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Kublai Khan in China and to Japan

Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan, painted by Anige of Nepal (1245 - 1306).

After two years of preparation, Mongke's army invaded China's Sichuan province. There, in 1259, Mongke died in battle. He was the last of the great khans ruling from Karakorum and the last to exercise authority over the entire Mongol empire. Another fight ensued over who was to become the Great Khan, and succeeding Mongke was a brother, to be known as Kublai Khan, who had been fighting alongside Mongke in China.

Others declared themselves the Great Khan and established independent kingdoms, bringing the division that had plagued other empires. From his capital, Beijing, Kublai Khan pursued the subjugation of southern China, attracted by its wealth, including grain surpluses and towns along China's southern coast that were prospering from seaborne trade. Kublai tried to persuade the Song emperor to subjugate himself peacefully, and when this did not happen Kublai drove his army of various ethnicities (including Chinese and Persians) deeper into China, while his navy, manned by Jurchens and Koreans, sailed south along China's coast. The drive of conquest took sixteen years and ended around 1276.

Kublai Khan interfered little in China's economy, and Mongol rule left Confucianists without much influence, giving Chinese merchants a temporary break with which to pursue trade. The Mongols assimilated little with the Chinese, Kublai not wanting his army of occupation fusing with the Chinese. Nevertheless, a little mixing between conquerors and the conquered took place – mainly Mongol soldiers taking Chinese women.

After consolidating his rule in China, Kublai Khan sent envoys to demand tribute from Japan, and he threatened reprisals if the Japanese refused. From the palace at Kyoto the Japanese answered, claiming that their nation had divine origins and therefore was not to be subject to anyone. The Japanese were preparing a military defense, while Kublai Khan believed he shouldn't permit the appearance of Japan defying him. In 1274, from southern Korea, he launched an assault – a Mongol, Chinese and Korean force – with 600 to 900 ships, 23,000 troops, catapults, combustible missiles, bows and arrows. Bad weather compelled the invasion force to return from Japan's southern-most major island: Kyushu.

In the summer of 1281, Kublai Khan tried again, this time sending some 4000 ships. For fifty-three days the Japanese held the invaders to a narrow beachhead on Kyushu. Then a hurricane struck. The Mongols withdrew again, only half of his force making it back to China. The Japanese interpreted the hurricane as a "god wind," in Japanese: kami-kaze. Kublai had found in the Far East the limits that Hulegu had found in the Middle East. It was the last attempt to invade the Japanese – until 1945, at Okinawa, when kami-kaze would also be a word of significance.


Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan, by R.P. Lister, Stein & Day, 1969

Genghis Khan, the Emperor of all Men, by Harold Lamb, 1927

Marco Polo and His Travels, Silk Road Foundation.

Britannica and Wikipedia.


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