An Lushan Rebellion 3-1: 安史之乱: The Hollow Heart of the Empire 张巡

Music: No Way Out

This is a story of inhumanity of man and the loyalty of dogs. In many ways, this story could be viewed as a cruel microcosm of the entirety of the An Lusah Rebellion, which utterly disrupted the Tang dynasty at its imperial heights and caused the death of (even by conservative estimates) at least around 13 million- at least 1/5 of the empire's populace (13% of the entire world's population in the 8th century)~ a figure that was only eclipsed by the global genocide of the Mongol invasions and the Second World War.

But this- if you find the heart to look deeper, is also a story of the utmost sacrifice and defiance, all of which is lost in the brutal ways in which the coming battle was fought. Despite the grim spectacle, it will also show the damage an out-manned and utterly devastated Tang dynasty war machine was still able to deal out when they are doomed from all sides.

When the Turkic- Sogdian general An Lushan instigated his great revolt against the Tang dynasty- it had came like a wrecking ball. Not only was it utterly unexpected, for it was launched during the deep winter of 755, a season where most of the farmers had returned to their homes and most armies- both inside and outside the empires would be normally taking a long break of respite.

But the rebels came with an army that was so massive it was comparable to 40% of the entire empire's total forces, including but not limited to the most of the empire's elite veterans stationed on the empire's frontiers, as well as many tribes of Khitans, Sogdians, and all manners of Turkic people in the general's service. It would seemed that An Lushan had been privately planning this rebellion for years. Hundreds of local governors and generals quickly joined him on his warpath, and within only months, he would brutally capture, loot, and sack Louyang, the eastern second capital of the empire, pillaging and raping until the entire city was despoiled of its riches.

The heartland of the empire was his, just next year, An's army raced so close to the imperial capital at Chang An that the Xuanzong Emperor himself had to escape the capital with his entire court in a humiliating march. It was there that both Xuanzong Emperor's own son and his imperial bodyguards turned on him. His bodyguards murdered his beloved Concubine Yang (said to be the most beautiful woman of the Tang dynasty) and his son took over the rein of the empire as a de facto generalissimo. The richest, most densely populated areas of the empire are now in control of the rebels, and without a central chain of command, every pocket of the empire who still remained loyal to the Tang had to fend for themselves against the tide of the invaders.


Here is where two of the most prominent Tang generals came into the limelight of history, Zhang Xun and Guo Ziyi made their careers in this brutal conflict, and we will see how each affected the course of the great flood. Both of their stories will be totally different in tone as well as scope, but both contributed greatly for the dynasty to withstand the lopsided odds stacked against it. For this story, we will solely focus on the exploits of general Zhang Xun-

But it will serve as a platform that will give many contexts and meanings when we move on to the achievements of general Guo Ziyi. In many ways, each wouldn't have existed, or made their names without the other and each paints a distinct picture of the conflict at large.


The statue of a Tang dynasty tomb guardian with distinctive "western" features, including a prominent jaw as well as elongated nose. Throughout the rebellion, the Turkic- Sogdian general An Lushan would have been both severely corpulent and be-splotched with rashes, having developed cataracts in both of his eyes and his skins constantly irritated by skin sore, the 50 year old general was constantly in a state of extreme irritation and would be easily provoked into fits of murderous anger, more than one occasion did he unleash his cane and whips on servants, even on his own crown prince for even minor offenses. 

Music: First Blood

To properly tell the story of Zhang Xun, we need to start at an earlier moment in time, before the abandonment of Chang' An and the death of Consort Yang. It was during this early phases of the rebellion that An's rebels effectively bulldozed through all the thinly assembled imperial forced in their path, easily trampling~ but most often simply enrolling many of the minor prefects and providential governors into their ranks. And if one would recall, by the fall of 755, An Lushan captured and looted Luoyang, the eastern capital of the Tang Dynasty- where once the renowned Empress Wu of a century before had made the jewel of the empire.

However, with civilians losing faith in the Tang regime, and more people and generals joining An Lushan's newly proclaimed Great Yan Dynasty every day, for many, it seemed that the Tang Dynasty was near its end. After pillaging and sacking Louyang, An Lushan immediately set his eyes on Chang' An, the capital of Tang.

756: X marks the spot where key Tang military garrisons 节度使 (Jiedushi) were posted along the frontier of the empire. As one could easily see, most of the garrisons are entrenched along the west and southern fringes to check the ambitions of the Turkic peoples and the Tibetan Empire, leaving the center of the empire (in light yellow) completely defenseless. An Lushan had the distinction of being one of the very few commanders on the northeastern Khitan frontier, with roughly 40% of the Empire's best troops in tow. When the rebellion started, An (orange) was able to quickly take Hebei and Shanxi provinces in the north and half of the extremely populous Henan province (orange) in central China- from where the eastern capital of Louyang was located. 

