Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan

Kublai or Khubilai Khan (September 23, 1215 [cite book |last= Rossabi|first= Morris|title= Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times|year= 1988|publisher= University of California Press|isbn=0-520-06740-1|pages= 13] - February 18, 1294 [cite book |last= Rossabi|first= Morris|title= Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times|year= 1988|publisher= University of California Press|isbn=0-520-06740-1|pages= 227-228] ) (Mongolian: Хубилай хаан, zh-cp|c=忽必烈|p=Hūbìliè), was a prominent Mongol ruler in the 13th century and the founder of the Yuan Dynasty. As the second son of Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki and a grandson of Genghis Khan, he claimed the title of Khagan of the Mongol Empire in 1260 after the death of his older brother Möngke (died in 1259), though his younger brother Ariq Böke was also proclaimed this title in Mongolian capital at Karakorum. He eventually won the battle against Ariq Böke in 1264, but the succession war essentially marked the end of a unified Mongol empire.

In 1271, Kublai established the Yuan Dynasty, which at that time ruled over present-day Mongolia, North China, much of Western China, and some adjacent areas, and assumed the role of a Chinese Emperor. By 1279, the Yuan forces had successfully annihilated the last resistance of the Southern Song Dynasty, and Kublai thus became the emperor of all China. His temple name is Shizu (zh-c|c=世祖).

Early years

Kublai Khan studied Chinese culture and became enamoured of it. In 1251, his elder brother Möngke became Khan of the Mongol Empire, and Kublai became the governor of the southern territories of the Mongol Empire. During his years as governor, Kublai managed his territory well, boosting the agricultural output of Henan and increasing social welfare spendings after receiving Xi'an. These acts received great acclaim from the Chinese warlords and were essential to the building of the Yuan Dynasty.

In 1253, Kublai was ordered to attack Yunnan, and he destroyed the Kingdom of Dali. In 1258, Möngke put Kublai in command of the Eastern Army and summoned him to assist with attacks on Sichuan and, again, Yunnan. Before Kublai could arrive in 1259, word reached him that Möngke had died. Kublai continued to attack Wuhan, but soon received news that his younger brother Ariq Böke had held a kurultai at the Mongolian imperial capital of Karakorum and was pronounced Great Khan. Most of Genghis Khan's descendants favored Ariq Böke as Great Khan; however, his two brothers Kublai and Hulegu were in opposition.

Kublai quickly reached a peace agreement with Song troops and returned north to the Mongolian plains, in order to oppose Ariq Böke's claim to the title of Great Khan.

Upon returning to his own territories, Kublai summoned a kurultai of his own. Only a small number of the royal family supported Kublai's claims to the title, though the small number of attendees still proclaimed him Great Khan, despite his younger brother Ariq Böke was also proclaimed this title.

This subsequently led to warfare between Kublai and his younger brother Ariq Böke, which resulted in the eventual destruction of the Mongolian capital at Karakorum. Kublai only won in battle after four years in 1264. However, this event essentially marked the end of a unified Mongol empire. The western Mongol khanates became "de-facto" independent and Kaidu, who ruled most of present-day Xinjiang and Central Asia, would be waging almost continuous warfare for a few decades against Kublai.

During the war with Ariq Böke, Yizhou governor Li Tan revolted against Mongol rule in February 1262. Hearing this, Kublai ordered his Chancellor Shi Tianze and Shi Shu to take the offense against Li Tan. These two armies crushed Li Tan's revolt in a few months and Li Tan was executed. Execution was also the fate of Wang Wentong, who was the father-in-law of Li Tan and had been appointed the Chief Administrator (zh-c|c=平章政事) of the Zhongshusheng (Chinese: 中書省, "Department of Central Governing") early in Kublai's reign and became one of the most trusted Han Chinese officials of Kublai. This incident instilled in him a strong distrust of ethnic Hans. After he became emperor, Kublai began to ban the titles of and tithes to Han Chinese warlords.

Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty

The decisive steps to assume the role of a Chinese Emperor (皇帝, huangdi) took place under Kublai Khan after some initial and inconclusive efforts under earlier rulers.Franke, Herbert, "From Tribal Chieftain to Universal Emperor ans God: The Legitimation of the Yuan Dynasty", Munich: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, pp25-26] As emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan worked to minimize the influences of regional lords who had held immense power before and during the Song Dynasty. Although Kublai Khan wished to signal to the Han Chinese that he intended to adopt the trappings and style of a Chinese ruler, [Rossabi, M. "Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times", p56] his mistrust of ethnic Han Chinese caused him to appoint Mongols, Central Asians, Muslims and few Europeans to high positions more often than Han Chinese. Kublai began to suspect Han Chinese when his Chinese minister's son-in-law revolted against him while he was fighting against Ariq Böke in Mongolia, [John Man-Kublai khan, p 131] though he continued to invite and use many Han Chinese advisers such as Liu Bingzhong and Xu Heng.

In the 8th Year of Zhiyuan (1271), Kublai Khan officially declared the creation of the Yuan Dynasty, and proclaimed the capital to be at Dadu (zh-cw|c=大都|w=Ta-tu, lit. "Great Capital", a.k.a. Khanbalyk, at what today is Beijing) in the following year. His summer capital was in Shangdu (zh-c|c=上都, "Upper Capital", a.k.a. Xanadu, near what today is Dolonnur). To unify China [Rossabi, M. "Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times", p76] , Kublai Khan began a massive offensive against the remnants of the Southern Song Dynasty in the 11th year of Zhiyuan (1274), and finally destroyed the Song Dynasty in the 16th year of Zhiyuan (1279), unifying the country at last.

China proper and Mongolia itself [Rossabi, M. "Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times", University of California Press, p247, n62] [ [http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Yuan/yuan-map.html The Branch Secretariats of the Yuan Empire] ] were administered in 10 provinces (Chinese: 行中書省 or 行省) during his reign with a governor and vice-governor each. Aside from the 10 provinces was the Central Region (Chinese: 腹裏), consisting of much of present-day North China, was considered the most important region of the dynasty and directly governed by the Zhongshusheng (Chinese: 中書省, "Department of Central Governing") at Dadu. In addition, Tibet was governed by another top-level administrative department called the Xuanzheng Institute (Chinese: 宣政院).

He ruled well, promoting economic growth with the rebuilding of the Grand Canal, repairing public buildings, and extending highways. However, Kublai Khan's domestic policy also included some aspects of the old Mongol living traditions, and as Kublai Khan continued his reign, these traditions would clash more and more frequently with traditional Chinese economic and social culture.

In 1273, He issued a new series of state sponsored bills, which was used throughout the country, although eventually a lack of fiscal discipline and inflation turned this move into an economic disaster in the later course of the dynasty. It was required to pay in only in the form of paper money called Chao. To ensure its use in circles, Kublai's government confiscated gold and silver from private citizens as well as foreign merchants. But traders received government-issued notes in exchange. That is why Kublai khan is considered to be the first of fiat money makers. The paper bills made collecting taxes and administering the huge empire much easier while reducing cost of transporting coins [Jack Weatherford - The history of Money, p127] . Later Gaykhatu of the Ilkhanate attempted to adopt the system in Persia and Middle east, which was however a complete failure, and he was assassinated shortly after that.

He encouraged Asian arts and demonstrated religious tolerance, except in regards to Taoism. The empire was visited by several Europeans, notably Marco Polo in the 1270s who may have seen the summer capital Shangdu.

He made Goryeo (Korea) a tributary ally in 1260. The Yuan helped Wonjong stabilized his control over Korea in 1271. Kublai Khan also tried to establish tributary relationships with other countries, which were however rebuffed. Under pressure from his Mongolian advisors, Kublai decided to invade Japan, Burma, Vietnam and Java. These costly, failed attempts, along with the introduction of paper currency, caused inflation. However, Kublai Khan also forced warlords from the Northwest and Northeast to capitulate, ensuring stability for those regions. Kublai Khan died in the 31st year of Zhiyuan (1294).

