Lost Children of the Tang Empire 唐外继承国

Art by JFOliveras: A Khotanese noblewoman. The royalty of the Tarim Basin were known to have worn heavy make up (like the Tang) and lived in palaces that blended Chinese and local architectures. The outer walls were made of rammed earth while the interior were constructed in the square based Chinese Fengshui layout. 

The last Tang Emperor was assassinated by one of his treacherous generals in 907, plunging the empire into a protracted 7 decades of war known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. On the fringes of its former holds, many kingdoms still claim both relations and loyalty to the memory of the broken empire (and would be major players in the scramble for power after the fall of the Tang. Here we will cover some of the most significant regional players who had either served as Tang governors or were Tang client states. 

One of the common threads that united many of them would be the Tang imperial last name of 李 "Li" which were conferred to the rulers of these client kingdoms for the services they had rendered to the dying Tang. This blood claim would motivate many of these kingdoms to pursue conquests into China Proper while proclaiming themselves as the "true heirs" of the vanquished Tang.

Most of Tang's western and northern frontiers were delegated to capable allied vassals, because these frontiers have been repeatedly battered by the invaders from the Khitans in the north and Tibetans to the west, these frontier garrisons and allied client states were staffed with highly competent military men. In the west many smaller states emerged from the aftermath of the disintegration of the mighty Tibetan Empire, and in the north, various Turkic lords served as Tang's northern wardens against the ceaseless steppe invaders. When considering these kingdoms that ruled on what was the former boarders of the Tang, it's important to know that while they marshalled their strength on the frontiers of China proper- the interior of China was wracked in an constant cycles of interstate-warfare.


With the great sand sea of the Taklamakan desert at its center, and the ring of shield- like mountains surrounding it on four sides, human settlements could only emerge from the sparse oases dotting the region. With time, each of these oasis erected its own walled city-state headed by a local king who simultaneously acted as a governor of the Tang. 

Though the Tang were driven out of the Tarim Basin by the Tibetan Empire in the 8th- and 9th centuries, the various city-state Kingdoms still maintained close relationships with the Tang empire. When the Tibetan Empire imploded due to the assassination of its last Emperor, the Tarim states rekindled their former relations with the various Chinese states. One of the key power was the Saka Kingdom of Khotan. The Khotanese were Indo-Europeans of Saka descent, and throughout the first millennium cultivated close relations with the Han and the Tang empires and for much of its history they were able to continue to rule as local kings within their domains while also served as governors for the imperial court.

Being the westernmost and the last truly independent of the Tarim's oasis kingdoms, Khotan enjoyed a great degree of protection provided by the massive Taklamakan desert that served as its sand sea moat. They benefited greatly from the Silk Road trade and resided securely over their small self sustaining fertile land.

They presided over a mixed populace of native Indo- Europeans, Sogdians, Han Chinese, and increasing number of Uyghurs after the disintegration of the Uyghur Khaganate. For their services they- were granted the Tang imperial clan's last name of Li- where were permitted to be retroactively applied to the clan's ancestors- in this manner they still claimed blood relations with the Tang even after the Tang had fallen.

Li Shengtian (simplified Chinese: 李圣天; traditional Chinese: 李聖天; pinyin: Lǐ Shèngtiān; Saka: Viśa' Saṃbhava) (died 966) was the king of the Indo-European kingdom of Khotan from 912 to 966. His era name was Tongqing (同慶, lit. "to celebrate together"). He married the second daughter of Cao Yijin (曹議金), the first governor of the Guiyi Circuit. In another act of marital diplomacy, Cao Yijin's grandson, Cao Yanlu (曹延祿), married Li Shengtian's third daughter.

For their services they- the Kings of Khotan were granted the Tang imperial clan's last name of Li- where were permitted to be retroactively applied to the clan's ancestors- in this manner they still claimed blood relations with the Tang even after the Tang had fallen.


A scroll written with the ancient Khotanese, a Saka (Indo- European)  language 

Built on an oasis, Khotan's mulberry groves allowed the production and export of silk and carpets, in addition to the city's other major products such as its famous nephrite jade and pottery. Despite being a significant city on the silk road as well as a notable source of jade for ancient China, Khotan itself is relatively small – the circumference of the ancient city of Khotan at Yōtkan was about 2.5 to 3.2 km (1.5 to 2 miles). 

