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Related ethnic groups
Khitan people (Chinese: 契丹; pinyin: Qìdān), were a nomadic
Northeast Asia who from the 4th century inhabited an area
corresponding to parts of modern Mongolia,
Northeast China and the
Russian Far East. They spoke the Khitan language, which is related to
the Mongolic languages. As the Liao dynasty, they dominated a vast
area north of and including parts of China. After the fall of the Liao
dynasty in 1125 following the Jurchen invasion, many Khitans followed
Yelü Dashi's group westward to establish the
Qara Khitai or Western
Liao dynasty in Central Asia, which lasted several decades before
falling to the
Mongol Empire in 1218.
Liao dynasty in 1025
2.1 Origin myth
2.3 Liao dynasty
3 Language and writing systems
7 See also
9.1 Other webpages
There is no consensus on the etymology of the name of Khitan. There
are basically three speculations. Feng Jiasheng argues that it comes
Yuwen chieftains' names. Zhao Zhenji thinks that the term
Xianbei and means "a place where
Xianbei had resided".
Japanese scholar Otagi Matsuo believes that Khitan's original name was
"Xidan", which means "the people who are similar to the Xi people" or
"the people who inhabit among the Xi people".
The term "Khitai" came to mean "China" in Turkic. It was introduced to
medieval Europe by Islamic and Russian sources becoming "Cathay". In
the modern era, the word is still used by the
Uyghurs who from China's
Xinjiang region. The
Han Chinese consider its use to be pejorative and
the Chinese government has tried to ban its use.
Main article: History of the Khitans
See also: Timeline of the Khitans
Part of a series on the
History of Manchuria
Sima Jin dynasty
Jurchen Jin dynasty
Northern Yuan dynasty
Republic of China
Far Eastern Republic
China (Northeast China)
Russia (Outer Manchuria)
According to an official history compiled in the 14th century, a
"sacred man" (shen-ren) on a white horse had eight sons with a
"heavenly woman" (tiannü) who rode in a cart pulled by a grey ox. The
man came from the T'u River (Lao Ha river in modern day Jilin,
Manchuria) and the woman from the Huang River (modern day Xar Moron
river in Inner Mongolia). The pair met where the two rivers join, and
the eight sons born of their union became eight tribes.
The earliest written reference to the Khitan is from an official
history of the
Northern Wei Dynasty dating to the period the
Six Dynasties. Most scholars believe the Khitan tribe splintered from
the Xianbei, and some scholars believe they may have been a mixed
group who also included former members of the
During their early history the Khitan were composed of eight tribes.
Their territory was located between the present day
Xar Moron River
and Chaoyang, Liaoning. The Khitan's territory bordered Koguryo,
China and the lands of the Eastern Turks.
Between the 6th and 9th centuries, they were successively dominated by
the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, the Uyghur Khaganate, and the Chinese
Tang dynasty. The Khitan were less politically united than the
Turkic tribes, but often found themselves involved in the power games
between the Turks and the Chinese dynasties of Sui and Tang. It is
estimated the Khitan had only around 43,000 soldiers—a fraction of
the Turkic Khaganates. In 605, the Khitan raided China, but the
Emperor Yangdi of the Sui Dynasty was able to convince the Turks to
send 20,000 horsemen to aid
China against the Khitan. In 628,
under the leadership of tribal chief Dahe Moui, the Khitan submitted
to the Tang dynasty, as they had earlier submitted to the Eastern
Khagan of the Eastern Turks, Jiali Khan, offered to
exchange the Chinese rebel
Liang Shi Du
Liang Shi Du for the Khitan, but Emperor
Taizong would not agree to the exchange.
During the reign of Empress Wu, nearly one century later, the Second
Turkic Khaganate raided along the Northern China's borderlands. The
Tang Empress, in what scholars consider a major strategic error,
formed an ill-fated alliance with the Turkic leader
Qapaghan Qaghan to
punish the Khitan for raiding
Hebei province. Khitan territory was
much closer to Northern
China than Turkic lands, and the Turks used it
to launch their own raids into Hebei.
Tuyuhun and Tangut, the Khitan remained an intermediate power
along the borderlands through the 7th and 8th centuries. The
Khitans rose to prominence in a power vaccum that developed in the
wake of the Kyrgyz takeover of the Uyghur Khaganate, and the collapse
of the Tang Dynasty.
