YUAN (MONGOL) DYNASTY (1215-1368)
Genghis Khan The Mongols ruled China from 1215 to 1368. Their dynasty was called the Yuan dynasty. Yuan means "origin" or "primal." Genghis Khan united the Mongols in 1206. He made his first inroads into China in 1215 when he captured Yanjing (Beijing), then a relatively large city in northern China. The complete conquest of China was left to his grandson Kublai Khan, who reached Linan in 1276 and claimed China in 1279.
“As in other periods of alien dynastic rule of China, a rich cultural diversity developed during the Yuan dynasty. The major cultural achievements were the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. The Mongols' extensive West Asian and European contacts produced a fair amount of cultural exchange. Western musical instruments were introduced to enrich the Chinese performing arts. From this period dates the conversion to Islam, by Muslims of Central Asia, of growing numbers of Chinese in the northwest and southwest. Nestorianism and Roman Catholicism also enjoyed a period of toleration.
“The first records of travel by Westerners date from this time. The most famous traveler of the period was the Venetian Marco Polo, whose account of his trip to "Cambaluc," the Great Khan's capital (now Beijing), and of life there astounded the people of Europe.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia Yuan Dynasty Wikipedia ; Mongols in China afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Mongols afe.easia.columbia.edu Mongols Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Mongol Empire allempires.com ; Ghengis Khan, National Geographic National Geographic.com ; Wikipedia Kublai Khan Wikipedia ; Kublai Khan notablebiographies.com
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Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 2) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; 3) Oriental Style ourorient.com ; 4) Chinese Text Project chinese.dsturgeon.net ; 5) Minnesota State University site mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory ; 6) ChinaVoc.com ChinaVoc.com ; 7) Early Medieval China Journal languages.ufl.edu/EMC ; 8) History of China history-of-china.com ; 9) U.S.C. Education usc.edu/libraries/archives Book: The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press)
Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) Brooklyn College site academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge chinaknowledge.de ; 5) China History Forum chinahistoryforum.com ; 6) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; 7 ) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia
Genghis Khan and the Mongols Invade China
After the Mongols under Genghis Khan (1167?-1227) took control of much of Mongolia they set their sights on the Jin, a rich empire in northern China with 20 million people. From intelligence sources such as merchants and defecting Jin civil servants, Genghis Khan learned that the Jin empire was racked with internal problems and vulnerable to attack and that its huge army of 600,000 troops was pinned down on the southern border where the Jins were engaged in a long-running war with the Chinese.
Before leaving on the 1211 campaign against the Jin with a force of 70,000 men, Genghis Khan told his people that "Heaven has promised me victory." The Mongols breached the Great Wall of China by advancing through a 15-mile-long gorge with the help of a turncoat Chinese general.
The Mongols had little trouble conquering the overmanned and inefficient Jin army. Using the feigned retreat tactic to great success, a Mongol general nicknamed "Arrow" defeated the Jin army in an important battle at Juyong Pass. Capturing the Jin capital of Zhongdu (near present-day Beijing) was more problematic. The 40-foot walls that surrounded the city initially proved to be too difficult to surmount as the Mongol army contented itself with pillaging the Jin subjects in countryside around Zhongdu.
In 1214, the Mongols surrounded Zhongdu and used catapults to bombard the city's walls. After a short siege, the Jin Emperor Xuanzong gave up and presented Genghis Khan with a tribute of gold, silver, other treasures and a Jin princess with 500 servants in return for sparing the city.
Fearing another Mongol offensive, the Jin emperor moved his capital from Zhonghu southward to Kaifeng in 1214. Suspecting that the Jin emperor might be trying to regroup for an attack, the Mongols laid siege to Zhongdu again and this time pulverized the city and made off with the imperial treasure. Years later when a traveler remarked about a white hill he was told it was composed of the bones of Zhongdu's victims.
