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I was under the impression that Genghis Khan was an invader while Kublai was more of a patron of fine arts; but reading Wikipedia it mainly mentions his campaigns for the Mongol throne and the unification of China.
Did he actually contribute significantly to world culture, and if so in what ways?
The most important thing Kublai Khan did for culture was to found the Yuan Dynasty, which sought to rule what Genghis had conquered. It initiated trade between east and west, cross-pollinating ideas and culture. Specifically in China, this resulted in advancements in the arts - painting, calligraphy and poetry combined into a new discipline similar to Persian art, and poetry likewise was introduced to theater, along with western instruments, in zaju and sanqu.
Pax Mongolia pretty much re-established the entire Silk Road that previously languished due to wars and inconsistent tariffs.
The cultural impact of Marco Polo is strongly linked with Kublai Khan as this was who Marco Polo was said to have visited as a high point of his Asian journey.
What the Mongols may have taken in lives and bubonic plague is perhaps offset by a long step forward in international trade and globalisation; or at least accelerated thereby.
In two words, Marco Polo.
This was a teenaged Venetian who travelled with his father an uncle to Kublai Khan's China. When he returned to Venice in his middle age, he brought back Chinese "apps" in paper currency, astronomy and navigation that helped the Venetians and others in their naval and trading endeavors, as well as more accurate maps of the land routes between Europe and China. Polo is sometimes credited with bringing back cultural influences, such as Chinese noodles for Italian spaghetti, but that is less well documented.
Kublai Khan also founded the Yuan Dynasty, which lasted nearly 100 years, and ruled over it for its first twenty-odd most peaceful and profitable years. During his reign, he improved ship and canal building, and trade generally, particularly internal trade. The art of ceramics (porcelain) also made a new high during the Yuan Dynasty.
Establishment of the Yuan Dynasty
After Kublai took over control of the Chinese territories with the blessings of Möngke Khan around 1251, he sought to establish a firmer hold on these vast regions. Rivaling dynasties loomed throughout the Chinese territories making for a contentious political background to Kublai’s rule. His greatest obstacle was the powerful Song dynasty in the south. He stabilized the northern regions by placing a hostage puppet leader in Korea named Wonjong in 1259. After the death of Möngke in that same year, and the following civil war, Kublai was named the Great Khan and successor of Möngke. This new powerful position allowed Kublai to oversee uprisings and wars between the western khanates and assist rulers (often family members) to oversee these regions. However, his tenuous hold in the east occupied most of his resources.
In 1271, as he continued to consolidate his power over the vast and varying Chinese subjects and outlying regions, Kublai Khan renamed his khanate the Yuan Dynasty. His newly named dynasty appeared to be successful after the fall of the major southern center Xiangyang in 1273 to Mongol forces after five years of struggle. The final piece of the puzzle for Kublai was the conquest of the Song Dynasty in southern China. He finally garnered this sought-after southern region in 1276 and the last Song emperor died in 1279 after years of costly battles. With this success, the Mongols became the first non-Chinese people to conquer all of the Chinese territories. Kublai moved his headquarters to Dadu, what later became the modern city of Beijing. His establishment of a capital there was a controversial move to many Mongols who accused him of being too closely tied to Chinese culture. However, the Yuan Dynasty often functioned as an independent khanate from the rest of the western Mongol-dominated regions.
Yuan Dynasty circa 1292.The sheer scale of this khanate required extensive military support and often strained the Mongol treasury in order to keep populations under its influence.
CULTURE - ART - HISTORY
Kublai Khan (September 23, 1215 – February 18, 1294), born Kublai and also known by the temple name Shizu, was the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empir, reigning from 1260 to 1294, although it was only nominally due to the division of the empire. He also founded the Yuan dynasty in China as a conquest dynasty in 1271, and ruled as the first Yuan emperor until his death in 1294.
Kublai was the fourth son of Tolui (his second son with Sorghaghtani Beki) and a grandson of Genghis Khan. He succeeded his older brother Möngke as Khagan in 1260, but had to defeat his younger brother Ariq Böke in the Toluid Civil War lasting until 1264. This episode marked the beginning of disunity in the empire. Kublai's real power was limited to China and Mongolia, though as Khagan he still had influence in the Ilkhanate and, to a significantly lesser degree, in the Golden Horde. If one counts the Mongol Empire at that time as a whole, his realm reached from the Pacific to the Black Sea, from Siberia to modern day Afghanistan – one fifth of the world's inhabited land area.
In 1271, Kublai established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China, Korea, and some adjacent areas, and assumed the role of Emperor of China. By 1279, the Yuan forces had overcome the last resistance of the Southern Song dynasty, and Kublai became the first non-native Emperor to conquer all of China.
Kublai was the fourth son of Tolui, and his second son with Sorghaghtani Beki. As his grandfather Genghis Khan advised, Sorghaghtani chose a Buddhist Tangut woman as her son's nurse, whom Kublai later honored highly. On his way home after the conquest of the Khwarizmian Empire, Genghis Khan performed a ceremony on his grandsons Möngke and Kublai after their first hunt in 1224 near the Ili River. Kublai was nine years old and with his eldest brother killed a rabbit and an antelope. His grandfather smeared fat from killed animals onto Kublai's middle finger in accordance with a Mongol tradition.
After the Mongol–Jin War, in 1236, Ögedei gave Hebei Province (attached with 80,000 households) to the family of Tolui, who died in 1232. Kublai received an estate of his own, which included 10,000 households. Because he was inexperienced, Kublai allowed local officials free rein. Corruption amongst his officials and aggressive taxation caused large numbers of Chinese peasants to flee, which led to a decline in tax revenues. Kublai quickly came to his appanage in Hebei and ordered reforms. Sorghaghtani sent new officials to help him and tax laws were revised. Thanks to those efforts, many of the people who fled returned.
