The Sacrifices of the Khitan and Sacred Mountains in Khitan Culture
(65th Meeting Astana, 2023)
As one of the 25 official Chinese histories, the Liaoshi (History of the Liao) can hardly be considered a “new source” in itself. However, a close and patient reading of this book shows that it contains unexpected data. Presentations of Barbarian peoples in Chinese official histories are generally caricatural. Even when they claim to describe the Northern peoples, the content of these histories is limited to very short, nearly useless cultural information, and evaluations of these peoples as dirty, violent or larcenous. The official history of the Khitan-Liao Empire (907-1125) is poorly documented. Compiled over the course of one year (1340) over two hundred years after the fall of the dynasty, it is full of lacunae, errors and confusion. Although like the other official histories, it cannot be considered a reliable ethnological source, it differs from them in offering some genuine information about Khitan culture.
As far as religion is concerned, the Chinese epigraphy from Khitan Buddhist temples gives a certain amount of information on Buddhism, whose expansion was such an important characteristic of the Liao that the dynasty’s fall was attributed to it by later scholars. Khitan Liao Buddhism is exceptional in the history of Chinese religion because of the publication of the Khitan Buddhist Canon (Qidanzang), the compilation of the lexicographical masterpiece Longkan shoujing, and the extant architectural remains. As for the varied forms of shamanism and popular religion, which would certainly have represented an essential part of religion under the Liao, they are almost unrecorded. Based on this data, this communication presents some features of the traditional imperial rites of the Khitan people and the place of mountains in this ritual context.