Kublai Khan – Biography, Death & Achievements – HISTORY
- early years of kublai khan
- early rule
- kublali conquers yunnan
- the great khan
- kublai khan as emperor of the yuan dynasty
- failed military campaigns
- death and legacy of kublai khan
kublai khan was the grandson of genghis khan and the founder of the yuan dynasty in 13th century china. He was the first Mongol to rule China when he conquered the Song dynasty of southern China in 1279. Kublai (also spelled Kubla or Khubilai) relegated his Chinese subjects to the lowest class of society and even appointed foreigners, such as the Venetian explorer Marco Polo, to important positions over Chinese officials. After failed expeditions against Japan and Java, his Mongol dynasty declined towards the end of his reign and was completely overthrown by the Chinese after his death.
the early life of kublai khan
The Mongols were a nomadic clan from the regions around present-day Mongolia. After uniting individual nomadic tribes on the Mongolian plateau, Genghis Khan conquered large portions of Central Asia and China.
when genghis’s grandson kublai was born in 1215, the mongol empire stretched from the caspian sea east to the pacific ocean. That same year, the Mongols captured the northern Chinese capital city of Yen-ching (present-day Beijing), forcing the royal family to flee south.
kublai was the fourth and youngest son of genghis’s son tolui and a woman named sorkhotani beki, who was a nestorian christian princess of the kereyid confederation. Kublai and his siblings were largely raised by his mother, an intelligent and easygoing woman who devoted herself to the careers of her sons.
Little is known about Kublai’s childhood, but he and his brothers learned the art of war at an early age. Kublai was reportedly an expert in Mongolian lore, having successfully brought down an antelope at the age of nine.
kublai was also exposed to Chinese philosophy and culture early on thanks to his mother, who also made sure he learned to read and write Mongolian (although he was not taught Chinese).
when kublai was 17 years old, his father died. at that time, kublai’s uncle ogodei khan (third son of genghis khan) was the great khan and ruler of the mongol empire.
in 1236, ogodei granted kublai a fiefdom of about 10,000 families in hopei (hebei) province. Initially, Kublai did not rule the area directly and instead left his Mongol agents in charge, but they imposed such high taxes that many farmers left their homes to settle in areas not under Mongol rule.
When Kublai learned what was happening on his land, he replaced his Mongol servants and tax merchants with Chinese officials, who helped restore the economy. (By the late 1240s, those who had fled were returning, and the region stabilized.)
By the early 1240s, Kublai had amassed numerous advisers from a variety of philosophies and ethnic groups, including Turkish officials, Nestorian Christian Shiban, Mongol military, and Central Asian Muslims.
He relied heavily on Chinese advisers, and in 1242 he learned about Chinese Buddhism from the monk Hai-yun, who would become a close friend of his. other advisors taught him Confucianism, although his rudimentary understanding of the Chinese language and reading kublai was a major limitation for him.
kublali conquers yunnan
Ogodei Khan died in 1241. The title of Grand Khan eventually passed to his son Guyug in 1246, and then to Kublai’s older brother Mongke in 1251.
the great khan mongke declared kublai viceroy of north china. He sent his brother Hulegu to the west to pacify the Islamic states and lands and turned his attention to conquering South China.
in 1252, mongke ordered kublai to attack yunnan and conquer the kingdom of dali. Kublai spent more than a year preparing for his first military campaign, which lasted three years, and by the end of 1256 he had conquered Yunnan.
The successful campaign had greatly expanded Kublai’s domain and it was time for him to initiate a large-scale project that would demonstrate his growing attachment and concern for his Chinese subjects: the establishment of a new capital.
Kublai ordered his advisers to select a site based on feng shui principles, and they chose an area on the border between Chinese farmland and the Mongolian steppe.
His new northern capital would later be called shang-tu (upper capital, in contrast to chung-tu, or central capital, Beijing’s current name). Europeans would later interpret the name of the city as xanadu.
the great khan
kublai’s growing power was not lost on mongke, who dispatched two of his trusted advisers to kublai’s new capital to investigate revenue collection. after a hasty audit, they discovered what they claimed to be numerous breaches of the law and began violently purging the administration of high-ranking Chinese officials.
kublai’s Confucian and Buddhist advisers persuaded kublai to personally appeal to his brother at the family level. Confronting a religious conflict between Buddhists and Daoists and the need for allies to conquer the Song dynasty in southern China, Monkge made peace with Kublai.
kublai held a debate in his new capital in 1258. eventually, he declared the Daoists the losers of the debate and punished their leaders by forcibly converting them and their temples to Buddhism and destroying the texts.
Mongke launched his campaign against the Song Dynasty and ordered his younger brother, Arik Boke, to protect the Mongolian capital of Karakorum. In 1259, Mongke was killed in battle, and Kublai learned of his brother’s death while fighting Song in Sichuan Province.
arik boke gathered troops and held an assembly (called kuriltai) in karakorum, where he was made the great khan.
Kublai and Hulegu, who had returned from the Middle East upon learning of Mongke’s death, kept their own kurilta: Kublai was made high khan, sparking a civil war, eventually ending with Arik Boke’s surrender in 1264.
kublai khan as emperor of the yuan dynasty
As a great khan, Kublai set out to unify all of China. In 1271, he established his capital in present-day Beijing and named his empire the Yuan Dynasty, one of several efforts to win over his Chinese subjects.
His efforts paid off, with much of the Song imperial family surrendering to Kublai in 1276, but the war continued for another three years. In 1279, Kublai became the first Mongol to rule all of China when he conquered the last of the Song loyalists.
Kublai had a relatively wise and benevolent reign, and his rule was distinguished by great improvements in infrastructure (including an efficient Mongolian postal system and an extension of the Grand Canal), religious tolerance, scientific advances (improvements in the Chinese calendar, maps precise and medical institutes, among other things), paper money backed by gold reserves and commercial expansions.
Despite adopting and improving upon many Chinese systems and ideals, Kublai and his Mongols did not want to become Chinese; they kept many of their own customs and did not assimilate into Chinese life.
in 1275, marco polo appeared at the court of kublai khan. The young Venetian so impressed the ruler that he appointed him to various diplomatic and administrative posts, which he held for some 16 years before his return to Venice.
failed military campaigns
Kublai instituted a class system that placed the Mongols at the top, followed by the Central Asians, the North Chinese, and finally the South Chinese. the last two classes were more taxable, especially to finance kublai’s failed and costly military campaigns.
These campaigns included attacks on Burma, Vietnam and Sakhalin, resulting in these regions becoming tributary states to the empire with tributes sadly dwarfed by the costs of individual campaigns.
Kublai also launched two failed seaborne invasions of Japan, in 1274 and 1281.
In the second, a large armada of some 140,000 Chinese soldiers converged on ships off the island of Kyushu, but a powerful typhoon, believed by some Japanese to be a kamikaze or “divine wind,” struck the troops invasive. many of their ships were sunk and about half of the troops perished or were captured.
This was followed by an unsuccessful subjugation of Java (now Indonesia) in 1293. In less than a year, Kublai’s troops were forced to retreat, overwhelmed by tropical heat, terrain, and disease.
death and legacy of kublai khan
Kublai began to withdraw from the day-to-day administration of his empire after his favorite wife, Chabi, died in 1281 and his eldest son died in 1285.
drank and ate excessively, leading to obesity; Furthermore, the gout that had afflicted him for many years worsened. He died on February 18, 1294, at the age of 79 and was buried in the secret cemetery of the Khans in Mongolia.
uprisings against Mongol rule would begin in earnest some 30 years later, and in 1368 the yuan dynasty was overthrown.
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