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Khitan / Liao Dynasty (907-1125 AD)

Liao Dynasty MapIt was from the earliest Khitan emperors of China from whose dynastic title Marco Polo picked up the name Cathay. The Liao Dynasty which had held sway over the northern China, including Manchuria and part of the Mongol region for several centuries. Free of Uighur restraint, the Kitan expanded in all directions in the latter half of the ninth century and the early years of the tenth century. By 925 the Kitan ruled eastern Mongolia, most of Manchuria, and much of China north of the Huang He. In the recurrent process of sinicization, by the middle of the tenth century Kitan chieftains had established themselves as emperors of northern China; their rule was known as the Liao Dynasty (916-1125).

On the fall of the great dynasty of the Tang, which reigned from 616-907, and which controlled the whole of China proper, it broke into ten fragments, ruled over by the governors of the various provinces. This division gave rise naturally to a great deal of internal dissention, and favoured the ambitious views of the tribes on the northern frontier. At this period the south-eastern part of Mongolia and the districts of Liau si and Liau tung were occupied by a number of tribes known collectively as Khitan. The exact affinities of these tribes are among the most puzzling riddles in Eastern ethnology. The Khitans (as is natural perhaps in a frontier race), were very much mixed and had affinities with Mongols, Coreans, and Tunguses. It is a mistake to make them a Tunguisic tribe in the same sense that the Manchus and their ancestors the Juchi Tartars are Tunguses.

About the year 907 the chief of this tribe, named Juliji Apaoki, having subdued the other Khitan tribes, made himself master of the greater part of the borderers on the great desert of Shamo, and in 916 had himself proclaimed Wangti or Emperor. With an astonishing rapidity he conquered the country from Kashgar in the west to the mountains Thsun ling in the east. Lake Baikal bounded his empire on the north, while on the south he conquered considerable districts in the north-east Oi China and the greater part of Corea. He established his court at Liau yang in Liau tung, and afterwards moved it to Yan in Pehehehli, the modern Peking. He died in 927 AD.

His son and successor Tai-tsun assisted a Chinese general who had rebelled and helped him to mount the throne. In return for this service the new Emperor, who held his court at Pien, now Kai fong fu, on the southern bank of the Yellow River, ceded sixteen districts in the provinces of Pehehehli, Shansi, and Liautung to him, and undertook to pay him annually a subsidy of 300,000 pieces of silk, and even acknowledged himself his vassal in the letters which he addressed to him, by styling himself his grandson and subject. The successor of this Emperor having endeavoured to break these engagements, Tai tsun marched against him, conquered the provinces north of the Yellow River, captured Pien, siezed the Emperor and carried him off into Tartary.

In the year 937 the Khitan Emperor gave his dynasty the title of Liau, which means iron. After the fall of the Thang, five small dynasties successively occupied the metropolitan throne of Kai fong fou. On their ruins there arose in 960 the dynasty of the Sung, which once more reunited the greater part of China under its sceptre. The Sung Emperors fought against the Khitans, but could not wrest from them the sixteen districts which had been ceded, and at length, in 1004, the Sung Emperor undertook to pay the Khitan ruler an annual tribute in silver and silken goods. The power and influence of the Khitans must have been both very great and very wide spread. They seem to have been obeyed by all the tribes of Mongols, Turks, and Tunguses who inhabited the country from lake Balkhash] to the Yellow Sea, and a very good proof of their influence may be cited in the fact that they gave a name to China by which it became familiar to the Arabs, Persians, and Turks, and through them to the mediaeval writers of Europe, namely, Cathay.

The Liao state was homogeneous, and the Kitan had begun to lose their nomadic characteristics. The Kitan built cities and exerted dominion over their agricultural subjects as a means of consolidating their empire. To the west and the northwest of Liao were many other Mongol tribes, linked together in various tenuous alliances and groupings, but with little national cohesiveness. In Gansu and eastern Xinjiang, the Tangut--who had taken advantage of the Tang decline--had formed a state, Western Xia or Xixia (1038-1227), nominally under Chinese suzerainty. Xinjiang was dominated by the Uighurs, who were loosely allied with the Chinese.

In the eleventh century, the Kitan completed the conquest of China north of the Huang He. Despite close cultural ties between the Kitan and Western Xia that led the latter to become increasingly sinicized, during the remainder of that century and the early years of the twelfth century, the two Mongol groups were frequently at war with each other and with the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) of China. The Uighurs of the Turpan region often were involved in these wars, usually aiding the Chinese against Western Xia.

The contact of the Khitans and the Chinese was followed, as seems to be universally the case there, by the gradual weaning of the soldiers from their old habits and the acquirement of the refined manners which prevail in Eastern courts. This change enabled another and more vigorous people to supplant them. This was the Juchi or Niuchi, the ancestors of the Manchu dynasty in China. The leader of this revolt was named Aguta. He rebelled in 1114, won several victories over the Khitans, and commenced a vigorous campaign against the Khitans, whom he rapidly conquered. A prince of the fallen house and some of his followers escaped westwards and founded another empire, namely, that of the Kara Khitai.

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Page last modified: 14-06-2019 18:13:34 ZULU