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The Golden Turtles (金龜袋) was the Chinese branch of the Order of the Ancients which had entrenched itself within the court of the Tang dynasty. So successful was their infiltration that they were able to ensure that their leader was always a chancellor, as was Yang Guozhong in the reign of Emperor Xuanzong.

Among their secret members was the jiedushi An Lushan, but his deep-seated rivalry with Yang Guozhong culminated in a violent schism in 754 and the formation of Lushan's splinter group, the Yeluohe. Choosing to wage his power struggle in open battle, Lushan dragged the entire nation into a catastrophic civil war in 755 which forced the intervention of the Order's archenemies, the Hidden Ones. By the war's end, both the Golden Turtles and Yeluohe had been decimated and their leaders assassinated.

Etymology

The Chinese name of the Golden Turtles, jīnguīdài (金龜袋), literally translates to 'gold turtle bag', referring directly to the pouches holding golden tortoise tokens which were used during the reign of Empress Regnant Wu Zetian as identification for officials of rank three and higher. These tokens in the shape of turtles were also cast in silver and bronze, which were issued to officials of rank four and five respectively. Upon seizing the throne, Empress Wu had changed the fish-shaped tokens previously used for the same purpose to that of a turtle design to symbolize the new era. In the same vein, those same fish tokens had in turn originated in a decree by the Tang founder Emperor Gaozu to replace an older design based on rabbits.[1]

After she was ousted in 705 and the Tang dynasty was restored, Emperor Zhongzong immediately reverted the turtle badges to fish badges, and within the next five years, the entire turtle bag system was abolished. Nonetheless, the golden turtle lingered on as a symbol of high status, inspiring Chinese affiliates of the Order of the Ancients to adopt it as their code name. By 754, it had thoroughly cemented itself as their organization's avatar.[1]

History

Fifty years after the death of Empress Wu Zetian,[1] the Golden Turtles were ascendant in the Tang court.[2] So embedded they were in the state apparatus that they were not only able to constantly secure their leader's appointment as a chancellor but conversely came to mandate by tradition that only a chancellor could be chosen to lead them.[2] The long reign of Emperor Xuanzong, while regarded as a peaceful golden age,[1][3] came under increasing control from behind-the-scenes by a series of prime ministers affiliated with this shadowy organization.[2]

Most notable of these Golden Turtle ministers was Yang Guozhong, whose enmity with another Golden Turtle, the jiedushi An Lushan, would eventually erupt into violent conflict.[1] The ambitious An Lushan craved dearly to be elevated as head of the Golden Turtles, but Yang Guozhong's antipathy towards his uncouth character guaranteed that he could never be his successor.[2] By the time the Tianbao (天寶) era neared its climax,[3] the oblivious and elderly Emperor had grown weary of governing and entrusted ever greater duties to Chancellor Yang Guozhong, such as in the promotion of officials, while also showering endless favours upon An Lushan, who never failed to ingratiate himself to him.[4]

An imminent rupture

Although the two rivals' true allegiances were rigorously guarded secrets, their volatile feuds were the talk of even commoners.[5] Since one served as prime minister and the other was a semi-independent general guarding the northern frontier, they were able to avoid coming to blows for a time.[5] In the first month of Tianbao year 13 (754),[1] however, Yang Guozhong outright warned the Emperor that Lushan was plotting rebellion and insisted that he summon the jiedushi to the imperial palace as a test. Guozhong believed that Lushan would not heed the summons, thereby proving his disloyalty, only for his nemesis to promptly return to Chang'an with his army, entering the capital on the very day of the Flower Banquet.[1][5]

Lushan's entrance to Hua'e Pavilion in the evening was met with surprise from Emperor Xuanzong's court, but the Emperor welcomed him with all the mirth reflective of the night's festive mood. While the jiedushi's arrival dispelled suspicions by the court and public alike, he had not come just to plead his innocence, but for a more insidious purpose. Elated at his appearance, the Emperor had immediately gifted Lushan with the new position Left Deputy to the Secretary of State Affairs (尚書左僕射) as a nominal title, along with a thousand households, ten rooms of servants, one manor, and one residence to accompany it. The general cleverly seized upon this to beseech for additional powers that would be a boon to his imminent rebellion.[6]

First, he claimed that foreign bandits were frequently raiding the border but that his forces lacked fine steeds to pursue and eliminate them. He therefore requested the right to freely use war horses from the imperial pastures, and the Emperor instantly obliged him, appointing him the position of Commissary Herdsman of the Imperial Stables (閑廄群牧使), which granted him remote control over the palace stables. Second, he implored him to give official recognition to the meritorious service of his soldiers, particularly the 523 who had been slain in battle, by granting their widowed families the salaries and honours due generals. In the same breath, he issued his last request: for the court to break from protocol and confer upon each of his 2,168 combatants who had confirmed kills the rank of palace guard captain (中郎將). The Emperor did not even skip a beat to shout that his requests were approved and rounded it all off by draping Lushan with his own royal cloak.[1][4]

With loving words as though from a father to a son, Emperor Xuanzong promised Lushan that henceforth, he would always be by his side no matter where he was and that wherever there was danger, he would entrust it to him. He instructed Yang Guozhong to handle the rest of the affairs of the night, but as soon as he had departed with Yang Guifei and his attendants, the deeply apprehensive chancellor, repressing all of his anger, informed Lushan that the festival was over.[4] According to the histories, Lushan tearfully pleaded that he was the victim of Guozhong's slander upon returning to Chang'an, and thereafter, the Emperor no longer believed in Guozhong's accusations.[1]

Declaring the schism

"Since I cannot become the head of the Golden Turtles, then I'll take it upon myself to form my own Golden Turtles. Next time I enter the capital, Yang Guozhong and I—only one of us can live. When that time comes, which side will you, my elder, choose?"
―An Lushan to Gao Lishi, 754[src]-[m]

Later that night, Lushan met privately with Gao Lishi, one of Emperor Xuanzong's most trusted eunuchs and a high-ranking Golden Turtle. Unable to contain his impatience further, the jiedushi audaciously declared that his true desire was for Gao Lishi to promote him as head of the Golden Turtles. His elder was not swayed in the slightest, reminding him that only a prime minister was allowed to become their leader and that given Lushan's favour with the Emperor, he only needed to wait a while longer, yet Lushan saw through this deception. He repeated the words his spies had heard spoken by Guozhong behind his back, "Though Lushan has military prowess, his eyes cannot know books... how can he become a chancellor?"[2]

As Lushan vented on, the magnitude of what he was implying became more and more exposed for Gao Lishi to see. First amused then wary, the eunuch probed Lushan for the validity of his deduction: that the general had asked for his subordinates' promotions and his unrestricted access to imperial horses so as to stage a rebellion. For all the obviousness of the answer, Lushan denied it, instead proclaiming that he was only doing what any loyal Tang official should do: "slay Guozhong, purge the lords".[2]

Members

Appearances

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Assassin's Creed: DynastyThe Flower Banquet (Special)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Assassin's Creed: DynastyThe Flower Banquet (Part 7)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Assassin's Creed: DynastyThe Flower Banquet (Part 1)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Assassin's Creed: DynastyThe Flower Banquet (Part 5)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Assassin's Creed: DynastyThe Flower Banquet (Part 2)
  6. Assassin's Creed: DynastyThe Flower Banquet (Part 4)