The most prominent, and arguably most influential, component of Kublai Khan's early life was his study and strong attraction to contemporary Chinese culture. Kublai invited Haiyun, the leading Buddhist monk in North China, to his ordo in Mongolia. When he met Haiyun in Karakorum in 1242, Kublai asked him about the philosophy of Buddhism. Haiyun named Kublai's son, who was born in 1243, Zhenjin (True Gold in English). Haiyun also introduced Kublai to the former Taoist and now Buddhist monk, Liu Bingzhong. Liu was a painter, calligrapher, poet, and mathematician, and he became Kublai's advisor when Haiyun returned to his temple in modern Beijing. Kublai soon added the Shanxi scholar Zhao Bi to his entourage. Kublai employed people of other nationalities as well, for he was keen to balance local and imperial interests, Mongol and Turk.
In 1251, Kublai's eldest brother Möngke became Khan of the Mongol Empire, and Khwarizmian Mahmud Yalavach and Kublai were sent to China. Kublai received the viceroyalty over North China and moved his ordo to central Inner Mongolia. During his years as viceroy, Kublai managed his territory well, boosted the agricultural output of Henan, and increased 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 1252, Kublai criticized Mahmud Yalavach, who was never highly valued by his Chinese associates, over his cavalier execution of suspects during a judicial review, and Zhao Bi attacked him for his presumptuous attitude toward the throne. Möngke dismissed Mahmud Yalavach, which met with resistance from Chinese Confucian-trained officials.
In 1253, Kublai was ordered to attack 云南, and he asked the Kingdom of Dali to submit. The ruling Gao family resisted and killed Mongol envoys. The Mongols divided their forces into three. One wing rode eastward into the Sichuan basin. The second column under Subutai's son Uryankhadai took a difficult route into the mountains of western Sichuan. Kublai went south over the grasslands and met up with the first column. While Uryankhadai travelled along the lakeside from the north, Kublai took the capital city of Dali and spared the residents despite the slaying of his ambassadors. Duan Xingzhi, the last king of Dali, was appointed by Möngke Khan as the first local ruler Duan accepted the stationing of a pacification commissioner there. After Kublai's departure, unrest broke out among certain factions. In 1255 and 1256, Duan Xingzhi was presented at court, where he offered Mengu, the Yuan Emperor Xienzhong, maps of Yunnan and counsels about the vanquishing of the tribes who had not yet surrendered. Duan then led a considerable army to serve as guides and vanguards for the Mongolian army. By the end of 1256, Uryankhadai had completely pacified Yunnan.
Kublai was attracted by the abilities of Tibetan monks as healers. In 1253 he made Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, of the Sakya order, a member of his entourage. Phagpa bestowed on Kublai and his wife, Chabi (Chabui), a Tantric Buddhist initiation. Kublai appointed Buddhist Uyghur Lian Xixian (1231) the head of his pacification commission in 1254. Some officials, who were jealous of Kublai's success, said that he was getting above himself and dreaming of having his own empire by competing with Möngke's capital Karakorum (Хархорум). The Great Khan Möngke sent two tax inspectors, Alamdar (Ariq Böke's close friend and governor in North China) and Liu Taiping, to audit Kublai's officials in 1257. They found fault, listed 142 breaches of regulations, accused Chinese officials and executed some of them, and Kublai's new pacification commission was abolished. Kublai sent a two-man embassy with his wives and then appealed in person to Möngke, who publicly forgave his younger brother and reconciled with him.
The Taoists had obtained their wealth and status by seizing Buddhist temples. Möngke repeatedly demanded that the Taoists cease their denigration of Buddhism and ordered Kublai to end the clerical strife between the Taoists and Buddhists in his territory. Kublai called a conference of Taoist and Buddhist leaders in early 1258. At the conference, the Taoist claim was officially refuted, and Kublai forcibly converted 237 Taoist temples to Buddhism and destroyed all copies of the Taoist texts. Kublai Khan and the Yuan dynasty clearly favored Buddhism, while his counterparts in the Chagatai Khanate, the Golden Horde, and the Ilkhanate later converted to Islam at various times in history – Berke of the Golden Horde being the only Muslim during Kublai's era (his successor did not convert to Islam).
In 1258, Möngke put Kublai in command of the Eastern Army and summoned him to assist with an attack on Sichuan. As he was suffering from gout, Kublai was allowed to stay home, but he moved to assist Möngke anyway. Before Kublai arrived in 1259, word reached him that Möngke had died. Kublai decided to keep the death of his brother secret and continued the attack on Wuhan, near the Yangtze River. While Kublai's force besieged Wuchang, Uryankhadai joined him. The Song Dynasty minister Jia Sidao secretly approached Kublai to propose terms. He offered an annual tribute of 200,000 taels of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk, in exchange for Mongol agreement to the Yangtze River as the frontier between the states. Kublai declined at first but later reached a peace agreement with Jia Sidao.
