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17. The Qi Dan People

On the Trial of the Danes - in Asia

18. The White and Superior's Great Land

1. The Dan Xiang People 2. Hu People in the Beishan
3. The Mongol's Attack 4. Gengis Khan's Death
5. The Cruelty of the Mongols 6. The Black Castle
7. Dan Xiangs' Appearance 8. Literature

1. The Dan-Xiang People

A people, who call themselves something with Dan, thereby tells of an Indo-European origin in a near or distant past.

Danu is an ancient Indo-European word meaning river. It can be found in the ancient names of European rivers, such as Danubius for Danube, Danastius for Dniester, Danapris or Danaper for Dnieper, Rodanus for Rhone and many others.

Xi Xia

Xi Xia.

In the history Dan Xiang's empire is called Xi Xia, meaning western Xia in Chinese, including the present Chinese provinces Ning Xia, Gansu and parts of the neighboring provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai and Shaanxi.

Following their own tradition they descended from a people called Tuoba Xianbei, who were the Xianbei people, who created the Migration age empire Northern Wei includding all of North China. It disintegrated in 535 AC prior to the creation of the famous Tang Dynasty in 619 AC. On the Tibetan highlands of modern Qinghai province lived in the migration time another Xianbei people called Tuyuhun. Many discoveries made in connection with Dan Xiang resemble things, found in Qinghai and Tibet.

In the seventh century AC the kings of Dan Xiang were granted permission to carry the family name Li, which made them to relatives of the Tang Dynasty emperors.

Royal tomb in Xi

Royal tomb in Xi Xia.

However the Tang Dynasty disintegrated and was replaced by the ethnic Chinese Song Dynasty.

In 944 AC the Dan Xiang king, Li Yiyin, revolted against the Song rulers. His son, Sun Li Deming, was recognized by the neighboring states as emperor of Xia, it were Song China in the south, and Qi Dan in the East; hence he became the Song emperor's equal. He expanded his empire north at the expense of the Turkish Oguz federation.

Names with "ming" as the suffix seem to have been quite common in Xia, at least according to Chinese sources. The first king's son was named Li De-ming and the general of the reserve army during their last fight against the Mongols was named Wei-Ming Ling Gong. But "wei-ming" in Chinese means "mighty name" so maybe they just had problems with describing the barbarian names.

The new king ordered all his subjects to cut their hair in the traditional short Dan Xiang style instead of the Chinese style with hair arranged in a top pillow. He cancelled his Chinese name Li Deming and assumed his Dan Xiang name, Weiming (Chinese: "mighty name"?). The new Xia kingdom created their own characters instead of the Chinese characters they had used previously.

Throughout the entire history of Xi Xia there was a struggle between supporters of Chinese language and culture and supporters of Dan Xiang's own indigenous languages and traditional culture.

Budda figures from Xi Xia. Found in Kara Khoto and exhibited in the Hermitage museum in Sct. Petersburg

Picture with Budda figures from Xi Xia. Found in Kara Khoto and exhibited in the Hermitage museum in Sct. Petersburg.

In Kara Khoto a picture of Budda surrounded by smaller figures was found. Note the white figure to the right of Buddha, it must be an original Dan Xiang man - one of the white and superior. The picture is exhibited in the Hermitage in Sct. Petersburg.

They named themselves "Great Xia" or "The Great Land of the White and Superior", in Chinese "Da Bei Shang Guo". The term "Tan-gut" was created by the Mongols. In Mongolian a person is called "gun", plural, that is people, is "gut". So the Mongolian expression Tan-gut means, "the Tan people". Modern Chinese believe that the Mongols called them that because they previously had good relations with the Tang Dynasty. But note that the Chinese called them something that sounded like "Dan", while other people called them something that sounded like "Tan". Just like the Dan people in eastern China; The Chinese called them Qi-Dan, while other people called them Khi-Tan. So it seems likely that "Dan Xiang" was called such because they belonged to a kind of peoples, who traditionally were called "Dan" or "Tan".

