From Xianbei origins, they were part of the Kumo Xi tribe until 388, when the Kumo Xi-Khitan tribal grouping was roundly defeated by the newly established Northern Wei, allowing the Khitan to resume their own tribe and entity, and beginning the Khitan written history.
From the 5th to the 8th centuries, they were dominated by the steppe power to their West and the Chinese to their south , and in some cases under Korean domination , according to the balance of power at any given time. Under this triple domination and oppression, the Khitan started to show growing power and independence. This rise was, compared to other cases, slow. Slow because it was frequently crushed by its neighbouring powers, each using the Khitan warriors when needed, but each ready to crush them when the Khitan rose too much and became powerful, close to becoming an independent fourth regional power. The 696-697 Li-Shun Rebellion is really instructive on this "2 adults and 1 teenager" game : the Khitan were encouraged by the Turks to take all the risks and revolt against the Tang, which they successfully accomplished, before being attacked at their rear by the Turks, to the great advantage of the newly-reborn Turkish empire .
Enjoying the departure of Uyghur people for West, and the collapse of the Tang Dynasty in early 10th, they established the Liao Dynasty in 907. The Liao Dynasty proved to be a significant power north of the Chinese plain, continuously moving south and West, gaining control over former Chinese and Turk-Uyghur's territories. They eventually fell to the of the Jurchen in 1125, who submit and absorb Khitans to their military benefit.
Following the fall of the Liao Dynasty, many moved further west and established the state of Kara Khitai. Their name survived in the Russian word for China , as well as the archaic , , and appellations of the country. They has been classified by historians as one of the Eastern proto-Mongolic ethnic groups Donghu .
:''To expand soon
References to the Khitan in sources date back to the fourth century. Ancestors of the Khitan were the Yuwen clan of the Xianbei, an ethnic group situated in the area covered by the modern Liaoning province. After their regime was conquered by the Murong clan, the remnants scattered in the modern-day Inner Mongolia and mixed there with the original Mongolic population.
They had been identified as a distinct ethnic group since paying tribute to the Northern Wei Dynasty in the mid-6th century.
During the time of the Tang Dynasty in China, the Khitan people oscillated between vassality to Tang or to Turks, according to the moment balance of power, or under the when they replaced the Turks as the main steppe power. However, once the Uyghurs left their home in the Mongolian Plateau in 842, enough of a power vacuum was create that gave the Khitan the opportunity to make their rise. The Khitan invaded the areas vacated by the Uyghurs, bringing them under their control.
Khitan's Military activities from 388 to 618
:''To expand soon
Recorded notable Khitans' raids on Chinese Empire occurred several times as early as the seventh century. In 605, moving and raiding south, they were crushed by a General leading 20,000 Turkish cavalry.
Khitan's Military activities in Tang period
Under Tang Taizong , Khitans became vassals of Tang.
;The Li-Sun Rebellion
Despite some occasional clashes, Khitans remained Chinese vassals until these 690s. According to the « », the Khitan area of this time was under control of Tang by the Governor-general of Yingzhou, Zhao Wenhui, assisted by local Khitans' chieftains, namely the Khitan chieftain and regional governor of Songmo, Li Jinzhong, and his brother-in-law, the Khitan chieftain and prefect of Guicheng Sun Wanrong.
Opposition raise according to Zhao Wenhui behaviour, who firstly looked at local chieftains as servant and humiliated them on many occasions, provoking an associated resentment, and secondly because of the 696s famine occurred in this Khitan area. The Loose rein policy ask to the unsuccessful Tang Governor-general to pay relief, what Zhao Wenhui failed to do, worsening the situation , and launching the Khitan rebellion .
At his death, his brother Mochuo replaced him, and engaged Turks in an aggressive policy of "plunder to strengthen" as the best way to revitalize his Empire. Turks plundered all their neighbour, Khitan and Chinese as well, but encouraged Khitans to rebel against Tang rule. But almost as soon as Khitan rebelled and were successful, Turks proposed China an alliance. Actually, Turks, in war against China, were just asking for a diversion on east, allowing them to be more free on their front. When Khitans unexpectedly appeared to be so successful, they both were surprised and afraid, seeing a new power born on their East, but also, seeing Khitan fighting hard against Chinese, seen the perfect occasion to take advantage of both busied Khitan and crying Tang. By attacking Khitan on their rear, they provided a ''inestimable'' help to Tang, while working for themselves too by crushing eastern raising power.
