Kublai Khan,The Conqueror
Kublai Khan,The Conqueror
Kublai Khan,The Conqueror
The task that Khubilai now received from his brother was really a challenge – he would lead one of Möngke’s four armies in the conquest of southern China. The Mongolians required the submission of the southern Song dynasty, especially if they still wanted to have control over the northern part of China. The Song Empire was a reminder for the Chinese people that there was an alternative and its very existence was a threat against the Mongolian Empire. Möngke decided to start a campaign to crush the Song dynasty and in this campaign, Khubilai would have an important role.
Möngke’s plan led to some questions. The other leaders in his entourage protested because Southern China was hot and also a hotbed for diseases. They considered that the hot climate would cause unnecessary suffering compared to the cooler climate that the Mongolians was used to. But Möngke was set upon his plan, he replied forcefully that he wished to complete what his grandfather, Chingis Khan, had started.
The victory over the Song Empire would demand more advanced warfare technology. China south of the Yangtze River had some of the largest cities in the in those days. The capitol at Lin-an (today’s Hangzhou) was for example the worlds most populated city, it had a population of about 1,5 million inhabitants. As a comparison, I can mention that Venice, at the time one of the largest trading cities in Europe, had 100,000 inhabitants. Those techniques that the Mongolians had learned during other sieges would now bring matters to a head. Heavy artillery would become necessary in the sieges of the large cities. They could not use their usual warfare techniques like the cavalry because the ground that they would be fighting on would not be suitable for this. Their success would now depend upon the infantry and sieges of important cities.
Möngke’s campaign had a good start, in March 1258 CE, his troops had taken the city Ch’eng-tu, one of the more important cities in Sichuan. The next target was the area around Ch’ung-ch’ing, where the main obstacle was the city Ho-chou. The Song general, Wang Chien, was determined to not surrender to the Mongolians. The result was that Möngke’s armies made little progress. In March 1259 CE, Möngke held a deliberation with his advisors to discuss future strategies. His advisors expressed their concern of campaigns on places that was so different from the places that they were used to. The advisor pointed out the threats form the heat and the diseases. But Möngke did not care about this and pressed on with his plans of conquering Ho-chou. Five month later, on March 11, 1259 CE, Möngke died, probably from the consequences of dysentery.
Möngke’s death caused again the inevitable succession crisis. There were now three surviving brother of the House of Tolui. Hülegü who fought in Syria; Khubilai who ruled over the Mongolian armies in Northern and Western China; and Arigh Böke in Mongolia. Hülegü never suggested himself as a candidate for the throne and it is not all to sure, which of his two brothers he had in mind to support first. Both Khubilai and Arigh Böke held khurilthai’s for their followers and both was consequently duly elected to Khaghan in the year 1260 CE, Khubilai on May 5 and Arigh Böke in June. The more traditional Mongolians supported
Arigh Böke while those who realized that China had rich resources supported Khubilai.
Four years of civil war followed in which Khubilai came out victorious, mainly because Arigh Böke lacked the necessary resources to continue his fight successfully. In 1264 CE, it was all over and Khubilai had now begun his time as a ruler, it would last until his death in 1294 CE.
Khubilai Khan on the throne
One of the first difficult decisions to make for Khubilai as a ruler was what he would do with his younger brother, Arigh Böke. The other Mongolians in the Empire considered that he should execute Arigh because of treason. But Khubilai was reluctant to do this, he sent for the other leaders to have a deliberation to settle the fate of Arigh Böke. But none of these leaders said to have the time to attend because of internal problems in their own domains. The solution arrived by itself, Arigh died in 1266 CE because of illness, there were those who said that Arigh did not die of natural causes, that his death was a little too convenient. But there were no evidence that could substantiate this.
As his Mongolian successors, Khubilai knew that he had to continue the expansion of the empire. His military troops were prepared for new tasks. In the eyes of the Mongolians, his ability would partly be measured in how he gained wealth, men and land to his realm. To ensure his credibility as a sovereign over the Mongolian and Chinese areas, Khubilai had to use an aggressive and firm policy.
The questions that had came up around Khubilai’s seizure of power also made it necessary to prove for the surrounding world that he was a capable ruler. He also wanted to suppress the doubts that still lingered about his credibility in his claim for the throne. There were many who questioned his place as a ruler over the Mongolian Empire. What could be better to turn such doubts if not conquering more land that could be added to the Mongolian Empire?
Khubilai’s most important goal was to take over the southern Song Empire. Even if he controlled the central part of China, he was still no ruler over the southern region of the Yangtze River. The Song Empire had a much more fertile and richer land than Northern China, trade had made its coastal cities very wealthy. Khubilai now had to subdue Song, partly to win respect from his subjects, partly to eliminate the ever-present threat that the hostile Song dynasty represented. One other reason was also the security of the borders to his empire. The southern border against Song demanded stability, if not peace. The northeastern border towards Korea was no threat, but at the time when Khubilai seized power, Korea had only just begun to acknowledge Khubilai as a sovereign.
The real threat against Khubilai’s ambitions was along the Central Asian border where Khaidu, grandson of Ögödei, constantly challenged Khubilai’s sovereignty in Central Asia and he made raids along Chinas northwestern borders. This leader of the Central Asian nomads was also troublesome to Khubilai’s northern domains, Mongolia. In 1274 CE, Khaidu made himself independent ruler over West- and Eastern Turkmenistan. This nuisance from Khaidu called for defensive measures, Khubilai kept and expanded the number of his troops, and he also started military expeditions towards northwest and north.