The geographical position of the oasis was the main factor in its success and wealth. To its north is one of the most arid and desolate desert climates on the earth, the Taklamakan Desert, and to its south the largely uninhabited Kunlun Mountains (Qurum). To the east there were few oasis beyond Niya making travel difficult, and access is only relatively easy from the west.

The Buddhist Khotanese King Vaisravana in armor. As previously mentioned, the Saka Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan was the only city-state that was not conquered yet by the Turkic Uyghur (Buddhist) and then the Turkic Qarakhanid (Muslim) states. For protection they formed a close series of marriages with the nearby Guiyi Circuit (or Dunhuang) - a Tang Buddhist successor state to act as a counterweight against the Uyghur Princes.


The Khotanese were not strangers in dealing with the Tang Chinese, for in centuries past, they had served as governors and vassals of another Chinese polity- the Han dynasty. When the Tang dynasty fell, the Khotanese Kings quickly sought out alliances with the powerful military governors of the Tang remnants. The Chinese entitites of Dunhuang and Khotan had a tight-knit partnership, with intermarriage between Dunhuang and Khotan's rulers and Dunhuang's Mogao grottos and Buddhist temples being funded and sponsored by the Khotan royals, whose likenesses were drawn in the Mogao grottoes. The Saka King of Khotan Li Shengtian- Viśa' Saṃbhava in the native Saka tongue married the second daughter of Cao Yijin (曹議金), the first governor of the Guiyi Circuit. In another act of marital diplomacy, Cao Yijin's grandson, Cao Yanlu (曹延祿), married Li Shengtian's third daughter. The Khotanese would continue their diplomatic overtures with all the neighboring Chinese powers including the Song dynasty.

Although the Tang were driven away by the Tibetans from the Gansu region that bordered the Tarim Basin, something utterly unexpected happened. When the Tibetan Empire imploded, the Han natives of Gansu revolted against the Tibetan remnants and established their own exclave state within the region that pledged loyalty to the Tang while completely isolated away from the Tang homeland. They were quickly recognized as key Tang allies and the lords of this loyal exclave continued to be a regional power after Tang's fall. 

Fashion of a late Tang lady, and the fashion of an early Song dynasty lady. Despite being isolated from the epicenter of Chinese culture, the nobility of Khotan still closely imitated the fashions and norms of the Chinese heartlands. 

The inner palace of Karakhoja, or Gaochang in Chinese. Karakhoja was one of the northern- most oasis kingdoms in the region. It was perhaps the greatest as well as most sophisticated cities in the region. Ultimately the city was destroyed by Muslims and the Mongols.

In the 10th century, the Indo-European Saka Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan was the only city-state that was not conquered yet by the Turkic Uyghur (Buddhist) and the Turkic Qarakhanid (Muslim) states. During the latter part of the tenth century, Khotan became engaged in a struggle against the Kara-Khanid Khanate. The Islamic conquests of the Buddhist cities east of Kashgar began with the conversion of the Karakhanid Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan to Islam in 934. Satuq Bughra Khan and later his son Musa directed endeavors to proselytize Islam among the Turks and engage in military conquests, and a long war ensued between Islamic Kashgar and Buddhist Khotan.

Shazhou (Sha Prefecture,) or modern Dunhuang. It was an important convergence of all trade and pilgrimage traffic along the long neck of the Hexi Corridor. Because of strategic location Dunhuang was frequently intermittently used as a toll station, caravansary, pilgrimage center, and military garrison. The pagoda-like design of the Mogao Caves not only provided for an imposing facade for the grottoes but was also designed so as to survive the wind blast and earthquakes endemic to the region.

We are familiar with the story of Rome's loss of the British Isles, we are familiar of the Ming loyalist warlord Koxinga's conquest of Taiwan to make it into his new home in defiance against the Manchus conqueror of Ming China. However very few looking through the annals of Chinese history probably have paid much attention to a small state- that was only the size of several counties called Guiyi Circuit. The creation and how the "state" of the Guiyi Circuit came to be will be enduringly be one of the strangest occurrences in all of Chinese history- perhaps comparable only to Koxinga's establishment of his kingdom in Taiwan. 

