An Lushan was of Sogdian and Göktürk origin, at least by adoption. He rose to military prominence by defending the northeastern Tang frontier from the Khitans and other threats. He was summoned to Chang'an, the Tang capital, several times and managed to gain favor with Chancellor Li Linfu and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang. This allowed An Lushan to amass significant military power in northeast China. After the death of Li Linfu, his rivalry with General Geshu Han and Chancellor Yang Guozhong created military tensions within the empire.
In 755, An Lushan, following 8 or 9 years of preparation, instigated the An Lushan Rebellion, proclaiming himself the ruler of a new dynasty, Yan.
In 757 An Lushan was assassinated by his own son, An Qingxu, following the deterioration of relations between him and his followers due to his growing paranoia. The state of Yan fell into turmoil and eventually collapsed in 763.
An Lushan's mother was a Göktürk of the Ashide clan and served as a sorceress. His original name might have been Aluoshan or Galuoshan, which meant "war" in Old Turkic. His father died early, and his mother Lady Ashide married a Turkic general An Yanyan (安延偃), who was a brother of the general An Bozhi (安波至). An Lushan therefore took the name of An. Early in Emperor Xuanzong of Tang's Kaiyuan era, 713–741, there was a disturbance among the Göktürk tribe that An Yanyan belonged to, and An Lushan fled to Tang with An Yanyan and An Yanyan's nephew, An Sishun. He later settled in Ying Prefecture (營州, roughly modern Chaoyang, Liaoning).
Sources conflict about An Lushan's biological father's origin and surname; for example, as to whether An Lushan's father had the surname Kang or not: he took the name of An from his stepfather An Yanyan. The surnames Kang and An suggest that they were respectively from the Sogdian kingdoms of Samarkand (康國; cf. Kangju) and Bukhara (安國). The An are not to be confused with Anxi, which had been established as a prefecture by the Chinese in 661.
On his side, Matsui Hitoshi, noting that nothing in the historical records provides hard evidence of Sogdian origin and that An Lushan was living at Yingzhou, a settlement of Kumo Xi and Khitan people, suggests that "Perhaps [An Lushan's father] might have been of Khitan origin." Edward H. Schafer, however, maintains that An Lushan is probably the Sinicized version of a name derived from Anxi (安息 "Parthia(n)") and the common Sogdian name ܪܘܚܫܐܢ Roxshan meaning "the Bright", related to the Sogdian female name Roxana, also borne by Alexander's Sogdian wife, Roxana. His name has also been transcribed as Āluòshān (阿犖山) or Yàluòshān (軋犖山), and he was posthumously named Prince La of Yan (燕剌王) by his deputy Shi Siming.
It was said that An Lushan knew six non-Chinese languages, and, after he grew older, served as an interpreter in one of the military markets, which were set up by the Chinese government largely to obtain horses in exchange for silk through foreign trade. Serving with him was Shi Sugan (later named Shi Siming), who was one day older than he was and who became a good friend of his. In 732, when the general Zhang Shougui (張守珪) was governing You Prefecture (幽州, roughly modern Beijing), An was discovered to have stolen sheep. Zhang was set to execute An by caning, when An yelled out, "Is it that you, Lord, do not wish to destroy the two barbarian tribes? Why do you want to cane An Lushan to death?" Zhang, seeing that he had a large body and impressed by his plea, released him and had him serve as a police officer, along with Shi, and both of them were said to be capable at catching criminals. Later, Zhang promoted him to be a military officer. As Zhang believed that he was obese, he did not dare to eat too much while in Zhang's presence, and this drew Zhang's favor. Zhang took him in and treated him like a son. At a time that was not recorded in history, he married a Lady Kang as his first wife, and she bore him at least one son, An Qingxu, who, however, was not his oldest son.
