Kara-Khitan Khanate

From New World Encyclopedia
This article refers to the Khitan Khanate. For the Turkic state, see Kara-Khanid Khanate.
Map of Asia and Europe circa 1200 C.E.

The Kara-Khitan Khanate, or Western Liao (Mongolian Хар Хятад; Kara Kitad; Traditional Chinese: 西遼; Simplified Chinese: 西辽; pinyin: Xī Liáo) existed from 1124 C.E. (Yelü Dashi proclaimed himself king in the year 1124 C.E. while still in Mongolia) to 1218 C.E. and refers to the Khitan empire in Central Asia. Yelü Dashi founded the dynasty, leading the remnants of the Liao Dynasty to Central Asia after fleeing from the Jurchen conquest of their homeland in Manchuria. The Naimans under Kuchlug usurped the empire in 1211 C.E., traditional Chinese, Persian, and Arab sources considering the usurpation the end of the empire.[1] The Mongol Empire destroyed the Khitan empire in 1218.

The Khitan people rose from among the northern nomadic tribes of China to become a mighty empire twice. First, they established the Liao Dynasty in Manchuria around 910 C.E., attempting to become the ruling power throughout China and to incorporate Korea into the Liao Dynasty. The Khitans succeeded in conquering Balhae, the North Korea kingdom during the North-South States period in Korea, in 926 C.E., then invaded the newly established Goryeo dynasty on the Korean Peninsula. Goryeo repulsed the invasions, weakening the Khitans so that they fell prey to the nomadic Jurchens. The Khitans migrated to Central Asia, establishing the Kara-Khitan Khanate, disappearing from history after falling to the Mongols.


Liao funerary mask, an ancestor of the Kara-Khitans, 10-12th century CE.

The Khitans used the nameKara Khitan (Hala Qidan) to refer to themselves. The phrase translates as the Black Khitans, but its original meaning remains unclear.[2] Since no extant records from the empire survive, the only surviving historical records about the empire come from secondary sources. Since the empire took on trappings of a Chinese state, Chinese historians generally refer to the empire as the Western Liao Dynasty, emphasizing its continuation from the Liao Dynasty in Manchuria. The Jurchens referred to the empire as Dashi or Dashi Linya (after its founder), to reduce any claims the empire may have had to the old territories of the Liao Dynasty. Muslim historians initially referred to the state simply as Khitay or Khitai. The Muslim world began referring Khitan as the Kara-Khitai or Qara-Khitai only after the Mongol conquest.[3]


The Khitans ruled from their capital at Balasagun (in today's Kyrgyzstan). They directly controlled the central region of the empire. The rest of their empire consisted of highly-autonomous vassalized states, primarily Khwarezm, the Karluks, the Gaochang Uyghurs, the Qangli, and the Western, Eastern, and Fergana Kara-Khanids. The late-arriving Naimans also became vassals, before usurping the empire under Kuchlug.

The Khitan rulers adopted many administrative elements from the Liao Dynasty, including the use of Confucian administration and imperial trappings. The empire also adopted the title of Gurkhan (universal Khan), which probably originating from Central Asian nomads.[4] The Khitans used the Chinese calendar, maintained Chinese imperial and administrative titles, gave its emperors reign names, used Chinese-styled coins, and sent imperial seals to its vassals.[5] Although most of its administrative titles derived from Chinese, the empire also adopted local administrative titles, such as tayangyu (Turkic) and vizier.

The Khitans maintained their old customs, even in Central Asia. They remained nomads, adhered to their traditional dress and maintained the religious practices followed by the Liao Dynasty Khitans. The ruling elite tried to maintain the traditional marriages between the Yelü royal clan and the Xiao consort clan, displaying reluctance to allow their princesses to marry outsiders. The Kara-Khitai Khitans followed a mix of Buddhism and traditional Khitan religion, which included fire worship and tribal customs, such as the tradition of sacrificing a gray ox with a white horse. In an innovation unique to the Kara-Khitai, the Khitans paid their soldiers a salary.

