Ethnic Consciousness Seen through Language Invention
At the time when the Western Xia Dynasty flourished, China proper was ruled by the Song Dynasty. Song military power was very weak weak and its territory was so small that foreign dynasties thrived around it.
The Liao Dynasty (916-1125) and the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), which emerged at almost the same period with Western Xia Dynasty, established stable foundations. The Liao Dynasty, in particular, grew strong enough to have equal diplomatic relations with the Song and was known for its cultural achievements as well as its military achievements.
China had lost its absolute power of the past. Under these circumstances, the foreign dynasties around China became more conscious of their on unique cultural heritage and ethnicity.
The Tangut, who established the Western Xia Dynasty, were originally a small tribe living around the western part of Sichuan-, wedged between the Tibetan tribes theTubo and the Tuyuhun.
At the end of the Tang period, oppressed by the power of the Tubo, the Tangut moved northeastwardly into the Ordos region, inside the southern area of an immensely great bend of the Yellow River. Until the period of the Five Dynasties and Early Song, the tribe extended its power by supporting the Chinese dynasty.
The chieftain was even bestowed the imperial surname of Li by the Tang Dynasty. As they grew stronger, however, in the time of the emperor Li Jixuan (李継遷), the Tangut rebelled against the Song Dynasty, and his Li Jixuan’s grandchild Li Yuanhao declared their independence in 1032.
He established his capital at Xingqing-fu (i.e., today’s Yinchuan) and enjoyed great prosperity by ruling over the important trade route along the Hexi Corridor. It was Li Yuanhao who also gave the order to create a new writing system. A young and patriotic leader, Li -along with his people- must have felt great pride in their culture having broken away from vassalage to China.
As ethnic consciousness increased among such outlying peoples, language invention was thought to be a symbol of their own cultural identity and therefore other outlying tribes and peoples began to engage in the practice of language invention. Not only the Western Xia, but also the Liao Dynasty created the Khitan characters and the Jin Dynasty created the Jurchen characters.
The Influence of the Turkish Uighurs should also not be ignored. They built a powerful empire to the north of the Tang Dynasty, which was then destroyed by the invasion of Kyrgyz at the end of the Tang period. At that time, the Uighurs dispersed to the east and the west.
The Uighurs who escaped to the east drifted into the territory of the Liao Dynasty. Contact with Uighurs who used their own characters, which were completely different from Chinese, is considered to have triggered the awakening of ethnic consciousness among the Khitan people in Liao.
The Khitan language had two kinds of characters: the large script made by the founder Yalu Abaoji and the small one created by his son Dieci. The small script contains many phonograms based on the Uighur characters, though their forms bear a close resemblance to those of the Chinese characters.
The Uighurs who escaped to the west invaded countries in the South-of-Tianshan Circuit where they expelled the Iranian culture that had long thrived there.
This brought about the greatest change in the history in the Tarim Basin, as it was at this time that the main inhabitants of the area came to be the Uighurs, who had replaced the previous Iranians people. The came to be called Turkestan, which means “land of the Turks,” later on.
Thus the migration of Uighurs caused drastic changes in the Silk Road regions.
The uniqueness of Uighur culture, such as the Uighur language, triggered long-lasting increases in ethnic consciousness of peoples in Khitan, Western Xia, Mongolian Yuan, and Manchurian Qing.