By 736, An Lushan carried a general title and was serving under Zhang Shougui as an officer of the Pinglu Army (平盧軍, based in modern Chaoyang). In 736, after An disobeyed Zhang's orders and made an overly aggressive attack against the Khitan and the Xi, he was defeated. According to army regulations, he was supposed to be executed, but Zhang, instead, allegedly sent him to the capital, Chang'an, and, while recommending execution, was hoping that Emperor Xuanzong would pardon An. The chancellor Zhang Jiuling, arguing that An's death would be necessary to preserve military discipline and further believing that An had the appearance of a rebel, advocated An's death, but Emperor Xuanzong believed An to be able and did not want to execute him, and therefore spared him but stripped him of titles, returning him to serve under Zhang.
In 740, An became the Bingmashi (兵馬使) of Pinglu Army. It was said that he carefully cultivated relationships with other officials and generals to earn praises, and whenever Emperor Xuanzong sent messengers to Pinglu Army, An always bribed them to earn praises from them. In 741, when the deputy chief imperial censor Zhang Lizhen (張利貞) was sent to survey the Hebei (河北, i.e., the region north of the Yellow River) and visited Pinglu Army, An ingratiated himself with Zhang, so much so that he even bribed Zhang's servants. When Zhang returned to Chang'an and praised An, Emperor Xuanzong promoted An to be the commandant at Ying Prefecture and the commander of Pinglu Army, to defend against the Khitan, the Xi, Balhae, and the Heishui Mohe. In 742, Xuanzong further promoted Pinglu Army to be a military circuit, making An its military governor (jiedushi).
In 743, An visited Chang'an to pay homage to Emperor Xuanzong. Emperor Xuanzong treated him well and allowed him to visit the palace at all times. He began to inject himself into court politics—as the official Su Xiaoyun (蘇孝韞) complained to him that the imperial examinations that year was unfair and that Zhang Shi (張奭), the son of the deputy chief imperial censor Zhang Yi (張倚), had been given top grade despite having no abilities. An reported this to Emperor Xuanzong, who ordered a retesting before him personally. Zhang Shi was not able to even write one character in response to Emperor Xuanzong's reexamination. As a result, the deputy ministers of civil service, Song Yao (宋遙) and Miao Jinqing were demoted.
An often pleased Emperor Xuanzong by offering Emperor Xuanzong tributes of rare items, such as rare animals or jewels. By this time, he was even more obese than before, and Emperor Xuanzong, on one occasion, jokingly asked him, "What does this barbaric belly contain?" He responded, "Other than a faithful heart, there is nothing else." On another occasion, when Emperor Xuanzong's son Li Heng the Crown Prince was in audience, he refused to bow to Li Heng, stating, "I am a barbarian, and I do not understand formal ceremony. What is a crown prince?" Emperor Xuanzong responded, "He is the reserve emperor. After my death, he will be your emperor." An apologized, stating, "I am foolish. I had only known about Your Imperial Majesty, and not that there is such a thing as a reserve emperor." He bowed, but Emperor Xuanzong, believing him to be honest, favored him even more. As he was allowed to enter the palace, he asked that he become an adoptive son of Emperor Xuanzong's favorite concubine Consort Yang Guifei, and Emperor Xuanzong agreed. Thereafter, on one occasion, he bowed to Consort Yang first before bowing to Emperor Xuanzong, stating, "Barbarians bow to mothers first before fathers." Xuanzong, now believing An was as submissive to him as a son to a father, showed him even greater favors.
In 744, with further praises from the powerful chancellor Li Linfu and Pei Kuan, An was, in addition to Pinglu, made the military governor of Fanyang Circuit (范陽, headquartered in modern Beijing). Wanting to show his military abilities, he often pillaged the Khitan and the Xi, and he was blamed by traditional historians for the Khitan and Xi rebellion in 745, which he defeated.
According to the Song Dynasty historian Sima Guang, it was said that An was attempting to increase his own strength and planning a rebellion, and in 747, he claimed to be building Fort Xiongwu (雄武城) and asked fellow military governor Wang Zhongsi to contribute troops, hoping to hold onto the troops that Wang would send and not return them. Wang, instead, led the troops himself to Xiongwu in advance of the rendezvous date and, after participating in the building project, returned with the soldiers, and submitted reports to Emperor Xuanzong that he believed An was planning treason. Li Linfu, who was at this point apprehensive of Wang as a potential rival, used this as one of the reasons to indict Wang, and Wang was, later in 747, removed from his post. Also in 747, An Lushan was given the honorary title as chief deputy imperial censor (御史大夫, Yushi Daifu), and Lady Duan, now described as his wife, although Lady Kang was still alive, was created a lady.
