Gao Lishi was born in 684, when was successively regent over her sons and . He was from Pan Prefecture . His original family name was Feng , and he was reportedly a great-grandson of the early Tang local government Feng Ang . In 698, a local official, Li Qianli , submitted two young eunuchs to Wu Zetian, who had by that point taken the throne as "emperor," as tribute; one was Lishi , and one was named Jin'gang . Wu Zetian favored Lishi for his intelligence and kept him as an attending eunuch. Later, however, Lishi committed a minor fault, and she had him battered and expelled from her presence. An older eunuch, Gao Yanfu , took Lishi as an adoptive son , and as Gao Yanfu had previously served Wu Zetian's powerful nephew Wu Sansi the Prince of Liang, he had Gao Lishi serve Wu Sansi. After about a year, Wu Zetian summoned him back to her palace, and he again attended her. He eventually grew to be exceedingly tall. As he was careful, he was put in charge of announcing imperial edicts, and was eventually promoted to be ''Gongwei Cheng'' , a highly ranked eunuch.
During Emperor Xuanzong's reign
In 712, Emperor Ruizong passed the throne to Li Longji, who took the throne as Emperor Xuanzong. However, Emperor Ruizong retained most of the imperial authority as ''Taishang Huang'' , and Princess Taiping, through him, continued to exert great influence on governance. As of 713, it was said that five of the seven chancellors at the time -- Dou Huaizhen, Cen Xi, Xiao Zhizhong, Cui Shi, and Lu Xiangxian -- were recommended by her . With Emperor Xuanzong and Princess Taiping locked into a power struggle, Zhang Shuo, from his post at Luoyang, had a messenger present Emperor Xuanzong with his sword -- meaning to tell him that it was time to take decisive action. Meanwhile, it was said that Princess Taiping, Dou, Cen, Xiao, and Cui; along with other officials Xue Ji, Li Jin the Prince of Xinxing , Li You , Jia Yingfu , Tang Jun ; the generals Chang Yuankai , Li Ci , and Li Qin ; and the monk Huifan , were plotting to overthrow Emperor Xuanzong. It was further said that they discussed, with the lady in waiting Lady Yuan to poison an aphrodisiac that Emperor Xuanzong took regularly known as ''chijian'' ). When this alleged plot was reported to Emperor Xuanzong by Wei Zhigu, Emperor Xuanzong, who had already received advice from Wang Ju , Zhang Shuo, and Cui Riyong to act first, did so. He convened a meeting with his brothers Li Fan the Prince of Qi, Li Ye the Prince of Xue, Guo, along with a number of his associates — the general Wang Maozhong , the officials Jiang Jiao and Li Lingwen , his brother-in-law Wang Shouyi , Gao Lishi, and the military officer Li Shoude — and decided to act first. On July 29, Emperor Xuanzong had Wang Maozhong take 300 soldiers to the imperial guard camp to behead Chang and Li Ci. Then, Jia, Li You, Xiao, and Cen were arrested and executed as well. Dou and Princess Taiping committed suicide. Emperor Ruizong turned over imperial authority to Emperor Xuanzong and thereafter was no longer involved in important decisions. As a result of Gao's participation in this action against Princess Taiping and her party, Emperor Xuanzong awarded him by making him a general of the imperial guards, as well as the acting head of the eunuch bureau . Gao's general commission made Gao the first eunuch in Tang history to carry the third rank in Tang's nine-rank system, and this was viewed as the start of the rise of eunuchs.
