Emperor Taizu of Liao bigraphy, stories - Liao Dynasty emperor

Emperor Taizu of Liao : biography

872 - 926

The Emperor Taizu of Liao (), Liao T'ai Tsu, (Mongolian: Ambagyan)History of Mongolia, Volume I, Ulaanbaatar was the first emperor of the Liao Dynasty (907–926). His given name was Abaoji (阿保機), and he also took the Chinese name Yi (億). Some sources also suggest that the surname Yelü (耶律) was adopted during his lifetime, though there is no unanimity on this point.

He was born on 872 in China and had a turbulent childhood. His grandfather was killed in a conflict between tribes, and his father and uncles fled. Yelü Abaoji was hidden by his grandmother for his safety. He was enthroned as emperor on February 29, 907 and died on September 6, 926.


Ambagyan's success was in his ability to introduce innovations to Khitan society. Arguably the most important was the introduction of a dual administrative system in which nomadic steppe peoples would be governed by steppe traditions and sedentary populations in conquered Balhae and north China would be governed by a civil bureaucracy drawn largely on Chinese methods. While this did not receive universal support from tribal leaders due to the erosion of their own powers, this became the model that later steppe peoples would use to govern their diverse empires.Mote 1999: 39–40

Two more important innovations were introduced in 916. He adopted Chinese court formalities in which he declared himself Celestial Emperor in the Chinese-style and adopted a reign name, also in the Chinese manner of ruling. The second was to name his son, Prince Bei, heir apparent, also a first in Khitan society and something that directly contrasted with Khitan notions of rule by merit. This second innovation did not take hold so easily as few of his successors experienced simple successions.Mote 1999: 41

He also organized his followers into warrior units known as ordos, and then by joining 12 ordos, he would form an administrative district.

In 918, Ambagyan had a new walled city built. A Chinese city (漢城) was built adjacent to this city in which artisan's shops, commercial shops, and warehouses were constructed. Later, five capital cities would be built, including a Supreme Capital (上京), that served as the base of Khitan administration.

Abaoji ordered the development of a Khitan large script in 920. This script looks superficially like Chinese writing, however, it bears little resemblance to Chinese writing, and the two were mutually unintelligible. Five years later, the arrival of a Uyghur delegation led Abaoji to order his younger brother Yelü Diela to develop a new script on more syllabic principles. Unlike the Japanese and Koreans, the Khitan managed to adopt the cultural and administrative tool of writing without the baggage of Chinese culture and grammar that came with the wholesale adoption of Chinese characters.Mote 1999:42–43

Relationship with the Later Tang

Li Keyong was a Shatuo Turk who was in the service of the Tang Dynasty until its fall in 907. In 905, Abaoji went to Li Keyong's stronghold in present-day Shanxi Province and swore blood-brotherhood.

Li's son, Li Cunxu founded the Later Tang Dynasty on the ashes of the Later Liang Dynasty in 923. On his death, though relations between the two had soured, the proper forms were followed and an emissary was sent to the Khitan capital.Mote 1999: 44

Yao Kun

Yao Kun was sent by the Later Tang court to meet with Abaoji in 926. He caught up with the Khitan ruler in Manchuria while he was on campaign against the Balhae kingdom while he was encamped at Fuyu in present-day Jilin Province. Abaoji demanded that the Later Tang Dynasty surrender the Sixteen Prefectures. If they were given up, there would be no more cause for invading China. Yao Kun stated that this was not in his authority. This response landed him in prison, where he still was when Abaoji died from illness on September 6, 926.Mote 1999: 44–47

Rise to power

The Yaolian clan had dominated the leadership of the Khitan tribes since the 750s. They maintained good relations with the Tang Dynasty of China to the south. However, by the end of the ninth century, leaders of the powerful Yila Tribe were expressing dissatisfaction with the Yaolian khans. Abaoji's father had been the elected chieftain of the Yila Tribe. As surnames were considered a marker of Chinese culture, they were not used by the Khitan people outside of the Yaolian imperial clan.

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