In 748, Emperor Xuanzong awarded An Lushan an iron certificate promising that he would not be executed, except for treason, and in 750, he created An Prince of Dongping, setting a precedent for generals not of the imperial Li clan to be created princes. Later in 750, he tricked the Khitan and Xi chieftains into feasting with him, and then poisoned them. He then attacked the tribes, scoring a major victory.
By this point, a friendship had developed between An Lushan and the Emperor. When An went to Chang'an later that year to pay homage to Emperor Xuanzong, he presented Emperor Xuanzong with 8,000 Xi captives. In 751, Xuanzong had a magnificent mansion built for An in Chang'an, sparing no expenses, using jade, gold, and silver in many different places. On An's birthday, 20 February 751, Emperor Xuanzong and Consort Yang awarded him with clothing, treasures, and food. On 23 February, when An was summoned to the palace, Consort Yang, in order to please Emperor Xuanzong, had an extra-large infant wrapping made, and wrapped An in it, causing much explosion of laughter among the ladies-in-waiting and eunuchs. When Emperor Xuanzong asked what was going on, Consort Yang's attendants joked that Consort Yang gave birth three days ago and was washing her baby Lushan. Emperor Xuanzong was pleased by the comical situation and rewarded both Consort Yang and An greatly. Thereafter, whenever An visited the capital, he was allowed free admittance to the palace, and there were rumors that he and Consort Yang had an affair, but Emperor Xuanzong discounted the rumors. At An's request, Emperor Xuanzong also gave him the governorship of Hedong Circuit (河東, headquartered in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi), in addition to Pinglu and Fanyang. Two of his sons, An Qingzong and An Qingxu, were given ministerial level positions, and An Qingzong was given an imperial clan member's daughter, the Lady Rongyi, in marriage.
An was arrogant toward other officials, including Consort Yang's second cousin Yang Guozhong. However, carrying the honorary title of deputy chief imperial censor (御史大夫) at this point, he was respectful of his colleague Wang Hong (王鉷), an associate of Li Linfu's, although initially not Li Linfu—and therefore, on one occasion, Li Linfu intentionally summoned Wang Hong in An's presence, and when Wang Hong arrived, he was paying Li Linfu great respect, causing An to be surprised and apprehensive, and thereafter An carefully cultivated his relationship with Li Linfu as well.
It was also said that, by this point, An began to be apprehensive of what would happen once Emperor Xuanzong died—as he remembered how he had refused to bow to Li Heng—and he began to plan an eventual rebellion, which was further encouraged by his observation that the heart of the empire was without defenses. He selected some 8,000 soldiers among the surrendered Khitan, Xi, and Tongluo (同羅) tribesmen, organizing them into an elite corps known as the Yeluohe (曵落河), which meant "the brave". He retained Gao Shang (高尚), Yan Zhuang (嚴莊), Zhang Tongru (張通儒), and Sun Xiaozhe (孫孝哲) as his strategists; and Shi Siming, An Shouzhong (安守忠), Li Guiren (李歸仁), Cai Xide (蔡希德), Niu Tingjie (牛廷玠), Xiang Runrong (向潤容), Li Tingwang (李庭望), Cui Qianyou (崔乾祐), Yin Ziqi (尹子奇), He Qiannian (何千年), Wu Lingxun (武令珣), Neng Yuanhao (能元皓), Tian Chengsi, Tian Qianzhen (田乾真), and Ashina Chengqing (阿史那承慶) as his generals.