The name Xia dates back from the Migration Age, the Sixteen States Period, around 400 AC. The area was originally conquered by the Tiefu Xiong-Nu people under the leadership of King Helian Bobo. He named his new kingdom "Xia" because of the legend of the Xiong-Nu descendant of the first Xia Dynasty rulers, thousands of years back. Since then the area had been known as Xia.

Dan Xiang occasionally also used "Great Xia" for their state, in Chinese "Da-Xia". It is interesting that the Chinese also used this name for the Greek Bactria, Da-xia, who was taken over by "Da Yuezhi" one thousand years before Dan Xiang created their state.

A Dan Xiang god performs the cosmic dance. From the museum in Yinchuan

A Dan Xiang god performs the cosmic dance. From the museum in Yinchuan.

After some disastrous military defeats in 1114 AC, against Song Dynasty China in the South and against Qi Dan in the East, king Li Qiashun realized that it was necessary to create an effective civil servant system to replace the noblemen's fedualsystem. He introduced a centralized civil and military administration similar to the Chinese mandarin system.

In a Japanese-Chinese broadcast series on Chinese CCTV 1 on the Silk Road was also a episode about Xi Xia, which informed about many interesting facts, partially from findings exhibited in Sct. Petersburg, but also based on items from the historical museum in Yinchuan, capital of present Ning Xia.

In the country of Xi Xia lived many different nationalities. There were some Qi Dans, with whom Dan Xiangs seemed to have had close relations; Families from the two peoples married each other. There were also many Chinese. But the military's core were the people Dan Xiang, the ruling people, one can say.

Xi Xia was a very well-organized state. They had a highly developed system of irrigation canals. Every second adult male had to be available for the military. Many became Buddhist monks, as they then did not have to become soldiers

The Dan Xiang emperor had a lifeguard of 5.000 elite soldiers on duty in three shifts. The army was divided into twelve divisions, each headed by a commander, a deputy and a supervising officer.

Their cities were very strongly fortified. They used a weapon that resembles a kind of hand grenades, some hollow spiked balls with a small hole, maybe to a fuse. You can not say that they were unprepared for the confrontation with Genghis Khan. One of many stories of Genghis Khan's death is that he was mortally wounded, because his horse threw him off, as it was frightened by such a "hand-grenade".

They had a highly developed tradition of metal processing. Sword from Xi Xia were very famous. The processed leather and furs that they exported to neighbouring countries.

2. The Hu people in the Beishan Mountains

Rock Carving in  Beishan Mountains. Hu woman with full breasts Rock Carving in  Beishan Mountains. Hu man - a rather square type

Left: Rock Carving in Beishan Mountains. A Hu woman with full breasts.
Right: Rock Carving in Beishan Mountains. A Hu man - a rather square type.

In the northwest Ning Xia Hui Autonomous Region, in Damadai in the Beishan mountains a large number of Rock Carving were found in 1988. They have been found over a 15 square kilometer area. Experts believe that they are created by the "Hu" or "Hun" nomads, who have lived here "always". They represent mythological figures, sheep, horses, tigers and other animals, people and symbols. Sheep and goats were very important for the Hu nomads. (from article in China Daily 8. January 05 "Mystery of ancient carvings lives on").

A rock carving represents a woman. A rather broad and chubby type with a large round head. She has full breasts and relatively short legs. She is quite different from modern Asian types. Another depicts a man; apparently also a fairly square type.

Ancient cliff carvings in Damadai in Beishan Mountains up to 6000 years old

Ancient cliff carvings in Damadai in Beishan Mountains are up to 6000 years old.

In an article in "China Daily" is also mentioned that around ten cliff carvings show sexual scenes. This suggests that the Hu people, who made the images, may have had a fertility religion.

In the historic museum of Xian is a ceramic figure of a "Hu" man on a camel, found in a Tang Dynasty tomb. He is also a rather square type.

Many of the carvings are from the Neolithic Stone Age some 7.000 years ago. Most have been made for 3.000 to 2.000 years ago. The latest have been made from ca. 1.000 AC to 1.227 AC during the time of the Xi Xia kingdom to its doom; after which year no more new petroglyphs have ben created.

