History of Liao

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The History of Liao, or Liao Shi (simplified Chinese: 辽史; traditional Chinese: 遼史; pinyin: Liáo Shǐ), is a Chinese historical book compiled officially by the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), under the direction of the historian Toqto'a (Tuotuo), and finalized in 1344.[1] Based on Khitan's primary sources and other previous official Chinese records, it exposes the Khitan people, Khitan's tribal life and traditions, and the Liao dynasty's official history.[1]

Main sources

History of Liao of 1344 was compiled using older sources, mainly:

  • the Shilu (Veritable Records), completed in the Khitan Liao dynasty (907-1125) under Yelü Yan's direction, no longer extant;
  • a draft Liao Shi, compiled in the Jurchen Jin dynasty under the direction of an official named Chen Daren, never published and no longer extant;
  • and several other sources such as the Zizhi Tongjian (1080's), Qidan Guozhi and other descriptions of the Khitans in the previous dynastic histories (Wei Shu, Sui Shu, ...).

The Liao Shi contains 116 volumes,[1] including 30 volumes of Imperial Annals, 32 volumes of Records of Institutions, 8 volumes of Tables, 48 volumes of Biographies and Descriptions, and 1 volume of Glossary of National Language 國語解 Guoyijie (the Khitan language),[2][3][4] which is a list of Khitan language words transcribed in Chinese characters. it is found in Chapter 116 - 遼史/卷116.

Creation and reliability

Many Chinese scholars of the time argued that the non-Han, "barbarian" Liao dynasty did not merit its own official history, but rather posited that the Liao histories should be an addendum to the history of the Song, which was ethnically Han Chinese.[1] This was part of the larger dispute between the Mongol court and the Chinese literati scholars, in which the Chinese political theory whereby only one dynasty could be deemed legitimate at a time clashed with the Mongol's beliefs to the contrary.[5] Due to this dispute between two different political cultures, the Liao Shi, as well as the histories of the concurrent Jin and Song dynasties, was not officially compiled until 1343-1344, when the pro-Chinese Chief Councillor Toqto'a took up the pre-Yuan histories project again. In its final form, this project conceded to the Mongol court's desire to treat the Liao, Jin, and Song as equally legitimate dynasties. The compilation of the Liao Shi was finished in one year[1] by imperial historians, although without undergoing any but the most minimal of proofreadings.[1] Because of this, the Liao Shi and the other two pre-Yuan histories are known for their technical errors, lack of precision, inconsistencies in transcribing non-Chinese terms and names, and over-lapping subject matter. Scholars have noted the internal and external contractions in Liao Shi as early as the Qing period. Nonetheless, the Liao Shi provides a large amount of knowledge on Khitan's imperium's tribal politics and traditions. Since Yelü Yan's Shilu and Chen Daren's Liao Shi have been lost,[1] Toqto'a's Liao Shi is the only extant Chinese-style historical record of the Khitan empire.


The work of collation and punctuation have been done several times,[6] by example in the Qianlong edition, the Nanjian edition, the Beijian edition, Baina edition and the Daoguang edition.
The nowadays commonly use edition is the Zhonghua Shuju Press edited Liao Shi, under direction of the Khitan studies' specialists Feng Jiasheng and Chen Shu, and based on the Baina edition. This Zhonghua Shuju Press version and its annotations also refer to other historical sources such as the Cefu Yuangui, Zizhi Tongjian, Xu Zizhi Tongjian Changbian, Jiu & Xin Tangshu, Jiu & Xin Wudai Shi, Song Shi, Jin Shi, Qidan Guozhi and Liao Wenhui.[6][7]

The History of Liao was translated into Manchu as ᡩᠠᡳᠯᡳᠶᠣᠣ

Wylie: Dailiyan gurun i suduri, Möllendorff: Dailiyan gurun i suduri.

The Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor erroneously identified the Khitan people and their language with the Solons, leading him to use the Solon language to "correct" Chinese character transcriptions of Khitan names in the History of Liao in his "Imperial Liao Jin Yuan Three Histories National Language Explanation" (欽定遼金元三史國語解 Qinding Liao Jin Yuan sanshi guoyujie) project.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Xu Elina-Qian, p.22
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  3. pp. 123-125 Howorth, H. H.. 1881. “The Northern Frontagers of China. Part V. The Khitai or Khitans”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 13 (2). Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 121–82. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25196875.
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  5. Hok-lam Chan, p.73
  6. 6.0 6.1 Xu Elina-Qian, pp.22-23
  7. 遼史, 脱脱, 中华书局, 1974.
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  • Xu Elina-Qian, Historical Development of the Pre-Dynastic Khitan, University of Helsinki, 2005. 273 pages. 2.1 Introduction to the Sources on the Pre-dynastic Khitan (pp.19-23) > The Liao shi, p.22-23
  • Hok-lam Chan. China & the Mongols: History and Legend under the Yuan and Ming. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 1999.
  • Liao Shi (LS) 遼史 (History of Liao): Tuotuo 脱脱 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1974.