- "The Golden Empire of Yi Ti...Even its ruins dwarf every city in Westeros, and its princes are said to live in houses of solid gold and feast on meat powdered with pearls and jade."
- ―Euron Greyjoy
Yi Ti is a region in the far east of Essos. It is located at the eastern limits of the known world, to the east of even Qarth. It is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Asshai as an extremely remote part of the world from Westeros. While Qarth is situated on the narrow straits at the western end of the Jade Sea, Yi Ti is on its northeastern shores. Merchant ships from Yi Ti and Asshai regularly visit Qarth to conduct trade.
The realm that rules over the entire geographic region is formally known as the "Golden Empire of Yi Ti".
People or things from Yi Ti are referred to as "Yi Tish".
Yi Ti is a very old and refined civilization: it was already ancient when the Valyrians were still nothing but humble shepherds (over 6,000 years ago). Unlike other ancient civilizations from that time which eventually collapsed, such as the Valyrian Freehold or the Ghiscari Empire, Yi Ti has endured across all the millennia to the present day, making it one of the richest and most advanced societies in the known world. Even the ruins of fallen cities in Yi Ti dwarf the largest cities in Westeros. Its princes are said to live opulantly in houses of solid gold, and feast on meat powdered with pearls and jade - if the stories are true.
Behind the scenes
Yi Ti is inspired by China and the Far East from real-life history. Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, who run Westeros.org and co-wrote the World of Ice and Fire sourcebook with George R.R. Martin, have confirmed this. As Linda put it, "if anyone in the Westeros-Essos continuum looks East Asian, we're talking Yi Ti." Elio said Yi Ti was "definitely inspired by Imperial China," particularly its rule by divine god-emperors. Martin himself also stated in his blog that Yi Ti and surrounding nations are his world's analogue of Far East Asia, and he directly addressed the question of why no East Asian characters figure prominently in the narrative:
- "Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world, so it is a long long way from the Asia analogue. There weren't a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either. That is not to suggest that such places don't exist, however. You will want to get The World of Ice and Fire when it comes out...in the "Other Places" section you will find a lot of material about Yi Ti, the island of Leng, and the plains of the Jogos Nhai, which you may find of interest."
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Yi Ti is one of the fabled lands of the mysterious east, along with Asshai and Hyrkoon. It lies at the far eastern edge of the known world to the peoples of Westeros, though they are in trade contact with it - albeit indirectly - via the long shipping circle around the Jade Sea.
The nation is tropical in climate, with immense jungles just inland and stretching across great swaths of the landscape. Centuries of human civilization, however, have carved out vast patchworks of green farmland from the verdant rainforest (its climate and agricultural patterns are somewhat similar to southern China).
Few Westerosi have ever traveled all the way to Yi Ti, though a handful of adventurers have made the long journey. Among them was the famous navigator Lord Corlys Velaryon, father-in-law of Rhaenyra Targaryen and nicknamed the "Sea Snake". He sailed to Yi Ti nearly 200 years before the War of the Five Kings and brought back enough rare and valuable spices to make the Velaryons, for a time, one of the richest families in Westeros. The famed explorer Lomas Longstrider also traveled to Yi Ti. While a few Westerosi have traveled to Yi Ti and it is known to be a real location, most people know very little about the area, and it is still semi-legendary to people living in Westeros (much moreso than Qarth, but not nearly as much as feared Asshai). Even the maesters only know a basic outline of its history and culture - in part because Yi Ti's scholars greatly prize their delicate, millennia-old historical scrolls, so they don't share them with outsiders.
The Lands of Ice and Fire map book confirms that Yi Ti is an immense nation, stretching around the northern coast of the Jade Sea. Its western border is just a few hundred miles east of Qarth, on the opposite side of the immense Bone Mountains which run from the southern to northern coasts of Essos. Its eastern border is adjacent to the "Shadow Lands", the mountainous peninsula that runs northeast from Asshai. Yi Ti is bordered on the north by the Plains of the Jogos Nhai, which extend all the way north to the Shivering Sea. The Jogos Nhai are a nomadic people who follow the religion of the Moonsingers. Ships traveling east to Yi Ti and lands beyond have to pass through the Jade Gates, also known as the Straits of Qarth because they are near and controlled by that city. Qarth has amassed great wealth by using its fleet to exact tolls from east-west shipping passing through the straits.
