|This is an official seal dating to the Western Xia Dynasty (1032 - 1227). It's easy to date since it is inscribed with the Western Xia characters. Official seals were used on documents to show authenticity. The seal is quite complex and was difficult to forge, at least in those days. In Chinese culture, learning different styles of calligraphy and learning to duplicate the calligraphy of the greats is an art form and studied by both artists and as a hobby. Seals were even more important in this situation than they were in cultures where the ability to copy a signature was not so widely practiced.
The Western Xia Dynasty was under Tangut rule. The Tangut people were a people who were related to the Tibetans but who lived further north. The power vacuum left by the dissolution of the Tang resulted in the formation of many new countries. One of these was the Western Xia. It occupied parts of Northern Shaanxi, the Gansu corridor that led to the Silk Road, parts of Inner Mongolia, and southern Mongolia. They were on the western side of the Yellow River, so were called "western". The Liao Dynasty occupied the eastern side of the Yellow River, the eastern side of Inner Mongolia, Hebei, including Beijing, and continued east to the China Sea. The Jurchens controlled what are today the northeast provinces of China. The Liao Dynasty was ruled by the Khitan people who spoke a different language than the Tangut.
The Tangut people had their own language and invented a written script that was based, in part, on Chinese. It had a phonetic base but also included some pictographs used by the Chinese. The Tangut Xia built sophisticated cities, developed art, literature, and practiced Buddhism.
The Tangut Xia Dynasty was stable and prosperous for over two hundred years. It carried on trade with both the Liao and the Song Dynasties, as well as with the countries to the west and south.
Last update: March 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2010