Emperor Xuanzong of Tang

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  • Born: 685
  • Died: 762
  • Reign: 712-756
  • Other Names: 明皇 (Míng huáng, "The Brilliant Emperor"), 隆基 (Lǐ Lóngjī)
  • Chinese/Japanese: 唐玄宗 (Táng Xuánzōng / Tô Gensô)

Emperor Xuanzong is among the most famous of the emperors of China's Tang Dynasty. The Tang reached its greatest heights of power under Xuanzong, but he is perhaps more remembered for his love for the concubine Yang Guifei, which brought his downfall.

Under Xuanzong's rule, the coinage was reformed, the Grand Canal was repaired and extended, and a land registration system was implemented. The power of Chief Ministers expanded, and a cabinet formed, along with more clearly visible factions at court, between aristocratic elites and those from somewhat lesser backgrounds. For a time from 736 to 752, Xuanzong allowed a minister by the name of Li Linfu to wield the reins of power, taking a less direct role in administration himself. During this time, the Tang tried and failed to conquer the state of Nanzhao, established in 738 in what is today Yunnan province; a second attempt under Xuanzong in 754 failed as well.

He took Yang Guifei as his consort when he was in his sixties. A part-Sogdian, part-Turkic general in the Tang army, An Lushan, attracted her eye as well, however, and was adopted by her. When Li Linfu died in 752, Xuanzong allowed Yang Guifei's cousin Yang Guozhong to take Li's place in running the government, devoting himself to spending time with his favorite consort.

In 755, however, An Lushan led a rebellion, forcing Xuanzong and Yang Guifei to flee to Sichuan province (the former state of Shu), a scene depicted in countless later works of poetry and painting. The dynasty survived after An Lushan's rebellion was put down, but Xuanzong never returned to the throne.

Preceded by
Emperor Ruizong of Tang
Emperor of Tang
Succeeded by
Emperor Suzong of Tang


  • Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 107-108.