routed him.[5] In 308, Wang Mi returned to pillage Qingzhou, Xuzhou, Yanzhou and Yuzhou, this time backed by Han Zhao. Gou Xi attempted to stop him but could not land a decisive victory. Wang eventually looted the Xuchang armory and headed to Luoyang but was fortunately defeated by Wang Yan. In 310, Gou Xi successfully defended Qingzhou from Wang Mi's subordinate Cao Ni. However, Cao Ni defeated Gou Xi the following year, forcing him to retreat to Gaoping (高平郡, in present-day Shandong).

Due to their bad relationship, Gou Xi was continuously being slandered to Sima Yue by Pan Tao and his other advisors. Eventually, Gou Xi had enough and signed a petition demanding the heads of his slanderers. He also went as far as denouncing Sima Yue for his crimes, and started boasting about his achievements in his own provinces.[6] This caught the attention of Emperor Huai of Jin, who also hated Sima Yue for his control over the government. Thus, the emperor secretly sent an edict to Gou asking him to campaign against Sima Yue. Yue, who was increasingly suspicious of Gou's behavior, sent riders to capture their messengers and surely enough, they discovered edict. Because of this, Sima Yue also denounced Gou Xi and tried to campaign against him. Gou Xi arrested Sima Yue's advisors Pan Tao, Liu Zeng (劉曾) and Cheng Yan (程延) and ordered their execution although Pan Tao managed to escape. Overly stressed with the situation at hand, Yue soon died of illness and was succeeded by Wang Yan as leader of his government.[7]

Disaster of Yongjia and deathEdit

With the death of Sima Yue, Gou Xi was appointed Grand General, Grand Commander, and Commander of military affairs in Qingzhou, Xuzhou, Yanzhou, Yuzhou, Jingzhou, and Yangzhou, wielding very significant power over China. He wrote a petition to the emperor to move the capital over to Cangyuan (倉垣, in present-day Kaifeng, Henan) in Yanzhou so that the emperor would be in his sphere of influence. This proved to be a fatal decision as while he was preparing for the emperor's arrival, Sima Yue's passing left Luoyang practically defenseless to the Han Zhao forces. Emperor Huai was reluctant to move due to his attendants convincing him to stay longer and later because of bandits blocking the paths. Gou Xi also never provided the emperor with a proper escort to defend him from enemies.[8] The capital suffered from a famine, and with no reinforcements coming to its aid, Han Zhao easily conquered the city and captured the emperor in what is now known as the Disaster of Yongjia.

Emperor Huai's surviving son, Sima Duan (司馬端), fled to Cangyuan, where Gou Xi proclaimed him as the new crown prince and moved his base to Mengcheng. In his final days, Gou Xi grew very cruel and indulgent. His advisors Yang Hen and Ming Yu criticized him for this but Gou executed the former and ignored the latter. He lost the support of the people and soon Shi Le, now a prominent general of Han, defeated Gou at Mengcheng. Shi Le placed a lock around his neck and made him his Marshal of the Left. Just a month later, Gou Xi plotted with his captured ally Wang Zan (王讚) to assassinate Shi Le, but the plan was unveiled and Shi put the two of them to death.[9]


