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HOME > Exhibition > Permanent Exhibition > Acient Liaoning > The Liao-Jin Era
The Liao-Jin Era
The Liao-Jin Era (916-1234 CE)



A Cavalry Empire    Tracing the Khitan


The Khitan people belonged to the Donghu Xianbei ethnicity, having lived for many generations in the basins of the Huangshui (present-day Xar Moron) and Tu (present-day Xiliao Lao Ha) Rivers. They first appeared in historical records in the fourth century CE. From that time until the end of the Tang, the Khitan went through three periods: the Ancient Eight Tribes and the Dahe and Yaonian tribal confederations. In 916, Yelv Abaoji, the head of the Diela tribe and Supreme Military Commander, founded the Khitan regime (which was later renamed Liao, Great Khitan, and Great Liao). During the halcyon days of the Liao dynasty, its frontiers extended to Yanyun (an area around Beijing) to the south, the Stanovoy Mountains to the north, to the Sea of Japan to the east and the Altai Mountains to the west. Arising in the north after the Huns, the Xianbei, the Turks and the Huihu, the Khitan were yet another nomadic herding people who had a profound impact on the central plains of China. The Liaoning region was a crucial component of the Liao dynasty’s domain, and a great number of archaeological relics attest to the past greatness of the Khitan people and the unique charm of the Liao culture. 

Liao Governance
The Liao regime was comprised chiefly of the Khitan people. Within the purview of the Liao lived other peoples including the Khitan, Han, Bohai, Xi, Jurchen, Shiwei, Dilie, Zubu (Tatars), and Tieli. The Liao rulers came to recognize the greatness of Confucian-based Han culture, which motivated them to actively absorb concepts of governance from the Han. By combining these with the governmental characteristics of their own ethnicity, they created a unique system of government that featured rule by custom, with a northern and southern governer system, a civil service, and Khitan mobile headquarters, or “camps for four seasons”


The Liao Economy
In the beginning, the Khitan followed a nomadic fishing and hunting lifestyle, which was their primary economic activity. With the deepening of the feudal system of governance, their economy became more diverse and multi-faceted, including agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting and fishing, handicrafts and commerce. The economy of Liaoning during the Liao period was very complex, with the Han and the people of the Bohai taking up agriculture. Meanwhile herding peoples such as the Khitan and Xi also gradually evolved into a settled, agricultural lifestyle, while also continuing to hunt and fish. The multi-faceted development of the economy during the Liao period profoundly influenced the social progress of the Liao society and the economic development of northern China during the Jin and Yuan eras. 


Burial Rites
The ancient Khitan people practiced tree burial and cremation, but gradually adopted the Han practice of burial in the ground after the founding of their nation. The burial sites of aristocratic families consistently featured brick burial chambers of various sizes. Coffin chambers made of wood or imitation wood and with decorated walls were the most common, while a small number of tombs also featured small tent-like wooden outer coffin structures and extravagant funerary objects. Metallic masks and netlike coverings were burial implements unique to the Khitan aristocracy. In Liaoning, tombs of the Liao period are common. There are differences in regional distribution between the Khitan and Han tombs. The Xianling and Qianling Mausoleums are located in Yiwulv mountain in Beizhen. 


The Buddha’s Light
The earliest Khitan people practiced shamanism based on nature worship. After the founding of the country, they gradually began to follow the Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist faiths, with Buddhism dominant, Confucianism for practical applications and Daoism in a supplementary role. Buddhism was especially prominent during the Shengzong, Xingzong and Daozong periods, when Buddhist temples and pagodas were constructed throughout the land. Buddhist architectural style continued the bold and unconstrained style of the Tang, while also showing the artistic characteristics of people of the grasslands, most notably thesifang sanjin style of Buddhist temples and the solid octagonal overlapped-eaves towers. The renowned Liao-era Fengguo Temple and numerous Buddhist pagodas are preserved to this day in Liaoning, and many Buddhist artistic treasures including statues, images of the Buddha, sutra engravings and ritual musical instruments have been excavated. 


Weapons of War   Establishment of the Jurchen State

Under the leadership of their chieftan Wanyan Aguda the Jurchen people, who emerged in the Songhua river valley, established the Great Jin Dynasty in 1115 CE, with their capital at Shangjing Huining Fu (present-day Acheng in Harbin). They later annihilated the Liao and destroyed the Northern Song. In 1153, King Hailing moved the capital to Yanjing (present-day Beijing), naming it central capital. In 1214, under pressure from the Mongols, Emperor Jin Xuanzong moved the capital to the southern capital (present-day Kaifeng). In 1234, the Jin dynasty was defeated. During the period of Jin rule, the Jurchen, Khitan, Bohai, and Han ethnicities, which had long lived in the Liaoning region, all made their own contributions to the development of its regional economy and flourishing culture. This also sped up the process of ethnic blending in the Liaoning region. 

Administrative Structure
Although the regional administrative structure of the Jin dynasty changed numerous times, it basically continued the Liao and Song systems, establishing the lu (district) as the core administrative structure. Five capitals were established throughout the country, as well as fourteen zongguanfu (government centers). Each jing and zongguanfu was in charge of a lu, for a total of nineteen lu. As for the ethnicities, the Han and Bohai peoples implemented the zhouxian system of counties and prefectures while the Jurchen, Khitan and Xi people used the meng-an mou-ke system, units ruled by hereditary lords. Of these, the administrative sections to which present-day Liaoning belongs primarily include the Eastern Capital and the Eastern Capital Lu, as well as the Xianping Lu and the Northern Capital Lu. 

Economy and Culture
A series of pro-agricultural policies were implemented during the rule of the Jin dynasty. In combination with the settlement in Liaodong of a large number of Han agriculturalists from the central plains and the northeast, this led to unprecedented land cultivation, making Liaoning one of the major grain-producing regions at that time. The recovery and development of agriculture spurred the development of business and crafts, including the casting of metal and the firing of ceramics. The culture was thus able to reach a high level of development with the right political and economic conditions in place. 







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