For more on the Mongols, Go to Home and Check Asian Topics, Then Horsemen
Kublai Khan and China
Kublai Khan Kublai Khan (1215-94)was the greatest Mongol ruler after his grandfather Genghis Khan. An enigmatic man, he was the first emperor of the Chinese Yuan Dynasty as well as the Great Khan of the Mongolian Empire.
Having spent much of his life in China, Kublai Khan was surrounded by Confucian scholars and seemed as interested in looking after the welfare of subjects as he did in conquering new lands. Kublai Khan's biographer Morris Rossabi wrote: "Kublai was like other Mongol rulers in that he was a conqueror. But he also was able to govern, and he governed very astutely."
By the mid-thirteenth century, the Mongols had subjugated north China, Korea, and the Muslim kingdoms of Central Asia and had twice penetrated Europe. With the resources of his vast empire, Kublai Khan, the supreme leader of all Mongol tribes, began his drive against the Southern Song. Even before the extinction of the Song dynasty, Kublai Khan had established the first alien dynasty to rule all China--the Yuan (1279-1368). [Source: The Library of Congress]
Kublai Khan ruled China and the eastern portion of the Mongol Empire, which included Korea, Mongolia and Siberia while relatives oversaw the three other main khanates—in Russia, the Middle East and Central Asia. By 1287, the Mongols had conquered half of the known world, with the Mongol kingdom stretching as far north as Moscow, as far west as Warsaw, as far east as Korea and as far south as Baghdad. It was the largest kingdom the world has ever seen.
Kublai Khan extended the Mongol empire into Korea, southern China, Burma and Vietnam. He was unsuccessful in his bid to bring Japan and Java under Mongol control. With Kublai Khan's death in 1294, Mongol expansion ended. Over time the three other khanates become largely autonomous and free from the Great Khan's leadership, a process that had already begun when Kublai Khan came to power.
Book: Kublai Khan by Morris Rossabi (1988).
Kublai Takes Power and Defeats His Brother
Kublai was elected as the Great Khan in 1259 after Mongke Khan, another grandson of Genghis khan, died of dysentery while fighting in China. Mongke had turned his attention away from Europe and advanced on southern China, which had yet not been subjugated by the Mongols.
The Mongols had fought off and on with the Southern Song Dynasty, starting in 1235. When Mongke died the Mongols were in the middle of attacking the Song city of Hechou using a bridge of boats across the Yangtze. Many died when rough waters overturned many of the boats.
After Mongke's death, Kublai Khan had to fend off a challenge from his brother Arik-Boko (Arigh Boke) for the throne. Kublai was planning attack an on the Yangtze at the time of Mongke's death but he called that off. Instead of returning to Karakoram, the Mongol capital, where Arik-Boko was maneuvering to prevent himself from being taken prisoner, Kublai Khan withdrew to Shangdu (Xanadu) in northern China, where he proclaimed himself Khan a month before his brother.
Arik-Boko led a group of Mongols who wanted to return to the traditional horse-bound Mongol way of life. Kublai realized that horses were useful in conquering and building an empire but not administering it and that an empire as large as the Mongol’s had to be administered through the cities by a settled population.
After a four year struggle and a series of battles with Arik-Boko, Kublai finally emerged as the undisputed Great Khan in 1264 at the age of 48. Kublai Khan spares his Arik-Boko's life but the execution of four of Arik-Boro's advisors.
Kublai Khan and the Yuan Dynasty
Kublai Khan was the first emperor in the Yuan Dynasty in China. He ruled China for 34 years while the Yuan dynasty itself endured for 89 years. Kublai Khan finished conquering China in 1279. After that he established a new Mongol and Chinese capital in Daidu (Beijing). Daidu meant "great capital."
Under Kublai Khan, a few hundred thousand Mongols ruled more than 60 million Chinese. The Yuan dynasty evolved out of Mongol rule and used Mongols and Europeans in their administration. Chinese were relegated to third-class citizens after the Mongols and their northern allies.