A closeup of the Tang center with rivers and military objectives marked. Having easily breached through the outer rim of the empire, the center (light yellow) is left completely defenseless like an egg without a shell. By the spring and early summer of 756, An's forces easily took all of the lands north of the Yellow river (marked in white.) For the time being, the Yellow river acted as a defensive line for the few Tang loyalists willing to put up a fight until the frontier commanders could come with their relief columns- meanwhile, the imperial Capital of Chang An lays completely exposed on the western shores of the Yellow River. The timing for both the rebels and the loyalists was critical.

It would be a battle for the transportation 5 points of realm, right within
the hollow heart chamber of the empire.


By this time the imperial government barely managed to hastily assemble a force large enough to contend with the rebel's main invasion force and entrenched them at western Henan's defensible Tong Pass between Louyang and Chang 'an. It would- at least the Tang desperately hoped, be enough to repel An's veterans. An, eager to prove his army's invincibility to the realm demanded that the Tang be utterly vanquished in the coming duel. He still had the initiative against a court that is completely paralyzed and without a large army anywhere near the capital to rescue it, all he needed was to pierce through that thin array and the capital- and by extension the whole realm would be his. But just as he redirected his giant army for the critical westward onslaught. A thorn pierced out from his backside.

It seemed, a flea sized army has bit the back of his great host. Apparantly, while his massive army swept westward across the Henan province, a tiny enclave there commanded by a stubborn local commander named Zhang Xun still refused to bow down to his forces. To understand the context of this...defiance, it was as if the central strategic command of a modern nation's government has been utterly rooted out, paralyzing the rest of the command structure in a blackout, leaving the commanders of those isolated pockets swallowed and isolated to fend for themselves, yet despite the circumstances, they still sallied out and wrecked havoc all by themselves.

It was a situation reminiscent of when the Yugoslavian partisans found themselves trapped in after Nazi Germany had overrun the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, or when the Japanese invaders overrun much of Korean in the 1592 invasion, leaving only the lone Korean Jeolla Province (of the renowned Admiral Yi) stranded behind enemy lines. Naturally, many who preferred to live- or opportunistically try his luck in the new emerging regime would have gave up quickly and let themselves be absorbed into the ranks of the massive rebel army- but despite the complete lack of information and the paralysis of the chain of command, the stubborn garrison behind An's army still persisted in causing trouble in An's flank. Worse yet, that force couldn't have been sitting on a more vital spot, they must all be wiped out.

Music: The One


Although the overall aim of An Lushan's central command was to quickly capture the imperial capital at Chang An and to eliminate the Tang regime altogether, they were also simultaneously interested in completely securing central China. Thousands of miles of territories south beyond the Yellow River stretching all the way to Lingnan in modern Guangzhou (near Hong Kong, Macau, and Vietnam) lays completely undefended, the nearest army was the military garrison near Vietnman with only a paltry number of 15,000 mostly poorly trained soldiers stationed there. When compared to the nearly 300,000 soldiers An possessed in Henan they were utterly inconsequential in any regard. That is- unless many of the Tang frontier generals along the Tang boarders joined their forces and merges to field a combined army to check An's forces. 

In order to prevent that possibility- however remote it might be, An's forces would do well to firmly secure the center of the empire, then- like an outstretched palm, extend out, isolate, and destroy every single separated Tang garrison along the empire's frontiers so as to not allow any of them to join up into a larger threat. To do so meant they must first secure the totality of Henan- the five points transportation hub of the empire. 

The crucial heartland of Henan province marked in gold. Henan had always not only been the breadbasket of the entire realm but also- more crucially, the five-points transportation hub of the empire for nearly the entirety of China's history. Even today, it still remains the hub of China's railroad and supplies. Zhang Xun's battles of Yongqiu and Suiyang (X) would be fought along Henan's southward path to block An Lushan's southern ambitions.


Henan was of vital strategic importance to An's rebels. Not only is the province the breadbasket of northern China, one that planted and then fed most of the surrounding provinces, but its also the hub of nearly all of the traffic between the north and southern China. The vital Grand Canal constructed during the Sui dynasty ran through out Henan and then changes course both westward as well as northward within the province, sending huge quantities of rice which could only be grown in southern China to the rest of the empire. In short, the Grand Canal was the mechanical heart and the lifeline of the Tang apparatus, the reason that the Tang was able to boast such a huge population equivalent to 1/4 of the 8th century world's total population. Goods of all sorts and food of all were free to be moved to even the most remote, most inhospitable part of the frontiers.


