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China: Liao dynasty (AD 907-1125)

The Tang dynasty was succeeded on the north-eastern periphery of its empire by the Liao, a semi-nomadic people called the Qidan (or Khitan). They controlled territory in Liaoning province and parts of present-day Hebei and Inner Mongolia. Their southern capital was a city known today as Beijing (the beginning of its history as a capital city). They ruled contemporaneously with the Five Dynasties and later with the Northern Song, with whom they traded and received money to keep the peace. The Liao had five capitals in all, based on the principles of a Tantric Buddhist mandala.

The Liao had dual prime ministers, Qidan and Chinese, and a dual administrative system: they used tribal laws, steppe styles of food and clothing and their own Mongolian language for themselves. A second administration governed the farming regions under the old Tang system, complete with Tang official titles, examinations, taxes and the Chinese language.

The Liao were patrons of Chinese Buddhism. They absorbed Chinese wealth and culture. The Qidan economy was based on horses and sheep, and on agriculture. Their achievements were more military and administrative than cultural, although their military character was gradually undermined and they were overthrown by the Northern Song in collaboration with the Ruzhen (Jurchen) people, who then turned on the Northern Song and established the Jin dynasty (1115-1234).

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