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The role of Xuanzong, An Lushan, and Guifei in Tang China

The An Lushan rebellion was a remarkable turning point in the political history of China. This uprising has been immortalized due to the roles of Xuanzong and Guifei in the rebellion. An Lushan served in the Tao military and his defeat to Khitan saw his rise in military ranks. Through Xuanzong’s patronage, the Sogdian-Turkic general gained power and in 755 he led an uprising.

An Lushan was obsequious to Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei. He flattered Xuanzong and through self-deprecation, he approved harmless. He declared himself an eccentric barbarian that abides by his culture’s protocol of honoring mothers, thus he bowed to Guifei before bowing to the Emperor. His antics endeared him to Xuanzong. Additionally, Lushan was given a rare privilege, he was granted access to inner courts. He would visit ladies’ quarters in the palace, a pleasure only enjoyed by the eunuchs.

Lushan did not only become close to the Emperor but also developed an intimate companion with Guifei. Furthermore, Xuanzong and Guifei adopted Lushan as a son. Although not proven, it has been suggested that Guifei and Lushan had an erotic relationship, “she bathed him as if he was a baby” (Lee and Jennifer 441). Bai claims that the downfall of the empire was due to incestuous lust (108). This notion is portrayed via the “Rain on the Wutong Tree” where Xuanzong made his daughter in a law a Daoist nun who came to be regarded as a precious consort. She captured the emperor’s attention and her family was elevated to high positions, for instance, her cousin Guozhong became the chief minister.

Although, both the Chang’an and Li Linfu courts doubted his inconsistent loyalty, especially when he engaged in court politics. His military record, conduct, and demonstrated fidelity had won the emperor’s gratitude. Furthermore, the Xuanzong extended his gratitude by bestowing noble titles for Lushan’s two wives. The growing trust by the Emperor made him appoint Lushan as military governor heading three circuits with a larger military personnel that made him the most influential military commander.

Being bestowed with honors and privileges, Lushan had gained adequate power to rebel against the Tang dynasty. Lee and Jennifer suggest that his primary motive behind the rebellion was the ambition to become an Emperor (443). But, others believe that the rebellion was a result of his power struggle with the chief minister, Guozhong. By proclaiming the Yan dynasty as a replacement of the Tang dynasty, it was revealed that his ambitions went beyond removing the chief minister from the position.

The relationship between Xuanzong and Lushan influenced the rebellion. Through power and honors bestowed to him by the Emperor, Lushan was powerful and resourceful enough to rebel for almost a decade. The rebellion impacted Tang dynasty significantly, they lost control of Central Asia. The vast amount of resources were used to pay the Uygurs and this drained their revenues. Uygurs occupied the capital of Chang’an, the northwest regions formerly occupied by the Tibetan.

Tang dynasty was divided and the central government was weakened due to loss of taxes and disruption of trade. The rebel generals have retained their positions in the northeast after the rebellion, however they made their positions hereditary and this further undermined Tang’s credibility. Although a substantial population, 25-30 percent, lived in the northeast, taxation was lost due to lack of integrity (Lee and Jennifer 447). The south becomes the major source of revenue to the national government.

Xuanzong, Lushan, and Guifei have impacted the history of Tang dynasty. Lushan and his rebellion have given an insight into the creation of the tragic love story between Guifei and Xuanzong. Their story has influenced literary genres such as fiction, poetry, and drama. Both the literary and popular culture representations view Lushan as a rogue, while the love story has been romanticized (Lee and Jennifer 448). The “Song of Everlasting Regret” is the popular version of Xuanzong and Guifei’s love story.

The poem presents Guifei as an innocent lass that had reached puberty who is invited to entertain the Emperor. She ends up as one of his concubines and eventually become lovers. A rebellion arises that makes them run for their safety at Sichuan, where she dies. The story dominates a larger political force behind the scenes. In Chinese culture, Guifei is depicted as a woman that contributed to the fall of Tang dynasty. Even after the rebellion, the dynasty remained weak and gradually decayed until it fell. Lee and Jennifer details that in spite of recovery, Tang dynasty was diminishing (450).

Conclusively, Xuanzong, Lushan, and Guifei had made a significant history in Tang China. The rebellion changed the direction of Tang politically, socially and economically. Tang lost did not only lose control of Central Asia but also lost taxation revenues from Northeast which turned out to be regionalized. Disruption of trade and Grand Canal transportation impacted its taxation system and financial structure. Millions of lives were lost during the revolt alongside the destruction of land and resources. Social ties were adversely impacted and ethnic tensions led to the execution of prisoners by the Emperor. More so, China was transitioned from a medieval era to an early modern period. A new cultural geography emerged manifest by the Uygurs who settled in Northwest. The fiscal shifts from the north to the south led to the dependence of the south as the source of revenue to the central government.

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