Taking the Grand Canals at this central junction meant that An's forces would be able to blackmail the rest of the empire into surrender, all the food and supplies to the radiating corners would be cut off, thousands, millions would die in months until attrition forces them all to capitulate to the possessor of the Grand Canal- An does not even need to destroy them on the field, he just need to starve out all the Tang loyalists out. Indeed one of the many reasons that so many millions of people died during this conflict was because An Lushan's rebels essentially cut off the shipment of rice to the north that it became impossible to ship food north of the Yellow River, in turn starving all who are unable to get their hands on food.

From a purely militaristic perspective, the control of Henan was also vital to the overall conquest of Tang China. The Grand Canal could be likened to a giant subway system, where between many of the east/ west bound river courses, the canal provided lines of north/ south lanes to facilitate travel along all of China's river waters. The canal was thus a fast travel system for whoever possessed it, engineered to link up many of eastern China's rivers into one high way, any ship traveling upon and of east China's rivers could change courses and in only hours travel from one river to another with little assistance.

Red curved lines forms an acute angle within the province. This would be the famous Grand Canal constructed during the Sui Dynasty. This elaborate canal system effectively vertically linked up multiple rivers that cut horizontally across southern China. 

Having this set of waterworks meant that with a sufficient navy, An would be able to freely cut across all parts of southern China with no resistance at all. Afterall, the difficult water barriers would be easy defensive lines for An's forces, and he would have no problem reinforcing any of them with a sufficient transport navy. The whole of Tang China would be his should be take the Capital at Chang' An, the Grand Canals and Henan...If only the loathsome resistance have not pitched a camp there and prevented him from doing so. 

For the time being, most of the south and the eastern empire were still untouched by the rebels. However, if southeastern Henan (Black Circle) - the gateway into the south would be taken by the rebels, they could easily use the nearby Grand Canal and sail down to the intersection (Orange Circle) to the Yangtze River (White below.) Then the Tang forces would be drawn and quartered and each garrison on each cardinal direction of the empire would be left totally isolated. 


The county of Suiyang lays at the eastern most corner of Henan province and was of great military significance. All of the northbound Grand Canal that ran across Henan pass through this narrow district. If the Tang Dynasty could defend this area, An Lushan's influence would be completely limited to the north of China for the time being. This would give the Tang Dynasty enough time to prepare defenses further south. If An Lushan conquered this area quickly, he would be free to conquer the rest of the resource-rich southern China and absorb all of its vast resources.

When the rebellion broke out, the governor of the Suiyang County was named Yang Wanshi (楊萬石), and promptly decided to surrender to An Lushan. The governor of the city of Yongqiu, named Linghu Chao (令狐潮), agreed with the surrender after the fall of Luoyang, which in his view made the Tang cause hopeless.

Music: A Survivor is Born


However, the army commander of Suiyang Fortress at this time was a minister named Zhang Xun. He refused to follow Yang Wan Shí's surrender orders, and instead later gathered 3,000 citizens and soldiers to combat the rebels. What is interesting about Zhang was that he does not seem to be cut out from the typical stock of warriors.

Zhang Xun was not an unabashed, fight- hungry fellow but rather a mild mannered scholar, and had lived most of his life as a minister and royal adviser before being entrusted with this part of Henan. A very shy man, whom it was also said that he only associated with those he considered to be gentlemen, therefore he was not well known and only had a small circle of friends and the companionship of a favored concubine. In his youth he was reported to have studied many military manuals and had great ambitions that made him take the imperial exams to test his qualifications as a minister.

He passed the imperial examinations late in the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, and initially had served on the staff of Emperor Xuanzong's crown prince Li Heng before being made the magistrate of Qinghe County (清河, in modern Xingtai, Hebei) close to where An Lushan was stationed. He was said to have served capably at Qinghe, and while there, paid much attention to assisting those who needed help. His older brother Zhang Xiao (張曉) was also an imperial official, and both were known for their literary talent. After his term of service was over, he returned to the capital at Chang' An.


It was his years in Chang An that we first began to see something that defined Zhang, noticeably, he was one of the very few characters in the decadent Tang court who had a great sense of character: especially his disdain for luxury and all manners of insincerity.

At that time, the governmental affairs were dominated by the corrupt chancellor Yang Guozhong, if you would recall, the cousin of the infamous Consort Yang. Zhang's friends encouraged him to meet Yang to ask for another better office. But Zhang stubbornly refused, stating that it was inappropriate for an imperial subject to be a flatterer.

