He hailed from Runan 汝南 (modern Runan, Henan) and was a disciple of Wang Zhongzi 王仲子, a distant relative of the powerful minister Wang Mang 王莽. When the latter usurped the throne (r. 8-22 CE) of the Han dynasty Guo Xian was made court gentleman (langzhong 郎中) and was allowed to wear purple robes (zifu 紫服), but he refused to wear them, burnt the present, and fled to the shore of the sea in the commandery of Donghai 東海.
Guo Xian was famous for his straight words and his honesty. The Daoist writing Dongmingji 洞冥記 is attributed to him. It consists of 60 short chapters that narrate strange events and the lives of immortals and Daoist masters. The style of the book is very close to the collection Shenyijing 神異經 authorship of which is traditionally attributed to Dongfang Shuo 東方朔.
The Republican scholar Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881-1936) assumed that - seen from language and style - the Dongmingji was rather a product of the Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420~589) than from the Han. Similarly, the biography Dongfang Shuo zhuan 東方朔傳, with a length of 8 juan, was presumably not written by Guo Xian.