Emperor Taizu of Liao

The Emperor Taizu of Liao (Chinese: 辽太祖; pinyin: Liáo Tàizŭ) was the first emperor of the Liao Dynasty (907–926). His given name was Abaoji (阿保機), and he also took the Chinese name Yi (億). Some sources also suggest that the surname Yelü (耶律) was adopted during his lifetime, though there is no unanimity on this point.

He was born in 872 and died in 926 in China. He had a turbulent childhood. His grandfather was killed in a conflict between tribes, and his father and uncles fled. Yelü Abaoji was hidden by his grandmother for his safety.

Legends surrounding Abaoji's birth

Later generations of Chinese historians record a variety of legends that surrounded the birth of Abaoji. According to the legends, his mother dreamed that the sun fell from the sky and into her bosom, from which pregnancy followed. When she gave birth, the room is said to have become filled with a mysterious light and extraordinary fragrance. As a newborn, his body was that of a three-year-old, and the legends go on to say that he was walking at the age of three months. He is even recorded as being able to see events before they passed.

Rise to power

The Yaolian clan had dominated the leadership of the Khitan tribes since the 750s. They maintained good relations with the tang dynasty of China to the south. However, by the end of the ninth century, leaders of the powerful Yila Tribe were expressing dissatisfaction with the Yaolian khans. Abaoji's father had been the elected chieftain of the Yila Tribe. As surnames were considered a marker of Chinese culture, they were not used by the Khitan people outside of the Yaolian imperial clan.

Abaoji became chieftain of the Yila tribe in 901 and in 903, was named the Yuyue, Commander of all Khitan military forces. This had the effect of making him second only to the great khan in the hierarchy of the Khitan nation. In 907, he appeared at the triennial council and demanded to be named the khaghan, the Khan of khans. His successes against the Chinese in the north led to receiving the support of seven tribal chiefs and even the acquiescence of the last Yaolian Great Khan himself.


Abaoji's success was in his ability to introduce innovations to Khitan society. Arguably the most important was the introduction of a dual administrative system in which nomadic steppe peoples would be governed by steppe traditions and sedentary populations in conquered Balhae and north China would be governed by a civil bureaucracy drawn largely on Chinese methods. While this did not receive universal support from tribal leaders due to the erosion of their own powers, this became the model that later steppe peoples would use to govern their diverse empires.

Two more important innovations were introduced in 916. He adopted Chinese court formalities in which he declared himself Celestial Emperor in the Chinese-style and adopted a reign name, also in the Chinese manner of ruling. The second was to name his son, Prince Bei, heir apparent, also a first in Khitan society and something that directly contrasted with Khitan notions of rule by merit. This second innovation did not take hold so easily as few of his successors experienced simple successions.

In 918, Abaoji had a new walled city built. A Chinese city (漢城) was built adjacent to this city in which artisan's shops, commercial shops, and warehouses were constructed. Later, five capital cities would be built, including a Supreme Capital (上京), that served as the base of Khitan administration.

Abaoji ordered the development of a Khitan large script in 920. This script looks superficially like Chinese writing, however, it bears little resemblance to Chinese writing, and the two were mutually unintelligible. Five years later, the arrival of a Uyghur delegation led Abaoji to order his younger brother Yelü Diela to develop a new script on more syllabic principles. Unlike the Japanese and Koreans, the Khitan managed to adopt the cultural and administrative tool of writing without the baggage of Chinese culture and grammar that came with the wholesale adoption of Chinese characters.

Relationship with the later tang

Li Keyong was a Shatuo Turk who was in the service of the tang dynasty until its fall in 907. In 905, Abaoji went to Li Keyong's stronghold in present-day Shanxi Province and swore blood-brotherhood.

Li's son, Li Cunxu founded the later tang on the ashes of the later liang dynasty in 923. On his death, though relations between the two had soured, the proper forms were followed and an emissary was sent to the Khitan capital.

Yao Kun

Yao Kun was sent by the later tang court to meet with Abaoji in 926. He caught up with the Khitan ruler in Manchuria while he was on campaign against the Balhae kingdom while he was encamped at Fuyu in present-day Jilin Province. Abaoji demanded that the later tang surrender the Sixteen Prefectures. If they were given up, there would be no more cause for invading China. Yao Kun stated that this was not in his authority. This response landed him in prison, where he still was when Abaoji died from illness on September 6, 926.

In 936 Emperor Taizu of Liao helped Gaozu of later jin dynasty to hurl from the throne his brother-in-law Li Congke and found the later jin dynasty .


Though Prince Bei was designated heir apparent in 916, the empress dowager Yingtian did not consider him to be worthy and managed to have her second son Deguang succeed to the throne. Deguang became known to history as Emperor Taizong and he reigned from 926 to 947.

Personal information


Yelü Saladi (耶律薩剌的), Khitan chieftain, posthumously honored Emperor Dezu


Yaonian (or Xiao) Yanmujin (遙輦巖母斤 or 蕭巖母斤), posthumously honored Empress Xuanjian


Empress Shulü Ping (879-953), initially posthumously honored Empress Zhenlie, later honored Empress Chunqin (changed 1052), mother of Princes Bei, Deguang, and Lihu


Lady Xiao, mother of Prince Yaliguo


Yelü Bei (耶律倍) (b. 900), King of Dongdan, name later changed to Dongdan Zanhua (東丹慕華) then to Li Zanhua (李贊華) (killed by Li Congke 937), posthumously initially honored King Wenwuyuan, then as Emperor Rangguo, then as Emperor Wenxian, then as Emperor Wenxian Qinyi with the temple name Yizong

Yelü Deguang (耶律德光), later Emperor Taizong of Liao

Yelü Lihu (耶律李胡), posthumously honored Emperor Qinshun, then as Emperor Zhangsu, then as Emperor Hejing

Yelü Yali (耶律牙里果)

Yelü Zhigu (耶律質古), wife of Xiao Han (蕭翰), also known as Xiao Shilu (蕭室魯)

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