Chen Xue on the Yale Kitan Workshop

Date: 11th – 19th May, 2016


Venue: Sterling Memorial Library, Room 207, Yale University


Lectures and Participants:


Lecture sessions were led by Professor Daniel Kane, and the workshop was organised by Professor Valerie Hansen, Richard Sosa, and Suzette Courtmanche


Participants were BIRAN Michal, CHEN Yuan, CHO Yong, EISENLOHR Leopold, FU Rebecca Shuang, HANSEN Valerie, HYUN Jean, KANE Daniel, KIM Youn-mi, LI Yiwen, LOUIS Francois, MARSONE Pierre, MERRILL William, PURSEY Lance, SHIMUNEK Andrew, STANDEN Naomi, WEN Xin, XUE Chen, YANG Shao-yun,




By attending the workshop and by guided reading of the Langjun and Yelü Zongjiao inscriptions, participants in general have familiarised themselves with and gained a basic knowledge of:


The main concepts in Kitan language studies;


The main principles in the writing of Kitan scripts and epitaphs;


Approaches scholars have employed to decipher Kitan scripts;


The main reference books;


Some Kitan grammatical rules;


The status of the decipherment of Kitan scripts;


Input methods for fonts for the Kitan script;


The participants came from very diverse disciplinary fields. By providing a Kitan perspective, Kitan language knowledge would benefit a wide range of research area. For instance, in terms of my personal research, the decipherment of the two types of Kitan scripts, though mainly about times, personal names, place names, official positions and reign titles, has already provided considerable information about the discrepancies or concordance of records in Kitan and in Chinese materials (inscriptions and histories). These Kitan scripts provide opportunities for gaining new perspectives on the divergence and convergence between the self-constructed Kitan identity and external interpretations of the Kitan identity, and will help to stimulate reconsideration of the existing research, which is mainly based on one type of source or on one-dimensional interpretations. Furthermore, besides the 13th and 14th-century Qidan guozhi (Records of the Kitan State) and Liao shi (Liao History) which usually serve as dedicated histories for the Liao, the Kitan texts can help to draw more attention to the reliability of some 10th to 11th-century Chinese written histories from the Liao’s neighbours in different directions.


Complemented by different types of Chinese sources, knowledge from the Kitan texts provides a partial basis for investigating the long-term cultural exchange between Kitan Liao and its surrounding regimes in a wider historical and geographical context, such as, one of my concerns, the practices of qaghanship and emperorship in Northeast and Inner Asia since the collapse of Uighur qaghanate in 840. The Kitan Liao played an important and evolutionary role in these practices, exerting deep influence on contemporary interstate relationships and leaving legacies to later ones. The Kitan texts not only serve as a mirror of the sources of Kitan Liao internal institutions and relevant practices, but would also reflect, for instance, the waxing and waning of different cultural elements and their fluctuating influence inside the Liao realm in an age of dramatic social changes in both steppe and the post-Tang China world. These are vital for historians to understand the self-selected Kitan identity and how it differed from new interpretations of it by the Liao’s neighbours and successors, and to rethink wider issues such as the modern Eurocentric and Sinocentric discourses on the Kitan Liao studies.


The Kitan scripts are only partially deciphered which means full and continuous deciphered texts are not available or convenient to be presented as independent works. To locate the already deciphered Kitan characters, such as those relevant to the Kitan origin myths, in new paper-based sources and to further examine the possible context within which these characters have appeared or been used, however, would be important for historical research. Particularly inspired by talks with Andrew Shimunek, some Kitan reference books would be very helpful for this purpose. Though there is not yet an authoritative Kitan dictionary, the Qidan xiaozi cihui suoyin (Index to Kitan Words in the Small Script, title trans. by Daniel Kane) compiled by Liu Pujiang and Kang Peng, published in 2014, serves as a basic index for searching for the sources and deciphered meanings of Kitan Small Script vocabulary. Qidan wenzi yanjiu leibian (Compendium of Texts in the Qidan Scripts, title trans. by Daniel Kane) by Liu Fengzhu, published in 2015, as the most comprehensive work on Kitan language studies to date, provides initial transcriptions and photocopies of recovered Kitan epitaphs, and offers a compilation of important research on the Kitan language. The combination of the above works and other published research will help to locate Kitan characters, and to further the examination of their place, in textual contexts more easily and comprehensively.


Chen XUE

PhD Student, Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages,

University of Birmingham


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