Imagine being in charge of a dying empire after it has terminally suffered a series of crushing defeats. War spills unchecked on the frontiers while simultaneously you also have to endure nightmarish level of internal disturbances in the heartlands of the realm. You would be forced to pull your soldiers out from the empire's frontiers so they could redress the chaos at the heartlands. An entire frontier was thus abandoned to the onslaught of invaders. In this case the Tang empire of the 8th century- pulling out against the onslaught of the Tibetan Empire hammering Tang forces across every pocket of the western marches. 


Padmasambhava Statue from the Johkan Temple, first built in the 7th century. Under strong Tibetan Emperors (Chosgyal) such as Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and Ralpacan, Tibet became a supreme regional power by the advent of 7-9th century. Just like the Gokturks from the earlier part of Tang history, the Tibetan Empire would become one of the mortal nemesis of the Tang Empire during the latter part of its existence. 

As Tang China faltered in the middle of the 8th century, Tibet ramped up its efforts dislodge the Tang holds in the western regions by throttling the thin Gansu Corridor, in total, hundreds of battles were fought between a weakened Tang and the Tibetan Empire.

Tibetan cavalry with riders covered from head to toe in armor dominated the western wars. Hundreds of bloody battles were fought and with each battle, the already weakened strength of the Tang was further chipped away in attrition. The west was lost- in both control and the collective attention of almost everyone in the dying empire. 

Tibetan cavalry with veiled face armor

Besieged, Tibetan infantrymen ascending siege ladders while they are greeted by an alarmed Tang nobleman with sword drawn, a militia attempting to aim his recurved bow and a Tang lady armed with a cocked crossbow. In the aftermath of the disastrous An Lushan rebellion, the western territories of Tang was repeatedly attacked by the resurgent Tibetan Empire. These attacks would overwhelm Tang defenses in the region and completely separate the local Tang settlements from the Tang heartlands. The west was lost.


And then- in the ensuing 60 decades, after generations have been born and died, after the lost frontier was but a memory, when it was something as emotionally distant as notations on a history book. Then, one day you- as the head of the weakened Tang empire receive a message that came from the west, more than merely a strange blip on the radar, but in perfect speech of your own people, proclaiming that "the west has been won back." And the west, previously thought to be lost forewver has returned to your fold. This is the story of the 归义军 Guiyi Army: the "Return to Righteousness Army" and their "Return to Righteousness" province. 

This Guiyi Army and their circuit would become a critical fixture to the Tang realm in the last days of the dynasty. In the late 700s. The Hexi Corridor was an important part of the Silk Road, connecting the trade influx of Central Asia with northwest China. After the An Lushan Rebellion, the Hexi Corridor was conquered by the Tibetan Empire. Around the 770s or the 780s, Shazhou Prefecture, otherwise known as Dunhuang, was occupied by the Tibetans. 60 full years would pass until suddenly, the last Tibetan Emperor was assassinated by a Buddhist fanatic, the Tibetan Empire would descend into anarchy and high warlordom in the ensuing centuries in what would be known as the Tibetan Era of Fragmentation



Late Tang celestial deities depiced wearing heavy Mingguang armor. These silk paintings represented the typical general's gears from the middle of the 9th century. 

Valley of monuments and fortresses: ^Majishan Grottoes shown above in the modern Gansu Province. Surrounded on two side by massive mountains, traffic in the Hexi Corridor could only travel along a single nw to se axis. Because of this, the Tang and the Tibetans both constructed many forts and site of pilgrimage along the path of what would become the Guiyi Circuit. On the western most corner of the new state sat the great Yumen (Jade Gate) Fortress, which had served as the tail end of the Han Great Walls. All along the Corridor were dotted with giant painted monuments along the cliff sides. 

What would happen next sounded something straight out of Red Dawn or a Metal Gear Solid game that featured Big Boss. In 848 Zhang Yichao, a resident of Shazhou Prefecture, led an uprising and captured Shazhou and Guazhou prefectures from the Tibetans. Two years later, Zhang captured Ganzhou, Suzhou, and Yizhou prefectures. Zhang claimed the title of acting prefect of restored Shazhou and submitted a petition to Emperor Xuānzong of Tang, offering his loyalty and submission.

In 851 Zhang captured the nearby Xizhou Prefecture (Gaochang) in the Tarim Basin. If was for these strategic gains that the Khotanese Kings would court the military governors of the Guiyi Circuit as a counterweight against the nearby Uyghur Kingdom of Qocho (centered on Gaochang.) 