Changes under Kublai Khan and his successors
Kublai Khan’s ascendancy in 1260 marked a definite change in Mongol government practice. Kublai moved the seat of Mongol government from Karakorum in Mongolia to Shangdu (“Upper Capital”), near present-day Dolun in Inner Mongolia. In 1267 the official capital was transferred to Zhongdu, where Kublai ordered the construction of a new walled city, replete with grand palaces and official quarters, that was renamed Dadu (“Great Capital”) before its completion. Under its Turkicized name, Cambaluc (Khan-baliq, “The Khan’s Town”), the capital became known throughout Asia and even Europe. But, true to nomad traditions, the Mongol court continued to move between these two residences—Shangdu in summer and Dadu in winter. With the establishment of Dadu as the seat of the central bureaucracy, Mongolia and Karakorum no longer remained the centre of the Mongol empire. Mongolia began to fall back to the status of a northern borderland, where a nomadic way of life continued and where Mongol grandees, dissatisfied with the growing Sinicization of the court, repeatedly engaged in rebellions.
Kublai, who even prior to 1260 had surrounded himself with Chinese advisers such as the eminent Buddho-Daoist Liu Bingzhong and several former Jin scholar-officials, was still the nominal overlord of the other Mongol dominions (ulus) in Asia. By then, however, his Chinese entourage had persuaded him to accept the role of a traditional Chinese emperor. A decisive step was taken in 1271 when the Chinese dominion was given a Chinese dynastic name—Da Yuan, the “Great Origin.” Before this the Chinese name for the Mongol state was Da Chao (“Great Dynasty”), introduced about 1217. It was a translation of the Mongol name Yeke Mongghol Ulus (“Great Mongol Nation”) adopted by Genghis Khan about 1206. The new name, however, was a departure from Chinese traditions. All earlier Chinese dynasties were named for ancient feudal states or geographic terms even the Khitan and the Juchen had followed this tradition by naming their states Liao (for the Liao River in Manchuria) and Jin (“Gold,” for a river in Manchuria that had a Juchen name with that meaning). Yuan was the first nongeographic name of a Chinese dynasty since Wang Mang established the Xin dynasty (9–25 ce ).
During the 1260s the central bureaucracy and the local administration of the Chinese empire were remodeled on Chinese lines, with certain alterations introduced by the Jin state. The Central Secretariat remained the most important civilian authority, with specialized agencies such as the traditional six ministries of finance, war, officials, rites, punishments, and public works. The Shumiyuan (Military Council) was another institution inherited from previous dynasties. A Yushitai ( Censorate) was originally created for remonstrations against the emperor and criticism of policies, but increasingly it became an instrument of the court itself and a tool to eliminate other members of the bureaucracy. In the main the territorial divisions followed Chinese models, but the degree of local independence was much smaller than it had been under the Song the provincial administrations were actually branches of the Central Secretariat. The structures of the various provincial administrations throughout China were smaller replicas of the Central Secretariat. According to Chinese sources, in 1260–61 the lower echelons in the Central Secretariat were mostly Chinese the high offices, however, even if they had traditional Chinese names, were reserved for non-Chinese. Surprisingly, Kublai Khan had few Mongols in high administrative positions apparently suspicious of some of his tribal leaders, he preferred absolute foreigners. The military sphere was affected least by the attempts to achieve a synthesis between Chinese and native ways of life there the Mongol aristocracy remained supreme.
Too many antagonistic social and ethnic groups existed within the Yuan government to secure a stable rule. The traditional Chinese value system had largely disappeared, and no political ethics had replaced it. While personalized loyalty focused on the ruler, the companionship of nökör relations was not enough to amalgamate the heterogeneous ruling group into a stable body. This unbalanced system of government could function only under a strong ruler under a weak or incompetent emperor, disintegration was certain, and a decline in efficiency resulted.
The former scholar-officials of China remained to a great extent outside the governmental and administrative structure only minor positions were open to them. The Mongols never made full use of the administrative potential of the scholar-officials, fearing their competence and abilities. The ruling foreign minority in China was more an elite of the colonialist type than a part of the Chinese social system.
The unwillingness of the Mongols to assimilate with the Chinese is shown by their attempts to cement the inequalities of their rule. After the Song empire had been conquered, the population of China was divided into four classes. The first class was the Mongols themselves, a tiny but privileged minority. Next came the semuren (“persons with special status”), confederates of the Mongols such as Turks or Middle Eastern Muslims. The third group was called the hanren (a term that generally means Chinese but that was used to designate the inhabitants of only northern China) this class included the Chinese and other ethnic groups living in the former Jin state, as well as Xi Xia, Juchen, Khitan, Koreans, Bohai, and Tangut, who could be employed in some functions and who also formed military units under Mongol leadership. The last group was the nanren, or manzi, pejorative terms in Chinese, meaning “southern barbarian,” which designated the former subjects of Song China (about three-fourths of the Chinese empire). The lowest stratum in Yuan China was occupied by the slaves, whose numbers were quite considerable. Slave status was hereditary, and only under certain conditions could a slave be freed.
More than four-fifths of the taxpayers came from the nanren group, which was generally barred from holding higher office (only rarely would one of them rise to some prominence). The Mongols and the semuren were tax-exempt and enjoyed the protection of the law to a higher degree than did the hanren and nanren.
The formal distinction between various ethnic groups and the corresponding graded status was not a Mongol invention but a social differentiation inherited from the Jin state. In the same way, many institutions were taken over from the Jin. Law in Yuan China was based partly on the legislation of the Jin and partly on traditional Chinese law Mongol legal practices and institutions also played a great role, particularly in penal law. The Yuan legal code has been preserved in the dynastic history, Yuanshi, as well as other sources. In addition, many rules, ordinances, and decisions of individual cases are collected in compilations such as Yuandianzhang, which throw much light not only on the legal system but also on social conditions in general.
