by Chad Jaben
Kublai Khan was the founder and ruler of the Yuan Dynasty. During his life, Kublai conquered Southern China, setup the first Mongolian dynasty in China, and embraced this "Middle Kingdom" with his Mongolian-Chinese hybrid culture. Through Kublai’s leadership of the Yuan Dynasty, the Far East for the first time, became a crossroads for the Chinese, the Mongols, and the western world (Imperial 1).
Kublai Khan was born into the Tolui family in 1215 AD (Marshall 195). At the time of Kublai’s birth, the Mongol Empire had been spreading widely throughout all of Asia under the rule of his grandfather, Genghis Khan. During this expansion, the major obstacle which the Mongol nation faced was China. For years the Mongols had been trying to conquer this giant of the south but were unsuccessful. Following the death of Genghis, Kublai’s uncle Ogodei ascended to the throne of the Great Khan (Marshall 245).
Once appointed ruler, Ogodei took on the challenge of defeating Mongolia’s beastly neighbor. Ogodei put up a good fight and captured northern China, but once again another Great Khan would fail in southern China. Subsequent to Ogodei’s death, Kublai’s brother Mangu stepped up to battle the Chinese and expand the empire (Dramer 35). Mangu, with Kublai as a general of part of the Mongol armies, attacked the Chinese with a vengeance, but again the Mongol effort failed. After years of battling, Mangu passed away. After Mangu’s death, Kublai continued the conquest. Kublai surrounded South China with his troops and then attacked. After several years of fighting, corruption and poor ruling gave way to the surrender of the Chinese Sung (Sing) Dynasty in 1279.
All of China was now under the rule of Kublai Khan (Dramer 45-46). After the surrender of the Sung (Sing), the Great Khan extended his dynasty from northern China into southern China. The new and larger dynasty was called the Yuan, or "Origin of the Universe". The Mongol ruler liked the name Yuan because it represented the Chinese concept of the "Middle Kingdom" (Johnson 1). With the establishment of Yuan Dynasty, the Mongolian capital was moved from Karakorum to Beijing which Khubilai renamed Ta-Tu, or the great capital. The Mongolian nobles did not agree with this relocation of their capital and revolted against the Great Khan. The nobles were not successful, Kublai stayed in command, and Ta-Tu remained the capital of the Mongolian Empire (Dramer 37).
As leader, Kublai made an effort to reform the Chinese way of governing. The Mongol king abolished civil service exams and put an end to the Mandate of Heaven (Johnson 1). Kublai arranged the government so that the Mongols had total control over the military and, because of their superior education, the Chinese headed up the administrative department (Yuan 1). However, the Mongols supervised the Chinese to make sure there were no illegal activities taking place. This showed the Chinese that Mongols did not have much faith in the loyalty of the Chinese. Many laws were carried out in order to segregate the Mongols from the Chinese similar to the United States laws separating whites from African Americans during the 1960s.
Even with the segregated laws, whether Chinese or Mongol, all citizens of China had to pay taxes. Kublai setup a federal tax system, instead of a local tax system, so the citizens would be sure their money was supporting the country of China instead of going into the
pockets of corrupt local mayors and governors (Johnson 1). Despite segregation, Kublai required all males in the empire over the age of twenty to serve in the armed services. Kublai was known for his imperialistic attitude and desire of commanding large military campaigns. Most of the time the Great Khan was extremely successful with expanding his borders. An example of this was Vietnam which was taken by the Mongol empire in less than a year. The Mongol Empire was sweeping through Asia as a tornado sweeps through a field (Marshall 215).
However, one country able to escape the clutches of Genghis’s grandson was Japan. The Japanese at this time were not technologically advanced and rather secluded from the outside world. But nevertheless, Japan had a great economy. Kublai wanted Japan not only for its economy but for enlarging the territories of the Mongol Empire as well. The Mongol leader attacked in 1274 but was unsuccessful due to a hurricane, known to the Japanese as the winds of the Kamikaze. Eight years later, Kublai struck again launching the largest naval brigade prior to the 1700s. However, the Mongol fleet was sunk by another massive hurricane. After these two disastrous failures, Kublai deserted his plans for the conquest of Japan (Hooker 2).
Although thought to be a blood hungry warlord, the Great Khan had a compassionate side, too. Kublai supported many of the Chinese religions, especially Tibetan Buddhism. Some historians thought this was simply an act to make the Chinese happy. But either way, it did make the population of China much more content with Kublai Khan (Imperial 1).
The leader of the Yuan also sought to westernize and advance technologies. Marco Polo played a large role in helping join the west and the east. His alliance and friendship with Kublai helped both the Chinese become less isolated from the world and the West become friendlier with the Far East (Yuan 2).
Not all of Kublai’s ideas on culture excited the Chinese. One upsetting ritual was the "social ladder". In this scheme, the Mongols were given the most respect, followed by the other non-Chinese, then the North Chinese, and lastly the Southern Chinese (Yuan 1). Initially, this practice aggravated the Chinese. However, with time this lifestyle became more accepted (Marshall 207).
The Mongol rule would not dominate the far east forever. Kublai Khan died in his sleep of natural causes in 1294 AD (Marshall 221).. After the death of this great ruler, the Yuan Dynasty began to fall apart, the Mongol empire started to break up, and the Mongol people began to lose hope. During his lifetime Kublai ruled one of the largest empires on the Asian continent, was a fierce warrior, improved foreign relations with western nations, encouraged religious practice, and created new social reforms. The leaders who followed Kublai were never able to duplicate the influence which the Great Khan had on the Far East.
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Hooker, Richard. "The Establishment of the Bakufu." Japan, Korea, and the Mongols.
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Marshall, Robert. Storm from the East: From Genghis Khan to Khubilai Khan. Berkley
and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1993
"The Imperial Era: III." Mongolian Interlude. 3 pars. Online. Internet
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