This is related mostly to areas of northern, northeastern, some eastern and central areas of mainland China that were not under rule of Song dynasty which governed under legitimacy of “Mandate of Heaven”.  Majority of population was Han Chinese but they were governed by minority population which settled there as a result of wars. These ethnic groups were more or less Sinicized but also had preserved elements of their culture which of course had influence in these regions. In order to get support from local Han population they gave Chinese names to their ruling dynasties and conducted tolerant policies towards population.  This led again to diversification of Northern and Southern China since south was governed by Han dynasties and north by non Han dynasties. Only by coming of Mongol Yuan dynasties both parts of mainland were reunited.

Liao dynasty ( 907-1125)


Key figures and events:  Abaoji a Khan of Khitans declared himself Emperor of Liao in 907. It happened as a result of fall of Tang dynasty and when Abaoji Khanate moved southwards and conquered poorly controlled northern Chinese territories. He gave to himself Chinese name and became Emperor Taizu. Liao Empire included todays northern and northeastern China, Inner Mongolia, whole Mongolia, parts of Kazakhstan, parts of North Korea and parts of Russian Far East. Later Jin( 936-947) was a vassal of Liao and in 947 captured completely by Liao. Khitans( Qidan in Chinese) were Mongolic ethnicity. Capital of Liao was Shangjing(todays Bairin, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region).  Emperor Taizu died in 926 and appointed his son Yelu Bei as his successor under principle of primogeniture what was typical for Han Chinese. Khitan elite disliked this idea and among them powerful Empress Dowager Shulu Ping who rejected to be buried with her dead husband and took command of 200 000 soldiers. She considered that Yelu Bei is too pro Chinese and that he should give up throne to more capable son of Taizu Yelu Deguang. Yelu Bei accepted this and gave up throne to his brother and  left to be prince of Dongdan( territorial unit within Liao). Thus in 926 Yelu Deguang became Emperor Taizong of Liao. He still perceived his brother as threat and expelled him to Later Tang where he was protected by Emperor Minzong of Later Tang but by Emperor Gaozu of Later Jin which was puppet of Liao.  With fall of Shatuo dominated Later Tang Liao captured a lot of new territories between Bohai Sea and Datong.( including todays Beijing. In 947 Liao defeated Later Jin and captured Kaifeng. But soon Kaifeng was lost and fell in hands of Later Han. After death of Taizong there was trouble since Yelu Beis son Yelu Ruan wanted to be emperor and was respected as brave and capable man among Khitan nobility. But Empress Hulu wanted to bring on throne Taizongs brother Yelu Luhu who wasn’t favored by Khitan nobility since they saw him as immoral. But they exiled Yelu Luhu and Empress Hulu and Yelu Ruan became Emperor Shizong. But only after 4 years he was killed in rebellion and succeeded by Yelu Jing a son of Taizong who became Emperor Muzong of Liao who governed until 969.  In 990 Liao recognized newly established Western Xia Empire. Liao captured Baelhe Jurchen Kingdom( todays Liaoning province) and started raid on Goreyo with 800 000 combatants. Korean diplomat with hard work succeeded to persuade Liao leaders not to conquer Goreyo but to accept tributes from it. In 1009 King Hyenjong of Goreyo rejected vassal status under Liao and Liao sent army  initially took some  territories but was later defeated. In 1018 at Gwaju 400 000 Liao Army was defeated and after that negotiations resumed until 1020 when tributary relations were renewed.


Liao Empire had very turbulent relations with Song Dynasty. Initially their relations were peaceful and they exchanged embassies in 974. In 976 Song captured vassal of Liao Kingdom  Northern Han and continued northern into Liao territory but were defeated at Gaoliang river. In 1005 they signed treaty at Chanyan which established good relations and trade between Liao and Song. For almost 100 years their relations were stable and friendly. Liao was severely defeated by Jurchens and Song Empire, Jurchens who captured capital in 1125 and established Jin Empire. After that Khitan leadership withdrew to West and established new state in Central Asia Qara Khitai that also controlled Xinjiang. It was later captured by Mongols.

