The Tangut were a group of people related to the Tibetans. They lived a nomadic pastoral lifestyle. They were originally located in the western part of China, thus the Chinese name Xi-Xia which means Western Xia.
The Tangut had a different name for themselves, though. Its translation in English is The Great State of the White and Lofty. Their present day name, Tangut, originates from the Mongolian word Tangyud.
Being nomadic pastoralists, the Tanguts raised livestock such as goats and camels. They moved from one location to another in search of fresh pastures for their livestock to feed on. They occupied the area which is now known as the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, and Ningxia in northwestern China.
In 799, the Tangut were divided when some tribes submitted to the Tang Dynasty due to troubles with the Tibetan Empire. These tribes then relocated to the Ordos region. It wasn't till 982 that the Tangut Empire was established, under the leadership of Li Deming.
In 1038, the Tangut developed a system of writing under the initiative of Li Deming's son, Li Yuanhao. The Song Dynasty was in power at this time and Li Yuanhao demanded that it recognize him as an Emperor. His declaration was not recognized and he was designated as governor instead.
After intense negotiations however, the Song Dynasty recognized the Tangut Empire as being de-facto independent. This fact serves as an interesting point for historians as the states were in effect equal although the diplomatic framework allowed one state (the Song) to seem superior. Many historians believe that this gesture on the part of the Song indicates their acknowledgment of the military strength of the Tangut.
Prior to Li Yuanhao, the Tangut had gradually come to accept some Chinese customs as their own. When Li Yuanhao came into power, he restricted such practices and reinforced strict measures to preserve their own culture. He brought back the practice of wearing traditional clothes and shaving the head, as opposed to Chinese garb and long, knotted hair.
It was also Li Yuanhao who commissioned the Tangut form of writing. It was based on the Chinese and Khitan forms of writing and it was made up of around 6600 logographic characters. The development of this script is attributed to a scholar named Yeli Renrong.
The Tangut language is now classified under the Tibeto-Burman category. It is said to be one of the most complicated scripts and that today, there is less than a handful of people who can understand this language. In fact, it was with the help of a Chinese-Tangut dictionary - which was compiled in the 12th century ? that scholars were able to decipher Tangut.
Buddhism was the major religion of the Tangut Empire. Religious text was translated from Sanskrit and other languages into the Tangut script. Sometimes though, they used the Tibetan script for other religious documents.
The Tangut took their religion very seriously. Before one could become a teacher, one had to undergo a rigorous screening and training process. Fortune-tellers and seers were not tolerated and were persecuted immediately. Religious leaders and teachers were not allowed to receive any material compensation for their work. The Tangut believed that such a practice was against the tenets of Buddhism.
Although this empire existed way before the Women's Liberation movement, women already played a role in their society. Women were actually allowed to participate in the religious realm as Buddhist nuns. However, one had to be a widow or a virgin in order to be allowed to do so.
There are some claims that the Tangut religion was not really Buddhism at all. Some sources actually state that the Tangut religion was based on Confucianism. However, a majority of sources give more weight on Buddhism as the state religion.
Since the Tangut occupied the trade route between Central Asia and the West, they flourished for several centuries as an empire. They also caught the unwanted attention of neighboring kingdoms. One of them, the Mongols, eventually brought the Tangut Empire to an end.
The Mongols tried to invade the Tangut six times before they succeeded in totally incorporating the two empires into one. After the second invasion in 1207, Tangut Emperor Li An-ch'uan, gave his daughter in marriage to Genghis Khan. It wasn't till 1227 that Genghis Khan forced the total surrender of the Tangut Empire. He then killed the emperor and the rest of the royal family.