Zhang later served as the magistrate of Zhenyuan County (真原, in modern Zhoukou, Henan near the Suiyang County). It was recorded in 新唐书, the "New Book of Tang" by the Song historian Ouyang Xiu that at that during his tenure, the large clans of the county were both powerful and treacherous. One of the local officials from one of those clans, Hua Nanjin (華南金), was so dominant at the county government and so regularly abused his power that the people often said, "Whatever comes from Hua Nanjin's mouth might as well be from the hand of the government." After Zhang arrived at Zhenyuan, he executed Hua for his abuse of power but pardoned Hua's associates, who were able to correct their ways. He would govern the county simply, and the locals greatly favored his governance.


" 唐玄宗天宝十四年(755年)冬,安史之乱爆发。数月后,安禄山就攻陷东都洛阳,称帝,国号为“大燕”。由于大唐王朝承平日久,而安禄山早有反意,声势浩大,于是一些州县的太守、县令早被燕军的气势吓得手足无措,望风而降。"

When the great rebellion broke out in the winter of 755 and the forces of An Lushan were able to plunder the eastern capital at Louyang and declare it as the new capital of their own 燕 "Yan" Dynasty, one of An's sub-commanders, Zhang Tongwu (張通晤), promptly rode east with a great host from Luoyang to force the submission of all the local Tang officials. Most of the regional governors and prefects, including Zhang Xun's superior Yang Wanshi (楊萬石), bent their knees to the new emergent regime and swiftly swore fealty to the new regime.

But Zhang Xun, as defiant and stubborn as always, staunchly refused to submit to what he perceived as an illegitimate perversion. His superior Yang ordered Zhang to become the secretary general and to obediently lead a delegation to welcome Zhang Tongwu. However, once Zhang Xun gathered the delegation, instead of following Yang's orders, he led the delegation to the temple of the Daoist founder Laozi —whom the Tang emperors considered an ancestor (Both Laozi and the Tang Emperors trace their lineage to the Li clan.) There, Zhang forced the delegation to prostrate in a tearful worship of Laozi before declaring his own continued loyalty to Tang and eternal opposition against Yan.

Music: Through the City Gates

Over night, this event sent shock waves across Henan, and soon, several thousands of loyalist officials and common citizens flocked to him and followed Zhang on his righteous warpath- the 3,000 aforementioned army gathered to defy all of An would send their way as punishment. It was 3,000 in the belly of the beast against 300,000.


Perhaps it was because Zhang believed that many others like him would also rise up in other pockets of the empire as well, or that he would hold this pass long enough for the Tang frontier garrisons to get enough time to reconquer the Central Plains, regardless, Zhang would have have time to remark upon the matter, for the time being its possible that he was just interested in blocking An's forces in northern Henan and far away from the Grand Canals until someone would bring an army large enough to relieve him. 


Zhang Xun noticed that if the outlying city of Yongqiu remained in Au Lushan's control, the central fortress of Suiyang would not be safe for much longer. As a result, he led an army of around 2,000 men to besiege the weakly defended Yongqiu. At this time Linghu Chao (令狐潮,) the turncoat garrison commander there- had imprisoned several hundred loyal Tang soldiers within the fortress. To Zhang Xun's great luck, these prisoners were able to escape (probably with the help of civilians or other uncaptured loyal soldiers), and caused massive chaos from within the fortress while Linghu Chao was away. Zhang Xun took this opportunity to assault the fortress and Yongqiu fell to Zhang Xun very quickly, though Linghu Chao managed to escape. Because Linghu Chao have committed treason by turning on the Tang, his wives and sons that was left behind in the city were put to death.


After taking Yongqiu, Zhang became the only commander of Tang forces in the blackouted out areas of eastern Henan. He sent a letter submitting to the general in command of the Tang troops in the region, Li Zhi (李祇) the Prince of Wu, and Li Zhi bestowed him the title of imperial censor to give him official command of all the loyalists near Yongqiu.

Music: Horrors of the Jade Citadel


Linghu though, would soon return with a giant 40,000-strong Yan army, along with many veteran Yan generals such as Li Huaixian, Yang Chaozong (楊朝宗), and Xie Yuantong (謝元同) whom he burrowed from An Lushan. Together, they would take the city back, even if they had to kill every soul in it or see it burned to the ground.