State, Society and culture:

In Liao Empire controlled territories a bit less than million Khitans lived and 3 million Han Chinese. So in order to get support of majority population they gave Chinese name to dynasty and its emperors and were quite tolerant towards Han population. Khitans were partially Sinicized but they differed in many terms from Han Chinese.

It was already said that there was trouble in succeeding throne because some Sinicized Khitans wanted to follow Chinese concept of primogeniture and others traditional Khitan concept of tribal council on which was chosen most capable nobleman to be new leader. These issues often caused troubles among ruling circles.

In order to deal with different cultures of Khitans and Han Chinese they established two parallel governments and one governed under Khitan principles and another under Chinese. Northern Administration was government that was governing in Khitan style northern areas where most of population were Khitans. Northern Administration dealt by tribal sessions about various issues, herds and controlled military. They were mostly composed from Khitans and only few Han Chinese and Uyghurs worked there. On another hand Southern Administration dealt with Han population and was structured under Tang dynasty principles. Here most of medium and low positions were taken by Han Chinese and few high positions too. Still emperor had most of power in his hands and met with two governments twice a year.

In order to improve governance and adapt to Chinese culture Khitan administration transalted a lot of Confucian works and built one Confucian temple.

The five capital cities were Shangjing  meaning Supreme Capital, which is located in modern-day Inner Mongolia, Beijing; Dongjing, which is located near modern-day Liaoning; Zhongjing located in modern-day Hebei province,; and Xijing, which is located near modern-day Datong.Each circuit was headed by a powerful viceroy who had the autonomy to tailor policies to meet the needs of the population within his circuit. Circuits were further subdivided into administrations called fu, which were metropolitan areas surrounding capital cities, and outside of metropolitan areas were divided into prefectures called zhou,, which themselves were divided into counties called xian.

Both Khitan and Chinese were official languages and major documents were in both. Thanks to Chinese symbols Khitan language got its letters which were derived from Chinese.

This duality in systems was supposed to be guarantor of peace and harmony between Han Chinese and Khitans since both sides were governed by system that suited their cultures and traditions.

Many habits and perceptions between Han Chinese and Khitans differed. There was big difference in perception of women between Han Chinese and Khitans. We already spoke about status of women and its improvement during Tang and Song dynasties but here they could go hunting and to wars, and could hold high governmental positions. Polygamy was also common for Khitans but also Polyandry. Han Chinese had right to live under their own habbits and traditions same if they would live in Song Empire.

When it comes to economy it was not market oriented or industrialized like one in Tang and Song empires. It was less developed one than Chinese Empire. Primary economic sector was agriculture, fishery and hunting. Not only Khitans living there were busy with this but also Han Chinese since they didn’t live under more prosperous Song dynasty. There was difference that in agriculture Han Chinese were more busy with seeds while Khitans with cattle. This difference in agriculture was based on different traditions. In last few decades of Liao Empire when ties with Song Empire improved they started to develop trade  they were selling cattle and ceramics and imported silk from Song.

Arts also were specific here. They were developed sculpturing from wood, metal and ceramics. Poetry was developed too and most of poems were related to wars, riding horses and hunting. Also music was quite developed with similar topics like poetry.

Religious freedoms were very developed and tolerance existed. Most of Khitans were Buddhists and some of them remained Shamanistic. Han Chinese were on larger scale Taoists and on lower Buddhists. Uyghurs were either Buddhists or Muslims. Religious disputes were not known and Liao Emperors built a lot of temples both Buddhist and Taoist temples on Miaofengshan mountain( nearby Beijing) in order to guarantee religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Islam was also present mostly among Uyghurs and some Han Chinese. There was built Niujie mosque in Beijing which still exists today. It is oldest mosque in Beijing.