After the war against Genghis Khan and his Mongolian-Turkish armies and Xi Xia's destruction, there were most likely no more people left in the area and therefore for natural reasons no more petroglyphs were made.

A Hu man on camel. From Xian History Museum Cliff carvings in the Damadai Mountains

Left: A Hu man on camel. From Xian History Museum.
Right: Cliff carvings in the Damadai Mountains.

The reason why they had not been found until now is that the area presently is so desolate and uninhabited. However the name Damadai means cornfields. Once, it must have been green and fertile and supported the life of the people, who made the carvings.

3. The Mongol's Attack on Xi Xia

In the end of the emperor Li Renxiao's reign around the turn of the century, 1200 AC, the country faced increasing difficulties in producing enough food for its large population. Perhaps because of the progressive desiccation of the area. Today the country is mainly a desert. Disgruntled peasants and soldiers rebelled, led by nobles, who felt themselves bypassed and ignored by the new civil service structure.

Mounted Mongol

Mounted Mongol.

In 1202 AC Xia for the first time was attacked by gangs of Mongolians and Turks, who burned villages and abducted people and cattle. In 1205-6 the attacks continued with increased strength.

King Li An Chuan made peace with the Mongols in 1207 AC and gave his daughter to Genghis Khan as a bride.

Li Anchuan abdicated and died in 1211 AC.

Regardless the peace treaty the Mongol armies continued to invade and terrorize Xi Xia in the following twenty years. There were acts of war in 1209-10, 1211-13, 1214-19 and 1224 until the Xi Xia's final destruction in 1225-1227 AC. In more than twenty years the country was more or less continuously under attack, despite the fact that they from the beginning had made peace, and the emperor had given his daughter to the great khan.

In 1224 AC the Xia city Yenzhou was attacked from the south of troops, led by the Mongolian Governor of North China, Bei Lu. Tens of thousands of defenders and inhabitants were killed

In 1225 AC Genghis Khan demanded that Xi Xia should send troops to the planned Mongol offensive in the west against the Khvarizm Sultanate, which included the former Sogdian cities in modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Emperor Li Xian thought it wise to send the requested troops. But his generals had had enough. They would no longer allow themselves to be terrorized. They told the Mongolian envoy, "that if they had not enough troops, they were not worthy to call themselves masters of the World." Instead Xi Xia concluded an alliance with the Jurchen people targeting the Mongols. Jurchen later became known as the Manchus.

The Mongols attack

Mongols attack.

Genghis Khan first attacked the Xia city Shazhou. The siege lasted six years it is said. A large number of Mongol and Turk soldiers, who tried to dig tunnels under the city walls, were burned to death. Genghis Khan reluctantly canceled the siege and withdrew his army back to Mongolia. Again a peace treaty was concluded and the emperor of Xi Xia promised to send hostages.

However, in 1226 Genghis Khan claimed that the promised hostages had not arrived, and he used this as pretext to resume the hostilities.

However documents found in Kara Khoto tells that Xia had sent hostages, including the king's son, a boy younger than ten years. But the Mongols had intercepted the travel company, killed the boy and spread his bones in the desert.

The first Mongol attack was led by a renegade Xia General, Li Qianbu. City after city was conquered, and as a rule all inhabitants were killed.

Central Asia around 1200 AC

Central Asia around 1200 AC prior to the Mongol conquests.

A Xia general, in chinese sources called Weiming Lin-gong, commanded a relief army of 100,000 men. "Gong" can mean grandfather in Chinese, so maybe he was an older experienced general. They met the Mongol-Turkish Army in a decisive battle near Helashan Mountains on the banks of the frozen Yellow River. The Mongols won victory over the Dan Xiang army. Some say that it was because the Dan Xiang's cavalry fell through the ice. It was a recently conscripted reserve army, perhaps the young men were not as experienced as the Turkish and Mongolian veterans.

When Jurchens, the later Manchus, in 1227 also were attacked by a Mongolian-Turkish armies, they quickly concluded a seperate peace. Xi Xia was then left to wage the war alone.