Late in 751, An launched a major attack against the Khitan, advancing quickly to the heart of Khitan territory, but, hampered by rains, was defeated by the Khitan, and the general He Side (何思德) was killed. An himself was almost killed, and, after retreating, blamed the defeat on Ge Jie (哥解) and Yu Chengxian (魚承仙), executing them. He subsequently had Shi defend against the Khitan counterattack, and Shi was able to repel the Khitan. In 752, he wanted to launch a major counterattack against the Khitan, requesting that the ethnically Tujue general Li Xianzhong (李獻忠) accompany him. Li Xianzhong was afraid of An; when An ordered Li to attack the Khitan, Li rebelled, thus putting a halt to An's campaign.
Later that year, when Emperor Xuanzong, seeing that both An Lushan and An Sishun (who by this point was the military governor of Shuofang Circuit (朔方, headquartered in modern Yinchuan, Ningxia)) had poor relations with Geshu Han, the military governor of Hexi (河西, headquartered in modern Wuwei, Gansu) and Longxi (隴西, headquartered in modern Haidong prefecture, Qinghai) Circuits, and wanted to improve relations between these three key border troop commanders, he summoned all three to the capital and had the powerful eunuch Gao Lishi host a feast for the three of them, trying to get them to resolve their unpleasantries. At the conference, however, Geshu and An Lushan got into an argument, which only stopped after Gao gazed at Geshu, stopping him from responding to An Lushan's insults.
In 753, with Li Linfu's death and replacement by Yang Guozhong, Yang Guozhong, intending to posthumously dishonor Li Linfu, had An Lushan corroborate his accusations that Li Linfu was involved in Li Xianzhong's rebellion. An agreed, and subsequently, with further corroboration from Li Linfu's son-in-law Yang Qixuan (楊齊宣), Li Linfu was posthumously dishonored, and his family members were exiled. Also in 753, Li Xianzhong's troops were defeated by the Huige, and they surrendered to An, further enhancing his strength.
Despite their cooperation in posthumously accusing Li Linfu, a rivalry soon developed between An and Yang Guozhong, as An did not fear Yang Guozhong the way he did Li Linfu. Yang Guozhong made repeated accusation against An to Emperor Xuanzong that he was plotting a rebellion, but the accusation were dismissed by Emperor Xuanzong. Yang Guozhong, instead, entered into an alliance with Geshu against An. In spring 754, Yang asserted, to the Emperor, that An was set on rebelling, an accusation Yang had made before. Yang predicted that if Emperor Xuanzong summoned An to Chang'an, he would surely not come. However, when Emperor Xuanzong tested Yang's hypothesis by summoning An, he immediately showed up in Chang'an and claimed that Yang was making false accusations. Thereafter, Emperor Xuanzong refused to believe any suggestions that An was plotting rebellion, despite Li Heng agreeing with Yang's assessment on this issue. The Emperor even considered promoting An to be chancellor; however, Yang opposed, and the promotion did not occur. An subsequently returned to Fanyang. At An's request, Emperor Xuanzong allowed him to award his soldiers with high ranks without first receiving imperial approval. (Geshu, hearing this, made the same request, and Emperor Xuanzong also granted this privilege to Geshu.) Later in 754, An defeated Xi forces, capturing their chieftain Li Riyue (李日越). Meanwhile, Yang Guozhong viewed the official Wei Zhi (韋陟) as a threat and accused Wei of corruption. Yang Guozhong later accused Wei of bribing An's associate Ji Wen (吉溫), and Wei and Ji were both demoted. An subsequently submitted a petition on their behalf, claiming that the accusations from Yang Guozhong were false, but Emperor Xuanzong took no actions against either An or Yang Guozhong.
The An Lushan Rebellion spanned from 16 December 755 to 17 February 763. This rebellion involved the death of some 13–36 million people, making it one of the deadliest wars in history.
In the spring of 755, matters were beginning to come to a head. When An Lushan submitted a petition to have 32 non-Han generals under him replace Han generals, this was accepted by Emperor Xuanzong, despite opposition from Yang Guozhong and his fellow chancellor Wei Jiansu who took An's use of non-Han generals as a sign of impending rebellion. Yang and Wei then suggested that An be promoted to be chancellor, and that his three commands be divided between his three deputies.