Main article: Liao dynasty
Location of Liao, Song, and
Western Xia in 1111 AD.(in Chinese)
Abaoji, who had been successful in uniting the Khitan tribes, founded
Liao Dynasty in 907. The Liao territory included Manchuria,
Mongolia and parts of China. Although transition to an imperial social
and political organization was a significant change for the Khitan,
the Khitan language, origin myth, shamanic religion and nomadic
China was in chaos after the fall of the
Tang dynasty in 907. Known as
Wudai Shiguo period,
Five Dynasties ruled northern
China in rapid
succession with only nominal support from the
Ten Kingdoms of southern
China. The Tang Dynasty had been supported by
Shatuo Turks until
Zhu Wen murdered the last Tang emperor and founded the Later Liang
dynasty. The Shatuo Turks, who had been allied with the Khitan since
905, defeated the Later Liang and founded the Later
Tang dynasty in
923, but by 926 the former allies had grown apart. In 934 Yelü
Bei, Abaoji's son, wrote to his brother
Emperor Taizong of Liao from
Later Tang court: "
Li Cong Ke has slain his liege-lord, why not
attack him?" In 936, the Khitan supported Shi Jing Tang's
rebellion against the
Later Tang Emperor Li Cong Ke. Shi Jing Tang
became emperor of the Later Jin dynasty and, in exchange for their
support, the Khitan gained sixteen new prefectures.
The Later Jin dynasty remained a vassal of the Khitan until the death
Shi Jing Tang
Shi Jing Tang in 942, but when the new emperor aceded, he indicated
that he would not honor his predecessor's arrangement. The Khitan
launched a military invasion against the Later Jin in 944. In January
947, the Emperor of the Later Jin dynasty surrended to the Khitan.
The Khitan emperor left the conquered city of
Kaifeng and unexpectedly
died from an illness while travelling in May 947.
Relations between Koryo and the Khitan were hostile after the Khitan's
destroyed Balhae. Koryo would not recognize the
Liao dynasty and
supported the fledging Song dynasty, which had formed south of the
Khitan's territory. Though the Khitan would have preferred to attack
China, they invaded Koryo in 993. Khitan forces failed to advance
Chongchon River and were persuaded to withdraw, though
Khitan disastisfaction with Koryo's conquest of the Jurchen prompted a
second invasion in 1010. This time the Khitan, led by their Emperor,
sacked the capital city Kaesong. A third and final invasion in 1018
was repelled by Koryo's forces, bringing an end to 30 years of war
between the rivals.
Liao dynasty proved to be a significant power north of the Chinese
plain, continuously moving south and West, gaining control over former
Chinese and Turk-Uyghur's territories. In 1005
Chanyuan Treaty was
signed, and peace remained between the
Liao dynasty and the Song
dynasty for the next 120 years. During the reign of the Emperor
Daozong of Liao, corruption was a major problem and prompted
dissatisfaction of many people, including the Jurchens. The Liao
dynasty eventually fell to the Jin dynasty of the Jurchen in 1125, who
defeated and absorbed the Khitans to their military benefit. The
Khitans considered the Khamag
Mongols as their last hope when the Liao
dynasty was invaded by the Jin,
Song dynasty and
Western Xia Empires.
To defend against the Jurchens and Khitans, a Long Wall was built by
Goryeo in 1033–1034 along with many border forts.
Qara Khitai circa 1200
Following the fall of the Liao dynasty, a number of the Khitan
nobility escaped the area westwards towards Western Regions,
establishing the short-lived
Qara Khitai or Western Liao dynasty, and
after its fall, a small part under
Buraq Hajib established a local
dynasty in the southern Persian province of Kirman. These Khitans were
absorbed by the local Turkic and Iranian populations,
left no influence of themselves. As the
Khitan language is still
almost completely illegible, it is difficult to create a detailed
history of their movements.
During the 13th century, the
Mongol invasions and conquests
Mongol invasions and conquests had a
large impact on shifting ethnic identities in the region. Most people
Eurasian Steppe did not retain their pre-Mongol identities
after the conquests. The Khitans were scattered across Eurasia and
assimilated into the
Mongol Empire in the early 13th century.
Fleeing from the Mongols, in 1216 the Khitans invaded
Goryeo armies multiple times, even reaching the gates of
the capital and raiding deep into the south, but were defeated by
Goryeo General Kim Chwi-ryeo who pushed them back north to
Pyongan, where the remaining Khitans were finished off by
Goryeo forces in 1219.