Section of a wall mural commemorating the victory of Zhang Yichao- the founder of the Guiyi Circuit over the Tibetan Empire, Mogao Cave 156, Late Tang Dynasty (9th century).


It was at this moment that envoys from Shazhou prefecture reached the Tang court and the emperor enthusiastically responded by naming Zhang's territory the Guiyi "Return to Righteousness" Circuit (designation for a Tang regional govenment) and made Zhang Yichao the Guiyi Jiedushi (歸義節度使, Governor of the Guiyi Circuit) and Cao Yijin his secretary general of the new local "Return to Righteousness Army." After 60 years of separation, the west was restored by unexpected loyalists who putted it all back in order without the Tang ruler's design nor expectations. Zhang and Cao would go on to rule a multi-ethnic and inter-religious kingdom of Han, Sogdians, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. 

For the nearly 2 decades after his promotion, Zhang would lead his forces and repel many Tibetan attempts to wrestle back the strategically critical corridor. After Zhang defeated the veteran Tibetan general Baönhrom Barhé and seized Luntai (Ürümqi) and Tingzhou the whole swath of eastern Tarim Basin was in Zhang's hands. However, with  their success came new enemies. 

The Tang and the Uyghur Kaganate had always enjoyed century longs of alliance with a few instances of prejudice and boarder conflicts. For the most part the Uyghurs were active Tang allies in warring with the Tibetans while they asserted greater degree of control in the Tarim Basin and the western regions. However-, the implosion of the Uyghur Khaganate splintered the Uyghurs into various princes and warlords. Because the Guiyi Circuit overlapped areas that were seen as promised Uyghur domains- the quick gains of Guiyi army was quickly checked by the Uyghur Princes of Qocho. During the next full century the Uyghur people would move from their ancestral homelands in modern Mongolia and journey deep into the Tarim Basin and the outlying Ferghana Valley, intermixing with the Sogdians and the native populations of Tarim.

The Uyghurs, a Turkic ally of the Tang dynasty during the 8th-10th century still preserved their Buddhist- Manichaean beliefs, were rotated into a position of power. ^ The above painting depicts high Uyghur princes in elaborate colorful garbs. 

The Buddhist Khotanese King Vaisravana in armor. As previously mentioned, the Saka Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan was the only city-state that was not conquered yet by the Turkic Uyghur (Buddhist) and then the Turkic Qarakhanid (Muslim) states. For protection they formed a close series of marriages with the nearby Guiyi Circuit (or Dunhuang) - a Tang Buddhist successor state to act as a counterweight against the Uyghur Princes.

The Tarim Basin gains were immediately captured by Qocho. Xizhou Prefecture (Gaochang) at northern Tarim Basin was also captured by the Uyghur Princes. The next century would be marked with frequent wars with the Uyghur Princes.

Archaeological site of the great city-state of Gaochang or Karakhoja, compared to Khotan, which was relatively small, Gaochang was massive, with several outlying districts and wards. Gaochang was built as a garrison town in the first century B.C. The nomadic Jushi people, who were native inhabitants of the territory, invited the Chinese Han dynasty to take over, giving them their allegiance. During the successive dynasties, it was ruled as Gaochang Prefecture, Gaochang Kingdom and West Prefecture. By the 14th century, the city was damaged and abandoned due to warfare between Mongolian aristocrats and Uigurs.


In the last days of the Tang dynasty the situation of the Circuit went from bad to nearly untenable. The Guiyi Circuit would be drawn and quartered by internal insurrections and besieged on both fronts. But the clans who rule the circuit would prove to be both shred and full of cunning till the end. The Zhang clan and the Cao clan were raised as high lords- high lords who were greatly trusted by the imperial court. They had almost total autonomy to conduct affairs on the frontiers of the empire and were a nation on to themselves. 


The 890s would prove a disastrous decade for the Circuit. In the decade after Zhang Yichao's death, several of his heirs would have been assassinated during their tenure in office. With each assassination the authority of the state crumbled. Qocho took advantage of the ensuing chaos and rapidly smashed the western regions of Guiyi- then, just as the circuit was caught off guard, secessionist movements unraveled the state. 