In 730, when Emperor Xuanzong was beginning to be apprehensive about Wang Maozhong's power and arrogance, it was Gao who suggested that he act first, and in spring 731, Emperor Xuanzong exiled Wang and his associates, and subsequently forced Wang to commit suicide. Thereafter it was said that Gao was particularly trusted by Emperor Xuanzong, who remarked, "If Gao Lishi is here, I can sleep securely." Gao therefore rarely returned to his own home, and the petitions submitted to Emperor Xuanzong were first screened by Gao before he would pass them on to Emperor Xuanzong -- and Gao ruled on the less important matters himself, causing his power to rise immensely. He spent much effort to support his adoptive parents Gao Yanfu and Gao Yanfu's wife. He also had the commander of Lingnan Circuit locate his birth mother Lady Mai and send her to the capital Chang'an, so that he could support her. When Lady Mai died, the general Cheng Boxian and the official Feng Shaozheng , who had sworn to be brothers with Gao Lishi, both mourned her deeply. Gao Lishi's father-in-law Lü Xuanwu was promoted quickly, as were his brothers and sons, and when Gao Lishi's wife Lady Lü died, the officials and the ordinary citizens all mourned her, to impress Gao. However, it was said that while Gao was powerful, he was careful and modest, and therefore continuously drew trust from Emperor Xuanzong. Among officials and generals who ingratiated him and had him help their advancements were Yuwen Rong, Li Linfu, Li Shizhi, Gai Jiayun , Wei Jian , Yang Shenjin , Wang Hong , Yang Guozhong, An Lushan, An Sishun, and Gao Xianzhi. The intelligentsia at the time blamed him for the advancement of some of the more power-hungry officials, but also recognized that whenever officials associated with him were charged with crimes, he would not improperly intercede to save them.
In 737, Emperor Xuanzong's favorite concubine , trying to have her son Li Mao the Prince of Shou made crown prince, made false accusations against Li Ying the Crown Prince, as well as two other princes, Li Yao the Prince of E and Li Ju the Prince of Guang. Li Ying, Li Yao, and Li Ju were deposed and then forced to commit suicide. Consort Wu died later that year, but Li Linfu, who was then chancellor and who was allied with her, continued to lobby on Li Mao's behalf. Instead, Emperor Xuanzong was considering an older son, the Prince of Zhong, but could not decide quickly, and was depressed over the matter as well as his killing of three of his own sons. He could not sleep well or eat well. Gao asked him the reason, and he responded, "You are my old servant. Can you not tell?" Gao responded, "Is it that the position of young master has not been decided?" He responded, "Yes." Gao responded, "You do not need to trouble your heart. Just select the oldest one, and no one would dare to dispute it." Emperor Xuanzong therefore made up his mind, and he selected Li Yu as crown prince.
In 752, when associates of Wang Hong's brother Wang Han plotted treason and rose in rebellion inside Chang'an, the troops commanded by Yang Guozhong and Wang Hong were initially unable to crush Wang Han's associates, but Gao then arrived with reinforcements and crushed the rebellion decisively. In the aftermaths, when Wang Hong hesitated at asking for punishment for his brother, Yang Guozhong accused Wang Hong of being complicit, and both Wang Hong and Wang Han were executed. Later that year, when Emperor Xuanzong, seeing that Geshu Han, the commander of Longyou Circuit , had poor relations with An Lushan, then the commander of Fanyang Circuit and An Sishun , then the commander of Shuofang Circuit , and wanted to improve relations between these three key border troop commanders, he summoned all three to the capital and had Gao host a feast for the three of them, trying to get them to resolve their unpleasantries. However, instead, at the feast, Geshu and An Lushan got into an argument, which only stopped after Gao gazed at Geshu, stopping him from responding to An Lushan's insults.
By 754, Yang Guozhong, who was then chancellor, was beginning to repeatedly accuse An Lushan of plotting rebellion, claiming that if Emperor Xuanzong summoned An to the capital, An would surely not come. Instead, when Emperor Xuanzong summoned An to the capital in early 754, An came. Emperor Xuanzong considered making him chancellor as well -- even having the official Zhang Ji draft an edict to that effect -- but eventually did not do so. When An was set to return to Fanyang, Emperor Xuanzong had Gao hold a feast for An to send him off. After the feast, Gao observed to Emperor Xuanzong that An was somewhat displeased, perhaps because he had found out that he was originally set to be made chancellor but was not. Emperor Xuanzong, believing Zhang Ji and his brothers Zhang Jun and Zhang Shu to have leaked the news, demoted all of them. Meanwhile, there was a war in the southwest between Tang forces and Nanzhao, which was not going well for Tang, and 200,000 soldiers had died in the conflict. Yang Guozhong, however, was hiding the truth from Emperor Xuanzong and declaring that there had been numerous victories. In response, Emperor Xuanzong told Gao:
Meanwhile, Yang Guozhong repeatedly tried to provoke An into rebelling, including arresting and executing staff members at An's mansion in Chang'an. In 755, An finally did. In 756, after Geshu was defeated by An's forces, after being forced by Yang Guozhong to engage An, Tong Pass, the last major defense against An's forces, fell to An. Yang Guozhong suggested fleeing to Chengdu, the capital of Jiannan Circuit, of which Yang Guozhong was commander. On July 14, Emperor Xuanzong, keeping the news secret from the people of Chang'an, took the imperial guards to escort him, Consort Yang, her family, and his immediate clan members, and exited Chang'an, heading toward Chengdu. Attending him were Yang Guozhong, his fellow chancellor Wei Jiansu, the official Wei Fangjin , the general Chen Xuanli , and some eunuchs and ladies in waiting close to him, including Gao.
