An Lushan Rebellion
The An Lushan Rebellion was a 755 uprising against the Tang Dynasty Imperial Court, led by army general An Lushan. Though the rebellion was eventually suppressed, and power restored to the Tang, it marks a key turning point in the power of the Imperial Court in China.
An Lushan was of mixed Sogdian/Turkic ancestry. His name "An" was a common surname given to non-Chinese from the area around Samarkand (modern-day Uzbekistan), an area within the Persian cultural sphere. "Lushan," meanwhile, is a Chinese approximation of the Persian/Sogdian name Rokshan, literally meaning "light," a masculine name from the same root as the modern name Roxanne.
While serving as a general in the Imperial army, An Lushan caught the eye of Imperial consort Yang Guifei. She had him formally adopted as her son in 751; though historians generally suggest it quite likely that the two engaged in a romantic affair, there is no direct evidence for it. Meanwhile, An Lushan attracted the suspicion of factions at court, who accused him of disloyalty to the emperor, and plotted to kill him, even as the emperor continued to be supportive of him. Xuanzong even went so far as to suggest naming An Lushan Chief Minister in 754; An's illiteracy ultimately disqualified him from this office, and he was instead appointed to manage and oversee the Imperial stables.
An Lushan continued to be a controversial figure at Court, and to have many enemies. Eventually, he turned against the emperor, refusing to make an appearance when invited to the wedding of one of the royal princes.
Four months later, An Lushan rose up in rebellion, in earnest. His army of as many as 160,000, supported by additional horses An was able to secure through his position in the stables, easily took the eastern capital of Luoyang, and a few months later managed to take the Imperial capital of Chang'an, forcing Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei to flee to Sichuan province (the former state of Shu), along with a number of courtiers, ministers, and soldiers. The military blamed the entire state of affairs on Yang Guifei, and at one point mutinied against Xuanzong, refusing to continue on unless the Consort were killed. Xuanzong then had his chief eunuch strangle Yang Guifei. The emperor himself abdicated in favor of one of his sons a few months later, and died the following year.
An Lushan himself was killed by his son in 757, and his forces became divided, with one group led by his son, and another led by a rival general.
The Tang Court thus regained power over the political center of the empire, but it would never again be able to control the provinces, or the empire as a whole, as strongly or as thoroughly as it had before. Centrally administered systems such as the well-field system fell apart; the Court's tax revenues fell to one-third what they had been before, as the reach of the Court's census bureaus fell from nine million households in 755, to two million in 760. Military governors in the provinces began to claim increasing power, and some, such as those in Hebei province, effectively seceded from the empire entirely, taking one-quarter of the empire's population and the according amount of tax revenues with them. After 779, the Court managed to recover somewhat, however, by seizing a monopoly on salt; by that year, roughly half of the Court's revenues derived from the salt trade.
Meanwhile, the weakness of the Tang capital invited raids by Tibetan forces, who attacked the city every autumn for the next twenty years (and, in lessened frequency, down into the 9th century).
- Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 222-228.
- Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 117.