Invasions of Japan

Kublai Khan twice attempted to invade Japan; however, both times, it is believed that bad weather, or a flaw in the design of the ships, destroyed the fleets. The first invasion attempt took place in 1274, with a fleet of 900 ships. The second invasion occurred in 1281, with a fleet of over 1,170 large war junks, each close to 240 feet long. The campaign was badly organized, and the Korean fleet reached Japan well ahead of the Chinese fleet. Overall, the Japanese fought very little in the invasion, but the times they did, they lost.

Dr. Kenzo Hayashida, the marine archaeologist, headed the investigation that discovered the wreckage of the second invasion fleet off the western coast of Dokdo. His team's findings strongly indicate that Kublai Khan rushed to conquer Japan and attempted to construct his enormous fleet in only one year (a task that should have taken up to 5 years). This forced the Chinese to use any available ships, including river boats, in order to achieve readiness. Most importantly, the Chinese, then under the Khan's control, were forced to build many ships quickly in order to contribute to the fleet in both of the invasions. Hayashida theorizes that, had Kublai used standard, well-constructed ocean-going ships, which have a curved keel to prevent capsizing, his navy might have survived the journey to and from Japan and might have conquered it as intended.

David Nicole writes in "The Mongol Conquerors" that "these disastrous defeats shattered the myth of Mongol invincibility throughout Asia." He also wrote that Kublai Khan was determined to mount a third invasion, despite the horrendous cost to the economy and to his and Mongol prestige of the first two defeats, and only his death prevented such a third attempt, despite the unanimous agreement of his advisors against such an attempt."

In 1293, Yuan navy captured 100 japanese from Okinawa.

Invasions of Vietnam

Kublai Khan also twice invaded Dai Viet. The first one (the second Mongols’ invasion to Dai Viet) is started in December 1284 when Mongols under the commander of Toghan (the prince of Kublai Khan) crossed the border and quickly occupied Thăng Long (now Hanoi) in January 1285 after the victory battle of Omar in Vạn Kiếp (north east of Hanoi) and at the same time Sogetu from Champa moved northward and rapidly marched to Nghe An (in the north central region of Vietnam now) where the army of the Tran under the general Tran Kien surrender him. However, the Trần kings and the commander-in-chief Trần Hưng Đạo turns the tide from defence to attack the Mongols. In April, General Trần Quang Khải defeats Sogetu in Chuong Duong (now part of Hanoi) and then the Trần kings won a big battle in Tây Kết where Sogetu died. Soon after, general Trần Nhật Duật also won the battle in Hàm Tử (now part of Hưng Yên) while Toghan was defeated by Trần Hưng Đạo and the Mongols failed their second attempt (the first invasion of Kublai Khan) to invade Đại Việt .

The second invasion to Đại Việt of Kublai Khan was in 1287 after the more careful preparation by Kublai Khan for a big fleet and a large stock of food for the Mongols since 1286. The Mongols under the commander of Toghan moved to Vạn Kiếp (from north west) and met the infantry and cavaltry of Omar (coming by another way along the Red River) and there they quickly won the battle. The naval fleet rapidly won the battle in Vân Đồn (near Ha Long Bay) but they left the heavy cargo ships with full stock of food for the Mongols behind. And general Trần Khánh Dư quickly captured all of the food. As foreseen, the Mongolians in Thăng Long (now Hanoi) suffered an acute shortage of food. Without any news about the supply fleet Toghan found himself in a tight corner and had to order his army to retreat to Vạn Kiếp. This was when Đại Việt's Army began the general offensive by recapturing a number of locations occupied by the Mongol invaders. Groups of infantry were given orders to attack the Mongols in Vạn Kiếp. Toghan had to split his army into two and retreat.In early April the naval fleet led by Omar and escorted by infantry fled home along the Bạch Đằng river. As bridges and roads were destroyed and attacks were launched by Đại Việt's troops, the Mongols reached Bạch Đằng without the infantry escorted. Đại Việt's small flotilla engaged in battle and pretended to retreat. The Mongols eagerly pursued Đại Việt troops and fell into their prearranged battlefield. "Thousands" of Đại Việt's small boats from both banks quickly appeared, fiercely launched the attack and broke the combat formation of the enemy. Inflicted with a sudden and strong attack, the Mongols tried to withdraw to the sea in panic. Hitting the stakes, their boats were halted, many of which were broken and sunken. At that time, a number of fire rafts quickly rushed toward them. Frightened, the Mongolian troops jumped down to get to the banks where they were dealt a heavy blow an army led by the Trần king and Trần Hưng Đạo. The Mongolian naval fleet was totally destroyed and Omar was captured. At the same time, Đại Việt's Army made continuous attacks and smashed to pieces Toghan’s army on its route of withdrawal through Lạng Sơn. Toghan risked his life making a shortcut through forests to flee home. The third attempt of invasion to Đại Việt (the second invasion of Kublai Khan) failed too.