The empire ruled over a diverse population quite different from its rulers. The majority of the population lived sedentary lives, although the population suddenly became more nomadic during the end of the empire, due to the influx of Naimans. The majority of their subjects declared themselves Muslims, although a significant minority practiced Buddhism and Nestorianism. Chinese and Khitan constituted the primary languages of administration, although the empire also administered in Persian and Uyghur.[6]


Yelü Dashi, who led 100,000 Khitans into Central Asia from Manchuria by way of Mongolia, established The Kara-Khitai empire. Yelü conquered Balasagun from the Kara-Khanid Khanate in 1134 C.E., marking the start of the empire in Central Asia. 10,000 Khitans, who had been subjects of the Kara-Khanid Khanate, soon joined the Khitan forces. The Khitans then conquered Kashgar, Khotan, and Besh Baliq. The Khitans defeated the Western Kara-Khanid Khanate at Khujand in 1137, eventually leading to their control over the Fergana Valley. They won the Battle of Qatwan against the Western Kara-Khanids in September 9, 1141, allowing the Khitans to control Transoxania while making Khwarezm a vassal state.

Yelü died in 1143, his wife, Xiao Tabuyan, assuming the throne as regent for their son. Their daughter, Yelü Pusuwan assumed the throne from her brother Yelü Yiliu, when he died in 1163. Yelü Pusuwan sent her husband, Xiao Duolubu, on many military campaigns. She then fell in love with his younger brother, Xiao Fuguzhi. Her father-in-law, Xiao Wolila, was executed in 1177, placing Yelü Zhilugu on the throne in 1178. Rebellions and internal wars among its vassals, especially during the latter parts of its history weakened the empire. In 1208, the Naimans fled from their homeland, the Kara-Khitai welcoming them into the empire. In 1211, the Naiman prince, Kuchlug, captured Yelü Zhilugu while the latter hunted, ending Khitan rule in the Kara-Khitai empire. The Mongols captured and killed Kuchlug in 1218. The Mongols fully conquered the former territories of the Kara-Khitai in 1220.

Sovereigns of Kara-Khitan Khanate

Sovereigns of Kara-Khitan Khanate 1124 or 1125-1221
Temple Names ( Miao Hao 廟號 miàohào) Posthumous Names ( Shi Hao 諡號 shìhào) Birth Names Convention Period of Reign Era Names (Nian Hao 年號 niánhào) and their according range of years
Convention: check each sovereign
Dezong (德宗 Dézōng) Tianyouwuliedi (天祐武烈帝 Tiānyòuwǔlièdì) Yelü Dashi (耶律大石 Yēlǜ Dàshí or 耶律達實 Yēlǜ Dáshí) 1 use born name 1124-1144 Yanqing (延慶 Yánqìng) 1124 or 1125-1134

Kangguo (康國 Kāngguó) 1134-1144

Did not exist Gantianhou (感天后 Gǎntiānhòu) Tabuyan (塔不煙 Tǎbùyān) "Xi Liao" + posthumous name 1144-1150 Xianqing (咸清 Xiánqīng) 1144-1150
Emperor Renzong of Western Liao (仁宗 Rénzōng) Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Yelü Yilie (耶律夷列 Yēlǜ Yíliè) "Xi Liao" + temple name 1150-1164 Shaoxing (紹興 Shàoxīng) 1150-1164
Did not exist Chengtianhou (承天后 Chéngtiānhòu) Yelü Pusuwan (耶律普速完 Yēlǜ Pǔsùwán) "Xi Liao" + posthumous name 1164-1178 Chongfu (崇福 Chóngfú) 1164-1178
Did not exist Mozhu (末主 Mòzhǔ) or Modi (末帝 Mòdì) Yelü Zhilugu (耶律直魯古 Yēlǜ Zhílǔgǔ) use born name 1178-1211 Tianxi (天禧 Tiānxī) 1178-1211
Did not exist Did not exist Kuchlug (Ch. 屈出律 Qūchūlǜ) use born name 1211-1218 Did not exist
1 "Dashi" might be the Chinese title "Taishi," meaning "vizier;" Or it could mean "Stone" in Turkish, as the Chinese transliteration suggests


  1. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 2.
  2. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 216-217.
  3. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 215-217.
  4. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 1.
  5. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 93-131
  6. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 94.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Biran, Michal. 2005. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521842266
  • Wright, David Curtis. 2005. From War to Diplomatic Parity in Eleventh Century China Sung's Foreign Relations with Khitan Liao. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004144569
  • Wittfogel, Karl August, Chia-shêng Fêng, and Karl H. Menges. 1949. History of Chinese Society Liao (907-1125). Appendix V, Qara-Khitay.

External Links

All links retrieved October 4, 2022.


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