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The Tangut[]


The Tangut people were an ethnic group in northwestern China during the seventh through eleventh centuries CE. Likely related to the Tibetans, the Tanguts spoke a language from the Qiangic group of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic family. However, Tangut culture was quite similar to others on the northern steppes - peoples like the Uighurs and Jurchen (Manchu) - indicating that the Tanguts had lived in the area for some time. The Tanguts founded several states over the decades of which the most important and well-known is the Western Xia Empire.

The Tanguts were famous riders and engaged in horse trade with the Chinese empires. Their social structure was geared to cavalry units. These were famed for their skill and endurability in conflicts and rebellions, first against the Tang dynasty, and after their fall in 907, against both the Song and the Jin dynasties.

The Western Xia Empire remained independent until it was conquered by the Mongols in 1227.


  • The Western Xia Empire, also called the Xi Xia Empire or Great Xia State, was to the Mongols known as the Tangut Empire and sometimes the Qashi or the Qashin Empire, which derived from the Middle Chinese name for the region the Tanguts controlled. However, the Tanguts refered to themselves primarily as the Mi-niah (Miñak).

Weiming Yuanhao[]


Weiming Yuanhao, or Emperor Jingzong, of Western Xia, born Li Yuanhao, or Tuoba Yuanhao, was the first emperor of the Western Xia Empire located in northwestern China, reigning from 1038 to 1048. He was the eldest son of the Tangut ruler Li Deming.

As a youth Weiming Yuanhao was physically imposing yet also possessed a love of learning; he knew both the Tibetan and Chinese languages. Being a voracious reader, he was knowledgeable regarding matters of law and military strategy and also knew how to paint. After his father died in 1032, he became the leader of the Tangut.

Early on in his leadership, Weiming Yuanhao, then Li Yuanhao, discarded the surnames which had been given him by the Tang and Song dynasties, replacing them with the surname Weiming. He took an aggressive stance with the Song dynasty, and they described him as "a vigorous and persevering leader versed in military strategy." At its height he claimed an army of 500,000 men.

In 1034 Weiming attacked the Huanqing territories. He was largely successful in these expeditions and captured Song general Qi Zongju. At this point he changed his target to the Uyghur peoples of the West, and his efforts against them began in 1036.

These campaigns proved to have more meaningful success. From the Uyghurs he took large portions of Gansu. The success of these efforts proved fairly permanent as well. The Tangut people would hold the Hexi Corridor for 191 years.

In 1038 he declared himself the emperor of the Western Xia Dynasty whose capital was situated in Xingqing. Afterwards he launched a campaign against the Song. Although the Tangut empire won a series of three large battles, the victories proved to be very costly and they found their forces depleted, due in part to a scorched earth policy by the Song. In 1044 the Tangut Empire signed a treaty with the Song dynasty resulting in the nominal acknowledgment of Song sovereignty by the Tangut and the payment of tribute by the Song.

Weiming died in 1048 due to severe bacterial infection, caused by his son cutting his nose in an attempt to kill him.

Culture and Politics[]

The Emperor led to a reorganization of much of the Empire with the help of Chinese advisors. The Empire created new departments and administrative services. The Emperor also knew Chinese and had Chinese works translated into his people's language. He accomplished this by supporting the development of a written language for the Tangut people. (This development of new writing, however, would lead to immense headaches for historians, as very few people can understand the writing.)

Nevertheless, Emperor Weiming had strong opposition to the people imitating the Chinese too closely. He emphasized the value of their traditional nomadic way of life and discouraged any dependence on Chinese luxury items. Trade with the Song was minimized or cut off before the peace treaty that came four years before his death. The use of Chinese talents was not to lead to sinicization.

Unique Components[]

Iron Sparrowhawk[]

The Iron Sparrowhawk cavalry of the Xi Xia Empire was heavy cavalry that became achieved an almost legendary status whilst still in use. They were said to be able to walk hundreds of Li a day (one Li equals approximately 500 meters and 1,640 feet) or thousands on horse. They were most adept in sudden maneuvers and arrived unexpectedly at their enemies like lightening striking. Upon encountering enemy forces in the open, the Iron Sparrowhawks often formed sudden charges on the opposing forces.

They were part of the imperial forces, and was usually away on campaign. They were especially noted for their endurance and agility. It is said that they would also had a way of attaching their lances to their armored horses so that even after the rider was slain, the horse would have still thrusted into the enemy ranks.[

The even heavier cavalry of the contemporary Jin (Jurchen Jin) dynasty, the Iron Pagoda Cavalry, which was likely the heaviest shock cavalry the far East would see, is thought to have been directly influenced by the Iron Sparrowhawks in both military tactics and equipment.

Imperial Mausoleum[]

The Imperial Mausoleums of the Xi Xia Empire were pavilion-tower like constructions fusing both traditional mausoleum and temple styles with Buddhist characteristics, sometimes thought to be shaped like giant beehives. They are located at the foot of the Helan Mountains in northwestern China and cover an area of about 50 square km and consist of nine imperial mausoleums and 250 tombs of imperial relatives and officials.

It is one of the largest and best preserved imperial graveyards in China.