The Yuan dynasty didn't last long. The Chinese population didn't like the idea of foreigners ruling their country and replacing China's powerful civil servants with Mongols and other foreigners. To maintain control the Mongols courted wealthy landowners, which further alienated ordinary Chinese.
During the Yuan dynasty, Nestorian Christianity was tolerated and Islam spread in the south and west of China. Other religions welcomed into the Mongol court were Taoism, Manichesim (followers of the Persian saint Mani, who merged Zoroastrian with Christianity). Kublai Khan himself was seduced by a Tibetan Buddhist monk named Phagpa, Why did Kublai Khan chose Tibetan Buddhism out of all the religions welcomed into the Mongol court? Perhaps, some have reasoned it was because Tibetan Buddhism was most like traditional Mongol shamanism.
Kublai Khan Defeats the Song Dynasty
Mongol cavalry attack When Kublai Khan became ruler of northern China he tried to entice the Song dynasty into becoming one of his vassals. The Mongols had fought off and on with Southern Song Dynasty for more than four decades.
Kublai Khan sent an emissary to the Song offering them good terms if they submitted to Mongol rule. After the emissary was taken captive war broke out. For five years Kublai Khan's army besieged Xiangyang and Fancheng, two important Song cities on the Han River that guarded an important rice growing region in the Yangtze Basin. Using catapults capable of hurling 200-pound stones and a navy of Chinese- and Korean-built ships, the Mongols captured the two cities in 1273.
Hangzhzou was captured in 1276 by a Mongol army commanded by the Turkish general Bayan. In 1279, the last Song holdout were defeated. After capturing Hangzhou, Kublai Khan showed more restraint than other the Mongol leaders: the defeated Song army was not massacred; the city's inhabitants were not massacred; and the Song court was allowed to keep some of it wealth and privileges.
Kublai Khan in Beijing
Kublai Khan built a new capital in Daidu (Beijing). Construction began in 1267 next to the old Jin capital of Zhongdu (both cities today are within Beijing's city limits). The massive capital was surrounded by an 18 mile wall. Kublai Khan lived in a huge palace located near present-day Beihai Park with apartments for his huge family and a banquet hall able accommodate 6,000 people. Inspired by Persian astronomers Kublai Khan built an observatory in Daidu with a sphere that measured angles between celestial objects.
Describing 13th century Beijing, Marco Polo wrote: "The new city is a form perfectly square...each of its sides being six miles. It is enclosed with walls of earth...the wall of the city has twelve gates. The multitude of inhabitants, and the number of houses in the city of Kanbalu, as also in the suburbs outside the city, of which there are twelve, corresponding to the twelve gates, is greater than the mind can comprehend...
"Within these walls...stands the palace of the Great Khan, the most extensive that has ever been known. The sides of the great halls are adorned with dragons in carved wood and gold, figures of warriors, of birds and of beasts. On each of the sides of the palace are grand flights of marble steps." On the Mongol New Year, "great numbers of beautiful white horses are presented to the Great Khan...all his elephants, amounting to five thousand, are exhibited in the procession, covered with housing of cloth, richly worked with gold and silk."
Marco Polo described glazed roof tiles of "red and green and blue and yellow” in Daidu that “are bright like crystal, so that they shine very far." He said that he could estimate the city's population, based on the number of prostitutes—20,000—and said coal was so plentiful that people could take three hot baths a week.
Yuan Dynasty Rule
“Although the Mongols sought to govern China through traditional institutions, using Chinese (Han) bureaucrats, they were not up to the task. The Han were discriminated against socially and politically. All important central and regional posts were monopolized by Mongols, who also preferred employing non-Chinese from other parts of the Mongol domain--Central Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe--in those positions for which no Mongol could be found. Chinese were more often employed in non-Chinese regions of the empire. [Source: The Library of Congress]
Lamaism (Tibetan Buddhism) flourished, although native Taoism endured Mongol persecutions. Confucian governmental practices and examinations based on the Classics, which had fallen into disuse in north China during the period of disunity, were reinstated by the Mongols in the hope of maintaining order over Han society.
