An Lushan (安祿山; c. 703 – 757) was a Sogdian–Göktürk jiedushi of the Tang dynasty who unleashed a devastating civil war during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong. Originally a secret member of the Golden Turtles, the Chinese branch of the Order of the Ancients, his bitter feud with Yang Guozhong over leadership of the Golden Turtles spilled out into court politics even while their conspiratorial allegiances continued to remain hidden.
By 754, Guozhong had become the prime minister, a position that the Golden Turtle elders had come to treat as a prerequisite to heading their own organization. In the meantime, Lushan amassed power in the northeast via his military triumphs in the frontier. On the eve of his uprising, he was jiedushi of three military commands: Fanyang, Pinglu, and Hedong. Guozhong, conscious that Lushan coveted his position, repeatedly warned Emperor Xuanzong that Lushan was plotting treason, but these were dismissed due the tremendous favour Lushan enjoyed with the Emperor.
Denied any opportunity to succeed as prime minister, the infuriated Lushan became determined to wrest power by force, breaking from the Golden Turtles to found a splinter faction called the Yeluohe that became the public face of his elite forces. In late 755, he gathered his army in Fanyang and declared war under the fragile pretext that he was not a rebel but a loyal subject who was saving the Tang from Guozhong's corruption. This act dragged the entire nation into what had originally been a schism within his own secret society.
His onslaught was catastrophic for the people of China from the outset, but after his eldest son An Qingzong was executed in the capital of Chang'an, he magnified his atrocities, turning to a scorched-earth strategy out of pure vengeance and ordering entire cities to be put to the sword. Through meteorology disguised as witchcraft taught by his mother, he was able to lead his army across the Yellow River to threaten the eastern capital of Luoyang, seizing it in 756. Thereupon, he declared himself emperor of the new state of Yan in rival to the Tang.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Behind the scenes
- 3 Appearances
- 4 References
An Lushan was born to a witch and a father whom he never came to know. When his father was gone, his mother remarried but never ever spoke of her past so that Lushan would spend his entire life never learning about his father's name or fate. She instead always told him that he was a gift bestowed by Zhaluoshan (軋犖山), the god of war of the Göktürks. The absence of his father from his childhood was a source of sorrow for Lushan even late in life, and he attributed his own inability to be a proper father to it.
When his first son, An Qingzong, was born, his vocation involved trading in a market 500 li away from home. Hoping to earn a bit more money before returning home that day, he missed his son's birth. He continued to be absent throughout Qingzong's childhood, from when he spoke his first words, to when he first learned to ride a horse. Neither was he there when Qingzong was old enough to grow a beard nor when he first learned archery and entered academic society. Nonetheless, Qingzong fared well without his father's presence and eventually became a respected member of high society at Chang'an. After Qingzong, Lushan had many other sons, the most notable being the second eldest, An Qingxu, but Qingzong remained his favourite ironically because his qualities resembled him the least, and he prayed for his well-being and success everyday.
Blood sacrifices for the Golden Turtles
Prior to joining the Tang military, he operated illicit activities on behalf of the Golden Turtles, the regional branch of the Order of the Ancients. On one occasion, he secretly led a band of thirty-one masked marauders to steal sheep from a village in Youzhou, a capital crime in a region where sheep were essential to many a livelihood. When the theft was reported to the local government, Lushan's agents returned to the village in the middle of the night and abducted every person and every animal, including the two soldiers who had been sent to investigate the case. This gave the eerie appearance that the entire village had mysteriously evaporated overnight.
In a nearby dense forest, the Golden Turtles conducted a ritual wherein they sacrificed all the sheep, piled their skulls around a bowl of blood, and hung their headless carcasses from the trees. However, they had not erased their tracks, and Pei Min, the general in charge of the case, was able to trail them into their den. They were aware of his intrusion in advance and used their ritual site at the centre of a hollow in the ground to ambush him. All thirty-one of Lushan's agents flung at Pei Min simultaneously while Lushan himself hid deeper in the forest to watch from afar. Miraculously, the general cut them all down from atop his horse. For a moment, Lushan remained, glaring and seething with such animalistic malice that Pei Min would describe him as a great beast in later retellings. The great swordsman sensed the lingering threat behind and shot an arrow at Lushan, but Lushan merely evaded it and retreated into the shadowy mists of the mountain.
