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The Shanyuan Treaty in 1004/05 was the pivotal point in the relations between the Northern Song (960-1127) and the Liao (916-1125) Dynasties. The ruling class of the Liao were a people of nomadic origin known as the Khitan (Qidan in Chinese) who rose in the northeast around present-day Heilongjiang Province. The Song Dynasty, also referred to as the Northern Song, ruled virtually all of China from the late tenth century when it eliminated the last of the kingdoms in the north and the south that stood against Chinese unification.

Liao-Song Relations[]

Early on from the succession of the Song Dynasty from the Five Dynasties in 960, relations between the Song and Liao were cordial. The Song had more important matters on their hand, namely the taking of the remaining kingdoms in the south and one in the north to reunify the realm. With that accomplished in 979, the Song turned their eyes on the Liao. The Song destroyed the Northern Han state in 979. The Northern Han was a Shatuo Turk kingdom that considered itself the legitimate successor of the Later Han dynasty that fell in 950. As it was under the protection of the Liao, it engendered some friction between the two. However, what concerned the Song even more was the continued possession of the strategic Sixteen Prefectures, which included present-day Beijing.

After the Northern Han was destroyed by the Song, the emperor decided to march on Liao holdings in the Sixteen Prefectures. The Song forces were routed and the emperor had to retreat in ignominy.

The Song once again tried in 986, this time trying to take advantage of a boy emperor on the Liao throne. The Song advanced on the Sixteen Prefectures in three columns. However, the Liao won decisive victories on all three fronts, and diplomatic relations were soon resumed. Emperor Zhenzong succeeded to the Song throne in 997. Throughout the decade, relations between the two worsened. In 999, the Liao Emperor Shengzong commenced annual attacks against the Song. While achieving victories in each, none were noteworthy. In 1004, this changed completely.

Liao Invasion[]

Emperor Shengzong decided to launch a major invasion of the Song in 1004. He took Khitan cavalry and encamped about one hundred miles (160 kilometers) north of the Song capital of Kaifeng. Reluctantly, Emperor Zengzong marched northward to meet the Liao at Shanyuan.

Peace Negotiations[]

From January 13 to January 18, 1005, the two sides worked out a peace treaty. Some sources say 1004 as it happened prior to the New Year on the Chinese lunar calendar. While the Liao initially expected a territorial concession in Hebei, this demand was eventually abandoned. The Song Chinese agreed to pay an annual indemnity or tribute of 200,000 bolts of silk and 100,000 ounces of silver. Furthermore, the two emperors would address one another as equals and would maintain friendly relations.

Though not specifically stated in the treaty, the two imperial families used familiar terms with one another, with the Khitan Liao holding the status of being elder, which was of great symbolic importance in Chinese culture and somewhat humiliating to the Chinese. However, opposition to this treaty among the Song was considerable, as it was believed by some that the Khitan were overexposed. However, peace was the prevailing sentiment, and this treaty avoided any further major wars between the two.

Significance of the Treaty[]

The signing of the Shanyuan Treaty was the first time that the Liao forced the Song, who considered themselves the natural heirs to the Central Kingdom (Zhong Yuan), to recognize them as peers. This relationship lasted until 1125, when the Song broke the treaty by inviting the Jurchens (later known as Manchus) to attack the Liao. The Jurchen attack in fact brought an end to both the Liao and the Northern Song relationship.

This treaty became the basis for relations between the Song and other Inner Asian states including Western Xia and the Jin Dynasty. Xi Xia incursions in the northwest (at the urging of the Liao) forced the Song to raise their payments to 300,000 bolts of silk and 200,000 ounces of silver.

The accounts of the treaty in the Liao records and the Song records does not tally with each faction. The altering of some details shows a great deal of political boundary maintenance and an attempt at keeping dignity bias, which is prevalent in the Song Dynasty faction. After the treaty was signed, the nature of the relationship between these two states changed from one of purely political rivalry to a supposed fraternal relationship. For the first time in Chinese history there were two Sons of Heaven, recognized by each other.


  • F.W. Mote (1999). Imperial China, 900-1800. Harvard University Press. pp. 68-71, 123-124. ISBN 0674012127. 
  • Tao, Jing-shen (1988). Two Sons of Heaven: Studies in Sung-Liao Relations. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0816510512. 

See also[]

  • List of treaties

it:Trattato di Shanyuan ja:セン淵の盟 zh:澶渊之盟