One by one the remaining cities were conquered and the inhabitants killed. Rural areas were razed. Chinese sources speak of piles of bones and skulls. The last king of "Great Xia", Li Xian surrendered to the Mongols as part of a peace settlement. However, he and his entire family were killed during the journey to the Mongol headquarter.

Xi Xia was completely destroyed, cities were burned and ruined and irrigation systems were destroyed forever. It was the end of the year 1227 AC. Then "The White and Superior's great Land" had existed for 190 years.

4. Genghis Khan's Death

Djengis Khan

Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan was history's most feared commander. He died during his campaign against Xi Xia. Nobody alive today knows for sure how; but there are many stories about his death.

In the year 1226 Genghis commanded an attack on Xia's capital of Zhongxing. He was hit by an arrow and thereby he fell from the horse. His men brought him to the coolness of the Liupan mountains, where he received medical treatment by Chinese doctors. He died in July 1227 AC. On his death bed he instructed his generals to keep his death secret until Xia's final defeat.

Well pleased with the war Genghis in 1226 allowed himself a break and went to the coolness of Liupan Mountain seeking protection from the hot summer. When he stayed there, he was hunting an Ibex(?) He fell from his horse and was seriously wounded. Subsequently he became ill and died. (In another version, he was hunting a wild donkey, when he fell off the horse)

Genghis Khan retreated to the coolness of the Liupan Mountains in the summer of 1227 AC, while the war was still going on. He got fever and died.

During an attack on a Western Xia city the Great Khan was hit by one of Dan Xiang's hand grenades. He was wounded and fell off his horse. Later he died in the Liupan mountains. Thus told the Chinese CCTV1 in a Japanese/Chinese broadcast series about the Silk Road..

Genghis Khan was hunting. He shot a snow-hare. Then he told his men that he wanted a woman as white as the hare. There was such a woman. However, she was already married to a Xia prince. But nothing is impossible for brisk men, and she was quickly placed in the great khan's bed. But the princess had hided a small but very sharp knife in her secret place. With it she cut the private parts of Genghis Khan when he fell asleep after the effort. He fell into a deep sleep, from which he never awoke. The princess fled and drowned herself in a nearby river, which later became known as "the Virgin River". This version had been brought by Elizabeth Barber, but it can also be found in many other sources. In China, it is dismissed as Tibetan nationalist propaganda.

The great Khan was buried in a secret location in Mongolia. He was followed in the grave by forty young girls and just as many carefully selected horses.

5. The Cruelty of the Mongols

It is hard to understand the cold psychopathic cruelty that the Mongols showed towards their defeated enemies.

The city of Merv in present northeastern Iran was completely destroyed and its 700,000 inhabitants were all killed.

Hulegu's army besieging a Persian City - Persian drawing

Hulegu's army besieging a Persian City - Persian drawing.

During the siege of the Persian city of Nishapur Genghis Khan's son in law was killed by an arrow from one of the city's defenders. When the city fell, the Mongols took a terrible revenge. All residents were beheaded and their heads were carefully stacked into pyramids in front of the widow, men women and children separately. Even dogs and cats from the streets of the city were beheaded. The Persian historian Rashid al-Din wrote that more than one million people were killed in connection with the capture of Nishapur.

The main rule was that when a city had been conquered, the Mongols selected all the craftsmen and sent them to Mongolia or other places, where there was a need for them to build siege engines and the like. The children and the young girls were taken as slaves, and the rest were killed.

Once they had decided to wipe out a city's population the procedure was that the surviving inhabitants were ordered to show up in a field outside town. Each Mongol soldier was then ordered to kill ten, twenty or fifty people each. To prove that they had done it, they had to deliver as many cut ears to their commanders.

The climax must have been the massacre of Xi Xia in 1227 AC, in which not only some cities, but an entire polpulation and an entire nation were slain.

Mongol siege machines - Persian drawing

Mongol siege machines, prepared to throw two prisoners at the enemy - Persian drawing.

Can one imagine that the Mongols' psychopatic cruelty was caused by a deep feeling that they felt themselves like some simple, smelly hunters from the outskirts of the world and that they did not so easily forgive "The White and Superior" and other peoples, who lived a civilized life.

