Birthday: September 23, 1215
Died At Age: 78
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Mongolia
Famous as: Founder of the Yuan dynasty in Mongolia and China,
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Chabi (m. ?–1281), Nambui (m. 1286–1294)
mother: Sorghaghtani Beki
siblings: Ariq Böke, Hulagu Khan, Möngke Khan
Died on: February 18, 1294
place of death: Khanbaliq
Who was Kublai Khan?
Kublai khan was a Mongol emperor who founded the Yuan or Mongol dynasty in Mongolia and China, and became the first emperor to rule over this dynasty in a reign that lasted from 1260 to 1294. A grandson of Genghis Khan, he is considered to be the greatest of the Mongol emperors after his illustrious grandfather. As the emperor of the Mongol dynasty, he was also the overlord of all the Mongol dominions that covered areas in Southern Russia and Persia. However, his real power was limited to China and Mongolia, and he was the first non-Han Emperor to conquer all of China. Kublai Khan was well known for his acceptance of different religions and he reorganized the government, establishing three separate branches to deal with civilian affairs, to supervise the military, and to keep a check on major officials. He greatly supported trade, science and arts and introduced the use of paper money in his empire to facilitate trade dealings. He established effective transportation systems within the empire, and ordered the creation of a new alphabet for the Mongol language. A much respected ruler, his reign lasted for over three decades over the period of which he established a vast, thriving empire. His death in 1294 marked the ending of an important era in Chinese history.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 23 September, 1215. He was the son of Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki,. His grandfather was the great Genghis Khan, the founder and emperor of the Mongol Empire. At the behest of Genghis Khan, Kublai’s mother chose a Buddhist Tangut woman as her son’s nurse.
During his early years he was strongly attracted to contemporary Chinese culture and invited Haiyun, the leading Buddhist monk in North China to Mongolia to teach him the philosophy of Buddhism.
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Accession & Reign
After the Mongol-Jin War in 1236 Kublai received an estate of his own, which included 10,000 households. Because of his inexperience, he let the local officials have their way which resulted in widespread corruption. He immediately implemented reforms to set the affairs of the state right.
His elder brother Mongke became the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire in 1251 and Kublai was given control over Chinese territories in the eastern part of the empire. He organized a group of Chinese advisers to introduce reforms in his territories.
He was also entrusted with the responsibility of unifying China under the Mongol empire. Mongke put him in command of the Eastern Army in 1258 and asked him to assist with an attack on Sichuan. However, Mongke was killed while leading an expedition into Western China in 1259 and Kublai was elected as Mongke’s successor in 1260.
His younger brother Ariq Boke raised troops to fight Kublai for the throne and the warfare between the brothers resulted in the destruction of the Mongolian capital at Karakorum. A bitter war continued between the two for years before Ariq Boke finally surrendered to Kublai in 1264.
Under Kublai Khan’s administration, the government was re-organized and a new capital city was constructed at present-day Peking, China, in 1267. The initial years of his rule were marked by political instability and threats from invaders though he stabilized his empire within a few years.
He was particularly famous for his acceptance of all religions. He promoted science, art, and trade, leading to the economic, scientific and cultural development of his empire. He focused on building effective infrastructural facilities and transportation systems, thus earning the goodwill and respect of his people.
Once he strengthened his administration in northern China, he focused on expanding his empire. He undertook several expeditions over the course of which he conquered vast areas of land including Xiangyang which he captured after the key Battle of Xiangyang. In 1271, he proclaimed his own dynasty under the title of Da Yuan, or Great Origin. Eventually he also captured Hangzhoum, the wealthiest city of China.
His government started facing financial difficulties after 1279 and his future expeditions were no longer as successful as his past expeditions. His invasion of Japan, Annam, Champa, and Java were all met with failures. Most of his future campaigns were plagued with extreme climatic conditions, mismanagement of funds, and disease. Kublai Khan lost much of his glory during his later years.
Kublai Khan founded the Great Yuan Great Mongol State also known as the Mongol or Yuan dynasty, which he officially proclaimed in the traditional Chinese style in 1271. It was the first foreign dynasty to rule all of China and the Yuan rule stretched throughout most of Asia and Eastern Europe.
Personal Life & Legacy
His first marriage was to Tegulen, but she died very early. He then married Chabi Khatun of the Khunggirat who went on to become his most favorite empress.
Chabi died in 1281 and Kublai married Chabi’s younger cousin, Nambui.
He had several children including Dorji who was made the director of the Secretariat and head of the Bureau of Military Affairs in 1263. Another one of his children was Zhenjin whose son Temur Khan succeeded Kublai. Some of his other children were Nomukhan, Khungjil, Aychi, Saqulghachi, Qughchu, and Toghan.
His later years were difficult, marked by the deaths of his beloved wife and son. Seeking comfort, he turned to food and alcohol and indulged in excess. He became obese and was plagued by many diseases including gout and diabetes. He also went into depression when no physician could heal his maladies and finally died on 18 February, 1294, at the age of 78.
Kublai Khan is the subject of the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem ‘Kubla Khan’, written in October 1797.