The Khitan (or Qidan in Chinese) tribe, together with
the Xi tribe were part of the so-called Eastern Hu people that roamed the
northeastern steppes in modern Mongolia and Manchuria. The name Qidan first
appears in Northern Wei (386-534) documents.
The Khitan people was divided into eight tribes and inhabited the area
between the Huangshui River (today's Xilamulun River in Inner Mongolia) and
Huanglong (today's Chaoyang in Liaoning). They had commercial relationships with
the Northern Wei court and exported horses and animal skins.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) they fought against the Turks (or Tujue in
Chinese), and their ruler, Kuge of the Dahe clan, who had united the Khitan
tribes in a federation was installed as governor of the Songmo region and given
the imperial family name Li. His descendants acted as local governors for
several decades before Li Jinzhong rebelled against Empress Wu Zetian. Later, Li
Shihuo was given a Chinese princess named Yongle. Shortly before the An Lushan
rebellion, the Khitan again showed hostility against the Tang Dynasty, but for
the rest of the Tang period there were good relations.
In 730 the Yaonian clan became dominant. From 907 on the Yelü clan took over
the Khitan federation. In 916 Abaoji called himself king of the Khitan state;
after 947 the state was called Liao after the old Liaodong region.
The Liao Empire
Yelü Abaoji (posthumous title: Liao Taizu) installed his new capital at
Linhuang (today's Balinzuo Banner in Inner Mongolia) and employed Chinese
advisors to construct a regular central government. At the same time he
promulgated laws and directives to bypass the power of the Khitan nobility that
until then elected the leader of their federation.
Yelü Diela, brother of Abaoji, created a Khitan script based on the Chinese
characters. Emperor Yelü Abaoji underwent military campaigns to expand the
territory of his empire, submitted the Uighurs (or Huihe in Chinese), the states
of Fuyu and Bohai where he created the "Eastern Khitan" -- Dongdan State with
his own son Yelü Bei as ruler.
With the help of Empress Shulü, Prince Yelü Deguang (posthumous Liao Taizong)
inherited the throne in 926. Yelü Deguang interfered in the politics of the Five
Dynasties (907-960) in the north of China and was able to control the succession
of the Later Jin Empire. He conquered the capital Kaifeng (in today's Henan) and
proclaimed the Empire of Liao. After he had plundered the capital of the Later
Jin Empire he returned to Linhuang without amplifying the already existing roots
of the Chinese-style administration system.