The Imperial Pyramids of- China?

By: The Scribe on Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Visitors to the Helan Mountains in Yinchuan, China may have noticed strange, pyramid-shaped structures rising from the earth. These are some of the only remnants of the Tangut Empire that was exterminated by the Mongols in 1227 CE.

One of the Tangut tombs found in ChinaAlthough there are over 200 tombs of varying sizes, only nine of them belonged to members of the Imperial family. The tomb complexes were originally covered with glazed green tiles but in many cases, the tiles were pulled off and the tombs were cracked open. This was part of the campaign to exterminate the Tangut Empire that was carried out by Genghis Khan’s descendents.

The Tanguts were a fairly advanced people. The empire was founded in 982 CE, under the rulership of Li Deming. In 1038, Li Yuanhao (also known as Emperor Jingzong) commanded that a Tangut system of writing needed to be created and, after this was accomplished, then ordered that Chinese classics should be translated into that writing system. It took fifty years for the Chinese Buddhist canon to be translated into Tangut. Over time, the Empire developed an organized and efficient military and also became quite advanced in art, literature, architecture and music.

The Tanguts also had a strict legal system especially where religion was concerned. It was believed that the Tanguts were Buddhist, although there may have been some people who followed Confucianism as well. A person who wanted to teach was required to be screened by state officials and receive approval from local authorities before he was able to teach in the Tangut Empire. Charlatans and fortune-tellers in particular were persecuted by the authorities.

Women in the Tangut Empire were also allowed a role in the state’s religious practices. This was unusual in China at the time. They were permitted to be Buddhist nuns, but only if they were a virgin or had been widowed.

The Tangut people had been attacked by the Mongols six times between 1202 CE and 1226 CE. They were able to hold them back, but it wasn’t easy. This happened in spite of the fact that the Tanguts submitted to Genghis Khan in 1207 and that the leader, Xiangzong, gave his daughter to Genghis in marriage.

The Tanguts and the Mongols were allies for a time. Then, in 1216 CE, the Mongols approached the Tanguts and asked for their aid in a campaign that they were mounting against some Islamic countries. They refused. This was a disastrous decision that ultimately led to the downfall of the Tangut Empire as a whole.Genghis Khan, destroyer of the Tangut Empire

Genghis died in 1227 CE. According to some historical records, one of his last commands was that the Mongols destroy the Tanguts and wipe their empire from the face of the earth. The Mongols overran the capital of the Tangut Empire, slaughtered the residents and destroyed not only the tombs of the rulers but their literature, art and other records of their achievements. Tens of thousands of Tangut civilians were killed by the Mongols and the military was absorbed into the Mongol army.

Although the Tanguts were destroyed as a civilization, some did escape and form small communities in the Anhui and Henan provinces of China. However, as a whole, their empire had been totally destroyed and, over time the Tanguts faded into history.


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