The Chinese rebel leader An Lu-shan (703-757) led a great rebellion that nearly overthrew the reigning T'ang dynasty.
An Lu-shan was probably born in Ying-chou on the northwest border of China. His father, a Sogdian, was an officer in the army of the Northern Turks; his mother was probably from a noble Turkish family. Very little is known about his childhood and early life. He eventually became a soldier and by the early 730s was a lieutenant in one of the Chinese garrisons protecting the northeastern border of China against invasion.
This was the beginning of An Lu-shan's career as a rising young officer in the regional army. He appears to have distinguished himself by personally leading raiding parties against threatening Khitan armies. Not all of his exploits were successful. Perhaps overconfident, he was severely defeated in one expedition in 737. He was disgraced, and barely avoided execution. For a short time he lost his rank and titles, but within a year these were restored. By 740 An Lu-shan was second in command in one of the important border armies. After another promotion to deputy military governor, he became governor of the military province of P'ing-lu on the northeast frontier in 742.
Now holding high rank, An Lu-shan had several opportunities to visit the capital of Ch'ang-an. His appearance was that of a rough and simple frontier soldier, though it was later said that this rude exterior hid an already ambitious and scheming man.
During the 740s An Lu-shan enjoyed even greater rank and title as as a frontier commander. He was probably favored by the chief minister because he seemed simple. He was, moreover, illiterate and therefore no threat to any scholar-official in high civil office. In fact, when he came to the court, he played the part of a clown and was said to be immensely amusing to the emperor and his ladies.
There was, however, little burlesque in the career of An Lu-shan during the next decade. In 751 he led a disastrously unsuccessful expedition against the Khitan. Fortunately for him, he still enjoyed imperial favor, and his life and career were saved. In 752 Li Lin-fu, the powerful chief minister who had been his patron, died. For the next 3 years a power struggle took place in which the participants tried to establish political power in the court and military power on the frontier. The aging emperor Hsüan-tsung (reigned 713-756) was unable to control the factions, and in the winter of 755-756 An Lu-shan, now the most powerful of the regional warlords, rose in rebellion against the dynasty. The rebels enjoyed great initial successes, capturing both T'ang capitals and forcing the Emperor to flee to the southwest. An Lushan was murdered by his own son in 757.
In 763, after much brutal fighting which devastated China, the rebellion An Lu-shan had begun was finally put down. The dynasty survived for another century and a half, but this rebellion dealt it a blow from which it never fully recovered.
Further Reading on An Lu-shan
For information on the career of An Lu-shan consult the Biography of An Lu-shan (1960), a translation by Howard S. Levy from the Old T'ang History (Chiu T'ang-shu), the standard, official history of the T'ang, complied by Liu Hsün and others, A.D. 945. E. G. Pulleyblank, The Background of the Rebellion of An Lu-shan (1955), is useful on the period preceding the rebellion.