Finding themselves outnumbered 20 to 1, the Zhang's forces resolutely prepared defenses all around the fortress- city. It should be pointed out that the exact figures of the battles of Yongqiu and Suiyang were not exact, historians have a range for their estimates, but due to the circumstances at the conclusion of the battle, and the fact that these battles occurred right withing the belly of An Lushan's beast, the numbers varies from the historians.

The numbers usually ranged from 2,000 vs 40,000, 3,000- 4,000 (2,000 of Zhang Xun's initial forces, + Tang loyalist prisoners + local volunteers or impressed) vs 40,000, there are others which boasted even greater claims to the numbers of participants, but most of the historians have dismissed them as exaggerated by later narratives.

Regardless, for most of the story we will be covering, the primary source of the information will be related from Liu Xu, who wrote 旧唐书 the "Old Book of Tang" and Ouyang Xiu, who wrote 新唐书 "New Book of Tang," both written during the succeeding Song dynasty. As the Old Book of Tang was greatly cricitized by its own contemporary historians, most of the narrative realated will be derived from the "New Book of Tang." The famous Song historian/ Scholar Sima Guan's grand 资治通鉴, Zizhi Tongjian (lit. "Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance") and 张中丞传后叙 "The biography of Zhang's rescue as related by later accounts" will also be consulted. 

What is definitive about the numbers of the combatants was that Zhang Xun was vastly outnumbered and had to contend with some of An's top generals- despite the support and trust Zhang had received from Prince Li Zhi, neither Prince Li Zhi nor many other Tang commanders truly believed Zhang and his shoe string forces had any chance of holding his ground in the long term, at most they were an illusory guerrilla force behind the enemy lines, if they could even buy just a bit of extra time for the many separate Tang forces to converge and counter attack- they were already doing more than they were expected. What followed shocked nearly everyone.


The first gambit of the battle began with a complete surprise. Linghu Chao- having returned with his huge army called for a parley. When Zhang rode out to meet him, Linghu personally asked Zhang to surrender, to which Zhang Xun replied scornfully, "For your whole life, you have been known for your loyalty. Where is your loyalty now?" It should be noted this statement was intended to be as personal of a challenge as possible.

Before the war, both had served as seperate county magistrates and had been familiar in their professional dealings and regular exchanges of the Tang bureaucracy. But as both are already quite beyond the point of no return, at the head of two warring armies, there was no alternative save to fight it out to the bitter end.


Upon his return to the fortress, Zhang Xun decided that if he let the siege continue in its natural state, the fortress might easily (and predictably) fall due to the enemy's overwhelming numbers. So to everyone's surprise, immediately after he returned to the fortress Zhang suddenly donned his armor and personally led out 1,000 of the defenders rushing from the fortress gates and barreled them all toward Linghu Chao's much larger but still widely dispersed lines.


This came as a complete shock to the besiegers, they were completely unprepared for the battle- and as previously stated, many cohorts have not even formed up yet, nor entrenched any siege lines, plus the rebel army was also deployed along several camps thus were not a concentrated contiguous line. The attack caught Linghu Chao's numerous men completely by surprise, hundreds were cut down where they stood, formations that were still stretched out in camping order and had barely enough time to line up in any battle orders and all who were exposed were ridden down and cut to pieces by the sallied forces. Wedges of Zhang's cavalry slammed into every vulnerable parts of the enemy lines they see, and right when Linghu Chao's entire army became exasperated at the coming sight, Zhang's infantry soon followed suit and charged against all who would try would try to dislodge the killing horsemen.


Respite being outnumbered, Zhang's attack continued relentlessly, lines of infantry kept on crashing upon Linghu's lines like a series of lapping waves until the weak points exploited by the cavalry and pinned by Zhang's infantry became completely isolated and unable to protect each other. The whole frontline- if one could call that disorganized mess at all, soon began to falter. Zhang's assault was so concentrated and intense that whole pockets of exposed (and paralyzed) lines were completely caught by surprise. In order to probably prevent the destruction of the entire unit, many of the pinned and helpless Yan divided regiments turned tail and ran.

After suffering many losses from where several regiments broken off the field en masse, Linhu's entire army was collectively forced to retreated for several miles in order not to have the panicked army turned into a complete rout. It was hours before Linghu Chao was able to ride around the stragglers and re-instill order into the ranks. After spending another few hours rallying and collecting the stragglers back into a coherent force, the bloodied army turned back to the fortress.

Though the besiegers have lost thousands in this first struggle. Zhang only suffered several dozens of losses. The first blood Zhang drew had turned into a lopsided slaughter. By the time the Yan army returned, there was no enemy to be revenged against, they all returned back to the locked fortress after having plundered the Yan army supplies from the camps.