Although these failures ended Kublai Khan’s dream of expanding his territory southward, especially to control the Spice Route, in 1288-1293, the states of Annam, Champa and Thai had recognized Kublai's supremacy in order to avoid more conflicts.


On 5 May 1260 Kublai was elected Khan at his residence in Shangdu and he began to organize the country. Zhang Wenqian, who was a friend of Guo and like him was a central government official, was sent by Kublai Khan in 1260 to Daming where unrest had been reported in the local population. Guo accompanied Zhang on his mission. Guo was not only interested in engineering, but he was also an expert astronomer. In particular he was a skilled instrument maker and understood that good astronomical observations depended on expertly made instruments. He now began to construct astronomical instruments, including water clocks for accurate timing and armillary spheres which represent the celestial globe.

Zhang advised Kublai Khan that his friend Guo was a leading expert in hydraulic engineering. Kublai knew the importance of water management, for irrigation, transport of grain, and flood control, and he asked Guo to look at these aspects in the area between Dadu (now Beijing or Peking) and the Yellow River. To provide Dadu with a new supply of water, Guo found the Baifu spring in the Shenshan Mountain and had a 30 km channel built to bring the water to Dadu. He proposed connecting the water supply across different river basins, built new canals with many sluices to control the water level, and achieved great success with the improvements which he was able to make. This pleased Kublai Khan and led to Guo being asked to undertake similar projects in other parts of the country. In 1264 he was asked to go to Gansu province to repair the damage that had been caused to the irrigation systems by the years of war during the Mongul advance through the region. Guo travelled extensively along with his friend Zhang taking notes of the work which needed to be done to unblock damaged parts of the system and to make improvements to its efficiency. He sent his report directly to Kublai Khan.

Later life

In the later part of his life, Kublai developed severe gout. He also gained weight due to a fondness for eating animal organs and other delicacies. This also more than likely increased the amount of purines in his blood, leading to his problems with gout, and ultimately to his death in 1294. His overeating may have been related to the deaths of not only his favorite wife, but also his chosen heir.

Coleridge poem

Kublai and Shangdu or Xanadu are the subject of the English Romantic Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan". Coleridge makes Xanadu a symbol of mystery and splendour.


General note: Dates given here are in the Julian calendar. They are not in the proleptic Gregorian calendar.


* Morgan, David. "The Mongols" (Blackwell Publishers; Reprint edition, April 1990), ISBN 0-631-17563-6.
* Rossabi, Morris. "Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times " (University of California Press (May 1, 1990)) ISBN 0-520-06740-1.
* Saunders, J.J. "The History of the Mongol Conquests" (University of Pennsylvania Press (March 1, 2001)) ISBN 0-8122-1766-7.
* Man, John. "Kublai Khan"
* Man, John. "Genghis Khan"

External links

* [http://www.galmarley.com/framesets/fs_monetary_history_faqs.htm Inflation under Kublai]
* [http://www.archaeology.org/0301/etc/kamikaze.html Relics of the Kamikaze] (Archaeological Institute of America)


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