The Five Cap­i­tals of the Liao

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated Tra by Li Xia Edited by David Ball Pho­tos Ph cour­tesy of Cap­i­tal Mu­seum

From Septem­ber to De­cem­ber this year, the Five cap­i­tals of the liao ex­hi­bi­tion is open to the pub­lic at the Cap­i­tal Mu­seum, show­cas­ing around 270 gold, sil­ver, ce­ramic, jade and stone arte­facts from the Liao Dy­nasty.

The Khi­tan peo­ple were an an­cient no­madic peo­ple from north­ern China who trav­elled on horse­back and lived in yurts. The pic­turesque bor­der area they once in­hab­ited was wit­ness to their ex­tra­or­di­nary his­tory.

The Khi­tan rule lasted over 300 years, be­gin­ning with Yelü Abaoji (reign: 916–926, also known as Em­peror Taizu) of the Liao Dy­nasty (AD 916–1125), who founded the Liao state in 907. In 1125, Yelü Yanxi (reign: 1101–1125, a.k.a Em­peror Tianzuo), was cap­tured by troops from the State of Jin. Later, Yelü Dashi (reign: 1134–1143) founded the Western Liao Dy­nasty (1124–1218), which was top­pled by the Mon­go­lians in 1218. In its hey­day, the pow­er­ful Liao Dy­nasty had cap­tured the Six­teen Pre­fec­tures of Yan and Yun from the Later Jin (936–947), and frus­trated the Song (AD 960–1279) sev­eral times, dur­ing which the Liao's five cap­i­tals were es­tab­lished. Ac­cord­ing to Geog­ra­phy of the His­tory of Liao, the cap­i­tal cities were es­tab­lished by Em­peror Taizong (reign: 927–947), Em­peror Sheng­zong (reign: 982–1031) and Em­peror Xing­zong (1031–1055).

By look­ing be­yond the ma­jes­tic palaces and bustling streets of these five cities, we can un­der­stand the rise and fall of dy­nas­ties, the in­te­gra­tion of tribes, and the rites, cus­toms, and reli­gions of the Khi­tan peo­ple. From Septem­ber to De­cem­ber this year, the Five Cap­i­tals of the Liao (Un­earthed Relics of In­ner Mon­go­lia and Ex­hi­bi­tion Honour­ing the 1080th An­niver­sary of Nan­jing as a Cap­i­tal) ex­hi­bi­tion is open to the pub­lic at the Cap­i­tal Mu­seum.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is be­ing hosted by the Peo­ple's Govern­ment of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the Peo­ple's Govern­ment of In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, co-or­gan­ised by the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage and the Cul­tural Her­itage Ad­min­is­tra­tion of In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, and counder­taken by the Cap­i­tal Mu­seum and In­ner Mon­go­lia Mu­seum. A to­tal of 270 ex­quis­ite cul­tural relics are on show.

"In the north, where the vast desert stretches away to meet the azure sky, live the Khi­tan peo­ple, own­ing count­less car­riages and ro­bust horses. Spring brings them bound­less green in­ter­spersed with bright red pe­onies." En­ter­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion hall, vis­i­tors can ap­pre­ci­ate a fas­ci­nat­ing pic­ture of the an­cient Khi­tan peo­ple.

Five Cap­i­tals

The Liao Dy­nasty di­vided its realm into five “cir­cuits,” each with a cap­i­tal city: Shangjing (Supreme Cap­i­tal) in Lin­huang, Zhongjing (Cen­tral Cap­i­tal) in Dad­ing, Dongjing (East­ern Cap­i­tal) in Liaoyang, Nan­jing (South­ern Cap­i­tal) in Xi­jin, and

Xi­jing ( Western Cap­i­tal) in Da­tong. In the His­tory of Liao it is stated that the Supreme Cap­i­tal was the im­pe­rial cap­i­tal, which was ad­min­is­tered by high-rank­ing of­fi­cials. The other four cap­i­tals were also ad­min­is­tered by of­fi­cials of dif­fer­ent ranks as be­fit­ted their sta­tus. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the Western Cap­i­tal was mainly gov­erned by bor­der of­fi­cers, and the South­ern and Cen­tral Cap­i­tals were mainly gov­erned by fi­nan­cial and tax of­fi­cers. De­spite some vari­a­tions in the records, this re­flects the multi-cen­tre de­vel­op­ment of the five cap­i­tals with their dif­fer­ent roles. No mat­ter what role a cap­i­tal may have played how­ever, life there was never less than fas­ci­nat­ing.

