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The Khitan Portal

The Khitan people (Chinese: 契丹; pinyin: Qìdān; Persian: ختن‎, Khitan), or Khitai, Kitan, or Kidan, were a nomadic Mongolic people, originally located at Mongolia and Manchuria (the northeastern region of modern day China) from the 4th century. They dominated a vast area north of China by the 10th century under the Liao dynasty, but have left few relics that have survived until today. After the fall of Liao in 1125, many Khitans moved further west and established the state of Qara Khitai, which was finally destroyed by the Mongol Empire in 1218.

Originating in Xianbei, they were part of the Kumo Xi tribe until 388, when the Kumo Xi-Khitan tribal complex was hugely defeated by the newly established Northern Wei, allowing the Khitan to split to their own tribe and entity, starting the Khitan's history.

They were then under the alternate domination of the steppe power on their West (Turks, 5th to 8th, then Uyghurs, 8th and 9th centuries) and the Chinese from their south (Northern dynasties or Tang, respectively 5th and 6th, and 7th to 10th centuries), and in some case under Koreans domination (from East, mainly Goguryeo), according to the balance of power of the moment. Under this triple domination and oppression, Khitans started to show growing power and independence. This rise was, compared to other cases, slow; they were frequently crushed by neighbouring powers, each using the Khitans warriors when the other country needed assistance, but each ready to crush them when Khitans regained power and approached becoming an independent 4th regional power. The 696–697 Li-Shun Rebellion is instructive on this "2 adults and 1 teenager" game : the Khitans were encouraged by the Turks to take all the risks in revolting against the Tang, which they successfully accomplished, only to be attacked in their rear by the Turks, to the full benefit of the newly-reborn Turkish empire (2d, 682–745).

After the departure of the Uyghur people for the West, and the collapse of the Tang dynasty in early 10th century, they established the Liao dynasty in 907. The 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. They eventually fell to the Jin dynasty of the Jurchen in 1125, who forced the Khitans to submit and serve to their military benefit.

Following the fall of the Liao dynasty, many moved further west and established the state of Qara Khitai. Their name survived in the Russian word for China (Китай, Kitay), as well as the archaic English (Cathay), Portuguese (Catai), and Spanish (Catay) appellations of the country.

Copy from 'History of the Khitans' on 2008/05/20

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Guyaju ruins, Yanqing county, Beijing.JPG

Pictured left: The cliff dwellings in Yanqing County of Beijing were inhabited by the Xi.

The Kumo Xi (traditional Chinese: 庫莫奚; simplified Chinese: 库莫奚[1], call Xi since the Sui dynasty) was a steppes people located in what is now the current Manchuria (North East China). Their history is widely linked to the more famous Khitan, being united into a tribal Kumo Xi entity. Khitan split away in the 388's battle against Northern Wei, leaving the Kumo Xi be crushed alone, and establishing themselves as an autonomous tribe.

After the Khitan's Li-Sun Rebellion (696-697) and the Khitan's Ketuyu revolt (720-734), the Xi were back to the leading position, being forcefully active from 755 to 847, providing wide support to the An Shi Rebellion (756-763), plundering their neighbours frequently. This aggressive policy seems to have consumed Xi demographic forces compare to more calm Khitan, being heavily and disastrously defeated in 760's, 795, 830, 847.

When the Uyghur Empire (744-840) collapsed in the 840's with Tang dynasty already displaying signs of division, the Xi rose in rebellion (847) and were quickly crushed by Zhang Zhongwu. The Xi were never able to recover, while calm Khitan regained sufficient strength to eventually absorb the remaining Xi people, and established the Han Dynasty.

Selected picture

Credit: China Art Pic Stock

Khitans using eagles to hunt (Eagle hunting), painted during the Chinese Song Dynasty (960-1279)

Featured Quote

"There are three things, which should the real man have: fast horse, hound-tazy (a kind of dog) and killing Golden Eagle." (Steppes' proverb, Source: Eagle hunting)

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There are no active tasks for this page
    Current working collaboration
    Read the Xu Elina-Qian's PDF :
    • Xu Elina-Qian, Historical Development of the Pre-Dynastic Khitan, University of Helsinki, 2005. 273 pages.
    and complete the article 'History of the Khitans'.

    Article to create:

    The Five Liao capitals: the Supreme Capital (Balin left banner), the Central Capital (Ningcheng county), the Eastern Capital (Liaoyang), the Western Capital (Datong), and the Southern Capital (Beijing)
    Source : asiasociety.org > Selected Liao-Dynasty Sites (Each site have some picture and an introduction)

    Portal notes

    To be clear, there are just two dozen articles relating to Khitans and their history. The largest ones are the Liao Dynasty and the History of the Khitans currently under expansion, but there are also respectable starts such as Abaoji, Goryeo-Khitan_Wars (1-2-3), Yelu clan, Kara-Khitan Khanate (thanks to Nlu, Eiorgio, Historiographer, Confuzion, Ludahai who attacked these articles from Chinese or Korean side :) !). Most issues are still relatively under-developed : we, together with Xu Elina-Qian's work and wikipedians such as Nlu are here to change this, both by expanding current articles, creating new entries, improving their reliability, and organizing all these articles on this portal.

    Also, I'm currently doing my best to improve the 'History of the Khitans' entries, hoping that some of you will join the boat to both learn more about Khitans' lives and history, and share their discoveries here, by writing down nice articles. Let's roll! (talk), portal creator, 2008/05/20


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    • "Kingdom of Khitans: Sudden Rise, Sudden Fall." From China Daily.
    1. ^ Xu Elina-Qian, p.296b
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