Xu Qinzhan , the Chinese Governor-General of Yingzhou immediately called for a punitive military campaign, ordering General Xue Tai, assisted by 500 valiant soldier, Xi troops, and Suogu troops to walk northward. The Chinese-loyalist army was crushed, both Suogu and Li Dapu were killed, while Xue Tai was kindly captured by Ketuyu, in hope to resume good relations with Chineses, sending an envoy to humbly apologize, while he enthroned Suogu's cousin Yuyu ., getting by the way the titles of the Prince of Guiyi and prefect of Guiyi Zhou, with the Xi allowed to settle in Youzhou, under Chinese protection.
A second major campaign came in 733 , Guo Yingjie being ordered to lead 10,000 troops assisted by Xi warriors to crush Khitan. But Ketuyu came first with Turkish support, putting Chinese-Xi troops in difficulty, thus, Xi fled to save themselves. As predictable, Guo Yingjie and his men, alone to face Khitan-Turkish troops, lost with heavy causalities: Guo along most of his men being killed on the battlefield. While one year later the Khitan were defeated by Zhang Shougui, regional commander of Youzhou .
Back to Youzhou, he soon became the ''Bingmashi'' ''of Pinglu Army'' , cultivating carefully relationships with other officials and generals to earn praises, and bribing Imperial messengers to advantageously include him in their reports. As the consequence of this systematic bride, he was promote ''commandant at Yingzhou'' and ''Jiedushi'' of the Pinglu army in 742 to face and defeat northern threat . and military governor of Fanyang Circuit in 744, plundering Khitan and Xi villages to display his military abilities. This continuous harassment of Khitan is understand by some scholars as volunteer provocation to up the Khitan aggressiveness and threat, in the aim to get more troops from Chang'an for his future rebellion, and as the reason of the 745's Khitan-Xi rebellion., Khitans soon turned into an open rebellion against Tang, killing the princess and starting military operations. Huge previous pressures from An Lushan combine with Chang'an court praise for him may have display to Khitan a impasse visions against which they eventually revolted.
Khitans were quickly defeated by An Lushan's toops by a dual of punitive expeditions and traps. Sources reports that Banquets for peace declaration were set up by An Lushan and offered to Khitan and Xi, whom, happy to get both peace and free provisions rushed to the buffet and drunk heavely these food and wine poisoned by some narcotics. An Lushan then led his warriors to kill all of them, who were sleeping on the ground or drunk enough to be easy to kill, and the Chiefs' heads were send to Tang court for displaying. Sources says that each of such Banquet ended by the death of thousand warriors, but this claims stay difficult to believe : can Khitan be that naive to let An Lushan kill thousands of them -several times- in the same kind of "free food traps" ? The difficulty is that Chinese sources seems also biased against An Lushan, depicting him by this story as a trerrible untrustable enemy. The final result stay : Khitan's 745 rebellion was hardly crushed.
;751–752s wars to 755s An Shi rebellion
In 751–752, following An Lushan's provocations a harassments, the Khitans moved south to attack the Chinese Tang Empire. Accordingly, Khitan were soon subject to a Chinese campaign : An Lushan assisted by 2,000 Xi guides leading 60,000 Chinese troops into Khitan's territories. But when the fights seriously started, Xi suddenly turned their support to Khitan, the Khitan-Xi army then quickly squeeze on hampered-by-rains Tang armies and killed almost all soldiers while An Lushan escapaded to Shizhou with just twenty cavalrymen. The defending general Su Dingfang, a Tang's general was eventually able to stop Khitan pursuit troops, which retreated : they had their battlefield victory, not the wished An Lushan's head. So they laid a siege on the city, and only Shi Siming was able to end this event. One of his generals was killed in action, and, after retreating, he blamed and executed two other for the defeat.
In 752, to punish this audaces and insult, a 200,000 strong army including both Chinese and bararian infantry and cavalry went northward to meet Khitan. But while he An Lushan requested that the ethnically Tujue general Li Xianzhong accompany him, Li, feared An and, when compelled to, rebelled, thus putting a halt to An's campaign.
