An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

An Lushan 安祿山

Apr 12, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

An Lushan 安祿山 (703-757) was the head of the famous An Lushan Rebellion against the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907). His brother in arms was Shi Siming 史思明 (703-761), for which reason the rebellion is known in Chinese as An-Shi zhi luan 安史之亂. An Lushan hailed from Liucheng 柳城 in the prefecture of Yingzhou 營州 (today's Chaoyang 朝陽, Liaoning). He was the offspring of "mixed barbarians" (zahu 雜胡), with a Türkish (Tujue 突厥) mother, and bore the original name Yalaoshan 軋犖山 or Alaoshan 阿犖山, and the family name Kang 康. An Lushan's father had died in early years, and his mother remarried a certain An Yanyan 安延偃, for which reason her son was given the name An Lushan. The family names An and Kang might have Soghdian origin (see Zhaowu jiuxing 昭武九姓).

An Lushan grew up in the borderlands, learnt various languages and earned his money as a broker on local border markets. He once became acquainted with Zhang Shougui 張守珪 (684-740), military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) of Youzhou 幽州 (today's Beijing) who greatly estimated the young man, made him "officer capturing the enemy" (zhuosheng jiang 捉生將) and then adopted him as a foster-son. In 740 he was made commander (bingmashi 兵馬使) of the army of Pinglu 平盧 (Chaoyang). Bribery of the Vice Censor-in-chief Zhang Lizhen 張利貞 helped him to gain access to the court, where he was soon able to gain the confidence of Emperor Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755). In 741, the emperor appointed him area commander-in-chief (dudu 都督) of Yingzhou, and a year later elevated him to the post of military commissioner of his home region Pinglu and that of regional inspector (cishi 刺使) of Shunhua 順化 and governor (taishou 太守) of Liucheng. He was furthermore entrusted with the duty as regulatory commissioner (jinglüeshi 經略使) of the savages of Bohai 渤海 and Heishui 黑水 (see Mohe 靺鞨). In 744, he was also granted the military commission of Fanyang 范陽 (approx. modern Beijing), as well as the function of investigation commissioner (caifangshi 采訪使) of Hebei. In 751, An Lushan was given the commission of Hedong 河東 in addition, and thus controlled the whole northeast of China, including civilian, military, and financial matters.

His rise was not only due to cunning and flattering at the court to gain the trust of Emperor Xuanzong and his beloved consort Yang Guifei 楊貴妃 (719-756), who eventually adopted him, but also because of his expertise with the particular situation in the northeast with its many ethnicities inside Chinese territory, as well as polities beyond, like the Xi 奚 and Kitan 契丹 tribes who challenged the border zone. An Lushan was quite successful in pacifying and exploiting the region.

Yet An Lushan was also quick in understanding the situation at the court, where he saw a sluggish bureaucracy, the incompetence of the metropolitan army, and the factional strife. An himself war particularly at odds with Counsellor-in-chief Yang Guozhong 楊國忠 (d. 756), and decided to rebel against the unprepared Tang dynasty. He created an elite regiment of 8,000 native "braves" (Chinese transcription yiluohe 曳落河), including Xi, Kitan, and Türkish Tongluo 同羅, began to breed and assemble horses for a larger army, and to collect money through merchants. In 755, he replaced Chinese commanders by non-Chinese, but also accepted Chinese literati and military men in his staff.

In December 755, An Lushan began his rebellion with the pretext of punishing Yang Guozhong. Two months later his army conquered the eastern capital Luoyang 洛陽 (today in Henan), and he adopted the title of "Courageous-Martial Emperor" (Xiongwu Huangdi 雄武皇帝) of the Yan dynasty 燕, choosing the reign motto Shengwu 聖武 "Sacred martiality". Less than half a year later, the capital Chang'an 長安 (Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) fell into his hands. For the next half decade, China was thrown into a civil war. In early 757, An Lushan choose his second son An Qing'en 安慶恩 as heir apparent, whereupon the first son, An Qingxu 安慶緒 (723-759), decided to kill his father, made himself emperor, and continued the rebellion against the house of Tang.

Yang Zhijiu 楊志玖 (1992). "An Lushan 安祿山", in Zhonguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 5.
Yi Xingguo 衣興國, ed. (1988). Shiyong Zhongguo mingren cidian 實用中國名人辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 445.