  1. ^ (齐王冏辅政,晞参冏军事,拜尚书右丞,转左丞,廉察诸曹,八坐以下皆侧目惮之。及冏诛,晞亦坐免。长沙王乂为骠骑将军,以晞为从事中郎。) Book of Jin, Volume 61
  2. ^ (汲桑之破邺也,东海王越出次官渡以讨之,命晞为前锋。桑素惮之,于城外为栅以自守。晞将至,顿军休士,先遣单骑示以祸福。桑众大震,弃栅宵遁,婴城固守。晞陷其九垒,遂定邺而还。西讨吕朗等,灭之。后高密王泰讨青州贼刘根。破汲桑故将公师籓,败石勒于河北,威名甚盛,时人拟之韩白。进位抚军将军、假节、都督青兖诸军事,封东平郡侯,邑万户。) Book of Jin, Volume 61
  3. ^ (長史潘滔說之曰:「兗州天下樞要,公宜自牧。」及轉苟晞為青州刺史,由是與晞有隙。尋詔越為丞相,領兗州牧,督兗、豫、司、冀、幽、并六州。越辭丞相不受,自許遷於鄄城。) Book of Jin, Volume 59
  4. ^ (晞至青州,以嚴刻立威,日行斬戮,州人謂之「屠伯」。頓丘太守魏植爲流民所逼,衆五六萬,大掠兗州,晞出屯無鹽以討之。以弟純領青州,刑殺更甚於晞。晞討植,破之。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 86
  5. ^ (州刺史苟晞逆擊彌,大破之。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  6. ^ (时潘滔及尚书刘望等共诬陷晞,晞怒,表求滔等首,又请越从事中郎刘洽为军司,越皆不许。晞于是昌言曰:“司马元超为宰相不平,使天下淆乱,苟道将岂可以不义使之?韩信不忍衣食之惠,死于妇人之手。今将诛国贼,尊王室,桓文岂远哉!”乃移告诸州,称己功伐,陈越罪状。) Book of Jin, Volume 61
  7. ^ (而苟晞又表討越,語在《晞傳》。越專擅威權,圖為霸業,朝賢素望,選為佐吏,名將勁卒,充於己府,不臣之跡,四海所知。而公私罄乏,所在寇亂,州郡攜貳,上下崩離,禍結釁深,遂憂懼成疾。永嘉五年,薨于項。秘不發喪。以襄陽王范為大將軍,統其眾。還葬東海... 天下歸罪於越。帝發詔貶越為縣王。何倫、李惲聞越之死,秘不發喪,奉妃裴氏及毗出自京邑,從者傾城,所經暴掠。) Book of Jin, Volume 59
  8. ^ (苟晞表請遷都倉垣,使從事中郎劉會將船數十艘、宿衞五百人、穀千斛迎帝。帝將從之,公卿猶豫,左右戀資財,遂不果行。旣而洛陽饑困,人相食,百官流亡者什八九。帝召公卿議,將行而衞從不備。帝撫手歎曰︰「如何曾無車輿!」乃使傅祗出詣河陰,治舟楫,朝士數十人導從。帝步出西掖門,至銅駝街,爲盜所掠,不得進而還。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 87
  9. ^ (晞以京邑荒馑日甚,寇难交至,表请迁都,遣从事中郎刘会领船数十艘,宿卫五百人,献谷千斛以迎帝。朝臣多有异同。俄而京师陷,晞与王赞屯仓垣。豫章王端及和郁等东奔晞,晞群官尊端为皇太子,置行台。端承制以晞领太子太傅、都督中外诸军、录尚书,自仓垣徙屯蒙城,赞屯阳夏。晞出于孤微,位至上将,志颇盈满,奴婢将千人,侍妾数十,终日累夜不出户庭,刑政苛虐,纵情肆欲。辽西阎亨以书固谏,晞怒,杀之。晞从事中郎明预有疾居家,闻之,乃举病谏晞曰:“皇晋遭百六之数,当危难之机,明公亲禀庙算,将为国家除暴。阎亨美士,奈何无罪一旦杀之!”晞怒白;“我自杀阎亨,何关人事,而举病来骂我!”左右为之战栗,预曰:“以明公以礼见进,预欲以礼自尽。今明公怒预,其若远近怒明公何!昔尧舜之在上也,以和理而兴;桀纣之在上也,以恶逆而灭。天子且犹如此,况人臣乎!愿明公且置其怒而思预之言。”晞有惭色。由是众心稍离,莫为致用,加以疾疫饥馑,其将温畿、傅宣皆叛之。石勒攻阳夏,灭王赞,驰袭蒙城,执晞,署为司马,月余乃杀之。) Book of Jin, Volume 61