“The Mongols undertook extensive public works. Road and water communications were reorganized and improved. To provide against possible famines, granaries were ordered built throughout the empire. The city of Beijing was rebuilt with new palace grounds that included artificial lakes, hills and mountains, and parks. [Ibid]
Achievements of the Yuan Dynasty
Even though ordinary Chinese had little affection for him, Kublai Khan united China for the first time in 370 years and was a great supporter of Chinese culture. He put 3 million people to work extending the Grand Canal 135 miles to north so that rice could be transported from the fertile Yangtze Valley to Beijing. He also developed a fast, efficient, pony-express-like postal system that utilized thousands of horses; built roads between Beijing and the far reaches of the empire; reformed the Chinese bureaucracy; encouraged the arts and sciences; developed a famine relief program; and developed the world’s first extensively-used paper currency system.
Kublai Khan promoted trade throughout the Mongol Empire. To Daidu, Marco Polo wrote: "are brought articles of greater cost and rarity, and in greater abundance...than to any other city in the world." From India came spices and pearls, and "no day in the year passes that there do no enter the city 1,000 cart-loads of silk."
Kublai Khan established an agricultural ministry that encouraged farmers to organize communes and distribute seeds and animals. "Before Kublai, the Mongols thought of farmers as useless people, the Chinese historian Chen Gaohua told National Geographic, "But Kublai appreciated them. He knew how to rule a farming country."
“During the Yuan period, Beijing became the terminus of the Grand Canal, which was completely renovated. These commercially oriented improvements encouraged overland as well as maritime commerce throughout Asia and facilitated the first direct Chinese contacts with Europe. Chinese and Mongol travelers to the West were able to provide assistance in such areas as hydraulic engineering, while bringing back to the Middle Kingdom new scientific discoveries and architectural innovations. Contacts with the West also brought the introduction to China of a major new food crop--sorghum--along with other foreign food products and methods of preparation.
Yuan Dynasty Culture and Art
Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography and geography, and scientific education. Certain key Chinese innovations, such as printing techniques, porcelain production, playing cards, and medical literature, were introduced in Europe, while the production of thin glass and cloisonne became popular in China.
During the Yuan Dynasty painters worked at capturing their own feelings and ideas and the qualities of their ink and brush rather than qualities of their subjects. Scholar artists were the leading figures in the arts, and their painting were characterized by simplicity, understatement and transcendent elegance.
In the Yuan Dynasty floral motifs and cobalt blue paintings were made under a porcelain glaze. This was considered the last great advancement of Chinese ceramics. The cobalt used to make designs on white porcelain was introduced by Muslim traders in the 15th century. The blue-and-white and polychrome wares from the Yuan Dynasty were not as delicate as the porcelain produced in the Song dynasty.
The world record price paid for an art work from Asian is $27.8 million paid in March 2005 for a 14th century Chinese porcelain vessel with blue designs painted on a white background. The vessel contains scenes of historical events in the 6th century B.C. and has a unique Persian-influenced shape. Only seven jars of this shape exist in the world. The buyer was Giuseppe Eskenazi., the renowned dealer of Chinese art, acting on behalf of a client. The previous record for porcelain was $5.83 million paid in September 2003 for a14th-century blue-and-white porcelain vessel called the pilgrims vessel.
Kublai Khan's Foreign Policy
Kublai Khan employed thousands of foreigners, mostly Persians and Arabs, as envoys and administrators. Foreigners were called "colored eyes." .
Like Genghis, Kublai Khan was generally very tolerant of religions. Many members of his family were members of the Nestorian Christian faith.
Kublai Khan sent a Turkish Nestorian Christian envoy named Rabban Sauma to Europe to enlist the help of the Christian monarchs in an offensive against the Muslims. Sauma wrote a diary of his adventures that revealed the wonders of medieval Europe to China as Marco Polo's accounts described the wonders of China for European readers.
