An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Western Xia Dynasty 西夏 (1038-1227)

The Western Xia empire (Xixia 西夏, 1038-1227) was one of the three great barbarian empires ruling over northern China during the Song period 宋 (960-1279). It was founded by Li Yuanhao 李元昊 (Emperor Jing 西夏景宗, r. 1032-1048), ruler over the Tanguts, a people related to the Tibetans. The Tanguts controlled the trade routes between China proper and Central Asia known as the Silk Road. The Western Xia empire covered the modern region of Shaanxi and Gansu. The armies of the Song empire heavily contested with the Tanguts for the domination of the northwest, but the Song were never able to defeat their opponents. The latter even forced the Song in 1044 to conclude a peace treaty, and demanded tributes. The ruling elite of the Western Xia did not adopt Chinese customs and culture as the Kitans had done in the Liao empire 遼 (907-1125) or later the Jurchens in the Jin empire 金 (1115-1234). The Tangutan way of life and their culture remained intact. For administrative purposes, but also for religious needs, the Tanguts invented an own way of writings, inspired by the forms of the Chinese script. The Western Xia empire was the first Chinese empire conquered by the armies of the federation of the Mongols.
Unlike the Liao and Jin dynasties, the Western Xia were not seen as a rightful Chinese dynasty. They are mainly known for their archaeological heritage, reflected in the numerous translations of Buddhist writings, and the imperial tombs.
This chapter of the encyclopaedia gives an overview of the political history of the Western Xia empire, the geography of the realm and its surroundings, provides a list of its rulers, describes the administration and political structure of the empire, and gives insight into the religion and beliefs of the time, as well as the fine arts, economy and literature.