The Tibetans and Uyghurs have always lived in the region and the Ganzhou Uyghur Kingdom would rebel and establish itself on the east by 894, completely cutting off Guiyi from the Tang heartlands- leaving it as an exclave of the Tang sandwiched between two hostile Uyghur states. In Liang prefecture further to the east of the circuit the Tibetan state of Xiliangfu (or the Liugu Tibetan) established itself by 906, further isolating the circuit in a sea of hostile neighbors who were former vassals. Just then only a year later, the last Tang Emperor was assassinated- plunging all of the Chinese heartlands into 7 decades of total anarchy in what would become the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. 


Rather than being merely outlying patriots who had to simply wait for reinforcements from a distant home (a home they have always served and stayed loyal to) to relieve them. Now...there was no one. Even should they cast off their foes and emerge victorious like the founders did before, there no longer was even a single China to turn to. This time they were truly alone, hated strangers in a sea of strangers. 

But they would live on, and fight on for another century. Through diplomacy and cunning and stubborn- survival fueled resistance despite all the odds. Although in all matters they were but an exclave outside China Proper the Zhang rulers would declare themselves Emperors of the frontiers but then fail in a series of catastrophic blunders. In turn, they were usurped by the Cao clan, the Cao  married with the rulers of Khotan and too declare themselves Emperors. To stabilize the kingdom's position, especially sandwiched between previously hostile powers, the Cao clan also married with the rulers of the nearby Uyghur Kingdoms. It was this stability that the kingdom to continue on for another century- not passively constricted by blocks of immutable powers but instead, a vital part of the network that all to well characterized the culture of exchange within this Silk Road corridor. 

Marriages: scroll depicting a Guiyi/ Tang lord in celebration with ladies of the nearby Khotan. To secure the safety of the Circuit, the Guiyi ruling elite intermarried with the Uyghurs and the ladies of Khotan. Eventually the Tibetan, Uyghur, Tang remnants in Guiyi would all be absorbed by the ascendant Tangut kingdom of Western Xia. 

Through adroit diplomacy and shrew policy toward its neighbors the new Guiyi Kingdom would continue to war and defend their lands for another century until a rising kingdom from the east: the Tangut Kingdom of Western Xia annexed all the states within the Hexi Corridor, first with the Liugu Tibetans of Xilianfu, then the Ganzhou Uyghurs and finally the Guiyi Circuit. In the end, the Guiyi Circuit become the westernmost part of the Western Xia Empire. 


Buddhist Apsara (guardian angel) roof tile statue from Western Xia

The Kingdom of Western Xia, or Xi Xia at its greatest extent

One of greatest examples of these former client kingdoms that were able to assert a great decree of power and rise to prominence was Western Xia, or Xi Xia. Western Xia was a multi-ethnic state composed of an ethnic Tangut elite that ruled over various denizens of Han Chinese, Tibetan,  Uyghur, and Qiang minorities in what is now the arid Gansu Province. At the height of their power they ruled a state the size of about 800,000 square kilometres (310,000 square miles).

In 881 the Tangut general Li Sigong (his original native Tangut name unknown) was granted control of the Dingnan Jiedushi, also known as Xiasui by the Tang emperors, for assisting the Tang in suppressing the Huang Chao Rebellion (874–884)- for their services, their clan was conferred the Tang imperial clan's last name of "Li" which were retroactively applied to all of the clan's ancestors. Their newly appointed title of Jiedushi- or military governors was hereditary and passed down through family, this would lay the foundation for the fully independent Tangut state of Western Xia from the 11th to 13th centuries.

For assisting the Tang in suppressing the Huang Chao Rebellion (874–884)- for their services, their clan was conferred the Tang imperial clan's last name of "Li" which were retroactively applied to all of the clan's ancestors.

Like the Khotan Kings, after the fall of Tang they too would claim blood relations to the now- dead Tang Emperors and would pursue their claims in a series of wars of conquest to subdue their neighboring kingdoms. They would be an important local power and retain their independence (while pledging their allegiance to the memory of the dead Tang "ancestors")

The Tanguts were semi-nomadic warriors with tonsured pate, their state was a curious contradiction. They preferred both Han Chinese institutions and Tibetan theocratic teachings. Thus the state was a mix of nomadic warriors, Han administrators, and Tibetan lamas. The Li rulers revered the memories of the Tang emperors while implemented a meritocratic Confucian system for its governance. 

