Li GUI - As Prince

As Prince

Li Gui was from Wuwei Commandery (武威, roughly modern Wuwei, Gansu), and he served as a militia officer in the local government. His family was said to be rich, and he used his wealth to help those who were poor, and thus gained a good reputation. He was also said to be well-read and capable in debating and logic. In summer 617, when Xue Ju rebelled against Sui Dynasty's rule at Jincheng (金城, in modern Lanzhou, Gansu), Li discussed with his associates Cao Zhen (曹珍), Guan Jin (關謹), Liang Shuo (梁碩), Li Yun (李贇), and An Xiuren (安修仁) the possibility of also rebelling against Sui rule – under the reasoning that they were fearful that Xue would pillage Wuwei unless someone resisted, and the Sui officials were not capable of doing so. They resolved to do so, and when it came time to decide on a leader, Cao suggested that because prophecies had indicated that the next emperor would be named Li, that Li Gui should be their leader.

In fall 617, Li had An gather the Xiongnu chiefs of the region, while he himself gathered the prominent families among the Han, and they rose together, arresting the Sui officials Xie Tongshi (謝統師) and Wei Shizheng (韋士政). Li claimed himself the title of "the Great Prince of Liang west of the River," and adopted a governmental structure modelled after that of Sui's founder Emperor Wen. Guan proposed that the Sui officials be slaughtered and that their wealth be divided. Li responded: "You forced me to be leader, so you should listen to my orders. We rose in righteousness to save the people; if we murder for money, we are just bandits, and how can we achieve great things?" He invited Xie and Wei to join his administration. The Western Tujue general Ashina Kandu (阿史那闞度), claiming the title of Kan Khan (闞可汗), also submitted to him.

Soon, Xue sent his general Chang Zhongxing (常仲興) to cross the Yellow River to attack Li Gui. Li Gui sent Li Yun to resist Chang, and Li Yun defeated Chang and captured all of his army. Li Gui wanted to release Chang's soldiers, but Li Yun opposed, believing that they would flee back to Xue and attack again; rather, Li Yun proposed that they all be slaughtered. Li Gui responded, "If Heaven protects me, I will eventually capture their leader, and they will all be mine. if Heaven does not protect me, it is useless for me to keep them." He therefore released them. Li Gui soon took four other commanderies – Zhangye (張掖, roughly modern Zhangye, Gansu), Dunhuang (敦煌, roughly modern Dunhuang, Gansu), Xiping (西平, roughly modern Xining, Qinghai), and Fuhan (枹罕, roughly modern Linxia, Gansu), controlling the territory west of the Yellow River. Soon, however, Ashina Kandu rebelled, but Li Gui was able to defeat and destroy him.

Meanwhile, Emperor Gaozu of Tang, who had established Tang Dynasty in spring 618 and wanted to enter an alliance with Li Gui to attack Xue Ju's successor Xue Rengao, sent messengers to Li Gui, calling him "younger cousin." Li Gui was pleased, and he sent his brother Li Mao (李懋) to the Tang capital Chang'an to greet Emperor Gaozu. Emperor Gaozu, in response, sent his official Zhang Qide (張俟德) to Wuwei to commission Li Gui as the commandant of Liang Prefecture (i.e., Wuwei) and created him the Prince of Liang. Before Zhang could arrive at Li Gui's domain, however, Li claimed imperial title (as the Emperor of Liang) in winter 618. He created his son Li Boyu (李伯玉) as crown prince.

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