They seemed to have harbored a special hatred for the white and superior in Xi Xia. In Persia in the old days, they had just as white skin, because they were Indo-Europeans, the conquest there was also an orgy of cruelty.

Nowadays we have lived with Rousseau's "Back to nature" idea for several hundred years. We think it must surely be fantastic to live the original, natural, free nomadic life on the endless steppe. In our impulsive ideas, we think that people who live in this original natural way is bound to have developed natural and harmonious feelings.

But perhaps it was not the prevailing ideas eight hundred years ago

The Chinese province of Ning Xia is today inhabited by the Turkish Muslim Hui people

6. The Black Castle

Prince Kozlov's photograph of Kara Khoto from 1908. From the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Prince Kozlov's photo of Kara Khoto from 1908. From the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

On the border between the Chinese provinces Gansu and Inner Mongolia, almost where the wall from Dun Huang ends in the east, there lies a fortress ruin. It's called Kara Khoto; it is Turkish and means "The Black Castle".

Prince Kozlov visited the site in 1908. Apparently the Russians were the first ones, who trod the castle area for many centuries. The locals did not dare to come near the castle of fear of ghosts.

The Russian expedition found many Xia documents, paintings and banners. Much of this is today exhibited at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

The Chinese-Japanese Silk Road Expedition visited the place around 1980, as the first from outside after the area had been reopened after the revolution.

The expedition could still find old personal belongings scattered over the area, like on the day the castle was abandoned. The extremely dry climate had preserved them. The castle's inhabitants had been Buddhists.

The local tradition, preserved to our days, says that an army commanded by Genghis Khan, began a siege of the Black Castle. The defenders endured bravely the siege for a long time.

But then the enemy got the idea to divert the river that flowed around the castle. The castle's defenders dug a deep hole inside the castle in search of water, but in vain. They realized that the battle was lost. The commander, Batir, hided his gold in the hole, they had dug, and filled the hole. With his own hands he killed his own wife and children. Then the defenders tore down the gate and rode out to their last battle.

Kara Khoto was Xia's northern stronghold, and it perished in Genghis Khan's renewed offensive in 1226 AC or 1227 AC.

Today the palace is located far out in the desert, and there is no trace of any river. Most of the findings from the Black Castle are today exhibited in Sct. Petersburg, they reminds about findings from Tibet and Xi Xia.

I do not know, why it is called the "Black" Castle. Maybe "The white and Superior" led black banners like both Qin and Qi Dan did it, or it is merely an expression locals connected with ghosts.

7. Dan Xiangs' Appearance

Emperor Hui (1068 AC to 1085 AC) of the Great Xia presides over a Buddhist sutra translation. Illustration of Buddhist sutra A Buddhist monk from Xi Xia. Discovered by Kozlov in Kara Khoto. Exhibited at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Left: Emperor Hui (1068 AC to 1085 AC) of the Great Xia presides over a Buddhist sutra translation. Illustration of Buddhist sutra
Right: A Buddhist monk from Xi Xia. Discovered by Kozlov in Kara Khoto. Exhibited at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

From the illustration to a Buddhist Sutra and a painting of a Buddhist monk, found by Kozlov in Kara Khoto, it seemed that Dan Xiang was persons with dark or brown hair and beard. The men tended to be bald early. One can deduce from their name that they had relatively white skin.

A portal in Ning Xia shows a bird-human surrounded by two men. They seem to be some pretty broad types with large round heads. They are beardless or clean shaved.

Decoration on a  portal from the Western Xia

Decoration on a portal from the Western Xia.

In the museum in Ning Xia can be seen a bird woman in prayer. She has a big nose and high nose bridge, but however relatively narrow eyes.

Bearing columns in buildings have been decorated with some giant women. They have large round eyes, full lips, quite marked cheekbones and big full breasts.

Bird Woman from the Museum in Ning Xia Building foundations from the museum in Ning Xia

Til venstre: Fuglekvinde fra museet i Ning Xia.
Til højre: Bygningsfundament fra museum i Ning Xia.

