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(also Kitai), tribes of the Mongolian group that in antiquity roamed the territory of the present-day Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (in the People’s Republic of China) and the Mongolian People’s Republic. They first became known to history in the fourth century.

In 907 the leader of the tribe, Ila-Abugi, proclaimed himself emperor of the Khitans and, after subjugating a number of neighboring tribes, extended the empire to the west and north. In 926, he conquered the Pohai kingdom in the east. In 947, the state was named Great Liao; in 983, the Great State of the Khitans; and in 1066, the Great Liao once again. The Liao state, which stretched from the Sea of Japan to eastern Turkestan, was the mightiest power in East Asia. After losing a war with the Khitans, China began to pay them a yearly tribute in 1005. At the end of the 11th century, the decline of the Liao state began, and in 1125 it was destroyed by the Jurchens. Some of the Khitans (the Kara-Khitans or Karakitai) moved westward to Middle Asia.

Two types of Khitan written language are known. The Russian name for China (Kitai), which came from the Mongols and the Turks, is derived from the name “Khitan.”


Rudov, L. N. “Kidani.” In the collection Dal’nii Vostok: Sb. statei po filologii, istorii, filosofii. Moscow, 1961.
Starikov, V. S. “Formal’nyi analiz funktsional’noi struktury teksta.” In the collection Materialy po deshifrovke kidan’skogo pis’ma, book 1. Moscow, 1970.
Wittfogel, K. A., and Feng Chia-Sheng. History of the Chinese Society Liao. Philadelphia-New York, 1946.


References in periodicals archive ?
Early Song records described the Khitans of the Liao as "barbarians," behaving like "dogs and goats" (Wang 1983, 52-53).
Private writings of Song officials sometimes referred to the Khitans as "ugly caitiffs," "wolves," "owls," or plainly "animals.
At the end of the ninth century, the Khitans began wars against tribes that lived in their proximity.
After the state's destruction, many Bohai went into the service of the Khitans and their state.
Since the Khitans did not use surnames except for the royal Yelu and Xiao clans, an understanding of the naming practices used among the population is important to comprehending Khitan family customs and expressions of genealogical identity.
The book's final article on the Khitans, Cai Meibiao's "Khitan Tribal Organization and the Birth of the Khitan State," covers a long span of time, from the historical appearance of the Khitans in the late fourth century C.
The same scholars who presumed Kirghiz domination of the Mongolian plateau after 840 also supposed that the Kirghiz were pushed out of the region by the expanding power of the Khitans when their dynamic ruler Yeh-lu A-pao-chi entered the Orkhon region with his troops in 924.
Writing of the Khitans as conquerors, he nevertheless did not state that they had conquered the Kirghiz; indeed, he simply skirted the issue of whom, if anyone, the Khitans encountered in the Orkhon valley in 924.
Faced with this intricate international system, the author has concentrated on the major foreign policy concerns of the Sui and Tang empires, particularly the Turks, Uighurs, Koreans, Tibetans, and Nanzhao, although there are also substantial references to other peoples, such as the Khitans, Tuyuhun, etc.
276); although economic considerations may indeed have been important for Bilge Qaghan, an examination of the Old Turkic inscriptions reveals that other factors, such as warfare with the Khitans, may have influenced Turk policies toward China.
The existence of a significant corpus of Mongolian loan words used to translate these terms, combined with the fact that some of them occur in Jurchen, suggests that among the northern border peoples there may have been a kind of tradition of Lunyu interpretation which began in the twelfth century with the reign of the Jurchens, and possibly even as early as the tenth century with the Khitans.
The translation of the Chinese classics was also important to the Khitan rulers of the Liao dynasty (937-1125), who ordered Tangut translations of a number of Chinese texts, including the Lunyu, Xiaojing, and Erya.