On July 15, Emperor Xuanzong's train reached Mawei Station . The imperial guards were not fed and were angry at Yang Guozhong. Chen also believed that Yang Guozhong provoked this disaster and planned to carry him -- and reported his plans to Li Heng through Li Heng's eunuch Li Fuguo, but Li Heng was hesitated and gave no approval. Meanwhile, though, Tufan emissaries, who followed Emperor Xuanzong south, were meeting with Yang Guozhong and complaining that they were also not fed. The imperial guard soldiers took this opportunity to proclaim that Yang Guozhong was planning treason along with the Tufan emissaries, and they killed him, along with his son Yang Xuan , the Ladies of Han and Qin, and Wei Fangjin. Wei Jiansu was also nearly killed, but was spared at the last moment with severe injuries. The soldiers then surrounded Emperor Xuanzong's pavilion, and refused to scatter even after Emperor Xuanzong came out to comfort them and order them to scatter. Chen publicly urged him to put Consort Yang to death -- which Emperor Xuanzong initially declined. After Wei Jiansu's son Wei E and Gao Lishi spoke further, Emperor Xuanzong finally resolved to do so. He therefore had Gao take Consort Yang to a Buddhist shrine and strangle her there. After he showed the body to Chen and the other imperial guard generals, the guard soldiers finally scattered and prepared for further movement. The imperial guards eventually escorted Emperor Xuanzong to Chengdu. Gao continued to attend to him there. For Gao's faithfulness, Emperor Xuanzong created him the Duke of Qi.
After Emperor Xuanzong's return to Chang'an, he took residence at Xingqing Palace , which was converted from his residence as an imperial prince. Gao and Chen Xuanli attended to him, as did Emperor Xuanzong's younger sister Li Chiying the Princess Yuzhen, the lady in waiting Ru Xianyuan , and the eunuchs Wang Cheng'en and Wei Yue . Meanwhile, Li Fuguo had become very powerful, but these attendants of Emperor Xuanzong did not respect him. To retaliate, Li Fuguo began to try to convince Emperor Suzong that Emperor Xuanzong and his attendants were plotting to seize power back. In 760, with Emperor Suzong's tacit, although not explicit, approval, on one occasion when Emperor Xuanzong was out riding, Li Fuguo intercepted him and forced him to move back to the main palace. Even on that occasion, however, Gao would not submit to Li Fuguo, and even yelled at Li Fuguo to force him to get off his horse and to escort Emperor Xuanzong on foot, along with Gao. Soon after Emperor Xuanzong was forcibly moved, Li Fuguo forced Chen to retire, Li Chiying to return to her temple , and exiled Gao, Wang, Wei, and Ru. In Gao's case, he was exiled to Wu Prefecture .
In spring 762, Emperor Suzong, then seriously ill, declared a general pardon. Gao Lishi was therefore allowed to return to Chang'an, and he began to undertake the journey. While he was on the way back to Chang'an, however, on May 5, Emperor Xuanzong died, followed by Emperor Suzong on May 16. When Gao reached Lang Prefecture , he heard of the two emperors' deaths, and he, mourning Emperor Xuanzong bitterly, spit up blood and died soon afterwards.