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The Liao dynasty (Khitan: Mos Jælud; Chinese: 遼朝; pinyin: Liáo cháo), officially the Great Liao (Chinese: 大遼; pinyin: Dà Liáo), also known as the Khitan Empire (Khitan: Mos diau-d kitai huldʒi gur; Chinese: 契丹国; pinyin: Qìdān guó), was an empire in East Asia that ruled over Mongolia and portions of the Russian Far East, northern Korea, and northern China proper from 907 to 1125. The Liao dynasty was the first state to control all of Manchuria. Taking its name from the Liao River in southern Manchuria, it was founded by Abaoji, Khagan of the Khitan people around the time of the collapse of Tang China.

Almost immediately after its founding, the Liao dynasty began a process of territorial expansion, with Abaoji leading a successful conquest of Balhae. Later emperors would gain the Sixteen Prefectures by fueling a proxy war that led to the collapse of the Later Tang (923–936) and would establish tributary relationships with Goryeo and Song China after failing to conquer Goryeo.

Tension between traditional Khitan social and political practices and Chinese customs was a defining feature of the dynasty. This tension led to a series of succession crises; Liao emperors favored the Chinese concept of primogeniture, while much of the rest of the Khitan elite supported the traditional method of succession by the strongest candidate. So different were Khitan and Chinese practices that Abaoji set up two parallel governments. The Northern Administration governed Khitan areas following traditional Khitan practices, while the Southern Administration governed areas with large non-Khitan populations, adopting traditional Chinese governmental practices.

Differences between Chinese and Khitan society included gender roles and marital practices: the Khitans took an egalitarian view towards gender, in sharp contrast to Chinese cultural practices that placed women as subservient to men. Khitan women were taught to hunt, managed family property, and held military posts. Many marriages were not arranged, women were not required to be virgins until their first marriage, and women had the right to divorce and remarry.

The Liao dynasty was destroyed by the Jurchen people of the Jin dynasty in 1125 with the capture of Emperor Tianzuo of Liao. However, the remnant Khitan, led by Yelü Dashi, established the Qara Khitai (Western Liao dynasty), which ruled over parts of Central Asia for almost a century before being conquered by the Mongols. Although cultural achievements associated with the Liao dynasty are considerable, and a number of various statuary and other artifacts exist in museums and other collections, major questions remain over the exact nature and extent of the influence of the Liao Khitan culture upon subsequent developments, such as the musical and theatrical arts.

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