Xi Xia or Western Xia was a state that existed in what are now the Chinese provinces of Gansu, Ningxia and Shaanxi. It flourished between approximately 1032 until 1227, when it was destroyed by the Mongols of Genghis Khan. Xia is always sometimes known as Hsia. It is yet another example of a once powerful country and people that has now almost completely disappeared from public consciousness.
Xi Xia was ruled by a Tangut people originally from Tibet. The Tanguts were the rulers but they were in the minority of the population, which also included the majority of Xien-pei people who had previously established the Northern Wei empire. Xi Xia was a cosmopolitan area, therefore, which was ostensibly a subject of the Song dynasty of China and also of the northern Jin dynasty but in fact was strong enough to be an entirely independent entity. Being astraddle the northern parts of the Silk Route, Xi Xia was able to benefit from trade with both east and west and markets established on the border with Song China were tremendously busy with horses, camels, oxen, carpets and other goods being exchanged for silks, incense, medicines and lacquerware.
The state was created by Li Yuan-hao, who preceded Genghis Khan by two centuries but who adopted a number of methods that were to be replicated by the later conqueror. For example, he ordered that his people have a written language of its own to help administer the state. This language was adopted from Chinese and so thousands of characters were changed into a similar but distinctively different form that is now almost completely unknown, although it is believed to be similar to that subsequently spoken by the Yi (Lolo) people of Southwestern China. The Buddhist Tripitaka, a lengthy work of scripture, was one of the works translated into this language. Li Yuan-hao also gave all the people living in his realm three days to comply with his order that the Xi Xia hairstyle must be adopted: this hairstyle required shaving off of all of one's hair apart from a fringe over the ears and the forehead.
The high point of the state probably occurred when Li Yuan-hao's proclamations caused the Song Empire to bring up an army to bring him to heel. Li Yuan-hao managed to ambush the Song army by means of a mass of caged birds who let off a great squawking when the foreigners entered the prepared killing ground. The horse-based herding lifestyle of the Xi Xia was in contrast to the settled lifestyle of the Chinese peasants and was greatly resented by them. However, to resist the nomads, successive Chinese emperors were required to employ their methods by acquiring horses, either by trade or by conquest, so that their troops would have sufficient mobility to deter the nomads from raiding the rich Chinese settlements.
After its conquest by the Mongols, Xi Xia was subject to a form of ethnocide, since every effort was made to eradicate the Xi Xia culture, people and language from history. This is why so comparatively little is known of the state today.
(Text: suite101.com / Pictures: baidu.com)
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