Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monarch Profile: Kublai Khan

Although overshadowed by his famous grandfather Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan could probably be considered one of the great monarchs of world history. He came to power in 1260 upon the death of his older brother Mongke Khan as ruler of the vast Mongol empire. He is probably most famous for completing the conquest of China (making him the only foreigner to ever conquer all of China) and founding the Yuan dynasty which ruled Imperial China from 1271 to 1368. Although the realm under his actual control was 'limited' to roughly what is now China, Mongolia and southeast Siberia, as the Great Khan of the Mongols he was the titular but influential ruler of the largest land empire in history, covering one-fifth of the earth's surface. He learned the ropes of statesmanship as viceroy of northern China and through the influence of his wise and formidable mother adopted the policies there that he would later use to great success in the governing of his vast realm.

Kublai's mother was Sorghaghtani Beki, a Nestorian Christian, and it was she who ensured that he grew up to be religiously tolerant, learned in administration as well as military conquest and that he would work within the Chinese framework of government rather than trying to rule through occupation and plunder. Trade and agruculture would yield a better long-term economy than the traditional method of simple plundering. Kublai Khan emerged victorious from a small civil war for leadership and in a brilliant campaign completed the conquest of China and laid out the modern capital of Beijing. Kublai protected Confucian scholars and kept Confucianism as the ideal civic model as well as making use of Chinese talent. However, his was also a famously cosmopolitan empire and he employed many foreign experts and advisors. Christianity, Islam, Daoism and Buddhism were all fairly widespread and he entertained envoys from Venice, Flanders, France, Papal Rome and Persia. He improved communications and the agricultural infrastructure in China as well as extending the famously efficient Mongol postal system across the whole country.

Trade, traditionally a despised profession in China, became widespread and resulted in a new, prosperous middle class as well as greater ties with far flung countries. Tibetan Buddhism also experienced a period of growth through the influence of Kublai's favorite wife Chabi, who was herself quite an exceptional woman. Over time Kublai began to suffer the ill-effects of good living and became extremely overweight and suffered many health problems because of it. When Chabi and her son, Kublai's heir, died in 1285 the Khan fell into a dark mood that never left him. He lashed out in efforts to conquer Japan and Vietnam but these were defeated and his health and grown so bad that when he had to confront an uprising in Mongolia he could no longer walk (though the campaign was successful). He died in 1294 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Mongolia as was the custom.


  1. Yes, Kublai Khan was a great man and Monarch. His dynasty, the Yuan was the first foreign dynasty to rule the entire China. But he was not the only foreigner to do so. About 400 years later another foreigner mounted the Dragon Throne; they were the manchus [Ching Dynasty]. Only unlike the Yuan this dynasty was able to almost completely assimilated themselves with the han chinese. Many Chinese traits that we are a custom to were basically manchus in origin.

  2. Yes, that is true, but as I tell people the Chinese tend to pick & choose about who is considered a "foreigner". They say Kublai was the only foreigner to ever conquer China, when the Manchus are brought up, with great Sino-pride they affirm that the Manchus are Chinese and thus not foreigners. Of course, when they wanted to overthrow the Qing it was convenient to label the Manchus as foreigners again but then when the Empire of Manchukuo was created they suddenly became Chinese again. So, maybe to have been more accurate I should have said that Kublai is the only foreigner to conquer all of China -according to the Chinese.

  3. Touché.
    A couples years back, I don't know for what purpose exactly (either to get sympathy from mongolian people in inner mongolia or to claim outer mongolia (republic of mongolia)) the prc govenment even stated that the great Genghis Khan was a chinese.
    Being inconsistent and opportunistic rats are apparently part of common republicans trait there.

  4. True, and you will see more on this subject in the future on a Monarchist Destinations post. They are trying to claim Genghis Khan as their own and if you get a proud Chinaman talking long enough (and knock back a few) and they will admit that once Taiwan is delt with Outer Mongolia will be next as they still view it as "rightfully" their own

  5. Absurd.
    Tibet, Manchuria, Mongolia, and other "colonial territories" relationship with China were never beyond personal union. There never a state union between them and China. The Emperor of China acted as the Emperor of Mongolia, Manchuria, Grand patron of Tibetan Buddhism, protector of Muslim, etc. These territories were even managed separately from the 18 Chinese provinces. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ching_dynasty#Administrative_divisions and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_of_Colonial_Affairs )
    So, politically with the disgusting xinhai revolution, the new Chinese republic has no claim what so ever over these territories, because their loyalty were to the Emperor of China alone and not to the Chinese state and government.
    We can find a similar events in UK in two occasions:
    1) Crown Dependencies’s loyalty is to the Monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not to the state.
    2) The Kingdom of Scotland’s loyalty before the act of union was to the Stuart Monarchs, not to the Kingdom of England).

  6. Exactly, which is why when the Qing fell the Dalai Lama in Tibet and the Bogd Khan in Mongolia basically said, "all deals are off". It is also on display when considering how Tibet and Mongolia were governed, which was by their local rulers rather than directly from Peking. The Red Chinese today have basically taken the position to such lengths that by the same standard that they claim Tibet and Mongolia to be "integral parts of China" could be used to describe Korea, Vietnam and so on. Again, it is an example of the communist Chinese using different standards and definitions at different times to serve their own interests.


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