Emperor Xuanzong initially agreed, but after the edict was drafted, Xuanzong tabled it and instead sent the eunuch Fu Qiulin (輔璆琳) to send fresh fruits to An and to observe him—upon which An was alleged to bribe Fu into submitting a favorable report. Yang, however, persisted in his reports against An. Yang then attacked some of An's staff and associates, including having the mayor of Jingzhao arrest An's friend Li Chao (李超) and others, and executing them secretly. An Qingzong, who was then at Chang'an, reported Yang's attack to An Lushan, causing considerable concern to An Lushan, who, thereafter, refused to attend the funeral of an imperial prince in summer 755, and did not offer to send a large number of horses to Chang'an that autumn, which aroused the suspicions of Emperor Xuanzong. Allegations of An's bribes to Fu also reached the Emperor, who then had Fu executed, and sent another eunuch, Feng Shenwei (馮神威) to Fanyang to again summon An Lushan, who ignored the summons.
In winter 755, An launched his rebellion on 16 December, claiming he had received a secret edict from Emperor Xuanzong to advance on Chang'an to remove Yang. The imperial officials were all apprehensive, because An had the strongest troops of the realm at the time, except for Yang, who believed that An could be suppressed easily. Emperor Xuanzong commissioned the general Feng Changqing as military governor of Fanyang and Pinglu, intending to have him replace An after An's rebellion was defeated. The Emperor also sent Feng to the eastern capital, Luoyang, to build up the defense there; another general, Gao Xianzhi, was ordered to command a secondary defense at Shan Commandery (陝郡, roughly modern Sanmenxia, Henan). He executed An Qingzong and An's first wife Lady Kang, and forced An Qingzong's present wife, Lady Rongyi, to take her own life.
On 8 January 756, An Lushan crossed the Yellow River, quickly capturing Chenliu (陳留, roughly modern Kaifeng, Henan) and Yingyang (滎陽, roughly modern Zhengzhou, Henan) Commanderies. He approached Luoyang, where he encountered an ill-prepared army commanded by Feng, defeating Feng quickly and forcing Feng to flee and concede Luoyang to him. Feng joined forces with Gao and urged a retreat to Tong Pass; Gao agreed, and they took up defensive positions there, and An did not proceed quickly, but remained at Luoyang, planning to declare himself emperor there. (Soon, due to accusations of the eunuch Bian Lingcheng (邊令誠), Emperor Xuanzong executed Feng and Gao, and replaced Gao with Geshu Han.) Some Tang officials north of the Yellow River resisted An Lushan under the leadership of Yan Zhenqing, the governor of Pingyuan Commandery (平原, roughly modern Dezhou, Shandong).
On Lunar New Year's day, 756 (5 February), An Lushan declared himself Emperor at Luoyang, establishing a new state of Yan, making Zhang Tongru and the surrendered Tang official Daxi Xun (達奚珣) his chancellors. He created An Qingxu the Prince of Jin and another son, An Qinghe (安慶和), the Prince of Zheng. Meanwhile, Yan Zhenqing's cousin Yan Gaoqing (顏杲卿), who initially submitted to An, rose against An at Changshan Commandery (常山, roughly modern Baoding, Hebei) but was quickly defeated and delivered to An in Luoyang; An executed him and sent An Qingxu to make an initial attack against Tong Pass, and Geshu Han repelled the attack.
By this time, the Tang generals Guo Ziyi and Li Guangbi had fought their way into Emperor An's territory north of the Yellow River, cutting off the communication between Luoyang and Fanyang, causing much fear in An's troops. An considered withdrawing north of the Yellow River to secure the territory, but meanwhile, suspicions had begun to rise between Yang Guozhong and Geshu, each believing that the other had designs on himself. Yang therefore persuaded Emperor Xuanzong to order Geshu to attack the Yan general Cui Qianyou, who was then stationed at Shan Commandery. (This order was against the advice of Geshu, Guo, and Li Guangbi that the proper strategy was to secure Tong Pass and let Guo and Li Guangbi capture the Yan territory to the north.) Geshu, with Emperor Xuanzong repeatedly ordering him to attack, was forced to do so, and was defeated by Cui. Geshu's subordinate Huoba Guiren (火拔歸仁) seized him and surrendered to Yan forces. Subsequently, An induced Geshu to write letters to several Tang generals, urging them to surrender, but they all refused.
