Liao Dynasty

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  • Dates: 907-1125
  • Chinese: 遼 (Liáo)

The Liao Dynasty was a Khitan state which controlled an area of northern China during China's Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms and Northern Song Dynasty periods. Ruled by a nomadic steppes people, the Khitans, the Liao incorporated a combination of Chinese and Central Asian / steppe institutions and practices. Much evidence of their adoption of Tang Dynasty religious and artistic culture survives still today in the city of Datong and elsewhere in Shanxi province. A Timber Pagoda built by the Khitans in 1055 remains the oldest and tallest wooden pagoda in China today, and stands taller than the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan, that at Tô-ji in Kyoto.[1]

The Liao government was divided into Northern and Southern Chancelleries, and controlled sixteen prefectures south of the Great Wall. It maintained five capitals (one of which would later become the Mongol capital of Dadu, i.e. Beijing); the Liao emperor and his court, like most of his people, remained mobile (nomadic) even as they adopted elements of Chinese culture, moving seasonally from one hunting ground or pasture to another.[2] Aspects of Liao political structures had significant impacts in China proper, as they were later adopted by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.

The Liao clashed violently with the Song on a number of occasions; after Emperor Taizong of Song (r. 976-997) failed twice to take Beijing from the Liao, the Song began in 1004 to pay the Liao 100,000 ounces of silver and 200,000 bolts of cloth every year, in tribute, in exchange for peace.[3]

Founded in 907, the Liao fell in 1125 to the forces of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty.


  • Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 193.
  1. Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 309-311.
  2. Gallery labels, Royal Ontario Museum.[1]
  3. Hansen, 265-267.