Mongol and Chinese dualism is also reflected in the problem of administrative documents and languages. Few of the ruling Mongols, even in the later years of the Yuan, knew Chinese, and the number who mastered the Chinese script was still smaller. On the other hand, only a few Chinese bothered to learn the language of their conquerors. Administration and jurisdiction therefore had to rely largely on interpreters and translators. Mongol was the primary language most decisions, ordinances, and decrees were originally drafted in Mongol, and a Chinese interlinear version was added. This Chinese version was in the colloquial language instead of the formal documentary style, and it followed the Mongol word order so that it must have seemed barbaric to the native literati. Many of these Chinese versions have survived in collections such as Yuandianzhang.
Early Humans Became Tall and Thin 1.5 Million Years Ago to Survive Outside the Forest. For most of hominid evolution, our ancestors got heavier as they got taller. However, about 1.5 million years ago, humans had a growth spurt, suddenly becoming tall and lanky. This was likely a response to changes in human behavior.
In short, there isn’t a way you can limit how tall you’ll be unless there’s an underlying medical issue at hand. Concerns over being “too tall” primarily stemmed from psychosocial considerations that were prominent between the 1950s and 1990s.
This Week in China’s History: December 18, 1271
Students of Chinese history often memorize the “parade of dynasties” — Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing (sometimes with a preamble of Xia, Shang, Zhou) — using cram sessions and mnemonic jingles. But though the effort has resulted in a lot of A’s, the dynastic hit parade is poison when it comes to understanding history. With that in mind, this week we look back to December 18, 1271, when the Great Khan of the Mongols — Kublai Khan — proclaimed the new Yuan dynasty and fashioned himself a Chinese emperor.
Kublai’s empire, a successor to one of the Khanates that comprised the vast Mongol empire that traversed Asia in the 13th century, would reign over much of what is now China, as well as Mongolia and other territory in Central and Eastern Asia. The following year, he moved his capital from Shangdu — the Xanadu of Coleridge’s dreams — to the former capital city of the Jin dynasty. Renamed Dàdū 大都, the city would be better known by the name it assumed in the Ming dynasty: Beijing. Himself a Mongol, Kublai Khan established what would be (usually) the capital of China for nearly a millennium.
The fact that Kublai took a Chinese dynastic and reign name, and its new capital at the site of what is China’s capital today, contributes to our sense that this was a new Chinese dynasty. The Yuan dynasty’s subjects were not exclusively Han Chinese, but by claiming the Mandate of Heaven — the mythic, supernatural credential that legitimated Chinese rulers — the Mongols were joining a lineage that has defined Chinese statecraft and Chinese civilization.
You can see it right in the batting order of dynasties: Yuan is a Chinese dynasty.
Except it’s not. Or at least, not only.
And I’m not (mainly) talking about the “conquest dynasties,” like the Mongols’ Yuan or the Manchu Qing. These are often presented as exceptions that prove the rule: foreign powers who conquer China but — in the traditional historiography — are both too impressed by, and too much of a minority within, China to change it. There are other exceptions too: both the Sui and the Tang royal houses mixed Han Chinese and central Asian blood, and occasionally the Jurchen Jin or Khitan Liao dynasties get promoted to the top tier, but even these observations are problematic. Claiming that some dynasties “weren’t really” Chinese suggests that the others were, and that’s where the problems really lie, because the issue is not who rules China, but what is China.
Georgetown historian James Millward argued recently on Medium that we need nothing less than a completely new approach to how we teach Chinese history. His ambitious and insightful essay has many targets for reform, including chronology and eurocentrism, but for my money the most fundamental are his calls to overhaul our “examined yet problematic conception of ‘China’ itself.”
This is the problem with the “parade of dynasties”: it presumes that there was a single thing that could uncontroversially be called “China” across the span of (at least) 2,200 years, taking today’s Chinese borders and projecting them back into the past. The People’s Republic of China — like every modern nation-state — presents itself as the heir to an immutable, timeless entity. It draws its legitimacy from this past, enabling a claim that it is not just 70 years old, but “heir to” the cliched “5,000 years of history.”
I often think of it this way: the parade of dynasties gives the impression that there is a ship we call China that has sailed through, and throughout, time. Since ships are pretty stable, we assume that it has remained the same basic size and composition as it ploughs the waters of history. And since we are assigning it today’s boundaries, we are also meant to assign it today’s linguistic, ethnic, and cultural features.
In this model, dynasties are essentially captains. Captains change from time to time, and might plot a new course, but their ship is fundamentally the same. Through this logic, the China that the CCP rules in 2020 is essentially the one ruled in 1900 by the Qing dynasty, in 1400 by the Ming dynasty, in 1300 by the Yuan, in 800 by the Tang, and so forth, back through the millennia.
Convenient, but mostly wrong.
There are a lot of issues, but I’ll focus on just two problems caused by projecting China’s current boundaries back into the past.
Problem one overstates the size and power of China in many periods. The boundaries of each of these dynasties varied markedly. Frequently, the “official” Chinese dynasty was just one of several states existing within the boundaries of today’s PRC, and not always the most powerful. After the fall of the Tang dynasty, for instance, a quick check of the parade of dynasties tells us that the Song took over China, but the Song’s area was much smaller than Tang, and just a fraction of today’s PRC. It was one of a dozen or so states within the borders of today’s China, and by no means the most powerful. Its neighbors defeated the Song in war repeatedly, pushing back its borders, and occasionally kidnapping its emperor. Not exactly the immutable force that “Chinese empire” conjures.