Many years later in 732, Lushan was recruited into the military as a zhuōshēngjiàng (捉生將, lit. 'officer who captures lives') by the jiedushi of Youzhou. This was a reconnaissance officer in charge of infiltrating enemy territory and capturing enemies. Because of this new position, Lushan was an attendee at Pei Min's retirement party held at a military camp. There, he socialized with other officers of various linguistic backgrounds, ingratiating himself with them through humour and all around enjoying himself. Despite his attempts to blend in, his odour and physique was unmistakable to Pei Min, who recognized him as the very shadow he had encountered in the forest all those years ago.
Over the years, Lushan rose through the ranks in the Tang military and became a fearsome general. He boasted excellent rapport with Emperor Xuanzong, eventually becoming a jiedushi in his own right. By 754, he held the military governorship of three commands simultaneously: Pinglu, Youzhou (renamed Fanyang after its capital), and Hedong. Together, they spanned a wide swathe of territory in northeast China. Apart from this, he also wielded the title of Imperial Censor (御史大夫).
An Lushan had a counterpart within the imperial court's highest echelons of power; Yang Guozhong, the head of the Golden Turtles, had become prime minister by 754. Together, the order wielded vast control over both the civil and military spheres of the Tang, but this produced frictions rather than foster cooperation. Lushan coveted Guozhong's leadership of their order, but Guozhong despised him for what he regarded as barbaric mannerisms. A convention had developed among the elders of the Golden Turtles that they would only support a member as their leader if the individual had managed to attain premiership in the Tang government. Owing to the deep adoration that Lushan had curried with the Emperor, he was within reach of fulfilling this prerequisite.
As recorded in the Zizhi Tongjian, the Emperor was prepared to append to Lushan's titles the status of "Equal to Those who Order Affairs" (同平章事), an accolade which would have certified him to attend the meetings of chancellors and be regarded as one among their ranks. Upon instructing the scribe Zhang Ji (張垍) to draw up the document, he was met with Guozhong's remonstrance: "Though Lushan has military prowess, his eyes cannot know books... how can he become a chancellor?" These exact words, heard by Lushan's spies at court, caused the Emperor to waver and to later confer upon Lushan the promotion of Left Deputy to the Secretary of State Affairs (尚書左僕射) instead. Though this office had once been the de facto head of the Department of State Affairs (尚書省), effectively being one of the three original chancellorships, it had been stripped of this honour in the time of one of Emperor Xuanzong's predecessors and so it came out to a weaker title that could not have satisfied Lushan's goal.
Lushan's discontent hardened upon receiving the news from his spies. Realizing that he could never succeed as the order's head so long as Guozhong was alive, he resolved to establish a new group of Golden Turtles loyal to him which would forcibly wrest power away from Guozhong and supplant the old Golden Turtles. Simultaneously, Guozhong began to incessantly warn the Emperor that Lushan was plotting treason, eventually claiming that should the Emperor summon Lushan to the capital, he certainly would not come. The Emperor agreed to the test and issued the summons for Lushan, in accordance with the logic that should Lushan be a traitor, he would fear that his plot had been discovered and that he was being lured to the capital to be arrested and executed. By this junction, the feud between Lushan and Guozhong had leaked to the public, becoming the topic of popular gossip, and even the nature of this test itself was known to the commoners of Chang'an.
Likewise, Lushan detected the test for what it was and promptly set off from Fanyang with a detachment of his personal guards upon receiving the summons. In the first month of Tianbao year 13 (754 CE), Lushan arrived unexpectedly in Chang'an on the day of that year's Flower Banquet.
