Episode 27: Manchurian Warlords and Song Emperors
Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)
Dr Kenneth Harl
In this lecture, Harl focuses on the steppes nomads who ruled northern China following the collapse of the Tang Dynasty in 907 AD (two centuries before the birth of Genghis Khan).
Harl focuses on three major tribes, the Khitans, the Jurchens and the Xi Xia.
The Khitans, who ruled northern China between 907 and 926, originated from the Manchurian forests prior to adopting a nomadic lifestyle. Calling themselves the Liao Dynasty, they conquered 16 Chinese provinces (including the densely-populated region around Beijing) and ruled as Chinese-style emperors. They simultaneously extended their authority over other nomadic tribes on the adjacent steppes while ruling an estimated 10-15 million Chinese subjects.
Over time, the Khitan emperors came into increasing conflict with the Song Empire ruling southern China. In 1005, they signed a treaty establishing a boundary between the Liao and Song Dynasties that required the Song emperor to pay them tribute.
The Liao Dynasty collapsed when the Jurchens, originating from the steppes north of Manchuria, formed an alliance with the Song Dynasty to attack the Khitans simultaneously from the Northeast and South. After renaming themselves the Jin Dynasty, the Jurchens penetrated a long way into southern China forcing the Song court to relocate further south and pay them tribute. By 1125, the Jin Dynasty ruled the Chinese heartland, a total of 30-40 million Chinese (one-third of the Chinese population).
The Khitans migrated west following their defeat by China and overran the Islamic Seljuk Turk Federation and all the caravan cities in Transoxiana. This ultimately led to to the collapse of the Seljuk-run Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, which once again came under Arab control.*
Although they only occupied a small region between the Khitan Federation and the Uighur** Federation in the Tarim Basin, the nomadic Xi XIa Federation was politically important because it controlled the Silk Road and (after adopting Chinese Script) served as an intermediary between the Khitans and the Song Dynasty.
*See The Multiethnic Origins of the Muslim Conqueset
**See 9th Century AD: Mass Migration of Uighur Turks to China Leads to Rise of Seljuk Turks on the Steppes
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