The second problem with retrofitting today’s Chinese state onto the past is that the ethnic policies of the PRC find their way into our understanding of the past, with the Inception-like effect that today’s ideas about what constitutes China are placed ahistorically into the past, and then used to justify the present policies as continuations of what had gone before. The example of Xinjiang is one very current instance of this. Rarely were the parts of central Asia now called Xinjiang part of a Chinese dynasty, and when these places were occupied by one of the standard dynasties, they were not often thought of as “China.” We can look to Kublai’s Yuan dynasty to illustrate this: the Yuan ruled from Beijing and incorporated Xinjiang (not by that name) into their empire, just as they did Tibet and Mongolia and, for that matter, China. But Tibet and Mongolia weren’t considered “Chinese” any more than China was considered Mongolian.
None of this is to diminish the importance or longevity of Chinese culture across eastern Asia. “Rooted in classical Chinese written language and early Chinese literary, historical, and philosophical texts,” as Millward puts it, “the role of Chinese classical civilization is in fact strikingly reminiscent of the Greco-Roman linguistic and cultural tradition in the Mediterranean and Europe, and of the Arabic- and Persian-language Islamic tradition of much of Asia and north Africa.” Parallel to these cases, Millward suggests we think of a Chinese cultural legacy and tradition “rather than an uninterrupted and unitary ‘China.’”
The implications of misunderstanding China as a parade of dynasties has profound implications not only for how we interpret the past, but also the present. Policies in Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Taiwan are framed as though these places have always been part of “China,” governed by a single state that extends back five millennia. Viewed in the context of a changing and contingent landscape, space opens for options that are far more creative and humane than the territorial anachronism at the foundation of what much contemporary policy allows. If Xinjiang or Taiwan are fundamental and eternal parts of China, then their autonomy or independence from Beijing is an existential threat. If not, then possibilities exist for meaningful change.
James Carter is Professor of History and part of the Nealis Program in Asian Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He is the author of three books on China’s modern history, most recently Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai. Read more
What are Kublai Khan's contributions to culture? - History
Kublai Khan was the fifth Khagan of the Mongol Empire, reigning from 1260 to 1294. He founded the Yuan dynasty in China as a conquest dynasty in 1271, and ruled as the first Yuan emperor until his death in 1294. Take a look below for 30 more fascinating and interesting facts about Kublai Khan.
1. Kublai was the fourth son of Tolui and a grandson of Genghis Khan.
2. He succeeded his older brother Mongke as Khagan in 1260, but had to defeat his younger brother Ariq Boke in the Toluid Civil War lasting until 1264.
3. Kublai’s real power was limited to China and Mongolia, though as Khagan, he still had influence in the Ilkhanate and, to a significantly lesser degree, in the Golden Horde.
4. If one counts the Mongol Empire at that time as a whole, his realm reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea, from Siberia to what is now Afghanistan.
5. In 1271, Kublai established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China, Korea, and some adjacent areas, and assumed the role of Emperor of China.
6. By 1279, the Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty was completed and Kublai became the first non-Han emperor to conquer all of China.
7. The imperial portrait of Kublai was part of an album of the portraits of Yuan emperors and empresses, now in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
8. White, the color of the royal costume of Kublai, was the imperial color of the Yuan Dynasty.
9. He was born on September 23, 1215.
10. At the behest of Genghis Khan, Kublai’s mother chose a Buddhist Tangut woman as her son’s nurse.
11. During his early years, he was strongly attracted to contemporary Chinese culture and invited Haiyun, the leading Buddhist monk in North China to Mongolia to teach him the philosophy of Buddhism.
12. After the Mongol-Jin War in 1236, Kublai received an estate of his own, which included 10,000 households.
13. Because of his inexperience, he let the local officials have their way with his estate, which resulted in widespread corruption. He immediately implements reforms to set the affairs of the state right.
14. His elder brother, Mongke, became the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire in 1251, and Kublai was given control over Chinese territories in the eastern part of the empire.
15. He organized a group of Chinese advisers to introduce reforms in his territories.
16. He was entrusted with the responsibility of unifying China under the Mongol Empire.
17. Mongke put him in command of the Eastern Army in 1258 and asked him to assist with an attack on Sichuan. However, Mongke was killed while leading an expedition into Western China in 1259 and Kublai was elected as Mongke’s successor in 1260.
18. his younger brother, Ariq Boke, raised troops to fight Kublai for the throne and the warfare between the brothers resulted in the destruction of the Mongolian capital at Karakorum.
19. A bitter war continued between the brothers for years before Ariq Boke finally surrendered to Kublai in 1264.
20. Under Kublai Khan’s administration, the government was re-organized and a new capital city was constructed at present-day Peking, China, in 1267.
21. He was particularly famous for his acceptance of all religions.
22. He promoted science, art, and trade, leading to the economic, scientific and cultural development of his empire.
23. He focused on building effective infrastructural facilities and transportation systems, thus earning the goodwill and respect of his people.
24. His first marriage was to Tegulen, but she died very early.
25. His second marriage was to Chabi Khatun of the Khunggirat, who went on to become his most favorite empress.
26. Chabi died in 1281 and Kublai married Chabi’s younger cousin, Nambui.
27. He had several children with Nambui, including Dorji, who was made the director of the Secretariat and head of the Bureau of Military Affairs in 1263.
28. His later years were difficult, marked by the deaths of his beloved wife and son.
29. Seeking comfort, he turned to food and alcohol and indulged in excess. He became obese and was plagued by many diseases, including gout and diabetes.
30. He went into depression when no physician could heal his maladies and finally died on February 18, 1294, at the age of 78.
