An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Society, Customs, and Religion in the Western Xia Empire

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Although the Tanguts originally believed in a natural religion with spirits, shamans (Tangut-Chinese: siji 厮乩 or siye 廝也) and priests, and underwent a cremation of their deads (huozang 火葬) instead of an entombment (tuzang 土葬), a large proportion of the population soon adapted Buddhism (fojiao 佛教) as their religion. All over the country, monasteries (siyuan 寺院) with pagodas (fota 佛塔) were erected, and even members of the ruling class lived in Buddhist monasteries for some years. Tangut monks translated many sutras into their own language. The still existing pagodas can be seen in the Chengtian Monastery 承天寺, the double pagodas of the double monastery Bai-Kou 拜寺口寺 (both modern Yinchuan 銀川/Ningxia), and the Ganying Pagoda 感應塔in the Huguo Monastery 護國寺 (modern Weiwu 威武/Gansu), where a large plate was discovered that is inscribed with Chinese and Tangut characters. A very interesting spot are the 108 Lamaist stupas (Yibailingba ta 一百零八塔) in the Qingtongxia District 青銅峽縣/Ningxia. From the 11th century on, Lamaism (lamajiao 喇嘛教) won believers in the Tangut empire. Religions of smaller importance were the Chinese Daoism (daojiao 道教), the Christian Nestorianism (jingjiao 景教), and Islam (yisilanjiao 伊斯蘭教). The Tangut emperors were buried in large burying mounds whose ruins are scattered in the area west of the old capital Xinqing 興慶 (now Yinchuan/Ningxia). During the Western Xia period, wall paintings (bihua 壁畫) were produced in the old grottoes (shiku 石窟) of Mogao 莫高窟 near Dunhuang 敦煌/Gansu as well as in the Yulin Grottoes 榆林窟 near Anxi 安西/Gansu, and the ruins of Heishui 黑水城 near Ejina Banner 額濟納旗/Inner Mongolia. These findings are important for the understanding of Tangut daily life.