The An-Shi Rebelllion.

by Daniel Russ on July 12, 2013


An Lushan 



As a boy in the court of the Emperor Xuanzong, General Zhang Shougui in 732, caught An Lushan in possession of a stolen sheep. He intended to execute the boy, but the impudent child yelled out:


“Is it that you, Lord, do not wish to destroy the barbarian tribes? Why do you want to cane An Lushan to death?”


His mother was Sogdian, a tribe that was the progenitors of today’s Pashtuns. His father was probably Turkic or Tujue. An Lushan was given this name when his mother married into a high warrior caste ruled by a General named An.  An was a trouble child from a tumultuous upbringing.

An was lucky to be accepted royal court, as so many in ancient China suffered from depredations during these tumultuous days. An was a heavy person who impressed people with a quip and a charisma that charmed the Emperor, and it charmed the Emperor’s courtesan: Impressed with the child’s size and his aggressive demeanor, Zhang freed the boy and gave him a job hunting criminals which apparently he was fairly deft at. After a good run of bounty hunting, Zhang gave An command of a division of cavalry and foot soldiers and allowed him to lead an army against the Khitan barbarians with the Pinglu Army.


It’s interesting to note that the Romans weren’t the only Empire with tribesmen impinging upon their borders. The ethnic Chinese in the Classical Period also had their barbarian tribes. In the 7th century, the Khisan and the Hsi were deucedly raiding Chinese villages, kidnapping, stealing provisions purloining land. It was the bête noire of Emperor Xuanzong and he was always creating armies and deploying them to maintain his throne.


An Lushan was badly defeated attacking with the Pinglu Army in the Northern provinces and the Khitan cavalry almost chased him down and killed him. Probably because of his charm, he was forgiven, and given time to recover. An was an operator, he worked the background politics, ingratiated himself with General and other officers, and as his reports came back improved over time, General Zhang gave him more purview. Whenever An Lushan was on campaign he made a point to send back tribute to the Emperor. This might include horses, cattle, game birds, ivory, and exotic animals found in the outskirts of the territories, plus gold, silver and the heads of Khitan chieftans. In 754 An was made chief of Pinglu, and Fanyang provinces, and their armies. He invited Khitan chieftans to dine with him and offered peace. There he poisoned them and then pillaged their lands. This won him great acclaim in the xenophobic Chinese court.


The Emperor and An grew to be close knit friends. They awarded each other with captive slaves, and property, enormous mansions built from salve labor and perhaps even An had an affair with a courtesan.


Overtime, An kept climbing the ladder of command in the Imperial Courts. He wasn’t always so gracious and eventually in the power struggles that characterized royal courts all over the world, he created enemies. At some point An realized he had made a fateful error a decade before when he refused to bow to Xuanzong’s choice for replacement in case he died. This would be Li Heng. Of course An was articulate and charming but he said he was just a lowly man of barbarian blood, so who is this man I should bow to. Xuanzong did not take umbrage at even this slight. The trust that the Emperor had for An was the story here. It adumbrated the history of absolute luck this adopted barbarian child had. Li Heng was going to inherit the kingdom once Xuanzong passed away.



So An began preparing for a rebellion. He had a few years, and he was smart about it. he began by building redoubts where his army could operate from. He also made curious request the he have non Han General replace his own Han Generals. This made of the Emperor’s chancellors suspicious.



Suddenly, An took his 100,000 man army and marched north of the Yellow River and defeated the Imperial troops. His army had a contingent of His allies and other barbarians who he had persuade to march with him. He declared himself Emperor of the Kingdom of Yan. So the Turkic orphan became a Chinese Emperor.


Remarkably, this could have been one of the bloodiest civil wars ever fought. Author Matthew White says upwards of 14 million people may have died, but census reports say that 34 million went missing. It could be a failure of the census systems during war-time. The rebellion itself causes 1.2 million deaths in just a few months.


It didn’t last but two years. The extreme paranoia of the Chinese court led those who believed that they would fall out of favor to fear they were targets of executions. One of those people was An Qingxu who was replaced as heir apparent. The night before the announcement, he staged a coup and killed An in his sleep.



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