Kublai Khan's administration
Under Kublai, the Mongols adopted divide-and-rule tactics. The Mongols and central Asians remained separate from Chinese life in many ways life for the Chinese was left basically unchanged. Kublai was also well known for his acceptance of different religions. The rule of the Mongol minority was assured by dividing the population of China into four social classes: the Mongols the central Asians the northern Chinese and Koreans and the southern Chinese. The first two classes enjoyed extensive privileges the third class held an intermediate position and the southern Chinese, the most numerous of all, were practically barred from state offices. Separate systems of law were maintained for Chinese and for Mongols. Kublai also reorganized the government, establishing three separate branches to deal with civilian (nonmilitary) affairs, to supervise the military, and to keep an eye on major officials.
Following this reorganization, a new capital city was constructed at present-day Peking, China, in 1267. First called Chungtu, the city was renamed Ta-tu (or Daidu, "great capital") in 1272. In the eyes of Kublai, leaving some Chinese institutions and customs in place was a political decision. Outside the administration, much of the Mongol way of life still prevailed. The Mongols, especially the military, preserved their tradition as nomads (wanderers). Even within the administration, Chinese influence was controlled by the large numbers of Mongols and central Asians. Kublai Khan named his rule the Y࿊n Dynasty in 1271. By February 1278 he had destroyed the Sung dynasty and was the unquestioned leader of an empire that stretched across two continents.
Kublai was a great supporter of trade, science, and the arts. He introduced the use of paper money for the entire empire and ordered the creation of a new alphabet for the Mongol language that closely resembled Chinese writing. Kublai also established a system of sea transport and developed inland river and canal routes to move grain from the fertile rice-growing Yangtze River basin to provide food for the growing population. The Grand Canal system was finally extended north to Peking from the Yellow River.
As emperor of China, Kublai demanded loyalty and gifts from other states within the empire. Some of these, such as Annam and Korea, cooperated. To others, Kublai sent messengers asking for payment and attacked if his demands were ignored. Many of these expeditions, however, ended in failure. Twice between 1274 and 1281 Kublai's armies against Japan were either destroyed by storm or crushed by the Japanese because of the Mongols' inability to fight sea battles and the poor quality of their naval forces. Kublai suffered a setback when he failed to conquer the Malay kingdom of Champa in Indochina after a long war (1283). Three expeditions to conquer Burma in 1277, 1283, and 1287 also failed. In 1293 near the end of his reign, Kublai launched a naval expedition against the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit, but the Mongol forces had to withdraw after considerable losses.
Raising a Khan
In 1206 Genghis Khan united the tribes of the Mongol steppe and set their warlike sights far beyond their homeland. When Genghis died in 1227, they had all but conquered the Jin dynasty of northern China, and swaths of Central Asia. (Tree rings reveal Genghis Khan's secret ally was rain.)
Khan means “ruler,” and was often written as khagan—the great khan. On Genghis’s death, his son, Ögödei, became the second khagan, whose own son, Güyük, became the third. In 1251 the succession passed to Möngke, son of Genghis’s son Tolui.
Kublai, Möngke’s brother, was born in 1215. Their mother was Sorghaghtani, a member of an eastern Christian denomination. As Tolui’s wife, she orchestrated dynastic politics with supreme skill, ensuring that Möngke succeeded as the fourth khagan in 1251. She also played a crucial role in shaping Kublai.
Sorghaghtani ensured Kublai was taught Mongol traditions. She encouraged toleration of other faiths, including Islam, and employed Chinese tutors so that Kublai could learn the local traditions and the foundations of Buddhism and Taoism. This multicultural education later helped him understand the importance of tolerating a conquered region’s traditions and faiths.
As a warrior, Kublai showed himself a grandson of Genghis Khan. When Möngke became khagan in 1251, Kublai participated in his brother’s territorial expansion, a process driven by the tried-and-tested Mongol methods of extreme brutality.
Compared to other cultures, Mongol women during the time of Kublai Khan enjoyed higher social status within their society. They enjoyed more rights, including the ability to own and inherit property. Historians attribute their position to the Mongols’ nomadic origins. When warriors were away on horseback, women organized and ran the camps. From commoners to nobility, women were encouraged and expected to be capable administrators. Kublai’s mother, Sorghaghtani, raised her sons to value education and the lessons of other cultures. Kublai’s wife, Chabi, was no different. A woman of intelligence, independence, and open-mindedness, her traits complemented Kublai’s priorities as a leader, and the two became a power couple. Chabi’s ability to navigate Chinese and Mongol culture helped her husband to do the same.
'Marco Polo' Includes a Historical "Sweetheart"
When you have a direct lineage to Genghis Khan, you might find that people have certain. expectations of you. Conquering entire peoples, laying waste to whichever towns you come across, that kind of thing. That's a lot to live up to. But Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan (a historical character in Marco Polo, Netflix's newest series) chose a different path to greatness and power — and became the longest-ruling khan (or Mongol monarch) in history. To understand how unusual his time presiding over the Mongol empire was, you've first got to learn a bit about his family history.
At its biggest (around the year 1370), the Mongol Empire was "the largest contiguous empire in world history," according to AllAboutHistory.org. It stretched, without breaking, all the way from modern day Eastern Europe, through all of Asia and the Middle East, only stopping at the far border of China and the Pacific Ocean. Unbelievably, this entire civilization was established in just three generations, beginning with our old friend Genghis, through his son Tushi, and completed by his grandson, Kublai. As I'm sure you've already guessed, building so great an empire (not to mention subjugating all the hundreds of different peoples and countries that exist between Europe and China) was not a peaceful affair.