In that spontaneous attack, Zhang had proved that he was not only bold but also extremely unpredictable, and it immediately became something that everyone of the humiliated besiegers would know. A shoe string army had just forced a giant host at least 10 times its size to back off with a daring gambit. The rhythm, one that was uniquely of Zhang Xun was set.

When Linghu Chao returned, he admonished his troops for their poor performance, then, vowing to never be surprised in such a humiliating manner again, he set out to strangle the defenders collectively and methodically with earthen ramparts and siege engines. Linghu ordered all of his troops to surround Yongqiu and set up roadblocks at each of the city's gates to cut off any chance of escape for those locked up inside. Once the fortress was completely enveloped. Linghu Chao prepared for an overwhelming assault with over 100 catapults.

However, Zhang Xun has not been idle either. He would divide his 3,000 men into two groups — a defense group and an attack group. As he watched the besiegers set up their own earthen ramparts and stakes he was able to clearly see that the enemy host was preparing for a rush of siege ladders. Upon those ladders would be carrying some of Yan Army's best heavy troopers. 

Predictibly, the day came with the assault of massed bombardment of catapults. Soon the outer walls fell to the barrages and cracks began to appear on the remaining wall's defenses. Despite the fury of the barrage,  Zhang commanded personally from atop the wooden gates. Below, tens of thousand armored foes braced with their shields as they crept up the high walls and then in the distance came the giant silhouettes of ladders, horizontally borne by columns of soldiers before being pitched upright onto the stoneworks. This too, was expected by Zhang Xun. 

Before the siege began, Zhang had observed where gaps appeared with the besieger's siegeworks and rightly concluded that these avenues would likely be where ladder troops could they would be deployed, thus, prior to the battle he had ordered many hay-balls be made. He ordered his troops to dip these balls of hay into oil, and when the time of the siege come, and when the ladders would be pregnant with many troopers they would light the balls up before throwing them at the bases of the ladders. 

As the siege ladders burned, hundreds of Linghu Chao 's heavily armored men burned or fell to their deaths. Soon, more than a dozen ladders were completely enshrouded in flames and of the rest that did not burn, many of Linghu's soldiers suspected was a waiting trap, and that it would be set alight once enough fools would climb on its flammable frames. The situation became so hopeless that many rebels soldiers refused to climb the ladders despite lashings and severe beatings. At last having lost another few thousand soldiers, Linghu Chao decided that an overwhelming direct assault could not win the battle, and ordered his troops to simply surround Yongqiu and starve the city until Zhang Xun ran out of food supplies.

Music: The Scavenger's Den

Zhang Xun however had other plans in mind. He ordered his troops to play war drums during night time, which forced the rebels to prepare for battle. But the fortress gates remained closed, and no Tang troops appeared. After this was repeated many times, the rebels eventually grew tired and ignored the war drums. Zhang Xun then personally led many night ambushes against the rebels, by sneaking down the fortress walls and slaughtering hundreds of sleeping soldiers in the outlying campsites then escaping with his men just before being overwhelmed. These successful night ambushes greatly weakened the morale of Linghu Chao's men, as they had to sleep with constant fear, or did not sleep at all.


In the many ensuing weeks that followed the first initial siege attempt, most of the conflict would be played out along such skirmishes, there were over 60 Yan attempts in the 40 days at rushing the walls with ladders, but none were sufficient enough to take the walls. Then, at night Zhang's forces would sneak out and wreck havoc on the Yan camps. Eventually, as the weeks winded, both armies became severely exhausted. Both Zhang and Linghu Chao would also arrange further parleys with one another. Though Linghu Chao still seethed with hatred for Zhang, he also realized that hard battles will probably be met with the same results, thus he resorted to a softer approach.


During one of their exchanges, Linghu was recorded to have switched to greet Zhang in a rather familiar manner- as they did so in another age before the conflict. During the pleasantries he attempted to persuade Zhang to see the futility of his little resistance and remarked: "The world is already such, beneath your feet your are bound to a doomed city full of dangers, who would be tethered to it?"

”张巡答曰:“足下平生以忠义自许,今日之举,忠义何在!” 令狐潮听后,惭愧而走。

Which Zhang Xun soon countered, "Beneath my feet is a life that will reflect the promises I have made, my daily deeds (deeds today) will be a proof of my intentions- or what else is loyalty?" So as to say, that to Zhang, he was a man who had to eternally chase, live out, realize, and walk the path of all of his oaths. Having heard this, Linghu became somewhat melancholic, and soon rode off quietly with a blush.



