An Lushan, Chinese general of Iranian and Turkish descent, a protégé of the Emperor Xuangzong‘s concubine Yang GuiFei, was military commander on China’s northeast frontier. As leader of a rebellion in AD 755, he seized the city of Luoyang (modern Loyang) and the imperial capital, Chang’An (now Xian), forcing Xuanzong to seek refuge in Sichuan.
Emperor Xuanzong considered making An Lushan chancellor as well—even having the edict drafted to the effect—but eventually did not do so. When An Lushan was set to return to Fanyang, Emperor Xuanzong had Gao LiShi hold a feast for An to send him off. After the feast, Gao LiShi observed to Emperor Xuanzong that An Lushan was displeased, perhaps because he had found out that he was originally set to be made chancellor but was not.
He proclaimed himself emperor and unsuccessfully attempted to found a dynasty to replace the Tang dynasty (618–907). Despite its failure, the rebellion precipitated far-reaching social and economic change. The general was assassinated by his own son in 757.
The first occurrence of An Lushan’s name in the Tang annals is under the year 736, when, as a reconnaissance officer, he lost his force through rash conduct and was condemned to death. He was pardoned and, thereafter, rose rapidly in rank, receiving his first independent command in 742. As a military governor he became a political figure, made frequent visits to the capital, and became a personal favorite of the Emperor and of Yang GuiFei.
An Lushan, an enormously fat man, was adept at playing the buffoon in order to ingratiate himself. Such was his favor at court that once, three days after his birthday, he was taken into the women’s quarters of the palace (wrapped in an enormous baby diaper) and put through a mock ceremony of adoption by Yang GuiFei. Indecorous conduct of this kind led to rumors of improper relations between him and Yang GuiFei, which have added spice to the later legend, but his position at court depended at least as much on the Emperor himself as on his consort.