Also named Great Liao or Liao State, the Liao Dynasty was the first regime established by the ethnic minority-Khitans in Chinese history. The Khitan people originated from the Rouran Tribe of the Xianbei people. Khitan meant wrought iron, symbolizing the Khitan people's strong will and indomitable national spirit. In 907, Yelü Abaoji, leader of the Khitan Dieci Tribe, seized the opportunity to have the separate tribes of the Khitan people united when central China was at war and chaos prevailing in the latter times of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Later, he suppressed the rebellion of the Khitan nobles and conquered some small Khitan tribes. In 916, Yelü Abaoji also named Emperor Taizu established the Khitan State, with the reign title 'Shence'.
Emperor Taizu used many Han people to assist his sovereign, and built some houses for those kidnapped wise Han people. In 918, he made Huangdu (Boluo City of Bairin Left Banner, Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region) as the capital. In 925, Yelü Abaoji personally led his soldiers to have Bohai State defeated. Then, he changed 'Bohai' to 'Dongdan', and appointed Prince Yelü bei as the King of the Dongdan State. In 926, Yelü Abaoji fell ill on the way back to the north. Shulü Ping, wife of Yelü Abaoji, acted as regent, and Yelü Deguan, the second son of Yelü Abaoji, was in charge of the state affairs. In 927, Yelü Deguan who was Emperor Taizong, ascended the throne with the support of Shulü Ping. Meanwhile Prince Yelü bei gave up his throne to his younger brother Yelü Deguan, because his political ideas were misfits with his mother's and Yelü Deguan controlled millions of state troops.
In 936, General Shi Jingtang of the Later Tang Dynasty (926 - 936) asked for Yelü Deguan's aid to seize the state power of the Later Tang, and promised that in addition to bowing before him and respecting him as his father emperor (although Yelü Deguang was 11 years younger than Shi Jingtang), he would cede the 'sixteen prefectures of Yanyun' (16 states located to the north of Beijing and Tianjin, Shanxi, Hebei Provinces) in return. After helping Shi Jingtang overthrow the Later Tang and achieve his emperor's dream, Yelü Deguan obtained the sovereign over the 'sixteen prefectures of Yanyun', which laid a base for his later southward invasion. In 947, Yelü Deguan assigned his army to have Later Jin Dynasty (936 - 946) established by Shi Jindtang destroyed, because Shi Chonggui, Emperor Chudi, reported that he wouldn't submit to him any more. Later the Liao army plundered central China in a big way, which caused strong opposition from the people in Central China. Finally, Liao Army was forced to go back to the north, and Yelü Deguan died of illness in luancheng County of Hebei Province.
In 947, Yelü Ruan was proclaimed as Emperor Shizong. In his early years, Yelü Ruan appointed Yelü Zhiwu, a loyal minister, to carry out a series of reforms, which made the Liao Dynasty enter centralization from tribe alliance. However, he loved wine and women, and appointed many crafty ministers. In the end, he was killed when he was asleep.
Known as a 'sleeping king', Yelü Jing, the eldest son of Emperor Taizong, came to the throne as emperor Muzong. He hated women, but often drank wine until the dawn and slept to the afternoon. Thus, he neglected state affairs, which in turn destabilized the ruling group. Meanwhile, Emperor Muzong loved killing, and often killed people personally. In 969, he was killed by his followers, and Yelü Xian, the second son of Emperor Shizong was elected as Emperor Jingzong.
Emperor Jingzong was diligent in state affairs, and appointed many loyal ministers. Thus, the Liao Dynasty had temporary prosperity. In his early years, the Liao and Song Dynasties (960 - 1279) sent envoys to each other with presents. However, Emperor Jingzong was weak and in bad health, so most state affairs were given to Empress Xiao Chuo. In 982, Emperor Jingzong died, and his 12-year-old son Yelü Long inherited the throne as Emperor Shengzong.
In the rule of Empress Dowager Xiao, efforts were made to make the country prosperous. She paid attention to the agriculture, reduced the taxes, constructed irrigations, tidied up the government institutions and trained the army. In 1009, Emperor Shengzong accessed to the throne personally when the Liao Dynasty had reached its peak. Then, Emperor Shengzong continued to practice his mother's policies. At the same time, he opposed cruel punishments, practiced the system of Imperial Exam, and wrote and edited sutras. He went on punitive expeditions in all directions, which made the territory of the Liao Dynasty reach the peak.
In 1031, Emperor Shengzong died, and his oldest son Yelü Zongzhen, the later Emperor Xingzong, took over the throne. In Emperor Xingzong's rule, the crafty ministers controlled the state power, the state politics became corrupt, the military forces were weakened, and people were living in sufferings. Liao Dynasty gradually declined. After Emperor Xingzong, Emperor Daozong was also an incompetent ruler. Then, to the Emperor Tianzuo's rule, Wanyan Aguda, a chieftain of the Nuzhen People, began to grow up, and rebelled against the Liao Dynasty in the spring of 1114. In 1115, Emperor Tianzuo personally led his army to pacify the rebels, but failed time and time again. Meanwhile, a coup broke out in the court of the Liao Dynasty at that time, lasting until the year 1116.
In 1117, Wanyan Aguda made himself emperor, and established the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234). Later, Jin Dynasty gradually occupied Liao's domain. In 1125, Emperor Tianzuo was captured in Yingzhou (Ying County of Shanxi Province), and later died of illness in 1128, but the Liao Dynasty didn't come to the end.
Yelü Dashi, a royal member of the Liao Dynasty, called the remnant in northwest China, and controlled the Mongolian Plateau and the eastern part of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In 1132, he proclaimed himself emperor in Yemili (E'min County of Xinjiang), establishing the Western Liao Empire (Karakitai). The Western Liao Empire had always experienced a prosperous time and had become a strong country in central Asia. In 1143, Yelü Dashi died, and the Western Liao then was ruled by Xiaota Buyan, Yelü Yilie, Yelü Pusuwan, Yelü Zhilugu and Quchu Lv in succession. The Liao Dynasty was completely ended by the Mongolian army of Genghis Khan in 1143.