Many small kingdoms and principalities along Mongol shipping routes submitted to the Mongols in the 1270s without resistance and paid tribute on demand to Mongols seafaring generals to avoid trouble.
Marco Polo and Kublai Khan
After a three-and-a-half year journey, Marco Polo, his father and uncle arrived in Shangdu (Xanadu), Kublai Khan's summer capital, not so far from Beijing, in 1275, when Marco was 21. Word of the Polos journey had been relayed to Kublai Khan by Pony-Express-style messengers. Envoys of the Great Khan reached the Polos in central China. They escorted the Polos for the last 40 days of their trip to Shangdu.
Marco Polo met Kublai Khan soon after arriving in Shangdu. He called the great Khan a "Lord of Lords" and "the most powerful man in people and in lands and in treasure that ever was in the world"—and this was probably no exaggeration.
Marco Polo described great parties hosted by Kublai Khan with as many as 40,000 guests. He reported that the Khan once received "a gift of more than 100,000 whites horses very beautiful and fine" and employed 10,000 falconers and 20,000 dog handlers.
Marco Polo as Kublai Khan's Envoy
Marco Polo Kublai Khan welcomed the Polos like long lost friends. He used Marco Polo as an emissary and ambassador in China and in other Asian kingdoms. This was not that unusual. Kublai Khan employed thousands of foreigners, mostly Persians and Arabs. Scholars deduce that Marco Polo could speak Persian and Mongol but not much Chinese (he often used Persian names rather than Chinese ones for the places he described) and spent much of his time with foreigners. Marco Polo didn't mention what his father and uncle did. It seems probable that they worked as merchants.
In a third person account from his book, Marco Polo wrote: "Messer Marco was in the Khan's employment some seventeen years, continually going and coming, hither and thither, on the missions that were entrusted to him...And, as he knew all the sovereign's ways, like a sensible man he always took much pains to gather knowledge of anything that would be likely to interest him, and then on his return to Court he would relate everything in regular order, and thus the Emperor came to hold him in great love and favor."
As Kublai Khan’s special envoy, Marco Polo boasted he explored "more of those strange regions than any man who was ever born.” Marco Polo claimed that he was the governor of Yangzhou for three years. Some scholars think he was exaggerating. Others say he could have been telling the truth because Kublai Khan was in need of administrators.
Marco Polo and Xanadu
Xanadu (Shangdu) was established in present-day Inner Mongolia about 200 miles northeast of Beijing. Kublai Khan set up a capital with a pleasure palace there before he established Daidu. Xanadu was destroyed in 1368 and would likely have been forgotten were in not for Marco Polo's accounts of the palace and Samuel Tayler Coleridge's poem Kublai Khan.
Marco Polo estimated the length of Shangdu’s pleasure palace walls to be 16 miles around (Chinese archaeologists have estimated that the true figure is 5.5 miles) and described monasteries of Buddhist "idolaters" who supplied Kublai Khan's court with sorcerers and astrologers.
On Kublai Khan's pleasure palace at Xanadu, Marco Polo wrote: "There is at this place a very fine marble palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment...Round this palace is a wall...and inside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of a ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gyrfalcons and hawks...The gyrfalcons alone amount to more than 200.
"At a spot in the park where there is a charming wood he has another Palace built of cane. It is gilt all over, most elaborately finished inside and decorated with beasts and birds of very skillful workmanship. It is reared on gilt and varnished pillars, on each of which stands a dragon entwining the pillar with tail and supporting the roof on outstretched limbs. The roof is also made of canes, so varnished that it is quite waterproof."
Kublai Khan and Xanadu
On Kublai Khan and his pleasure palace, Marco Polo wrote: “Once a week he comes in person to inspect [falcons and animals] in the mew. Often, too, he enters the park with a leopard on the crupper of his horse; when he feels inclined, he lets it go and thus catches a hare or stag or roebuck to give to the gyrfalcons that he keeps in the mew. And this he does for recreation and sport."
