Origin of the Khitan - The Liao Empire - The Western Liao
Origin of the Khitan
The Khitan (Chinese: Qidan 契丹), together with the Xi 奚 were a part of the so-called Eastern Hu (Donghu 東胡) peoples that roamed the northeastern steppe in modern Mongolia and Manchuria. The name Qidan first appears in Northern Wei (Beiwei 北魏) sources, and we possess very detailed informations about the early period of the Qidan people. The Khitan people was divided into eight tribes and inhabited the area between the Huangshui River 潢水 (modern Xilamulun River 西拉木倫河 in Inner Mongolia) and Huanglong (modern Chaoyang 朝陽/Liaoning). They had commercial relationships with the Northern Wei court and "exported" horses and skins. During the Tang Dynasty 唐 they fought against the Turks (Chinese: Tujue 突厥), and their ruler Kuge 窟哥 of the Dahe 大賀 clan who had united the Khitan tribes in a federation was installed as governor (dudu 都督) of the Songmo 松漠 region and given the imperial family name Li 李. His descendants acted as local governors for several decades before Li Jinzhong 李盡忠 rebelled against Empress Wu Zetian 武則天. Later, Li Shihuo 李失活 was given a Chinese princess named Yongle 永樂公主. Shortly before the An Lushan 安祿山 rebellion the Khitan again showed hostility against the Tang Dynasty, but for the rest of the Tang period there were good relationships. In 730 the Yaonian 遙輦 clan became dominant and produced some qaghans (Chinese: kehan 可汗), from 907 on the Yelü 耶律 clan took over the dominance over the Khitan federation. In 916 Abaoji 阿保機 called himself king (wang 王) of the Khitan state, since 947 the state was called Liao 遼 after the old Liaodong region. The name of Khitan was by Western merchants adopted as the name for China proper.
The Liao Empire
Yelü Abaoji 耶律阿保機 (posthumous title: Liao Taizu 遼太祖) installed his new capital at Linhuang 臨潢府 (modern Balinzuo Banner 巴林左旗/Inner Mongolia) and employed Chinese advisors to construct a regular central government. At the same times he promulgates laws and directives to bypass the power of the Khitan nobility that until then used the elect the leader of their federation. Yelü Diela 耶律迭剌, brother of Abaoji, created a Khitan script that was based on the Chinese characters. Emperor Yelü Abaoji underwent military campaigns to expand the territory of his empire, submitted the Uighurs (Chinese: Huihe 回紇), the states of Fuyu 夫余 and Bohai 渤海 where he created the "Eastern Khitan" Dongdan 東丹國 state with his own son Yelü Bei 耶律倍 as ruler.
With the help of Empress Shulü 述律皇后 Prince Yelü Deguang 耶律德光 (posthumous Liao Taizong 遼太宗) inherited the throne in 926. Yelü Deguang interfered into the politics of the Five Dynasties (Wudai) 五代 in the north of China and was able to control the succession of the Later Jin Empire (Houjin) 後晉. He conquered the capital Kaifeng 開封/modern Henan and proclaimed the Empire of Liao. After he had plundered the capital of the Later Jin empire he returned to Linhuang without amplifying the already existing roots of the Chinese-style administration system. After his death the usurper Yelü Lihu 耶律李胡 had to be defeated before Yelü Ruan 耶律阮 (posthumous Liao Shizong 遼世宗) became emperor and was soon mudered by a relative. Yelü Jing 耶律璟 (posthumous Liao Muzong 遼穆宗) lived in a conflict between the Khitan aristocracy and a large group among the society that was enslaved, Yelü Jing was murdered by a servant in 969.
