KeywordsEast Asian Studies
Committee ChairShields, Anna M
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe Liao dynasty, founded by the Khitans who originated from the northeast corner of Manchuria, is often characterized by its women's exceptional political authority and high social standing. This dissertation investigates various activities of the Khitan aristocratic women, particularly the imperial women, in the public realms, such as politics, military, and court ceremonies. In addition to Chinese official dynastic histories, this study utilizes archaeological data obtained largely from excavation reports of the Liao tombs that produced female occupants. This dissertation is intended to reconstruct as concrete picture of their lives as possible by adopting an interdisciplinary approach. In doing so, it seeks to explain how and why the Khitan women of the Liao dynasty were granted such high social prestige and political power. It also contemplates on the question whether the Khitans were assimilated by the Chinese culture by the late dynastic period. The first part of this study is focused on analyzing the patterns of the Khitan imperial marriage and their traditional inheritance practices in the context of the consolidation of the empire. The Liao imperial clan, the Yelu, maintained an exclusive marriage alliance with another ruling clan, the Xiao, which produced all of the Liao empresses during the entire dynastic period. This marriage alliance, devised to ensure their monopoly of power, eventually worked for the advantage of the Xiao women, as well as their clansmen who dominated the Liao political power. Women's conspicuous participation in various public affairs was deeply rooted in the Khitan tribal tradition. The Khitans lacked the Chinese concept of segregation of gender roles and the Khitan women were employed at the court in the capacity of a religious professional (shaman) or even as a military commander. The observation of the mortuary practices of the Khitan suggests that they remained attached to their cultural traditions until the late dynastic period. This can be attested by the discovery of the unique Khitan funerary paraphernalia, such as gold masks and metal burial suits, and the evidence of animal sacrifices in their tombs.
Degree ProgramEast Asian Studies