“The lord abides at this Park of his, dwelling sometimes in the Marble Palace and sometimes in the Cane Palace for three months, to wit, June, July and August, preferring this residence because it is by no means hot; in fact it is a very hot place. When the 28th day of August arrives, he takes his departure, and the Cane Palace is taken to pieces...the Great Khan had it so designed that it can be moved whenever he fancies... It is held in place by more than 200 chains of silk”.
The British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote a weird, largely nonsensical poem about Kublai Khan and Xanadu called is Kubla Khan; or a Vision in a Dream, which he conceived after falling asleep while reading and taking opium. Colerdige later wrote, "During three hours of profound sleep, he composes 300 lines of poetry. After he woke up he wrote down the 54 lines of Kubla Khan when he was interrupted by a visitor. When he returned to his desk he could no longer remember his dream poem."
Kubla Khan; or a Vision in a Dream begins:
Mongol actor In Xanadu die Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea
And ends with:
And all should cry Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise
Kublai Khan's Foreign Military Campaigns
Kublai Khan ultimately bankrupted his khanate and wasted the lives of many Mongols and non-Mongols in mostly unsuccessful attempts to expand his empire. Naval campaigns against Japan (1274 and 1281) and Java (1293) were defeated. Land campaigns into Burma, Vietnam and what is now the Yunnan Province in China were successful but costly.
The leaders of the Burmese kingdom of Pagan decided to flee their capital instead of fight the Mongols. The Vietnamese, however, were willing to fight. When the king of the Vietnamese kingdom of Annam refused passage to Mongol troops in 1281, the Mongols attacked and suffered terrible losses in the jungle terrain. Pagan and Annam both became vassal states of Yuan dynasty in 1287.
In 1292, Kublai Khan sent 1,000 ships and 20,000 troops to Java to exact justice from a Javanese ruler who refused to pay tribute to the khanate and branded the face of one of Kublai Khan's emissaries and cut off his ears and nose. The Mongols were successful at first but ultimately their battle tactics were ineffective in Java’s tropical terrain. In 1293, they retreated back to China in humiliating defeatafter losing 3,000 men in an ambush.
Kublai Khan and the Mongols Attack on Japan (1274)
In 1268, after having conquered northern China and Korea, Kublai Khan demanded that Japan submit to him. The Japanese refused. In November 1274, the Khan launched a fleet of 900 ships and 40,000 troops form Korea, which arrived at Kyushu's Hakata Bay (near present-day Fukuoka, Japan) a couple days later after overwhelming Japanese forces on the islands of Tsusima and Iki. [Source: Torao Mazia, National Geographic, November 1982]
Kublai Khan attacked Japan while was still engaged in mopping up operations against the remnants of the Song Dynasty. He attacked Japan because he needed resources and wanted to demonstrate his power. The Mongol army, which fought as a mass, was no match for the 6,000 or so Japanese samurai and gokenin (armed retainers), who fought as individuals and allowed the Mongols to push only 10 miles inland after a week of fighting.
Nervous about Japanese reenforcements and perhaps about the weather, the Mongols returned to their ships. Some historical records insist the Mongol navy was overtaken by a “storm” that sunk 200 ships, took 13,500 lives and forced them to retreat to China. More likely the ships simply returned home when the wind changed direction.
After the retreat, Kublai Khan prepared to attack Japan again. During the seven year interval between the battles the Mongols ordered the Koreans to build new ships and prepare a large army for the invasion. A Mongol ship from that period found by archeologist was 230 feet in length, twice as big as any European ship used at that time.
In the meantime, Japanese built a massive 10-foot-high, 12.4-mile-long wall around Hakata Bay in six months, recruited samurai from around the archipelago and trained local fishermen and traders to be fighters. The Khan sent envoys, asking the Japanese to submit but again they refused and executed the khan’s ambassadors.
