History Lessons

An Lushan

Revolt of the cunning

An Lushan was a military leader of Iranian-Turkish origin, who after bribing people to give favourable reports about him, became favoured by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). He was eventually made governor of three major frontier provinces in the northeast, giving him control of the eastern half of China’s frontier.

In 755, Li Linfu, the High Chancellor died and Yang Guozhong was promoted to the position as imperial advisor.

Yang believed that An was a rogue and repeatedly warned the emperor that he was plotting rebellion. The emperor paid no attention.

Yang then predicted that if Emperor Xuanzong summoned An to Chang’an (the Tang Dynasty’s capital), An would refuse to come. However, to Yang’s surprise, An soon showed up, and convinced the Emperor that Yang’s accusations were false ones.

An then submitted a petition to replace the 32 Han generals under him with non-Han officials. Yang and other commanders warned the Emperor again that An was not to be trusted and that his request should be refused. Again, the Emperor did not listen.

Finally, An launched his rebellion. Already in control of almost half of Tang’s military forces, An led his troops from Fanyang southward and captured the eastern capital Luoyang within two months. In Luoyang, he established a new state of Yan and declared himself Emperor.

The revolt lasted until 763, when An was finally killed. But in those eight years the death toll was estimated at 36 million, making it one of the bloodiest periods in Chinese history.

The lesson? Yang Guozhong repeatedly warned that a rebellion was imminent. But thanks to An’s superior cunning, Yang was made to appear like the boy who cried wolf and was not believed. In office politics too, the cunning will often triumph over those who are right.


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