As an introduction, let me state some facts: the eighth-century Ān Lùshān Rebellion was the single deadliest war in human history in relative value, i.e., by calculating the death toll against the global population of the time. It is assumed that 15% of the total population of the world (not of China, of the world!) died either as a direct consequence of the military actions, or as a consequence of the mass starvation and diseases caused by the upheavals brought upon central and northern China by the war. Yet this war is incredibly little-known in the West.
The Táng empire possibly represents the zenith of Imperial China. Its territorial extent was immense, more or less the same area as today at a time when transport and communications were definitely not as they are today! In terms of culture, arts, and religion, it is also widely accepted that this is the time when Imperial China reached its apogee — it is the culture of Táng China that spread on to Korea and thence to Japan.
Táng China was a centralised empire, with an embryonic civil service, yet still mostly relying upon the ancient nobiliary structure. In the 7th century, the empire embarked upon a series of wars of expansion, to the north-east (present-day Manchuria), to the west (Inner and Central Asia) and to the south (present-day Vietnam). Although China was victorious, these wars strained her economy. The huge armies that conquered these distant lands had to remain stationed there to prevent any local revolts, and, due to the economical difficulties of the central government, the funds for the upkeep of the armies and of the mercenaries, which played a growing role in the wars, came from the generals of the armies themselves. As a result, the generals of the frontier armies became the equivalent of the European feudal marquis: hereditary noblemen whose duty it was to guard the marches of the kingdom. These frontier military governors were called jiédùshǐ (節度使) in Chinese.
|Ān Lùshān (安祿山)|
Ān Lùshān was a frequent visitor in the capital, where he was admitted in the inner sanctum of the emperor's palace. This prompted a rumour that he was a lover of Yáng Yùhuán's, the emperor's favourite concubine. To this day, it is unknown whether the rumour was based on anything concrete, and this love triangle has originated quite a number of films and TV dramas.
The battle of Talas, lost against the Arabs in 751, was the turning point in the Chinese wars of expansion. The people in China grew dissatisfied with these costly wars, and the emperor had to implement a series of sometimes conflicting changes of policy. These changes were accompanied by the rise and the decline of various aristocratic factions at court. In the winter of 755-756, one of these factions called in Ān Lùshān, who occupied Cháng'ān. The city was ruthlessly sacked and destroyed by the (mostly non-Hàn) armies of Ān and his allies. At this point, emperor Xuánzōng gave all power to the factions who opposed Ān Lùshān to remove this threat. Ān reacted by attacking and taking Luòyáng, the 'second' or 'eastern' capital city of the Táng. At this moment, Ān Lùshān declared himself emperor of the new Great Yān (大燕) dynasty.
The legitimate emperor had to flee south to Sìchuān. His guards, however, blamed the war on the supposed affair between Ān and Yáng, and had her put to death. In 756, the heartbroken Xuánzōng resigned in favour of his son, Sùzōng, who had remained in the north to reclaim the throne. The hard flight to Sìchuān and the death of Yáng Yùhuán have spawned a number of very famous Chinese and even Japanese works.
Sùzōng first had to battle against his brothers for pre-eminence within the loyalist camp, enlisting the aid of Uyghur barbarians. Since Sùzōng didn't have any funds to pay the Uyghurs, they were left free to pillage North China as compensation for heir help. After having defeated his brothers, Sùzōng defeated the Yān, and took back Cháng'ān and Luòyáng in 757, again with the help of his Uyghur allies.
Meanwhile, in the Yān camp, Ān Lùshān had grown complacent as emperor of the Great Yān dynasty, and he was eventually murdered by his own son, Ān Qìngxù. General Shǐ Sīmíng, a long-time ally and childhood friend of Ān Lùshān's, had Ān Qìngxù executed in 759. He took over Ān's territory and troops, and claimed for himself the title of emperor of Yān. This is why the Ān Lùshān Rebellion is also called the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion.
During all these events, most of North China remained disputed between the Táng and the Yān, depending on the outcome of various battles and sieges, and on the shifting loyalties of the various army generals. The rebel heartland lay in the north-east.
However, with the military situation coming to a stalemate between the Táng and the Yān, the latter started to experience internal dissent. Emperor Shǐ was killed by his own son in 761. Apparently, Shǐ's son was an able commander, but with the Uyghurs entering again the fray to help the Táng, he couldn't avoid defeat after defeat, and committed suicide in 763, thus ending the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion.
At this time, northern China lay in ruins, the Táng had lost all their territorial gains from before the Ān Lùshān Rebellion, and the Arabs and the Tibetans could quietly attack and plunder Chinese cities. The Uyghurs controlled the Tarim Basin. The Táng dynasty was irrevocably weakened. Despite its role in the war, the Táng were forced to keep the system of the jiédùshǐ.
On top of the immense deaths and devastation, and of the effects mentioned above, the outcome of the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion was also an economic and an intellectual decline.
Using the Ān Lùshān Rebellion with The Celestial Empire:
As explained in TCE, the game has been written with the peaceful time periods of Imperial China in mind, when travel is safe and player characters can try and work their way through the stable organisations of Imperial China: literary academies, martial arts schools, religious sects, and clan associations. However, troubled times such as the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion may also obviously present many occasions for role-playing. The player characters can be the agents (or even the cìkè) of the one or the other aristocratic faction at the court of emperor Xuánzōng. Or they can be 'secret agents' of the latter, or even accompany him through the dangers and the hardships of the flight to Sìchuān. Or they can be a general ad his retainers, trying to grab as much power as possible.