During the reign of Yelü Xian 耶律賢 (posthumous Liao Jingzong 遼景宗) the Song Dynasty 宋 ended the period of the Five Dynasties, and Han Derang 韓德讓, Yelü Xiuge 耶律休哥 and Yelü Xiezhen 耶律斜軫, the defenders of the southern capital of Liao, Youdu 幽都府 (modern Beijing), obtained an eminent position within the Liao empire as military affairs commissioner (shumishi 樞密使). Han Derang (later granted the name Yelü Longyun) even acted as regent for Empress Widow Chengtian 承天皇太后 and the minor emperor Yelü Longxu 耶律隆緒 (posthumous Liao Shengzong 遼聖宗). In 986 the Liao armies were badly defeated by the Song troops, and again in 999. In 1004 the two empires made an alliance (Chanyuan zhi meng 澶淵之盟 [Shanyuan]) and further respected their boundaries. Instead, the Liao rulers concentrated on the empires of Inner Asia like the Tatars (Chinese: Dada 韃靼) or Uighurs that had to offer tributes to the Khitan realm, and to the east where the Liao interfered into the politics of the Korean kingdom Koguryŏ (Chinese: Gaogouli 高句麗). While the Liao empire under the long reign of Yelü Longxu 耶律隆緒 showed a steady political expansion to the east and west, administrative changes took place in the internal politics. Khitans and other tribes were now equally treated concerning law, Chinese administration methods were applied, and the palace of an additional "center" capital (zhongjing 中京) at Dading 大定府 (modern Daming 大名/Liaoning) was constructed according to Chinese architecture. The position of the slaves was also ameliorated.
The reign of the emperors Liao Xingzong 遼興宗 and Liao Daozong 遼道宗 is characterized by power struggles at the court between the Khitan aristocracy, the imperial house, empresses and favorites. There was even a case of witchcraft around Empress Xuanyi 宣懿皇后. The country itself was shaken by numerous uprisings against the Liao government, and from outside, federations among the Tatars (chieftain Mogusi 磨古斯 "Marcus") and the Jurchen (chieftain Dubojilie 都勃極烈, later Aguda 阿骨打) were created that should endanger the existence of the Liao state. From the 12th century on the Jurchen in the northeast began to attack Liao territory, accompanied by rebellions of the former Bohai aristocracy. After Emperor Yelü Yanxi 耶律延禧 had escaped to the far west of his country, Yelü Chun 耶律淳 (posthumous Liao Tianzuodi 遼天祚帝) proclaimed a Northern Liao (Beiliao 北遼) empire but died soon. General Yelü Dashi who had to defend the southern capital against attacking Song troops met with Yelü Chun but gave him up and decided to escape to the west. In 1125 Yelü Chun was captured by the Jurchen that meanwhile had established the Jin Dynasty 金.
The Western Liao
After the Jin armies had destroyed the Liao empire Yuelü Dashi 耶律大石 again assembled the surviving troops and tribes, withdrew to Zhenzhou 鎮州 in the west (in modern Mongolia) and established a new empire called Western Liao (Xiliao 西遼). He was strong enough to subdue Uyghur and Turkish tribes, moved his capital to Balashagun 八剌沙袞/modern Kirgizstan (also known as "Husi Woluduo" 虎思斡魯朵, Kuc-Ordo or Kus-Ordo). His empire is also known under the Turkish name Qara-Khitan (Chinese: Halaqidan 哈喇契丹) "Black Khitan". He expanded his empire to the west and into the city states of the Tarim Basin. After Yelü Dashi's death (posthumous title Xiliao Dezong 西遼德宗) the empire was periodically reigned by women of the imperial clan, like Empress Chengtian 承天皇后. After the Naiman 乃蠻 chieftain Kücülüg (Chinese: Quchulü 屈出律) had escaped the Mongols he sought shelter at the Western Liao court and forced Yelü Zhilugu 耶律直魯古 to resign in 1211. In 1218 the Mongols conquered the Western Liao empire.
Liaoshi 遼史 "History of the Liao", the Official Dynastic History of the Liao Dynasty
Qidan guo zhi 契丹國志 "Records of the Khitan State"
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