A round-trip journey from the Free City of Volantis to Asshai lasts about two years, so a round-trip journey between Volantis and Yi Ti must be somewhat shorter than that. The distance between Qarth and Yi Ti's main port city of Yin is roughly the same as the distance between Qarth and Astapor in Slaver's Bay (a journey Daenerys Targaryen made between Seasons 2 and 3). This is only the as-the-crow-flies distance in a straight line, however: a ship can go straight from Yin to Qarth, but the impassable Red Waste lies between Qarth and Astapor, so ships have to travel around the Ghiscari peninsula to approach Astapor from the west. As a result, a journey between Qarth and Yin is probably shorter than the one Daenerys made from Qarth to Astapor.
The Lands of Ice and Fire map book was only released in fall 2012, however, between Season 2 and Season 3 of the TV series. The TV series was given an early draft of the world map by Martin at the beginning of Season 2, before he made several major revisions to the geography of the eastern regions. The Viewer's Guide map drew the Jade Sea as extending far to the north of Qarth, almost up to the same latitude as Vaes Dothrak and Pentos. The subsequent official map book, however, revealed that Qarth is actually at the extreme northern end of the Jade Sea, and as one proceeds east the shoreline gradually curves to the south, not sharply to the north. In the book-continuity, this means that Yi Ti's capital city Yin is slightly south of Qarth, roughly near the same latitude as Old Valyria. The HBO Viewer's Guide, however, was not updated to take into account the new official maps produced for the book-continuity: instead, Season 3 onward continued to simply re-used the previous map designs used since Season 2. It isn't clear if this is a conscious choice, and that world geography is officially different in the TV continuity from the book continuity, or if this is simply an oversight. As a result, however, it cannot be said with certainty if Yi Ti in the TV continuity is located in the same geographic area as it is in the book continuity.
Similar to the real-life concept of yin and yang, the people of Yi Ti believe in at least two major deities: the Lion of Night, a destructive male figure who punishes the wicked, and the Maiden-Made-of-Light, a female figure who preserves and defends the good. The people of Yi Ti also worship their emperors as living gods: while there have been different dynasties over the millennia, they believe that the very first emperor (eons ago during the Dawn Age) was the only son of the Lion of Night and Maiden-Made-of-Light, known as God-on-Earth.
Yi Ti is known for its merchants who wear hats made from monkey tails, and representatives from Yi Ti come to trade at the eastern market of Vaes Dothrak. Daenerys Targaryen even spots some Yi Tish merchants in the market during the first novel. While she briefly notes these merchants, no named characters from Yi Ti have "appeared" in the novels so far. Vaes Dothrak is actually the main hub for overland trade between Yi Ti and the Free Cities - those wishing to avoid the heavy tolls on sea travel that Qarth exacts from any who pass through the Straits of Qarth use this overland route. Typically traders from the Free Cities leave from Qohor, the easternmost of the Free Cities, giving it somewhat more regular (though often indirect) trade contact with the Yi Tish and making it the most exotic of the Free Cities. The Dothraki themselves don't take part in this trade, as they don't really understand or deal with the ways of commerce. Merchants from the Free Cities come to Vaes Dothrak from the west, merchants from Yi Ti come from the east, then use the city as a meeting place to trade with each other - and both groups just give the Dothraki a regular tribute to be allowed to operate there.