The first part of the ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses on Yelü Yuzhi (AD 890–941, a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial of the Liao), who was in­volved in the es­tab­lish­ment of the East­ern Cap­i­tal. Dur­ing the early years of the Liao, Yelü Yuzhi served as a mil­i­tary ad­vi­sor. When Em­peror Taizu sta­bilised the Bo­hai State and ap­pointed Yelü Bei as the Prince of Dong­dan, Yelü Yuzhi gov­erned Dong­dan King­dom. Af­ter Em­peror Taizong suc­ceeded to the throne, Yelü Yuzhi pre­sented a memo­rial and sug­gested he re­lo­cate peo­ple from Bo­hai State to Liang­shui. Em­peror Taizong ac­cepted the sug­ges­tion, and re­set­tled them in Liaoyang and es­tab­lished the East­ern Cap­i­tal.

In 1992, a large Liao Dy­nasty tomb in Chifeng City was robbed, with the owner later be­ing iden­ti­fied as Yelü Yuzhi. The tomb was then un­earthed so as to pro­tect it. The site was lo­cated over 130 kilo­me­tres (km) from Tian­shan Town to the south, around 30 km from a pas­tu­ral vil­lage.

To the north­east of the vil­lage stands Chaoketu Moun­tain that stretches dozens of kilo­me­tres. The tomb of Yelü Yuzhi lies on the sunny, south­east slope of the moun­tain, sur­rounded by more moun­tains on three sides.

The dec­o­rated ob­jects which were un­earthed al­low us to get a glimpse at the aes­thet­ics of the Liao peo­ple. The tomb was paved with two lay­ers of tiles. The bot­tom layer was made of or­di­nary green and red square tiles, whilst the top layer used green square glazed tiles. Some of these green glazed tiles are on dis­play in the ex­hi­bi­tion. Pat­terns on the tiles in­clude flow­ers grow­ing freely and nim­ble in­sects, adding a sense of vi­tal­ity to the cool tomb.

An­other ex­ca­vated item is a goldg­ilt round cop­per or­na­ment fea­tur­ing a pat­tern of a “three-legged bird.” The three­legged bird en­graved in the mid­dle of the front side is a di­vine crea­ture that steers the sun car­riage ac­cord­ing to the mythol­ogy of the Cen­tral Plains. On the or­na­ment, the ethe­real bird stretches its wings, stand­ing on three legs with its long tail curved up­wards. The re­verse side of the ob­ject is con­cave, with a mark in the cen­tre where a but­ton was once at­tached.

A gold makara- shaped earring (also known as a “Makarakun­dala”) was lucky enough to sur­vive the loot­ing by tomb rob­bers. On closer in­spec­tion, it is pos­si­ble to see that the earring is com­posed of parts made through stamp­ing; it has a hol­low in­te­rior, and its sur­face is smooth with en­graved de­tails. A makara is a myth­i­cal Hindu crea­ture with a long nose, sharp teeth, fish head, and fish tail. Makara im­agery ar­rived in China as far back as the 4th cen­tury, along­side the spread of Bud­dhism. Dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), makara pat­terns—with their head of a dragon; body and fins of a fish, long, curved nose; and large, open eyes— be­came a com­mon de­sign fea­ture in gold and sil­ver wares. The Khi­tan peo­ple also showed great in­ter­est in makara pat­terns. The gold makara- shaped earring from the tomb of Yelü Yuzhi is dec­o­rated with a crea­ture fea­tur­ing two horns, dragon head and a curved fish body, and is in­laid with a turquoise stone.

Among the ex­hibits, there is an agate­crys­tal keyūra neck­lace, a pat­terned shield­shaped ring, a carved gilt wood seated lion, a gold cup with pe­tal-shaped spout, a sil­ver bowl with makara pat­tern and golden flow­ers, and other ex­quis­ite arte­facts, which show the life of the by­gone dy­nasty.

Also on dis­play are two sim­ple bone brushes ex­ca­vated in the Supreme Cap­i­tal which re­flect the daily life of the Liao peo­ple. In spring 1990, a Liao mu­ral tomb was dis­cov­ered in a val­ley around 20 km south of the ru­ins of the Supreme Cap­i­tal in Chifeng City. In the mu­ral, a woman is de­picted bend­ing over, ar­rang­ing uten­sils on a wooden plate which is si­t­u­ated on a low ta­ble. The uten­sils are clearly de­picted, and in­clude a long-han­dled brush, wooden comb and two cov­ered porce­lain boxes. Such an ar­range­ment has led to spec­u­la­tion that they are make-up ac­ces­sories, whilst oth­ers ar­gue that they are tooth­brushes.

Dur­ing the Song and the Liao dy­nas­ties, there was a kind of tooth­brush called a “shuayazi.” Records from the North­ern Song (960–1127) state that: “Since tooth­brushes are made of horse­tail, one should not brush

A gilded head­piece with phoenix carv­ings

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