Minutes to midnight
- Guozhong: "Hohoho... Even if you did not come, spring would still arrive... the festival would go on as usual."
- Lushan: "...Ha, Yang Guozhong. You play with flowers in Chang'an while I play with my life at the border! Without me, would you still be able to see the spring?""
- —Yang Guozhong and An Lushan trading blows, 754[src]-[m]
It was only in the evening that Lushan marched into the Flower and Calyx Pavilion where the royal festivities were being held to greet the Emperor. While the Emperor was pleasantly surprised, Guozhong predictably was not and immediately scolded him for not kneeling before the Emperor. In a clever save, Lushan played it off by claiming that "barbarians first pay respects to the mother before paying respects to the father" then proceeding to bow to Yang Guifei and the Emperor according to this sequence. Though this was a breach of court protocol, Yang Guifei gave a flattered chuckle and the Emperor guffawed, clearly having taken it as an amusing jest. When the Emperor informed him that he had missed the highlight of the festival, the ceremony where the winner of the flower context had been announced, Lushan went a step further by boldly teasing that he was the actual highlight of the event.
This incited Guozhong's ire, leading to an exchange of taunts where the chancellor downplayed Lushan's importance, and Lushan fired back that Guozhong was only safe to engage in frivolities at court because he gambled his life to protect them at the borders. Much to the jolly agreement of the Emperor, the eunuch Gao Lishi interceded to de-escalate their argument and assured them both that they were indispensable. The Emperor was not only eager to change the topic, but he was also still in a festive mood, and he whipped out his jiegu to invite Lushan to perform a signature dance that he had not witnessed in a long while: the Sogdian Whirl.
The Turkic general was only too happy to oblige another opportunity to bask in the limelight. With an entourage of female dancers and an orchestra in the back, Lushan gave a spectacular show—all to the Emperor's energetic drumming and to a song lionizing the ferocity of Lushan's nomadic ancestors. At the climax, he twirled and twirled unceasingly like a corkscrew to rambunctious chants of "Spin! Spin! Spin!" from the awestruck crowd of court gentlemen and ladies.
Last second powers
- "Your majesty! My subordinate officers accompanied me on expeditions to subdue the outside bandits and among those with outstanding achievements, over five hundred fell on the sandy fields of battle! They ought to receive the court's recognition and accolades! I thereby humbly beseech your majesty to grant the five hundred twenty-three slain in battle titles befitting generals, so that their bereaved families may enjoy the corresponding salaries and honours!"
- ―An Lushan requesting favours from the Emperor, 754[src]-[m]
An Lushan was at the height of his popularity when he finished his performance. The Emperor's merriment was boundless as Lushan formally knelt to receive his new awards. As planned, the Emperor bestowed upon the jiedushi with the additional title of Left Deputy to the Secretary of State Affairs, with Lushan hiding his foreknowledge of this promotion. Though it was originally meant to be a vital office, its power was effectively hollow for a jiedushi in the frontier like Lushan, and so it was accompanied with the actual enfeoffment of a thousand households, ten rooms of servants, a manor, and an additional residence.
With the Emperor cheering that it was "not enough", the general seized upon this opportunity to make his own requests. First, he claimed that the two foreigners (i.e. the Khitan and Xi) continued to incessantly harass the borders but that his forces were wanting of fine steeds to pursue and punish them. He reasoned that should some horses from the imperial pastures be transferred for his use, he would be able to annihilate the raiders and ensure that the Khitan and Xi never rose again. Without skipping a beat, the Emperor shouted his approval, declaring that Lushan shall now also be granted the position of Commissary Herdsman of the Imperial Stables (廄群牧使) so that he may remotely use the empire's most excellent horses.
Lushan did not stop there. For his second request, he asked that the 523 officers under his command who fell in battle be each posthumously granted the rank of general so that their widowed families may be eligible for the salaries and honours the state offers for the households of generals killed in action. He made every last ounce of his momentum and fired off his last request without waiting for a reply to his previous one. Of his 2,168 troops who had confirmed kills, he requested that an exception be made to regulations and that every last one of them receive the nominal title of guard captain (中郎將).