After about 40 days of siege, terrible news reached Yongqiu. An imperial courier with several retinues was able to charge near the city and be let inside (it's very likely he was allowed to pass through the siege lines by Linghu Chao because he had already received the very news of what the herald was about to relate to Zhang.) The information was nothing less than devastating. Not only has the only major Tang army that lay between An and the imperial capital had been utterly vanquished at Tong Guang (Tong Pass,) Emperor Xuanzong had taken flight with his entire court, and that Chang' An, the imperial capital had fallen to An Lushan. This became a major blow to morale of Zhang Xun's army. The whole empire was now in total blackout, with no head of state, no head of the military, and no overall commander to marshal the forces needed to resist the enemy together. 


For the defenders there was only blackness, they were now not only officially in the belly of the beast but for all they knew, they were warriors without nations, and beasts without a master. For all they knew, the Tang had died- like many of the previous dynasties that have been driven off and gone with the wind. To keep fighting the Yan rebels meant only death and further hardship in the days ahead. Six of Zhang Xun's top officers soon approached him and suggested that he surrender. What happened next became a glimpse into the soul of this most stubborn of loyalists. 


Zhang Xun pretended to agree, but in the following morning, he beheaded the six in front of the whole army and a portrait of the Xuanzong emperor. If anything, this strengthened the resolve of the army, they would fight, even if only for the memory of a dynasty of ghosts.

The siege continued, and after 20 more days Zhang Xun's troops had run low on both rations and arrows to repel the enemies with. Again Zhang Xun resorted to cunning and his resourceful mind. 



Zhang Xun's army would experience the first period of starvation at Yongqiu. For during this period nearly all food had ran out, his soldiers first began to eat some of the wounded horses, then the pigeons, then dogs, even some of the cats, mice and grasshoppers, but still, for weeks there wasn't any food at all. It was at this time, Zhang's scouts observed hundreds of grain supply barges for the Yan army arriving from the Grand Canal adjacent to the city. 

They then reported that the Yan docks were quite close to the north eastern banks of the city. It was built very roughly- consisting of mostly planks and several jutting scaffolds and not very well defended, and it appeared that the unloading process for the whole 30,000 army would take days if not weeks. There could be a possibility for Zhang to take most of the grains, but if he were to do so, the Yan army would respond swiftly and crush his raiders. Plus, even if a few raiders were able to rob and loot some bags, it was by no means any where enough to feed the thousands inside the city- both soldiers and civilians. 

Thus Zhang opened the southern gates of the city and sent out several cavalry outriders. They were observed by the Yan army, and made a show of exploring the terrains and roads of the area before quickly rushing back to the city. That night, his thousands of his soldiers carried torches and ran across the southern ramparts and made a show as if they were planning for something. The next day Zhang lined most of his soldiers on the southern walls and made a show as if he wished to either open the gates for a decisive battle or try to breakout en masse, his army beat their war drums in unison. 


Linghu Chao, drawn by these frantic activities- and remembering the humiliation he first suffered from Zhang on the first day of the long siege rushed with most of his troops to the south. While most of the Yan forces line up around the southern gate, several hundreds of Zhang's warriors snuck out from the unobserved section of the gates and quickly rushed to the rivers. There they demanded all of the grains from the sailors, and quickly began to transport thousands of bags of grains to the city. After they have brought enough to the city, they burned all the rest of the barges and let them sank to the bottom of the Canal with the rest of the grains that were supposed to have supplied the Yan army.


Linghu Chao became furious at this bitter turn of events and ordered a massive assault against the city, but this too was expected by Zhang Xun, (the aforementioned preparations at night.) That very night Zhang Xun would deploy another one of his deadly tricks.

Combing his previous doctrine of deception and night terror, during that night, he would replace his beleaguered wall guards with 1,000 dummy scarecrows and encase them in the regular soldier's armor so they would have the silhouettes of real life defenders. After having deployed them in an ominous row upon the wall, Zhang would beat the wardrums from within the city. Great bonfires illuminated these scarecrow soldier's backs.

Linghu Chao, upon being aroused from his moody sleep was quickly informed about these ominous files of black clad soldiers, fearing another night raid, Linghu called up his archers and crossbowmen and unleashed a hailstorm of arrows against these targets. For the purposes of stagecraft, Zhang Xun would fire back with sparse amount of his own arrows, and pull down dummies that have been struck with projectiles to keep up the appearance of a mock battle. On and on the arrows kept coming until most of the dummies were riddled with arrows and crossbow bolts- which were quickly re-purposed and distributed among the defenders. 