After the fall of Tang in 907, the rulers of Dingnan were granted honorary titles by the Later Liang. In the ensuing centuries the Emperors of Western Xia would not only brand themselves as the heirs of the Tang. They would field a powerful army with powerful cavalry that warred with foes from every direction. To the west they warred with the Turkic invaders, to the east they faced the Khitan Liao and the Northern Song, to the south they attempted to rebel and conquer the Tibetan warlords, and to the north, they faced the steppe nomads that raced down from the Gobi Desert. In 1036 the Xia annexed the Guiyi and Ganzhou Uyghur states.

Western Xia Iron Sparrowhawk Cavalryman. They were the military 
elite of the Western Xia state

In 1038 Li Yuanhao declared himself the first emperor of the Great Xia with his capital at Xingqing in modern Yinchuan. What ensued was a prolonged war with the Song dynasty which resulted in several victories. However the victories came at a great cost and the Xia found itself short of manpower and supplies. In 1044 the Xia and Song came to a truce with the Xia recognizing the Song ruler as emperor in return for annual gifts from the Song as recognition of the Tangut state's power. Aside from founding the Western Xia, Li Yuanhao also ordered the creation of a Tangut script as well as translations of Chinese classics into Tangut.

After its founding, the state was immediately challenged by its bigger foes from the north. In 1049 the Liao dynasty launched an invasion of Western Xia and vassalized it. The disasters would continue until the ascension of the infant Chonzong Emperor at the age of 2. When the child emperor was enthroned, his grandmother (his father, Emperor Huizong's mother) became regent again and launched invasions of the Liao dynasty and the Song dynasty. Both campaigns ended in defeat and Chongzong was forced to take direct control of Western Xia. He ended wars with both Liao and Song and focused on domestic reform.


The heaviest of Mongol heavy cavalry eventually adopted the armament and fighting techniques of the Jin cataphracts. During the Jin dynasty, the vanguard of their cavalry- these Jin cataphracts: were called Iron Pagodas or Iron Buddhas. 

The Song/ Jin gambit for the north. In the scramble for Liao lands in the collapse of the Liao government and the exodus of the Khitan (Liao) people. Both the Song and Jin agreed to parcel out the remaining territories between themselves- that is, if they could conquer them. The areas of the 16 Prefectures (circled) would mark the new bondaries between the 2 empires. Because the Jin were an upstart power and the Song were the senior member of the alliance, the Song were promised the majority of the area. 

In 1115, the neighboring Jürchen Jin dynasty defeated the Liao. The Liao emperor fled to Western Xia in 1123. Western Xia submitted to the Jin demand for the Liao emperor and Western Xia became a vassal state of Jin. After the Jin dynasty attacked the Song and took parts of the northern territories from them, initiating the Southern Song period, Western Xia also attacked and took several thousands square miles of land.

Chongzong and Renzong of Western Xia were two of its most capable rulers, their longevity provided the state a great source of stability. Both were also men who preferred peace while excelled at war if they wars were needed. 

Chongzong died in 1139 and was succeeded by his son Li Renxiao who became Emperor Renzong of Western Xia. Immediately following Renzong's coronation at the age of sixteen, many natural disasters occurred and Renzong worked to stabilize the economy. After ascending into the throne, Renzong made friendly overtures to the Jin Dynasty. In domestic politics, Renzong created many schools and used examinations to choose his officials. He respected Confucianism, and built many temples worshipping Confucius. During era Tian Sheng, Renzong hired a Tibet lama as a religious advisor and printed many copies of Buddhist teachings.

Ironically it was during their inward reforms and restructurings that the Tangut state reached its territorial zenith. The unique Tangut script was adopted and even made onto block prints. A meritocratic Confucian education system was implemented.

In 1170, Renzong discovered a plot to kill him. He executed the generals who were behind the plot. Like his father, he distrusted the native Tangut nobles, who were fearful of the increased authority of the crown. As a result, Renzong distrusted his army generals and the army began to fall into incompetence. During his later years, Western Xia began to fight wars against various enemies.

Renzong's reign was the peak of Western Xia Dynasty. Many tribes to the north and west became vassal states of Western Xia, and Renzong's focus on internal politics allowed the central government to be more efficient. His reign coincides with the peak of the Southern Song and the Jin Dynasties, and there were relatively few conflicts between these three countries.