Yi Ti's most famous export is saffron, which travels along trade networks all the way to Westeros, where it is a very expensive spice that only very rich noblemen can afford. Davos Seaworth mentions that saffron is worth more than gold by the time it reaches Westeros, due to the extreme cost of shipping the spice from such a far away land. Davos only tasted saffron once during a feast on Dragonstone, when King Robert sent him half a fish seasoned with saffron. The region also produces its own wines: when Tyrion Lannister flees to Pentos, he notices a flask of Yi Tish wine in the home of Illyrio Mopatis (it isn't clear how objectively good the quality is compared to other wines, or if Illyrio just got it as a prestige item because it is so expensive to import wine from such a distant land).
Yi Ti is one of the oldest civilizations in the known world, extending at least as far back as the Long Night 8,000 years ago. Several different civilizations actually have rival claims to be the eldest, particularly Yi Ti, Qarth, and the Ghiscari Empire. Of these, only the Ghiscari Empire possesses a written record extending far enough back to serve as reliable proof that it was eldest. The Ghiscari Empire actually originated before the Long Night, and was still young at the time of the cataclysm. Yi Ti claims that it had an even older empire for many thousands of years before that, during the Dawn Age, but which was destroyed during the Long Night and had to be rebuilt. The tales of this Great Empire of the Dawn (as it is known) are grandiose and apparently mostly legend, filled with emperors who lived for centuries and warred with the gods. Still, only a few generations separated the confirmed founding of both; Old Ghis slightly before the Long Night and Yi Ti slightly after - yet Old Ghis was destroyed 5,000 years ago by the rising Valyrian Freehold. In contrast, the Golden Empire of Yi Ti is by far the oldest continuous civilization in the world, both at present and throughout recorded history, with a culture and accurately transmitted historical record stretching back 8,000 years, to the end of the Long Night itself. In comparison, the Ghiscari Empire lasted about 3,000 years, and the Valyrian Freehold about 5,000 years. The civilization of Yi Ti is therefore extremely advanced, because while it has had its share of civil wars, its society never truly collapsed in the way that western Essos did after the Doom of Valyria, or experienced an effect like the Andal Invasion had on Westeros.
Lomas Longstrider described Yi Ti as "the land of a thousand gods and a hundred princes, ruled by one god-emperor." For many millennia, the country has indeed been ruled by a series of divine god-emperors, but in recent centuries their power has greatly diminished, extending no further than the boundaries of the capital city. The real power has come to reside in strong regional princedoms, numbering about a hundred or so but nominally all part of the same empire.
Yi Ti's original capital city after the Long Night was Yin, a major port on the southern coast at the mouth of a large river. The capital shifted around to different cities over the millennia depending on which dynasty was in power, and at times was located in the cities of Tiqui and Jinqi. In the present day, the capital is once again located in the ancient city of Yin, with the god-emperor living in a palace nearly the size of King's Landing, a heavily guarded city-within-a-city.
Yi Ti has a long and extensive history dating back 8,000 years, but only a vague outline of it is known to the maesters in Westeros. Since the Long Night, Yi Ti has been ruled by eleven different dynasties of emperors: the longest lasted seven centuries, the shortest only half a century. Sometimes the transitions between dynasties were peaceful, other times they were violent. On four occasions, the fall of one dynasty did not immediately lead to the establishment of a new one, but led to prolonged periods of civil war and anarchy, the longest of which lasted over a century (similar to the Three Kingdoms period in ancient China), but even this was never enough to outright destroy the literary record, knowledge, and continuous history of Yi Ti's civilization.
Each dynasty took its name from a color used as an epithet, i.e. the current dynasty are the "Azure Emperors". The exact order of Yi Ti's dynasties is unclear:
- Grey Emperors - ruled from Yin.
- Indigo Emperors - ruled from Yin.
- Jade-green Emperors - ruled from Yin. Considered a rich golden age. To display their prosperity, all the furnishings in the imperial palace were made of solid gold, even the chamber pots.
