Friday, September 5, 2008

Kublai Khan

Kublai or Khubilai Khan , was the fifth and last Khagan of the Mongol Empire. In 1271, he founded the Yuan Dynasty, which ruled over Mongolia, China Proper, and some adjacent areas, and became the first Yuan emperor.

He was the second son of Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki and a grandson of Genghis Khan. The civil war between him and his younger brother Ariq B& over the succession to their older brother essentially marked the end of a unified Mongol empire.

Early years

Kublai Khan studied Chinese culture and became enamoured of it. In 1251, his elder brother 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 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, and was proclaimed Great Khan. Only a small number of the royal family supported Kublai's claims to the title, however the small number of attendees still proclaimed him Great Khan.

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.

Both his brother and Kublai crowned themselves Khan in 1260, and the two brothers battled for three years before Kublai finally won. However, during this civil war, Yizhou governor Li revolted against Mongol rule. The revolt was swiftly crushed by Kublai, but this incident instilled in him a strong distrust of ethnic Hans. After he became emperor, Kublai instituted several anti-Han laws, such as banning the titles of and tithes to Han Chinese warlords.

Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty

The decisive steps to assume the role of a have taken place under Kublai Khan after some initial and rather inconclusive efforts under earlier rulers. 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, 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 lost his faith on Han Chinese when his Chinese minister's son revolted against him while he was fighting against Ariq Böke in Mongolia.

China proper and Mongolia itself were administered in 11 provinces during his reign with a governor and vice-governor each. According to the Chinese historian Professor Ting-hsueh Wu, of these 12 governors, 8 were Muslims. In the remaining districts, Muslims were vice-governors.

In the 8th Year of Zhiyuan , Kublai Khan officially declared the creation of the Yuan Dynasty, and proclaimed the capital to be at in the following year. His summer capital was in . To unify China, Kublai Khan began a massive offensive against the remnants of the southern Song Dynasty in the 11th year of Zhiyuan , and finally destroyed the Song Dynasty in the 16th year of Zhiyuan , unifying the country at last.

He ruled well, promoting economic growth with the rebuilding of the , 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. 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 a tributary ally in 1260. The Yuan helped 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 , Burma, and . 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 .

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 , 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 . 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.

Stephenie Meyer, author of ''Kublai Khan'' , writes, "The cost of these defeats led the Khan to devalue the central currency, further exacerbating growing inflation. He also increased tax assessments. These economic problems lead to growing resentment of the Mongols, who paid no taxes, among the Chinese populace." 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 is started in December 1284 when Mongols under the commander of Toghan crossed the border and quickly occupied Thăng Long in January 1285 after the victory battle of Omar in Vạn Kiếp and at the same time Sogetu from Champa moved northward and rapidly marched to Nghe An where the army of the Tran under the general Tran Kien surrender him. However, the and the commander-in-chief Trần Hưng Đạo turns the tide from defence to attack the Mongols. In April, General Tr& defeats Sogetu in Chuong Duong and then the Trần kings won a big battle in Tây Kết where Sogetu died. Soon after, general Tr& also won the battle in Hàm Tử while Toghan was defeated by Tr& and the Mongols failed their second attempt to invade & .

The second invasion to & 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 and met the infantry and cavaltry of Omar and there they quickly won the battle. The naval fleet rapidly won the battle in Vân Đồn but they left the heavy cargo ships with full stock of food for the Mongols behind. And general Tr& quickly captured all of the food. As foreseen, the Mongolians in Thăng Long 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 . 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 Tr&. 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 & 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 , Champa and 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 . 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 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.

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