Renzong died in 1193 and his son Li Chunyou became Emperor Huanzong of Western Xia. In the late 1190s and early 1200s, Temujin- who one day would become Genghis Khan began consolidating his power in Mongolia. Between the death of Tooril Khan, leader of the Keraites, until Temujin's Mongol Empire in 1203, the Keraite leader Nilqa Senggum led a small band of followers into Western Xia. However, after his adherents took to plundering the locals, Nilqa Senggum was expelled from Western Xia territory.

Using his rival Nilga Senggum's temporary refuge in Western Xia as a pretext, Temujin launched a raid against the Western Xia in 1205 in the Edsin region. The Mongols plundered border settlements and one local Western Xia noble accepted Mongol authority.

In 1206, Temujin was formally proclaimed Genghis Khan, ruler of all Mongols, marking the official start of the Mongol Empire. In the same year, Huanzong was killed in a coup by his cousin Li Anquan, who installed himself as Emperor Xiangzong of Western Xia.

Genghis Khan commanded some initial raids against Western Xia before launching a full-scale invasion in 1209. This invasion marked both the first major invasion conducted by Genghis and the beginning of the Mongol invasion of China. Despite a major set-back during a nearly year-long siege of the capital, Yinchuan, when the diverted river accidentally flooded their camp, the Mongols convinced Emperor Li Anquan to surrender in January 1210. For nearly a decade the Western Xia served the Mongols as vassals and aided them in the Mongol–Jin War.

In 1219, Genghis Khan launched his invasion of Khwarezmia and Eastern Iran and requested military aid from Western Xia. However, the emperor and his military commander Asha refused to take part in the campaign, stating that if Genghis had too few troops to attack Khwarazm, then he had no claim to supreme power.Infuriated, Genghis swore vengeance and left to invade Khwarazm while Western Xia attempted to create alliances with the Jin and Song against the Mongols. After defeating Khwarazm in 1221, Genghis sent out his armies to punish Western Xia for their betrayal.

After having been blast apart by the rapid Mongol advances in September 1227, The Western Xia Emperor Mozhu surrendered to the Mongols and was promptly executed. The Mongols then pillaged Yinchuan, slaughtered the city's population, plundered the imperial tombs west of the city, and completed the effective annihilation of the Western Xia state. With the Tangut capital's utter destruction in 1227, along with the political entity most of its written records and architecture were destroyed. Therefore, its founders and history remained obscure until 20th-century research in the West and in China.

Mural depicting what many scholars have deeped to be
a Western Xia Iron Sparrowhawk Cavalryman. They 
were the military elite of the Western Xia state


Perhaps the most significant players in the great collapse of the Tang were the ethnically Turkic generals hailing from the Shatuo Tribe. Though initially the tribesmen served as Tang's northern auxiliaries- its best warriors served Tang as Tang's generals. More than the other client kingdoms they not only sought to merely preserve their independence against potential rivals in the collapse of the Tang but actually threw in their lot and attempted to make themselves fully legitimatize Chinese Emperors. They would lead their own Tang remnant armies and heavily influenced northern Chinese politics from the late ninth century through the tenth century. They are noted for founding three of the five dynasties and one of the kingdoms during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

Like the founders of Western Xia, the Shatuo Turks rose to local prominence when they aided the Tang during the empire's last days. Originally part of the Western Gokturk Kaganate as part of On-Ok (Ten Tribes) or Nushibi union occupied territory east of the lake Barkul, and called by the Chinese as Shatuo ("sand masses", i.e. desert), formed of three sub-tribes. Some scholars have identified them as being part of the Oghuz Turks.

After the defeat of the Gokturks the Shatuo participated in suppressing many uprisings on behalf of China, and for that the Chinese emperors granted their leaders various titles and rewards. After their lands were smashed by by Tibetans in 808, the Shatuo asked for protection from China, and moved into Inner China. The Shatuo Turks were gradually assimilated, and held onto their power base in Shanxi (central region of modern-day China). Their tribesmen suffered many losses in suppressing the massive Huang-Chao Rebellion in 875-883. For their services, they were granted more powerful titles. When the Tang fell the Shatuo tribe only counted around 50-100,000 tribesmen while they ruled a Chinese population of about 50 million.

They gained in strength through the 910s until finally in 923, they were able to completely overcome the Later Liang with Khitan assistance to found The Later Tang, after the collapse of the Later Tang, the Shatuo founded the Turkic- Chinese dynasties of Later Jin, and after that the mostly Turkic Chinese dynasty of Later Han.


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