Hulü Guang was born in 515. His father Hulü Jin (斛律金) was one of the main Shule chieftains, subordinate to Northern Wei. Hulü Jin assisted the general Gao Huan in his campaigns to take control of the Northern Wei state, and after Gao Huan became Northern Wei's paramount general in 532, Hulü Jin became an honored general, viewed by Gao Huan in some ways more as an equal than as a subordinate, and this relationship continued after Northern Wei's division into Eastern Wei (under Gao's control) and Western Wei (under Yuwen Tai's control) in 534. Hulü Guang was probably Hulü Jin's oldest son, and in his youth, he was known for his fighting prowess, including horseriding and archery. Once, when accompanying Hulü Jin on a campaign against Western Wei, Hulü Guang hit Yuwen's secretary Mozhe Hui (莫者暉) with an arrow, leading to Mozhe's capture by Eastern Wei troops. Gao Huan was pleased and made him a general. After Gao Huan named his son Gao Cheng as his heir, Hulü Guang served on Gao Cheng's staff. In 547, Hulü Guang was created the Viscount of Yongle.
Also in 547, Gao Huan died and was succeeded as regent by Gao Cheng. Gao Cheng immediately faced a major rebellion by the general Hou Jing, and Hulü was sent to serve under Murong Shaozong (慕容紹宗), the commander of the forces Gao Cheng sent against Hou. In a rare case where Hulü might have exhibited some uncharacteristic overexuberance, when Murong and his lieutenant Liu Fengsheng (劉豐生) were initially defeated by Hou, Hulü and his fellow junior general Zhang Shixian (張恃顯) rebuked Murong and Liu for their defeat. Murong responded, "I have met many opponents, but none is as difficult as Hou. Why do you not try to engage him and see." As Hulü and Zhang rode out to engage Hou, however, Murong warned them, "Do not cross the Guo River ." (Murong's troops and Hou's troops were by this point stalemated across the Guo River.) When Hulü challenged Hou by showing his bow and arrows but did not cross the Guo, Hou told him, "You came for glory, but I am trying to leave in fear of death. I am your father's friend. Why shoot at me? And how do you know not to cross the Guo? It must be Murong Shaozong who taught you." Hulü was unable to respond, and Hou subsequently had his subordinate Tian Qian (田遷) shoot and kill Hulü's horse, and Hulü was forced to withdraw. Hou then captured Zhang but released him, and both Hulü and Zhang fled back to Murong's camp. Murong then stated, "What have you seen now? Do not rebuke me." (In spring 548, Murong defeated Hou, who was forced to flee to Liang Dynasty. Historical records do not indicate whether Hulü contributed to the victory.)
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