Early 6th century was a time of uncertainty in North China. Weak ruler, court intrigues, and agrarian rebellions reduced the control of central government to the proximity of Luoyang area. Other militarized centers that still held out such as Jinyang only nominally submitted to the government.
In 528 (?), Erzhu Rong, the warlord of Taiyuan, moved against Luoyang, thoroughly purged the aristocrats of the capital in the massacre of Heyin. His chosen emperor (Xiaozhuang) was thus recognized as emperor of the empire and he became the Paramount General of the State. having settled the court, Rong's first immediate danger came from rival warlord and rebel leader Ge Rong, who gained control in most of the Northeast and was moving against Luoyang with his massive army. Leaving his co-conspirator Yuan Tianmu to control the court, Erzhu Rong crossed the Yellow River to confront Ge Rong at Foukou and won a devastating victory. Ge Rong was captured and killed in the process. The remnants of Ge Rong's men were absorbed into Erzhu's army.
Erzhu Rong then went about to settle the empire, commissioning a successive of generals to deal with different rebel threats -- such as his nephew Erzhu Tianguang against Moqi Chounu in the West, Hou Yuan against Han Lou in the North, Yuan Tianmu against Xing Gao in Shandong... In time, all these conquests were successful. To seal his control of the throne, Erzhu Rong remarried his daughter to Xiaozhuang (she was previously married to the deceased Xiaoming) and made her Empress. Rong did not stay in Luoyang but returned to his base in Jinyang.
In 529, a Liang army advance on Luoyang to install Yuan Hao, a Wei prince who took refuge in the South, as the new Wei emperor. With Erzhu Rong still in the North or Yuan Tianmu in Shandong fighting Xing Gao, emperor Xiaozhuang was near defenseless and had to flee Luoyang. Yuan Hao's stay was short lasted. Erzhu Rong counter-attacked and took Luoyang -- after some protracted fighting, killing Hao and his son as well his army of southerners.
For this success, Erzhu Rong's position was further entrenched. Honors and titles were heaped on him and his relatives. Fearing that Rong was on verge of usurping, Xiaozhuang arranged to assassinate Rong and Yuan Tianmu. He in turn was captured and killed by Rong's nephew and successor Erzhu Zhao. Northern Wei empire once again lawless and fractionous, with the Erzhus controlled most of the regions. Notoriously corrupted and violent, the Erzhus (cousins and uncles) also shared mutual distrust -- especially after Erzhu Shilong and Dulu installed a new emperor without Erzhu Zhao's consent. This is the precursor to Gao Huan coming into the scene.
Gao Huan claimed to be a Han whose great-grandfather was relocated to Huaishuo garrison, ethnically dominantly Xianbei -- tasked with guarding the northern border against Ruanruan. Orphaned in his infancy, he stayed with his elder sister's family. They were poor. Not until he married Lou Zhaojun -- of a well off Xianbei family, was he able to afford a horse and gained employment as a messenger of the garrison. While on errant to Luoyang and witnessed how ineffective the court dealt with a mutiny, Gao Huan was said to have foreseen the impending chaos. He sold off his properties and prepared for the time to come. He served successively with the rebels Du Luozhou and Ge Rong before ended up with Erzhu Rong (before Ge Rong was defeated by Erzhu Rong). Rong was said to be unimpressed with Gao initially, but he came around and compared Gao favorably to his nephew Zhao in abilities. He gave Gao independent command to attacked Yang Kan, an official who defected and surrendered his province to Liang.
After the massacre of Heyin, Huan was said to have urged Erzhu Rong to take the throne. This story though likely was fabricated by Tang historians to depict him a duplicitous villain. After emperor Xiaozhuang was captured by Erzhu Zhao, Huan urged Zhao against regicide. Zhao ignored his advice and had the emperor strangled.
The Gao, Erzhus conflict
Edited by esse, 28 May 2008 - 11:51 PM.