The Game of Thrones Connection
If you're trying to imagine what the Mongols were like in the 14th century, think of Game of Thrones' Dothraki: nomadic horse lords whose culture values skill in fighting above all. In fact, on George R. R. Martin's Livejournal (yes, he is literally the only person in the year 2014 to still have a LiveJournal), the author commented that the Dothraki are partially inspired by the Mongols, along with other plains-dwelling peoples throughout history.
Here's a glimpse of how Marco Polo will portray Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong) and the rest of the Mongol empire:
Kublai Khan's Rise To Power
By the time Kublai came on the scene, his father and grandfather had done most of the conquering there was to do in the world. But there was one trophy still left to him: China. In 1260, according to History.com, Kublai gave himself the title of Emperor of China (in addition to his responsibilities governing the rest of the known world), then set about convincing the Chinese to accept him as their ruler. I imagine his argument went something like this:
China Was Pretty Into Him
To get on China's good side, he employed strikingly different tactics than his older relatives. He allowed local and regional governments to continue leading themselves, and he also arranged for traditional Confucian religious ceremonies and practices to become part of the operation of his court, according to History.com. He even moved his capital city from Mongolia to Taitu, an ancient Chinese city near what is now Peking. Basically, he was such an accommodating conqueror that the Chinese citizens were pretty OK with him taking over their country, and many important Chinese figures even offered to become part of his council. (Anyway, at that time China was more a series of autonomous regions sharing a common culture rather than one unified country, but I digress.)
Was He Buds With Marco Polo?
So how does all of this history relate to Marco Polo, the namesake of Netflix's new show? Well, Polo was one of Europe's greatest explorers. Before he set off in the 1270s to see what this whole "Asia" thing was about, pretty much no one from his part of the world had any kind of contact with people from foreign lands. According to Biography.com, Polo met Kublai during one his earlier trips, and the two became pals. They even negotiated trade routes from Asia to Europe (aka the Silk Road). Polo is also the only person to have written a first-hand account of what Kublai and his court was like, according to Biography. It's because of him that we know so much about the greatest khan of all time. And if that wasn't enough of a contribution to society, Polo also bequeathed his name to a great aquatic children's game. What a champ.
Images: Phil Bray/Netflix Bab18/Tumblr GifSoup
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kublai Khan
KUBLAI KHAN (or Ḳaan , as the supreme ruler descended from Jenghiz was usually distinctively termed in the 13th century) (1216–1294), the most eminent of the successors of Jenghiz (Chinghiz), and the founder of the Mongol dynasty in China. He was the second son of Tulē, youngest of the four sons of Jenghiz by his favourite wife. Jenghiz was succeeded in the khanship by his third son Okkodai, or Ogdai (1229), he by his son Kuyuk (1246), and Kuyuk by Mangu, eldest son of Tulē (1252). Kublai was born in 1216, and, young as he was, took part with his younger brother Hulagu (afterwards conqueror of the caliph and founder of the Mongol dynasty in Persia) in the last campaign of Jenghiz (1226–27). The Mongol poetical chronicler, Sanang Setzen, records a tradition that Jenghiz himself on his death-bed discerned young Kublai’s promise and predicted his distinction.
Northern China, Cathay as it was called, had been partially conquered by Jenghiz himself, and the conquest had been followed up till the Kin or “golden” dynasty of Tatars, reigning at K’ai-fēng Fu on the Yellow River, were completely subjugated (1234). But China south of the Yangtsze-kiang remained many years later subject to the native dynasty of Sung, reigning at the great city of Lingan, or Kinsai (King-sz’, “capital”), now known as Hang-chow Fu. Operations to subdue this region had commenced in 1235, but languished till Mangu’s accession. Kublai was then named his brother’s lieutenant in Cathay, and operations were resumed. By what seems a vast and risky strategy, of which the motives are not quite clear, the first campaign of Kublai was directed to the subjugation of the remote western province of Yunnan. After the capture of Tali Fu (well known in recent years as the capital of a Mahommedan insurgent sultan), Kublai returned north, leaving the war in Yunnan to a trusted general. Some years later (1257) the khan Mangu himself entered on a campaign in west China, and died there, before Ho-chow in Sze-ch’uen (1259).
Kublai assumed the succession, but it was disputed by his brother Arikbugha and by his cousin Kaidu, and wars with these retarded the prosecution of the southern conquest. Doubtless, however, this was constantly before Kublai as a great task to be accomplished, and its fulfilment was in his mind when he selected as the future capital of his empire the Chinese city that we now know as Peking. Here, in 1264, to the north-east of the old city, which under the name of Yenking had been an occasional residence of the Kin sovereigns, he founded his new capital, a great rectangular plot of 18 m. in circuit. The (so-called) “Tatar city” of modern Peking is the city of Kublai, with about one-third at the north cut off, but Kublai’s walls are also on this retrenched portion still traceable.
The new city, officially termed T’ai-tu (“great court”), but known among the Mongols and western people as Kaan-baligh (“city of the khan”) was finished in 1267. The next year war against the Sung Empire was resumed, but was long retarded by the strenuous defence of the twin cities of Siang-yang and Fan-chēng, on opposite sides of the river Han, and commanding two great lines of approach to the basin of the Yangtsze-kiang. The siege occupied nearly five years. After this Bayan, Kublai’s best lieutenant, a man of high military genius and noble character, took command. It was not, however, till 1276 that the Sung capital surrendered, and Bayan rode into the city (then probably the greatest in the world) as its conqueror. The young emperor, with his mother, was sent prisoner to Kaan-baligh but two younger princes had been despatched to the south before the fall of the city, and these successively were proclaimed emperor by the adherents of the native throne. An attempt to maintain their cause was made in Fu-kien, and afterwards in the province of Kwang-tung but in 1279 these efforts were finally extinguished, and the faithful minister who had inspired them terminated the struggle by jumping with his young lord into the sea.
