The Khitan, in Chinese Qidan (契丹 Pinyin: Qìdān), were an ethnic group which dominated much of Manchuria and was classified in Chinese history as one of the Tungus ethnic groups (東胡族 dōng hú zú). They established the Liao dynasty in 907, which was then conquered in 1125 by the Jin dynasty of the Jurchen. There is no clear evidence of any descendant ethnic groups of the Khitan in modern-day Northeast China. Although a number of the nobility of the Liao dynasty escaped the area westwards towards Turkestan, establishing the short-lived Kara-Khitan or Western Liao dynasty, they were in turn absorbed by the local Turkish and Iranic populations and left no influence of themselves. As the Khitan language is still almost completely illegible, it is difficult to create a detailed history of their movements.
Ancestors of the Khitan were the Yuwen clan of the Xianbei, an ethnic group situated in the area covered by the modern Liaoning and Jilin provinces. After their regime was conquered by the Murong clan, the remnants scattered in the modern-day Inner Mongolia and mixed there with the original Mongolic population. They had been identified as a distinct ethnic group since paying tribute to the Northern Wei Dynasty in mid 6th century.
The Khitan were known as خطا in Arabic (Khata) and are mentioned by Muslim chroniclers as they initially fought with Muslims and later converted to Islam.
It is interesting to notice that this name was the origin for the Russian word for China, namely Kitai, as well as an ancient form in Portuguese, Catai.
Last updated: 08-27-2005 09:26:45