- Scarlet Emperors - perhaps the most infamous dynasty. They greatly expanded the empire and strengthened central power. Some were great statesmen, others ruthless but competent, and still others ruthless and incompetent. They moved the capital from Yin to Si Qo (which was left in ruins after their dynasty ended). Many members of the dynasty were wicked and cruel, though Lo Doq ruled wisely and well for thirty years. He survived the numerous assassinations within the imperial family by pretending to be a lackwit struck with an affliction that made him limp and drool when he tried to speak. A famous historical drama recounts his unlikely rise to the throne. The Scarlet Emperors reigned about 2,000 years ago, and warred against the Jogos Nhai to the north.
- Pearl-White Emperors - ruled from Yin. Their reign was a golden age of peace and prosperity, with nine emperors ruling for 130 good years. While each of them had children before taking the throne, they were each voluntarily castrated when they became emperor, so as not to be distracted from matters of state.
- Sea-green emperors - at least eight emperors under which Yi Ti is said to have achieved the height of its power. They also ruled from Yin. They conquered the large island of Leng off the coast in the Jade Sea, and lands as far away as Qarth and Old Ghis paid them tribute. They traded with Valyria.
- Purple Emperors - moved the capital west to Tiqui, and reinforced the western borders against the Hyrkoon city-states in the Bone Mountains to the west.
- Maroon Emperors - moved the capital east to Jinqi, and reinforced the eastern borders against raiders from the Shadow Lands and the Grey Waste.
- Yellow Emperors - died out 1,000 years ago. Traded with the Valyrians, who were then also at the height of their power. Chai Duq, the fourth emperor of the dynasty, married a Valyrian noblewoman and kept a dragon at his court.
- Azure Emperors - the current dynasty, who rule from Yin. Relatively weak, with the regional princedoms rising in power. Leng broke free from their control about four hundred years ago.
The current emperor is Bu Gai, the seventeenth Azure Emperor. However, a general on the northern frontiers named Pol Qo at the garrison city called Trader Town has declared himself the first "Orange Emperor", and is slowly gathering his strength.
Meanwhile, far to the east of even distant Asshai, the vaguest of rumors and black legends tell of the strange city of Carcosa, ruled by its "Emperor in Yellow" - allegedly the last of the Yellow Emperors, overthrown and exiled for practicing twisted dark arts. According to the stories, the Yellow Emperor has managed to prolong his life for a thousand years through arcane and unspeakable magic rituals, and he is biding his time in Carcosa until the day when he will attempt to reclaim Yi Ti. Others say that this is just a story told in Yi Ti to frighten misbehaving children.
The large island of Leng lies just off the coast south of Jinqi, though it is more of a small "region" than simply an island, as it approaches the Disputed Lands of the Free Cities in size. The island is heavily forested. Leng was colonized by Yi Ti many centuries ago - "colonized" in the imperial sense, as the island already had native inhabitants, whom the Yi Ti settlers pushed out (loosely similar to the historical tensions on Taiwan island between Chinese settlers and Taiwan aborigines - or perhaps, of Japan with Yamato settlers pushing back the indigenous Ainu people to the north). The Yi Ti settlers started on the northern end of the island, closest to the mainland, and gradually spread southwards, conquering and enslaving the natives. Even the name "Leng" is a Yi Ti name applied to the island. In modern times, three cities are located on the island. On the northern tip of the island is Leng Yi, and the central city is Leng Ma: the inhabitants of both cities are descended from Yi Ti settlers. The inhabitants of Turrani, however, at the southern tip of the island, are descended from the original native inhabitants of the island, who resisted the gradual encroachments of Yi Ti settlers from the north.
About four hundred years ago the Yi Tish settlers on Leng broke away from the rule of the emperors in Yin, and set themselves up as an independent nation, ruled by their own matrilineal line of god-empresses. The settlers who revolted against the mainland made common cause with the remaining indigenous Lengii people on the southern third of the island. The Lengii are among the tallest peoples in the world, standing seven to eight feet in height, and very slender, with teak-brown skin. Golden eyes are common amongst the Lengii, and it is said they have sharper eyesight than any other people in the world. Their women are famously beautiful. The people of Leng still "revere" the god-emperor in Yin as part of their religion, but they only "worship" their own line of god-empresses.
The Further East of Essos