Emperor Shengzong of Liao

Emperor Shengzong of Liao (Chinese: 辽圣宗; pinyin: Liáo Shèngzōng) (January 16, 982–June 25, 1031), born as Yelü Longxu (Chinese: 耶律隆绪), succeeded Emperor Jingzong as Emperor of the Liao Dynasty at the age of 12 in 982. As he was too young to actually rule, his mother, Empress Dowager Xiao, effectively ruled the kingdom. He reigned from 14 October 982 to 25 June 1031.

Conflict with the Song

The Song leader Emperor Taizong sought to take advantage of the young emperor by launching an invasion on the Liao Southern Capital (Beijing) in the contentious Sixteen Prefectures in 986. Three large forces were sent to three different strategic locations on the approach to the Southern Capital. While initially successful, the young emperor along with the Empress Dowager led a Khitan cavalry force and defeated the Song forces at the Battle of the Qigou Pass in June. The Empress Dowager appointed Yelu Xiuge as her senior general continued attacks on the Song in retaliation until the next year.

In 1004, the Liao led a large-scale invasion of Song territory, camping out in the town of Shanyuan, about 100 miles north of the capital of Kaifeng. This resulted in the Treaty of Shanyuan, signed in mid-January, 1005. According to this treaty, the Chinese paid an annual tribute of 200,000 bolts of silk, 100,000 ounces of silver. This arrangement would remain in place with modifications until the end of the Liao Dynasty, and in fact, the Jurchen could continue this arrangement with the Song with the founding of the jin dynasty.

Examination System

Shengzong was also the one to institutionalize state examinations for the selection of Chinese officials, which was done in 988, based on models used by the tang dynasty, which had fallen in 907, and the song dynasty, which existed concurrently with the Liao. Despite the importance of the return of the examination system, it initially only opened the road for very small numbers, as only three to five were awarded initially, and the number only increased to between thirty and 130 candidates passed the triennial exams by 1014.

Most jinshi degree winners were not even appointed to office as Khitan aristocrats were far more likely to receive appointments. Khitan people receiving appointments were specifically through patronage as they were expressly prohibited from sitting the examinations.

Growth of Buddhism

Emperor Shengzong began the active patronage of Buddhism, re-building temples such as the Monastery of Solitary Joy. Within a century of his reign, an estimated ten percent of Liao population were Buddhist monks or nuns, though this figure may have been exaggerated. While the Khitan did not associate Buddhism with the Chinese people because it was seen more as a Uyghur religion and thus not the religion of the Chinese, who they saw as inferior, what is not clear is the extent that Buddhism penetrated the Khitan population, as the bulk of Buddhist shrines and temples were located in the southern part of the domains of the Liao where the largely Chinese sedentary population resided. There is evidence to suggest that the Khitan populace maintained their animistic belief systems along with their rituals.


During the rule of Emperor Shengzong, the Liao instituted feudal reform, spurring its economy. Prior to this, it had depended on territorial expansion, slavery, and thievery. Under Shengzong's rule, most slaves were liberated, becoming normal members of society. The most important parts of the economy from then on were animal husbandry, particularly horse and sheep raising, as well as agriculture, and fishing. During Shengzong's reign, the Liao Dynasty enjoyed peace and prosperity, so it is widely praised that Shenzong's reign is the golden age of Liao Dynasty

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