Inner Asia before Chingis Khan: the Tanguts (Xia)

A Chronology



6-7th c. CE

Tangut ancestors in western Sichuan (SW of X'ian).

2nd half 9th c.

Tangut chief rewarded by T'ang emperor for helping defeat An Lu-Shan.


Khitan (Qidan)/Liao Dynasty in Inner Mongolia/NE China.


Tangut leader Li Jiqian, with support of Qidan to the east, asserts independence from Chinese (Song Dynasty) suzerainty.


Lingzhou (in Ordos region in northern bend of Yellow River) made Tangut capital.


Song recognition of de facto Tangut independence.


Tangut capital moved across Yellow River to Xingzhou.


Tangut conquests in Hexi Corridor, culminating with letter sent by Tangut ruler Yuanhao to Song proclaiming Tangut equality with Chinese and superiority to Qidans. Under Yuanhao, Tanguts begin to use own script and undertake first of a series of major projects to translate Buddhist scriptures and publish them in Tangut. Ca. 1035, Tanguts take control of Kara Khoto.


Tangut-Song treaty, by which annual Song tribute to Tangut would consist of 152,000 bolts of silk, 72,000 taels of silver, 30,000 jin of tea, and 1000 bolts of cloth, although status of Tangut diminished by treaty terminology. For all practical purposes, Tangut independent both of Song and Qidans.


Tangut patronage of Buddhist caves at Yulin, east of Dunhuang.


Tangut wars with Song leading to former's cession of Lanzhou.


Qidan (Liao) state in NE China replaced by that of Jürchen (Jin Dynasty), which survives down to destruction by Mongols in 1234.


First attack by Temüjin (the future Chingis Khan) on Hexi.


Temüjin proclaimed Chingis Khan.


Tanguts forced to recognize Mongol suzerainty.


Mongols destroy Tangut state.

Late 13th c.

Marco Polo in Kara Khoto.

ca. 1380

Kara Khoto abandoned.


Russian Capt. Pyotr Kozlov "discovers" Kara Khoto.

Recommended reading:

Mikhail Piotrovsky, ed., Lost Empire of the Silk Road: Buddhist Art from Khara Khoto (X-XIIIth Century) (Milan: Electa, 1993).

Adam T. Kessler, Empires Beyond the Great Wall: The Heritage of Genghis Khan (LA: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1993), esp. chs. 4 (on Liao), 5 (on Tanguts and others), and 6 (on Mongols).

Ruth W. Dunnell, The Great State of White and High: Buddhism and State Formation in Eleventh-Century Xia (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 1996).

© 2000 Daniel C. Waugh