As a result of Gao LiShi’s participation in Emperor Xuanzong action against Princess Taiping, which ultimately made Xuanzong the Emperor, Emperor Xuanzong awarded him by making him a general of the imperial guards, as well as the acting head of the eunuch bureau. Gao’s general commission made Gao LiShi the first eunuch in Tang history to carry the third rank in Tang’s nine-rank system, and this was viewed as the start of the rise of eunuchs.
Gao LiShi was particularly trusted by Emperor Xuanzong, who remarked, “If Gao Lishi is here, I can sleep securely.” He is believed to have been in charge of many decisions that were supposed to be the emperor’s responsibility during Emperor Xuanzong’s later years, and was believed to have been richer than many of the nobility of the era. Petitions submitted to Emperor Xuanzong were first screened by Gao LiShi before he would pass them on to Emperor Xuanzong—and Gao LiShi ruled on the less important matters himself, causing his power to rise immensely.
Gao LiShi was powerful, careful and modest, and therefore continuously drew trust from Emperor Xuanzong. Among officials and generals who ingratiated him and had him help their advancements were both Yang Guozhong and An Lushan. The intelligentsia at the time blamed him for the advancement of some of the more power-hungry officials, but also recognized that whenever officials associated with him were charged with crimes, he would not improperly intercede to save them.
When a rebellion rose inside Chang’an, the troops commanded by Yang Guozhong (Consort Yang’s cousin) were unable to crush it, but Gao LiShi arrived with reinforcements and crushed the rebellion decisively.
When Emperor Xuanzong was forced to make a decision to execute his beloved Yang GuiFei to appease his army, he had Gao LiShi take Yang GuiFei to a Buddhist shrine and strangle her. After Gao LiShi showed the body on Yang GuiFei to the army, it quelled the issue, and the army ended escorting Emperor Xuanzong to safety in Chengdu. Gao LiShi continued to attend to him there. For Gao LiShi’s faithfulness, Emperor Xuanzong created him the Duke of Qi.
He was often viewed as a positive example of eunuch participation in politics for his personal loyalty to Emperor Xuanzong, which withstood despite its putting himself in personal danger later, during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong’s son Emperor Suzong (when Emperor Xuanzong was Taishang Huang (retired emperor) as it drew jealousy from fellow eunuch Li Fuguo. Further, during the years of his highest power, he was also said to make no improper influences on governance, and therefore drew no anger from the intelligentsia. Late in Emperor Suzong’s reign, he was exiled upon Li Fuguo’s urging. After a pardon in 762, he was returning from exile, when he heard of Emperors Xuanzong’s and Suzong’s deaths. Mourning Emperor Xuanzong bitterly, he grew ill and died.