When Li Linfu died and Yang Guozhong —a Yang clan member— replaced him as high chancellor, An Lushan rose in rebellion with his composed armies, and attacked the central power, with some Khitan, Xi, and Turkish supporters. Then only leaving Khitan.
;Middle of Tang's dynasty
Khitans were concentrating themselves on their own development and were relatively peaceful.
Pre-Dynastic Khitan's allegiances and reasons
* pre-388 : Kumo Xi, themselves submitted to Turks, Part of the Kumo Xi-Khitan tribal complex
* 388-? : Tang Dynasty, because of recent Tang expansion, and following Turkish collapse ;
* 696-697 : independent and in war on all sides, encouraged by Tujue and cause by Chinese official mistreatment a famine ;
* 697-72X : Tang Dynasty+ Tujue, since the 697's defeat ;
* 730-734 The first of these two scripts was created in 920. The second, based on alphabetic principles, was created five years later.
Post Liao Dynasty history
The Khitans were absorbed by Jurchens, and widely use in the following years of war to conquest the north of Song territories. In the other hand, a number of the nobility of the Liao Dynasty escaped the area westwards towards Western Regions, establishing the short-lived or Western Liao dynasty, they were in turn absorbed by the local Turkic and Iranic populations and left no influence of themselves. As the Khitan language is still almost completely illegible, it is difficult to create a detailed history of their movements.
Other interesting issues
Khitans invented the Khitan script. For the purpose of keep their distinct identity from Han Chinese's culture. It had both a « small script », alphabetic, and « large script » inspired on . Similar the Jurchen script, it was not widely used by Khipan people except for official purpose because it was so complicated.
;A policy according to history's teaching
The Khitan are also said to have learned from history. On the one hand, they observed the fearsome effect that steppe cavalry had on the Chinese, through their use by the Uyghurs, Shatuo Turks, Kyrgyz, and later themselves. On the other, they also noted the effect that the adoption of Chinese writing and other tools of administration had on their cultural integrity.
;Modern days descendant ?
There is no clear evidence of there being any descendant ethnic groups of the Khitan in modern-day Northeast China, but some recent genetic studies have tended to support the hypothesis that the Daur ethnic group of Inner Mongolia contains at least some direct descendants of the ancient Khitan. Some Yunnan Han Chinese are descendants of the Khitan.
* MATSUI, Hitoshi 松井等 . "Qidan boxing shi 契丹勃興史 ". Mamden chiri-rekishi kenkyu hokoku 1 .
Translated into Chinese by Liu, Fengzhu 劉鳳翥. In Minzu Shi Yiwen Ji 民族史譯文集 10 . Repr. in: Sun, Jinji et al. 1988 , pp. 93-141
* Chen, Shu 陳述. Qidan Shi Lunzheng Gao 契丹史論證稿 . Beijing: Zhongyang Yanjiu Yuan Shixue Yanjiu Suo 中央研究院史學研究所, 1948.
* Chen, Shu 陳述. Qidan Shehui Jingji Shi Gao 契丹社會經濟史稿 . Shanghai: Sanlian Chuban She 三聯出版社, 1963.
* Feng, Jiasheng 1933.
* Shu, Fen , Liaoshi Gao 遼史稿 . Wuhan: Hubei Renmin Chuban She 湖北人民出版社, 1984
* WITTFOGEL, Karl & FENG, Chia-sheng. History of Chinese Society: Liao . Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1949.
;Post-Dynastic / Qara Khitai
* Biran, Michal. ''The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World'', ISBN 0521842263
;Useful official dynastic histories
* Wei Shu 魏史 : Wei, Shou 魏收 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1973.
* Xin Wudai Shi 新五代史 : Ouyang, Xiu 歐陽修 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1974.
* Sui Shu 隋書 : Wei Zheng 魏徵 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1973.
* Jiu Tangshu 舊唐書 : Liu, Xu 劉昫 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1975.
* Xin Tangshu 新唐書 : Ouyang, Xiu 歐陽修 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1975
* Liao Shi 遼史 : Tuotuo 脱脱 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1974
* Song Shi 宋史 : Tuotuo 脫脫 et al. eds. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1974
* Zizhi Tongjian 資治通鑒 : Sima, Guang 司馬光 ed. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局, 1956