Marco Polo traveled through present Gansu Province in 1265. The Polos stayed in Dun Huang for a whole year, while they were awaiting permission to travel on. At that time, the province together with Ning Xia was called for "Tangut", as it was the Mongolian name for the country, which had made up this province, before the Mongol conquest in 1226. Marco Polo sees very naturally the inhabitants, he meets, as "Tangutans", as they were inhabitants of the province "Tangut". However, the real original "Tanguts" had then been dead and gone for 39 years.

Marco Polo

Marco Polo.

Marco Polo wrote (Book 1 - Chapter 57): The people consist of Nestorian Christians, Idolates and worshippers of Mahomet. - The People, who are Idolates are merchants and craftsmen, and they also grow an abundance of corn. The province has an extent of 26 day-journeys.

The people, who are idolates, are fat people with small noses, black hair, and no beard, except for a few hairs on the upper lip. The Women have also very smooth and white skin, and are in every respect beautiful creatures. The men are very sensual, and marry many wives, which is not prohibited according to their religion."

The Russian explorer, Przhevalskii, was in Gansu in 1876. He was the first European in these parts of the World in modern time. At that time, the province together with the Ning Xia province were still called "Tangut".
Building Foundation from the museum in Ning Xia

Building Foundation from the museum in Ning Xia.

He wrote: "The Tangutans or Si-fan, as the Chinese call them, are of the same race as the Tibetans. They inhabit the mountainous regions of Kan-su, Koko-nor and the area along the upper parts of the Yellow River as far as Murui-ussu and perhaps longer. They consider these countries, which they call by the name "Amdo" as their own special teritory, although they here are mixed with Chinese and Mongolians.

Outwardly they represents a striking contrast to the latter two races, and as we have already said, they are somewhat similar to gypsies. Their height is above average, with a full figure and broad shoulders, their hair, whiskers and beard are invariably black, the eyes are dark and rather large, never narrow as the Mongols', their noses are in general straight, although sometimes eagle nose, also sometimes turned upwards. The lips are thick and protruding, their cheekbones are not as prominent as the Mongols', their face is long, never flat, their head shape is round, the teeth are white and regular, their skin is brown, the women are smaller and darker in compleksion than the men.

Contrary Mongols and Chinese, the Tangutans have a strong growth of beard and whiskers that they always shave like they do with the head, leaving a pigtail, however the lamas, as the Mongols, shave their head completely.

The Women have long hair, with parting in the middle divided into a number of small plaits on each side, adorned with various beautiful things as for example, beads and ribbons. They dye their cheeks with Chinese colors or with the juice of wild strawberries, which are plentiful in the forests."

Drawing of Tangutan lama used by Przhevalskii Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalskii

Left: Drawing of Tangutan lama used by Przhevalskii.
Right: The Russian explorer Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalskii.

Przhevalskii was the first European since Marco Polo, who traveled in these parts of Asia. He was in Mongolia and Gansu while the Taiping Revolution took place in Eastern China and the Muslim rebelion in the West. The Muslim insurgents were called "Dungans".

It's a little difficult to see, who was the people, that Przhevalskii met, whom he called "Tangutans". The original "Dan Xiang", or "Dangxiang, as the Chinese prefer to spell it, were probably dead and gone and had been for many years, furthermore "The white and superior" would most likely not have been as dark as he described the "Tangutans". Perhaps he met the original Qiang people, who also had lived in these parts of Asia "always".

The muslim Hui nationality, who populate the Ning Xia province in present days, comes mainly from the two to three million Central Asian Turks, as Kublai Khan around 1270 imported to China as a military reserve.

Today, the Turkish Muslim Hui nationality makes up also a very visible and still increasing part of the population in the Gansu and Qinghai provinces. Still more immigrants to Tibet, and it is a cause of unrest in this province.

8. Literature

Mongolia, the Tangut Country and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet - Bind 1 - Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalskii Biodiversity Heritage Library
Mongolia, the Tangut Country and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet - Bind 2 - Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalskii Biodiversity Heritage Library
The Travels of Marco Polo - Book 1 - Chapter 57
The Guanyin Icon (Chinggis Khan's Last Campaign) (pdf)
A thanks to the website "China History Forum" - which unfortunately is not among us anymore - for information and inspiration.

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