Kitan Liao Itinerant Courts: Mobility and Projection of Power
Zachary Scott Hershey
(University of Pennsylvania)
Prior to the founding of the Kitan Liao dynasty (907-1125 CE) by Yelü Abaoji (872-926), Kitan herds were mentioned in the Chinese histories, though the majority of textual data about the Kitan and their economy comes from after the founding of the dynasty. The Kitan people subsisted on goods produced from pastoral herds of animals which required movement of animals and people to supply the animals with sufficient grazing lands. Unlike their southern counterparts who generally preferred to hold court in their palaces in the capital except when out on tour, the Liao emperors were almost constantly on the move. Throughout the course of the year, the Liao emperor and his entourage moved to different regions of the empire, and the records of the dynastic history of the Liao, the Liaoshi, suggest that these differed with the seasons and were called "nabo" 捺鉢, a Chinese phonetic gloss of a Kitan word. The records found in the Liaoshi are problematic for research into the movements of the emperors because of the muddled nature of the records and the difficulty in connecting the names of places with modern geographic locations. This paper addresses the problem of compiling and editing data found throughout sources available from the Liao and contemporary Song dynasties (960-1279) and utilizes this to map the movements of the Liao emperors to explore the motivations behind the movement of the court, questioning whether the itinerancy was pastorally focused or concerned with the projection of power. An exploration of the nabo system, however, also complicates our understanding of the early origins of the ordo system made famous under the Mongol Empire, which scholars trace through the Kitan term glossed as aoluduo 斡魯朵 in the Chinese language sources back to sources as early as the Orkhon inscriptions. Therefore, this paper also addresses the problems involved in comparisons between the Kitan institutions and the famous Mongol ordos of later periods.
Early History and Archeology