At this point, many who are familiar with Chinese literature- and especially the episode during the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" where the legendary Han strategist Zhuge Liang was able to force Cao Cao to "give" him a hundred thousand arrows by using scarecrows on boats and have the enemy shoot at them, would probably conclude this was Zhang Xun's homage to Zhu. However this was not the case. For- this specific episode described in Romance was written much later during the Ming dynasty nearly 1,200 years after the Han dynasty, probably invented through folklore and fanciful retelling during the millennia in between the two periods. If anything, it was more likely that Zhang's tactics at Yongqiu gave some inspiration for what was apocryphally written in Romance some 700 years later. 

By the next morning, under the revealing sun Linghu Chao realized he was deceived and ordered his troops not fire at these figures for they would be wasting- and giving away their arrows. But this "sloppy revelation" was also part of Zhang Xun's overall plans. He had made Linghu Chao not wanting to act in a predictable manner; i.e ignore the dummies and night time warnings which- was precisely the exact behavior that Zhang Xun needed. Linghu had chose- of his own volition to ignore dummy figures and night warnings. Thus that night, and the night after, the Yan army ignored all the drumroll from the Yongqiu fortress.

Music: Echo Game

None paid attention when Zhang Xun snuck 500 of his best soldiers down the hanging ropes dressed as dummies, none paid too much attention to the drums, the fires, the mocked chaos either, since by now that's just something that damned Zhang Xun did. All were just trying to get some desperate shut eye before the next day's toil. None paid much attention, even when their own camp's alarms were sounded, not many rose, until Linghu Chao and all of his generals began to be heard shouting in the chaos, and a general alarm was raised through out the Yan camp. 

By the time many of the still drowsy defenders were roused from their stupor, a great conflageration of oil fire has erupted across the tented camps, nearly 10,000 of their fellow soldiers have been murdered in their sleep, killed by the fire, or had deserted in the chaos. Within one night, and without a proper battle, the Yan army had lost 1/3 of its total soldiery in the span of a few hours while most of them were asleep.

The remaining force of about 20,000 men fled for about 10 miles before reorganizing. By this time, the rebels' battle morale had reached an all-time low- a problem that was further exacerbated when during their retreat, their entire supply train was robbed empty by Zhang's defenders. Having lost the rations and siege lumbers needed to continue through the winter, Linghu Chao was forced to retreat his forces to modern day Kaifeng with less than 20,000 men. After about 4 months of battle, Zhang Xun's shoe string rearguard army had earned a decisive victory over a rebel host at least 10 times its size, a tick had taken down a beast. 

Music: Eon

It would have seemed that Zhang Xun had made the correct opening moves by rushing out of the fortress after concluding his first parley. Even during his first exchange with Linghu Chao and Linghu's army, he had shown to all of them that he was extremely unpredictable and bold to the point that seemed totally illogical and incomprehensible. On day one he created a reputation as someone who can come at any time, attack any opening that may be left open with even the smallest forces, and in all the subsequent exchanges he would play on that reputation and also prove to be able to steadily defend his position with many tricks up his sleeves and ultimately- became someone that one should always worry about when you are awake...and definitely while you are asleep. In the end, even when trying to avoid falling into his trap, he was able to steer his enemies into a trap of his own choosing to be exploited. 

At each of his engagement he had taken the initiative to scare the enemy with something unpredictable and theatrical until the enemy's paralysis allowed him and him alone to take the day. By the end of the siege of Yongqiu, Zhang Xun had vanquished some 20,000 besiegers while suffering only 500- 700 men. Despite all Zhang had done, Yongqiu was only the beginning. 

For An's army would come back with an much larger retaliatory force, the whole of An Lushan's eastern flank was all whipped and mobilized into action against this most frustrating, most troublesome of fortresses, a massive army was assembled that numbered more than 130,000- a third of the totality of Yan's whole rebellion would converge and bore down on eastern Henan charged to compeltely wipe out all of the defenders, even if they have to pull the walls down brick by brick. 

An Lushan's (Yan) territories in late 756 and early 757. After capturing Chang' An, their momentum was severely delayed due to the havoc Zhang Xun was able to wreck in the rebel's flank. White segmented lines represent the Yan dynasty's line of defenses, which- due to Zhang's stubborn resistance had rendered them unable to penetrate into south and eastern China. By late 756, the Yan leadership was dreadfully provoked and had to reluctantly marshal a massive number (1/3) of its total troops eastward rather than sending them west to snuff out isolated pockets of Tang commanders on the western frontiers. Central Henan had became a turkey shoot, and every Yan army  in the east was tasked to eliminate Zhang Xun's band. 

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➢ ☯ Stephen D Rynerson
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