Language and writing systems
Main article: Khitan language
Khitan inscription dated 1058 (清寧四年) found in Dornogovi.
Written in Khitan large script.
Khitan language is now extinct. Some scholars believe that Khitan
is Proto-Mongolic, while others have suggested that it is a
Para-Mongolic language. Khitan has many words that are borrowed
from the Turkic Uyghur language.
There were two writing systems for the Khitan language, known as the
large script and the small script. These were functionally independent
and appear to have been used simultaneously in the Liao dynasty. They
were in use for some time after the fall of that dynasty. Examples of
the scripts appeared most often on epitaphs and monuments, although
other fragments sometimes surface. The Khitan scripts have not been
fully deciphered and more research and discoveries will be necessary
for a proficient understanding of them.
As nomadic Khitans originally engaged in stockbreeding, fishing, and
hunting. Looting Chinese villages and towns as well as neighboring
tribes was also a helpful source of slaves, Chinese handcraft, and
food, especially in times of famine. Under the influence of China, and
following the administrative need for a sedentary administration, the
Khitans began to engage in farming, crop cultivation and the building
of cities. Different from the Chinese and
Balhae farmers, who
cultivated wheat and sorghum millet, the Khitan farmers cultivated
panicled millet. The ruling class of the
Liao dynasty still undertook
hunting campaigns in late summer in the tradition of their ancestors.
After the fall of the Liao dynasty, the Khitans returned to a more
The Pagoda of Fogong Temple, built in 1056.
The Khitans practiced shamanism in which animals played an important
role. Hunters would offer a sacrifice to the spirit of the animal they
were hunting and wore a pelt from the same animal during the hunt.
There were festivals to mark the catching of the first fish and wild
goose, and annual sacrifices of animals to the sky, earth, ancestors,
mountains, rivers, and others. Every male member of the Khitan would
sacrifice a white horse, white sheep, and white goose during the
When a Khitan nobleman died, burnt offerings were sacrificed at the
full and new moons. The body was exposed for three years in the
mountains, after which the bones would be cremated. The Khitan
believed that the souls of the dead rested at a place called the Black
Mountain, near Rehe Province.
Khitan tents always faced east, and they revered the sun, but the moon
did not have a large role in their religion. They also practiced a
form of divination where they went to war if the shoulder blade of a
white sheep cracked while being heated.
Khitan women hunted, rode horses and practiced archery. They did not
practice foot binding, which started becoming popular among the Han
during the Song dynasty. The Khitan practiced polygamy and generally
preferred marriage within the tribe, but it was not unknown for an
Emperor to take wives from other groups like the Han or Koreans.
History of Imperial
History of the Khitans
List of the Khitan rulers
List of Mongolian monarchs
^ Xu 2005, p. 7.
^ Xu 2005, pp. 8-9.
^ Starr 2015, p. 43.
^ Grayson 2012, p. 124.
^ San 2014, p. 233.
^ Kim, pp. 61-62.
^ a b Hung 2013, p. 144.
^ a b Skaff 2012, p. 38.
^ Biran 2017, p. 153.
^ Cohen 2001, p. 64.
^ Spaff 2012, p. 48.
^ Skaff 2012, p. 39.
^ Kim, pp. 62.
^ Biran 2007, p. 153.
^ Kim 2013, p. 63.
^ a b Mote 2003, p. 12-13.
^ Dudbridge 2013, p. 24.
^ Hung 2013, pp. 22.
^ Hung 2013, pp. 23-27.
^ Dudbridge 2013, p. 29-30.
^ Kim 2005, pp. 57-58.
^ Seth 2010, p. 86.
^ Biran 2017, pp. 152-181.
^ "Kim Chwi-ryeo". Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. Academy of Korean
Studies. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
^ Goryeosa: Volume 103. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
^ Ebrey & Walthall 2013, p. 177.
^ Lee 1984, p. 148.
^ Janhunen 2014, p. 4.
^ Mote 2003, p. 34.
^ Daniels & Bright 1996, pp. 230-234.
^ Kara 1987, pp. 19-23.
^ a b Baldick 2012, p. 32.
^ Baldick 2012, pp. 32-33.
^ Baldick 2012, p. 34.
^ McMahon 2013, p. 272.
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Khitans on scholar.google.com
Exhibition of Khitan artifacts
Liao dynasty topics
List of emperors
Memorial for Yelü Yanning
Administrative divisions of the Liao dynasty
Liao dynasty coina