Even under the degenerate Sung dynasty the conquest of southern China had occupied the Mongols during half a century of intermittent campaigns. But at last Kublai was ruler of all China, and probably the sovereign (at least nominally) of a greater population than had ever acknowledged one man’s supremacy. For, though his rule was disputed by the princes of his house in Turkestan, it was acknowledged by those on the Volga, whose rule reached to the frontier of Poland, and by the family of his brother Hulagu, whose dominion extended from the Oxus to the Arabian desert. For the first time in history the name and character of an emperor of China were familiar as far west as the Black Sea and not unknown in Europe. The Chinese seals which Kublai conferred on his kinsmen reigning at Tabriz are stamped upon their letters to the kings of France, and survive in the archives of Paris. Adventurers from Turkestan, Persia, Armenia, Byzantium, even from Venice, served him as ministers, generals, governors, envoys, astronomers or physicians soldiers from all Asia to the Caucasus fought his battles in the south of China. Once in his old age (1287) Kublai was compelled to take the field in person against a serious revolt, raised by Nayan, a prince of his family, who held a vast domain on the borders of Manchuria. Nayan was taken and executed. The revolt had been stirred up by Kaidu, who survived his imperial rival, and died in 1301. Kublai himself died in 1294, at the age of seventy-eight.
Though a great figure in Asiatic history, and far from deserving a niche in the long gallery of Asiatic tyrants, Kublai misses a record in the short list of the good rulers. His historical locus was a happy one, for, whilst he was the first of his race to rise above the innate barbarism of the Mongols, he retained the force and warlike character of his ancestors, which vanished utterly in the effeminacy of those who came after him. He had great intelligence and a keen desire for knowledge, with apparently a good deal of natural benevolence and magnanimity. But his love of splendour, and his fruitless expeditions beyond sea, created enormous demands for money, and he shut his eyes to the character and methods of those whom he employed to raise it. A remarkable narrative of the oppressions of one of these, Ahmed of Fenāket, and of the revolt which they provoked, is given by Marco Polo, in substantial accordance with the Chinese annals.
Kublai patronized Chinese literature and culture generally. The great astronomical instruments which he caused to be made were long preserved at Peking, but were carried off to Berlin in 1900. Though he put hardly any Chinese into the first ranks of his administration, he attached many to his confidence, and was personally popular among them. Had his endeavour to procure European priests for the instruction of his people, of which we know through Marco Polo, prospered, the Roman Catholic church, which gained some ground under his successors, might have taken stronger root in China. Failing this momentary effort, Kublai probably saw in the organized force of Tibetan Buddhism the readiest instrument in the civilization of his countrymen, and that system received his special countenance. An early act of his reign had been to constitute a young lama of intelligence and learning the head of the Lamaite Church, and eventually also prince of Tibet, an act which may be regarded as a precursory form of the rule of the “grand lamas” of Lassa. The same ecclesiastic, Mati Dhwaja, was employed by Kublai to devise a special alphabet for use with the Mongol language. It was chiefly based on Tibetan forms of Nagari some coins and inscriptions in it are extant but it had no great vogue, and soon perished. Of the splendour of his court and entertainments, of his palaces, summer and winter, of his great hunting expeditions, of his revenues and extraordinary paper currency, of his elaborate system of posts and much else, an account is given in the book of Marco Polo, who passed many years in Kublai’s service.
We have alluded to his foreign expeditions, which were almost all disastrous. Nearly all arose out of a hankering for the nominal extension of his empire by claiming submission and tribute. Expeditions against Japan were several times repeated the last, in 1281, on an immense scale, met with huge discomfiture. Kublai’s preparations to avenge it were abandoned owing to the intense discontent which they created. In 1278 he made a claim of submission upon Champa, an ancient state representing what we now call Cochin China. This eventually led to an attempt to invade the country through Tongking, and to a war with the latter state, in which the Mongols had much the worst of it. War with Burma (or Mien, as the Chinese called it) was provoked in very similar fashion, but the result was more favourable to Kublai’s arms. The country was overrun as far as the Irrawaddy delta, the ancient capital, Pagān, with its magnificent temples, destroyed, and the old royal dynasty overthrown. The last attempt of the kind was against Java, and occurred in the last year of the old khan’s reign. The envoy whom he had commissioned to claim homage was sent back with ignominy. A great armament was equipped in the ports of Fu-kien to avenge this insult but after some temporary success the force was compelled to re-embark with a loss of 3000 men. The death of Kublai prevented further action.
Some other expeditions, in which force was not used, gratified the khan’s vanity by bringing back professions of homage, with presents, and with the curious reports of foreign countries in which Kublai delighted. Such expeditions extended to the states of southern India, to eastern Africa, and even to Madagascar.
Of Kublai’s twelve legitimate sons, Chingkim, the favourite and designated successor, died in 1284/5 and Timur, the son of Chingkim, took his place. No great king arose in the dynasty after Kublai. He had in all nine successors of his house on the throne of Kaan-baligh, but the long and imbecile reign of the ninth, Toghon Timur, ended (1368) in disgrace and expulsion and the native dynasty of Ming reigned in their stead. ( H. Y. )