Kublai Khan Attack of Japan Again (1281)
In one of the greatest naval assaults ever Kublai Khan attacked Japan in 1281 with 4,400 ships and 110,000 Korean, Chinese and Mongol troops. In contrast, the famed Spanish Armada that attempted to invade Elizabethan England contained only 130 ships and 27,500 men and the D-Day invasion force that stormed the beaches of Normandy included about 8,000 ships and 175,000 soldiers.
The Japanese army on Kyushu consisted of 100,000 regulars and 25,000 reserves. The Japanese didn't have much of a navy—their seamen were afraid of going too far away from the coast—so local pirates were hired. The pirates were so good at harassing the Yuan forces. For protection the Mongol, Chinese and Korean ships were chained together in long lines to make it harder for the pirates to board them.
The Japanese weapons and armor—bows and arrows, spears, swords, wooden shields and samurai style armor—were inferior to the poisoned arrows, maces, lassos, javelins, bombs filled with black powder, catapults and bronze helmets used by the Mongols.
One of the more unusual finds in the underwater archeological excavation of Kublai Khans fleet were bricks. The Mongols built onboard forges for blacksmiths to use in making horseshoes and repairing weapons. Some of the bricks, some scholars have speculated, may have been brought along to build shrines to celebrate a Mongol victory. [Source: Torao Mazia, National Geographic, November 1982]
Fighting During the Second Invasion by the Mongols
Mongol bombing attack The Mongols sent two fleets: a large Chinese one with 3,500 ships and 100,000 troops, and a smaller Korean-Mongol one with 900 ships and 10,000 troops. The two fleets were supposed to rendevous at Iki island but that didn’t happen. The Korean force captured Iki and moved on without waiting for the Chinese force.
The Mongols apparently had no knowledge of the massive wall built by the Japanese. The Korean-Mongol force landed directly in front of it, with the Japanese were waiting for them. Fighting in cramped quarters along a coastlibe robbed the Mongols of their most successful tactic—the lightning cavalry charge that had routed the finest armies of Asia and Eastern Europe—and forced them back on to their ships.
The Japanese counterattacked the Mongol ships. Samurai warriors leapt onto the decks of the enemy ships and fought with the crews. Burning ships were sent into masses of enemy warships. The Korean-Mongol force retreated to Iki Island.
Kamikaze Wind Saves Japan
After being held up the larger Chinese contingent finally arrived attacked the Japanese on the island of Takashima. Fighting ther last for for weeks. The Japanese and Chinese-Mongol engaged in closely-contested battles around Hakata Bay and neither side was able to gain a clear advantage.
The Mongols attempted to break the morale of the Japanese army with brutality. The hands of Japanese women were pierced with a knives and they were tied to the bows of ships with ropes strung through their wounds.
At the end of July, as the Mongols were preparing to invade mainland Kyushu, the Emperor of Japan and other high-ranking official were praying to the gods for help. As if their prayers were answered, a "divine wind" known as a kamikaze, kicked up and halted the Mongol invasion. An estimated 4,000 ships were sunk and 100,000 lives were lost.
Japanese accounts at the time reported that “a person could walk across from one point of land to another on a mass of wreckage.” Kublai Khan never sent an invading force to Japan again. A planned invasion in 1286 was called off. The Japanese launched some raids, more piratical than military, against Korea and China. The victory for the Japanese ensured their security, solitude and belief they were protected by the gods. Japan escaped foreign occupation and its territory was not threatened again until World War II, six and a half centuries later.
Kublai Khan in Burma and Vietnam
Mongol archer In 1277, Kublai Khan attacked Pagan after the conquest of Yunnan, reportedly after the eccentric King Narathihapate—"the swallower of 300 dishes of curry daily"— refused to pay a tribute and murdered an envoy sent by the Great Khan. During Narathihapate'a rule Pagan's resources had been depleted by a massive temple-building campaign and other indulgences, bankrupting the kingdom and making it ripe for defeat.