Once again, the Emperor enthusiastically shouted "approved!" as though no amount of rewards requested by Lushan could possibly be too unreasonable for him to shower upon him. Gripped by euphoria, he ripped off his imperial cloak and draped it onto Lushan's shoulders, vowing to him like a father to a son that henceforth, no matter where Lushan found himself, he would stand by his side knowing that he could entrust him to the security of their borders. Lushan, still feigning diffidence, expressed his utmost gratitude, and the Emperor retired to his chambers with Yang Guifei and his servants. He left any remaining questions of assignments to Yang Guozhong, per the Right Chancellor's duties, but as soon as the Emperor was gone, Guozhong brusquely announced that the festival was over.
Late that night, Lushan met with an elder member of the Golden Turtles at Chenxiang Pavilion—none other than the eunuch Gao Lishi himself. He threw aside all discretion and openly asserted to Lishi that he knew that Guozhong was plotting his demise and that what he truly desired was to be the head of the Golden Turtles not the trifling rewards of the Emperor. For that, he boldly asked that Lishi elect him, but the elder was unimpressed and reminded him that "only a prime minister can command the Golden Turtles". He tried to assure him that the Emperor had the intention of elevating him to a chancellorship, so that he need only stifle his impatience.
It was here that Lushan repeated the words of Guozhong which had obstructed this very promotion, "Though Lushan has military prowess, his eyes cannot know books... how can he become a chancellor?" Revealing that he had his "ears and eyes" at court, he exposed that Lishi's assurance was all a farce. As long as Guozhong stood, he knew he would never have any chance at fulfilling his ambitions, and Lishi's refusal to support him dissolved the last chance of overturning his resolve. He pronounced that he would found his own group of Golden Turtles and that Guozhong would be dead the next time he returned to Chang'an. Though there should have been no more pretense with such a declaration, Lushan still denied that he was plotting rebellion when Lishi probed the motives behind his earlier requests to the Emperor. Instead, he answered that he was merely doing the duty of a loyal Tang official: "slay Guozhong, purge the lords".
According to the Zizhi Tongjian, Lushan met the Emperor at Huaqing Palace the following day in tears, pleading "I was originally a barbarian, yet your majesty affectionately promoted me to where I am now, causing Guozhong to loathe me. I have no more days left unto death!" Thereupon the Emperor pitied him, piled heaps of rewards onto him, and trusted him even more as though he were family. As a result, Guozhong's words could no longer sway the Emperor and neither could those of Crown Prince Li Heng, who had also come to suspect Lushan of plotting treason.
The earlier Old Book of Tang gives a near identical account of the meeting at Huaqing Palace, but his words are recorded differently: "I am a foreigner who does not know characters. Your majesty promoted me without following the order of things, for which Guozhong yearns to kill me". The text suggests that it is around this moment instead that the Emperor made Lushan Left Deputy to State Affairs out of an intimate trust for him while the Zizhi Tongjian precisely states that this occurred five days after the meeting.
Fifteen days later, Lushan officially received his appointment as Commissary Herdsman of the Imperial Stables and Longyou, yet he pressed on with yet another request. This time, he asked that an official he trusted, Ji Wen, be appointed as the vice minister of the War Ministry (武部侍郎) and vice imperial censor (御史中丞), so that Ji Wen would be in the capacity to serve as his lieutenant. With his newfound control over the imperial pastures, Lushan secretly stole away the government's most athletic horses for his own forces.
Return to Fanyang
On the first day of the third month, he departed from Chang'an under the pretext of illness and galloped with all haste out of Tong Pass. Every day, he travelled for three to four hundred li until he had returned to Fanyang. People began to speak again of Lushan's imminent betrayal, but this would only incite Emperor Xuanzong's fury. He would have those spreading these rumours bound with ropes and sent all the way to Lushan.
