Yan Zhenqing — An Honest Politician, A Brave General, and A Great Calligrapher

Yan Zhenqing (709 — 784), courtesy name Qingchen, was one of the most exceptional calligraphers in Chinese culture, and a great scholar and general of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907). 

His entire life was a perfect representative of loyalty, patriot, integrity, and persistence. 

A Highborn Genius That Didn't Flatter 

Yan Zhenqing was born into a noble family and achieved a high score on the Imperial Examination. Then he was promoted several times because of his excellent political ability.

During that time, Li Longji, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang was enjoying life with his favorite concubine, Lady Yang, and soon nominated Yang’s brother as the most powerful prime minister.

However, Yan Zhenqing was too candid and had displeased Yang's brother for several times. 

Hence, Yan Zhenqing was therefore demoted and banished to a small city.

Silver Tea Set (Cha Long) of the Tang Dynasty — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Sometime after Yan Zhenqing arrived in this city, he found that the warlord there was planning to rebel against the Tang Empire.

This warlord named An Lushan (703 — 757) was a regional military governor guarding on the borders of the Tang Empire, with around 150,000 well-trained, professional soldiers. 

Yan Zhenqing, however, was a lower rank civil official that was in charge of one city that was under An Lushan's jurisdiction, and couldn't provide any concrete shreds of evidence to show this powerful warlord's rebel intention.

Hence, he acted like a poet and a calligrapher that only loved literature and having fun, but secretly, he constructed many defensive projects to protect his city under the name of preventing heavy rains. 

Unearthed Painted Pottery Figurines of Taming A Horse in the Tang Dynasty — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying) 

A Brave, Loyal, and Successful General 

Three years after Yan Zhenqing arrived in this city, An Lushan allied with another warlord named Shi and rebelled. 

This was the An-Shi Rebellion that lasted for eight years (755 — 763) and took away around 35 million lives. 

When they rebelled, most Tang's people had lived in peace for generations, and couldn't believe a huge war was about to come.  

Many cities that had been attacked by the rebel army in the first round fell into the rebel army's control since their governors either surrendered or escaped; except for Yan Zhenqing and his brother's cities, who were well prepared and fought back bravely.

Unearthed Food (Dumplings and Desserts) and Utensils from the Tang Dynasty — National Museum of China (Photo by Kanjianji)

In the beginning, Yan Zhenqing only had about 3000 soldiers, but then he recruited and united more people that didn’t want to surrender.

He even sent money and his son as a hostage to make sure some powerful generals would stay firm and fight against the rebel army together. 

Unfortunately, his brave brother and many family members, after being besieged and cut off resources, failed after intense fights and were cruelly executed by rebel armies. 

In the next few years, more soldiers and resources were well organized by Yan Zhenqing, who contributed significantly to defeating rebel armies.

Eight years later, the Tang Empire finally succeeded. 

Yan Zhenqing's Calligraphy Draft to Memorize His Heroically Sacrificed nephew Yan Jiming (Ji Zhi Wen Gao), which Recorded Brave Soldiers of Tang and the Intense Fights in the An-Shi Rebellion — Taipei Museum

Political Conspiracies Against An Honorable Scholar

Yan Zhenqing had been promoted several times because of his loyalty and outstanding achievements, and the highest position was the teacher of the crown prince.

However, he also had been demoted frequently, because of his integrity, straightforward attitude, and exceptional accomplishments displeased or threatened some powerful ministers. 

When another army initiated another rebel war, Yan Zhenqing was framed up and was sent to the rebel army alone to "persuade" them to stop fighting. 

Many people tried to stop this because everyone knew that the leader of the rebel army hated Yan Zhenqing very much.

But the person that set up this trap had successfully persuaded the emperor to command Yan Zhenqing to go.

Yan Zhenqing's Unbending Sacrifice

Yan Zhenqing was 74 years old at that time. 

This old man was captured right after he arrived, and was threatened and humiliated in the rebel army for a long time.

But Yan Zhenqing never complied as they commanded; he, like he always did, never abandoned his fidelity. So he was murdered a few months later. 

Yan Zhenqing had been banished, demoted, framed up several times, nevertheless, his loyalty to his country was permanent.

Besides, he was a great master in calligraphy who had created a new branch, which is influential and important throughout history. 

Nowadays, people could see his integrity and strength from his calligraphic masterpieces and excellent essays. 

Inlaying Gold Ruler of the Tang Dynasty — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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