Liao pagoda Beijing
Liao pagoda Beijing



Western Xia (1038-1227)

Western Xia was a state that controlled some areas of todays Mongolia, parts of Chinese inner Mongolia, parts of Chinese Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, areas of Ningxia Autonomous Region( PRC), and Chinese provinces such as parts of Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai.

It was formed by end of 10th century in territory of Gansu and was spreading to Song territories and took some of them. Empire was declared in 1038.  Emperor Li Jingzong was first one that was emperor and demanded recognition from Song as equals. Initially Song Emperor rejected it but after negotiations in 1043 he recognized him as emperor under condition to pay tribute to Song.  Tanguts were primary ethnic group that formed this Empire although they were minority similar like in case of Liao. They initiated Sinicization and translated Chinese classics into newly established Tangut script. Relations between Song Empire and Western Xia empire was unfriendly and they fought often wars that finished with stalemate. Western Xia was defeated by Liao Empire and became its vassal. After that Western Xia often fought wars between Song and Liao. Jin attacked Song Western Xia used an opportunity and took some Song territories. Genghis Khan attacked Western Xia several times at beginning of 13th century and finally completely conquered it in 1227. Mongol troops committed extreme atrocities and destroyed almost everything. Some experts believe that it was one of first genocides in human history since big eradication of population, its traces of existence occurred. Because of that very little is known about Western Xia. There are suggestions because of region and nature of Tangut nomads that primary economic branches were hunting, cattle breeding and fishing. Also it is known that emperors had Chinese names and that a lot of Confucian traditions were accepted. Almost nothing is known about its arts and governmental structure. It is known that Tanguts, Han Chinese, Uyghurs and Tibetans served as governmental officials. Another sign of tolerance was multi religious background since Han Chinese were Taoists and Buddhists and little of them Muslims, Uyghurs Muslims or Buddhists, Tanguts Buddhists and Tibetans Buddhists. About social structure and social relations there is no evidence except that multiethnic marriages were legal and common.  Capital of Western Xia was todays Yinchuan( Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region).



Jin Dynasty( 1115-1234)

Key events: On territories of todays Heilongjiang and Jilin existed Jurchens which were ascendants of Manchu people. By beginning of 12th century they continuously attacked Liao territories and when they captured significant part of them they  declared empire. Jurchen leader Aguda declared himself Emperor Taizu of Jin. He started sinicization with that as he gave to his name and dynasty Chinese names. He called new country Zhonghuo( middle state, what in Chinese means China). Song empire called it itself too like that like its predecessors since unification under Qin. He didn’t consider term Mandate of Heaven but was calling himself emperor of China. With that he aimed that part of China should be also non-Han ethnicities and extended term China to Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces. His claim gave legitimacy to other Chinese emperors over these lands. Except parts of todays China Jin Empire included some areas of Russia. When in 1125 Jin completely conquered Liao with alliance with Song they took Liao territories. Han Chinese living on Liao territory without problem accepted new also Sinicized Jin rule.  . In 1127 Jin attacked Song Empire and captured Kaifeng the capital and sacked it. After that Song nobility withdrew behind Yangtze and established Southern Song. Jin spread territories almost to bank of Yangtze. Under Jin control lived 3 million Jurchens and 30 million Han Chinese. Emperor Xizong of Jin continued sinicization by accepting Chinese traditions and Confucian ethics. Later he was murdered by his nobility since he became too brutal. His cousin Wanyan Liang became new emperor. In order to strengthen legitimacy over Chinese territories he moved capital to Beijing. So in 1153 todays Beijing became capital of Jin Empire. At that time it was called Yanjing.  Before that Jin capital was Huining( todays Harbin). Emperor Wanyan Liang wanted to become emperor of all China and thus initiated large scale attacks on Southern Song. As mentioned attacks were stopped and they were severely defeated between 1161 and 1164. Emperor Wanyan was forced to sign peace treaty since he had to deal with internal Jurchen and Khitan rebellions. During 1180ies emperor Shizong ruled the Jin Empire and did significant reforms in economy and education what will be mentioned later.  He promoted both Chinese and Jurchen culture and peace between two ethnic groups. Also as very significant and prosperous emperor is considered his grandson Emperor Zhangzong who married Han Chinese woman.  Empror Zhangzong adopted Taihe Legal Code in 1201 which was based on Tang Legal Code. This again shows its large pretension on China and adapting  government and culture to Chinese one.  In 1207 they successfully stopped Song invasion.