In 755, the Emperor once again summoned him to the capital, but this time, Lushan feigned illness and declined to come. He made another attempt by marrying Princess Rongyi (榮義郡主) to An Qingzong and ordering Lushan to attend the wedding ceremony; Lushan still persisted in excuses and refused to come.
Birth of the Yeluohe
On the ninth day of the eleventh month of Tianbao year 14 (755), a vast army, likely numbering at least 150,000 soldiers, assembled before the gates of Fanyang for An Lushan's declaration of war. Addressing them from the battlements in front of the gatehouse above, he delivered a resounding speech which presented their forthcoming military campaign not as an act of rebellion but as a heroic endeavour to rescue the Tang from the corrupt clutches of Yang Guozhong. True to his prior words to Gao Lishi, his archenemy Yang Guozhong became the scapegoat for all the ills he was exploiting as a casus belli.
He denounced Guozhong as a bastard son and a chronic gambler. Among the many crimes he listed, they included an incestuous affair with his cousin Lady Guoguo (虢國夫人), reliance on nepotism via his other cousin Yang Guifei to gain power, giving and receiving bribes using the imperial treasury, embezzlement of military funds and provisions to line his own pockets, buying and selling offices, malpractice in the imperial exams, and framing and murdering hundreds of families for dissent. This last charge was in reference to Guozhong's raiding of his neighbourhood in Chang'an for his spies and torturing them to death for forced confessions.
As his speech reached a crescendo, he urged his army that it was their duty to cleanse the government of Guozhong's corruption and claimed that the Emperor, too, had long desired this—he had only been biding for the right moment. At that instant, Lushan whipped out the imperial edict that he had forged and announced that the Emperor had issued a secret decree ordering his forces to enter the capital and bring Guozhong to justice.
Declaring that they shall hereby form a grand army for this goal, the crowd thundered with vindictive assent, chanting unceasingly, "Slay Guozhong, purge the lords!" Meanwhile An Lushan shuffled down the stairs with assistance to the ground to convene with eight thousand of his officers. To his side was his childhood friend and great general Shi Siming, who he was entrusting Fanyang to while he was gone. In front were his lieutenant generals Sun Xiaozhe, Gao Miao, He Qiannian, and Li Qincou and his military advisor Yan Zhuang. This eight thousand strong band of his most elite soldiers all bore turtle talismans, for they constituted the faction of Golden Turtles who supported him.
They circled around him to await his proclamation. He extolled them as "the wolves of the north desert, the tigers of the northeast", and his "personal warriors who dared to court death". He commanded them to raise their talismans up high and don their purple cloaks. He foretold that upon entering the capital, they would supplant the Golden Turtles and seize the ultimate power to decide life and death. And finally, he pronounced them the Yeluohe.
Behind the scenes
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – Beacon (Part 7)
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – Golden Turtles (Part 1)
- 轧荦山（汉语词语). Baidu Baike. Accessed 2 June 2021.
- An Lushan on Wikipedia
- 捉生将. Baidu Baike. Accessed 4 June 2021.
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – The Flower Banquet (Part 2)
- Administrative divisions of the Tang dynasty on Wikipedia
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – The Flower Banquet (Part 7)
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – The Flower Banquet (Special)
- 宰相 on Wikipedia
- 參知政事 on Wikipedia
- 同平章事 on Wikipedia
- 同中书门下平章事 (中国古代官职). Baidu Baike. Accessed 9 June 2021.
- 尚書僕射 on Wikipedia
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – The Flower Banquet (Part 3)
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – The Flower Banquet (Part 4)
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – The Flower Banquet (Part 5)
- Sima Guang, et al. Zizhi Tongjian. Scroll 217, 1084. Chinese Text Project. Accessed 22 June 2021.
- Liu Xu. "An Lushan, Gao Shang, Sun Xianzhe, Shi Siming". Old Book of Tang. Scroll 213, 945. Chinese Text Project. Accessed 22 June 2021.
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – Beacon (Part 3)
- Assassin's Creed: Dynasty – Beacon (Part 5)