When Yan forces captured Tong Pass, Emperor Xuanzong and Yang, in panic, abandoned Chang'an and fled toward Shu Commandery (蜀郡, roughly modern Chengdu, Sichuan). On the way, at a small village, Mawei Station, prompted by general Chen Xuanli who believed that Yang Guozhong had provoked this rebellion, the imperial guards assassinated Yang Guozhong, and demanded the death of Yang Guifei, to which the Emperor reluctantly consented. An, caught by surprise of the Emperor's retreat, had Cui advance slowly into Chang'an, even though the Tang mayor of Chang'an, Cui Guangyuan (崔光遠), offered to surrender. Also surrendering to Yan forces were the former chancellor Chen Xilie and the key officials Zhang Jun (張均) and Zhang Ji (張垍), and An made Chen and Zhang Ji chancellors as well.
Meanwhile, An had Emperor Xuanzong's sister, Princess of Huo, as well as a number of other imperial relatives, executed, and sacrificed their organs to An Qingzong. At this point, a new person became the Tang Emperor, Li Heng, or Emperor Suzong. Due to the slowness of the Yan advance, the Yan forces were unable to capture either Emperor Xuanzong, who eventually reached Shu Commandery, or Li Heng, who fled to Lingwu and took imperial title there (as Emperor Suzong). (Xuanzong recognized Li Heng's actions and subsequently took the title Taishang Huang (retired emperor).) Hearing news of Chang'an's fall, Guo and Li Guangbi withdrew to Lingwu, allowing Shi to again pacify the region north of the Yellow River and east of the Taihang Mountains with exception of pockets held by Yan Zhenqing and other Tang officials under his command.
An Lushan's chronic eye problems led to blindness, and he suffered from ulcers. As a result, he became ill-tempered, and would whip, cane or even sometimes execute his servants, if they had caused him any displeasure. Yan Zhuang and a favorite eunuch of An, Li Zhu'er (李豬兒), were also said to be hit frequently. Once he declared imperial title, he spent most of his time inside the Luoyang palace, and his generals rarely saw him, with most important matters going through Yan Zhuang.
An favored his son An Qing'en (安慶恩), the son of his second wife, Lady Duan (who might have carried the title of empress by this point). An considered letting An Qing'en be his crown prince, instead of An Qingxu, who was otherwise considered in order to receive that honor. An Qingxu often feared that An Lushan would put him to death; this fear drove him to assassinate An Lushan. He, Yan, and Li Zhu'er therefore plotted the assassination. On the night of 29 January 757, with Yan and An Qingxu watching outside, Li Zhu'er took a sword into the palace and attacked An Lushan; An Lushan tried to fight back, but could not locate a sword that he put under his bed, and Li Zhu'er killed him. The next morning, Yan first announced to the Yan officials that An Lushan was seriously ill and was creating An Qingxu crown prince, and then An Qingxu took the throne, before announcing An Lushan's death. After Shi Siming killed An Qingxu in 759 and took imperial title himself, he buried An Lushan with ceremony due an imperial prince, not an emperor, and gave him the rather unflattering posthumous name of La (剌, meaning "unthinking").Father
may be surnamed Kang (康) (personal name unknown)
An Yanyan (安延偃)
Lady Kang, mother of Prince Qingxu (executed by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang 756)
Empress Duan, mother of An Qing'en
An Qingzong (安慶宗) (executed by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang 756)
An Qingxu (安慶緒), the Prince of Jin (created 756), later emperor
An Qingzhang (安慶長)
An Qinghe (安慶和), the Prince of Zheng (created 756, executed by Emperor Suzong of Tang 758)
An Qing'en (安慶恩)
Six other sons, names unrecorded in history
An Sishun (relationship uncertain)