But new threat appeared for Jin Empire the Mongols. Mongol troops invaded in 1211. Despite resistance Mongols were more successful and won several times and captured Datong in 1212. In 1213 they besieged Beijing. Jin ruler hardly tried to persuade Mongols not to capture it. They accepted status of vassals and for security reasons moved capital to Kaifeng. As vassals they fought against other shortly against other Mongol vassal Western Xia. In 1219 Jin Emperor Xuanzong attacked Song empire what was big mistake since it was  too hard to wait for new war with Mongols and fight Song. They were defeated and even more weakened. In 1232 Mongol troops were even stronger than before they were also joined by many Han rebels and Khitan rebels from Jin.  Mongols created special fraction known as Han army which was composed of Han soldiers and Han and Khitan commanders. In 1232 Mongol Empire and Song Empire created alliance and jointly severely attacked Jin Empire. They defeated Jin together and captured Kaifeng in 1233. Jin imperial court escaped to Caizhou( Henan province) and established small capital there. But already in 1234 Mongol and Song troops captured it. Emperor Aizong of Jin committed suicide before being captured. It was end of Jin. Dispute arouse between Song Empire and Mongol Empire over newly captured territories and new war started. As you know from previous chapter Kublai Khan declared himself as Emperor of China and captured Song in 1279. With that moment he had control over all China and China got new Yuan dynasty. It will be written about it in next chapter.


State, Society and Culture:

Again state system was mixture of Han Chinese and Jurchen. There were again two governments such as one which dealt with Jurchen affairs and one with Han Chinese. Jurchen government was based on tribal sessions and customary law. Han Chinese government was conceptualized on Tang dynasty government and governed by Legal Code that was based on Tang Code. Primogeniture was accepted by emperors and not opposed by Jurchen nobility. In both governments top positions Jurchen bureaucrats had while low and middle positions Han Chinese could had.  This was compromise that didn’t affect relations between Han Chinese and Jurchen residents.

Jin dynasty adopted a lot of Confucian governing norms and translated them to Jurchen language. Also they founded imperial academy for state examinations based on Chinese system but except Chinese Jurchen language was used too.

When it comes to economy it was initially most focused on agriculture, cultivating grains, livestock, fishery and hunting.  With the influence of Han Chinese it started to develop commerce, handicraft and textile industry. When it comes to technologies Jin Empire borrowed gunpowder from Song Empire and used it in army. It used gunpowder much less than Song Empire and that’s why Song was more superior.

In arts and architecture Han Chinese influence was big. Jin Emperors built palaces and pavilions in and around Beijing. Also in Kaifeng they built a lot of temples and pagodas. Han influence was visible in painting and in poetry. Especially big infuelnce on poetry had Quanzhen Taoist sect. Two thirds of poems that belong to Jin Empire were written by Quanzhen Taoists.

Religious tolerance and diversity was present. Jurchens were mostly shamanists and Buddhists while as usually Han Chinese were either Taoists or Buddhists. Administration supported both religions and invested in temples and rewriting of Canons. Using woodblock printing they copied significantly Buddhist and Taoist Cannons. Significant part of Quanzhen Taoist sect was present on Jin territory and in 12th century they got headquarters in Beijing what will a bit later become White Cloud Temple. Also woodblock printer is machine that Jin Empire inherited from Han Chinese that used it since Tang dynasty.

Relations between two ethnic groups were peaceful and friendly and multiethnic marriages were common. Even Emperor Zhangzong married Han Chinese women.

Now as we have finished with different dynasties that governed during more or less same time period it is time to analyze whole China under Yuan dynasty.





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