There some doubts about exactly how Kublai Khan defeated the Burmese. Marco Polo reported that he defeated the Southeast Asian empire with only jugglers and clowns, while the Burmese claim the Great Khan employed six million horsemen and twenty million foot soldiers. Most historian believe the Mongol-Chinese force consisted of 12,000 horsemen and a smaller number of foot soldiers.
The crucial battle took place in Vochan (Ngasaungsyan), 350 miles north of Pagan, near the Chinese border. Mongol horses initially shied away when they confronted a Burmese army consisted of 2,000 battle elephants and thousands of foot soldiers. But ultimately the Mongol-Chinese force prevailed after Kublai Khan's forces lured the Burmese army into a forest. Mounted Mongol archers outmaneuvered and "made pincushions of Pagan's vaunted war elephants” and “shattered the elephant cavalry's myth of invincibility."
The Mongols were defeated twice in the 13th century by Vietnamese, zealously protecting their homeland. In the mid-13th century, the Mongol leader Kublai Khan asked the Vietnamese emperor for permission to cross Vietnamese territory to attack Champa. The emperor refused and a Vietnamese army turned back a 500,000-member Mongol army.
In 1287, an army of 300,000 Mongols returned with the purpose of the fighting the Vietnamese not the Chams. Under the Vietnamese hero, Tran Hung Fao, a Mongol fleet was lured into a battle at high tide on a beach of the Dang River and then forced back to their boats by a fierce Vietnamese counterattack at low tide, when the Mongols were impaled by steel-tipped bamboo stakes planted the river the night before.
Kublai Khan's naval campaigns against Java (1293) were also defeated.
Death of Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan had four wives, numerous concubines and children. According to Marco Polo, he fathered 22 sons.
After the death of his favorite wife and the son he chose to succeed him, Kublai Khan became a recluse. By the time he died in 1294 at the ripe old age of 79, he had lost even minimal control over the other khanates. He was buried in Mongolia and, as was true with his grandfather Genghis Khan, no one knows the location of his tomb.
Last Years of Mongol Empire in China
After the death of Kublai Khan, the Yuan dynasty became weaker and the Yuan dynasty leaders that followed him were increasingly aloof and paranoid. In the last years of Mongol rule, skittish Khans placed informers in the households of rich families, forbade people from gathering in groups and prohibited Chinese from carrying arms. Only one family in ten was allowed to possess a carving knife.
In the 14th century a series of epidemics and famines killed an estimated 35 million people—one in three Chinese. It is estimated that six million died of starvation during the Great Famine of 1333 and 1337 alone.
A rebellion against the Mongols was launched by Zhu Yuanzhang (Hung Wu), a "self-made man of great talents" and the son of a farm laborer who lost his entire family in an epidemic when he was only seventeen. After spending several years in a Buddhist monastery Zhu launched what became a thirteen year revolt against the Mongols as the head of a Chinese peasant insurgency called the Red Turbans, made up of Buddhists, Taoists, Confucianists and Manichaeists.
Mongols cracked down ruthlessly on the Chinese but failed to suppress the Chinese custom of exchanging little round full moon cakes during the coming of the full moon. Like fortune cookies, the cakes carried a paper messages. The clever rebels used the innocent-looking moon cakes to give instructions to the Chinese to rise up and massacre the Mongols at the time of the full moon in August 1368.
The end of Yuan dynasty came in 1368 when the rebels surrounded Beijing and the Mongols were ousted. The last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temür Khan, didn't even attempt to defend his khanate. Instead he fled with his the Empress and his concubines—first to Shangtu (Xanadu), then to Karakoram, the original Mongol capital, where he was killed when Zhu Yuanzhang became the leader of the Ming Dynasty.
Image Sources: 1) Genghis and Kublai Khan, Ohio State University; 2) Mongol cavalry attack, Washington University; 3) Marco Polo Brooklyn College; 4) Mongol actor, Brooklyn College; 5) Mongol map, St. Marin edu; 6) Mongol bombs, University of Washington; 7) Mongol archer, Brooklyn College
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012