Khubilai Khan Essay Research Paper The founder

Khubilai Khan Essay, Research Paper

The founder of China’s Yuan, or Mongol, Dynasty was a brilliant statesman and

military leader named Khubilai Khan. Grandson and the best-known successor of the

great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, Khubiliai became the first emperor of the Mongol

Empire. He completed the conquest of China that was begun by his grandfather.

Khubilai’s major accomplishment was convincing China to be ruled by foreign people, the

Mongols. His achievements were first brought to the Western and European society in the

writings of Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler who lived in China for nearly 20 years.

Khubilai Khan began to play a significant part in the consolidation of Mongol rule

when his brother, Mangu Khan, became determined to complete the conquest of China in

1251. Upon the death of Mangu, only eight years later, Khubilai was proclaimed as the

Great Khan.1 Then in 1279, Khubilai defeated the Southern Song Dynasty, bringing the

remainder of China under his reign.2 This was the first time all of China was under foreign

rule. Khubilai named the dynasty Yuan, meaning “beginning” or “origin of the universe,”

to signify that this was the beginning of a long era of Mongol power.3 The Yuan Dynasty

lasted from 1279 to 1368 in China.4

Where to put the capital was a major decision for Khubilai Khan. He ended up

making two capitals: “Upper Capital,” called Shang-tu, and “Central Capital,” called

Ta-tu, located at present-day Beijing.5 Ta-tu soon became a sophisticated and wealthy

city. There Khubilai ruled as both the emperor of the Chinese Yuan Dynasty and the

Great Khan of the Mongols. Khubilai adapted to the Chinese way of governing. He

successfully followed the bureaucratic system through which Chinese dynasties had ruled.

However, the Mongols carefully guarded their cultural identity and way of life. The

Mongols could not have ruled China without the help of some of the Chinese aristocracy

and yet they were reluctant to use the Chinese in their government. Chinese talent was

excluded from positions of authority and discriminative social and legal laws were set up,

limiting the freedom of the Chinese.

To support agriculture, Khubilai Khan created an Office for Stimulation of

Agriculture in 1261.6 Although many of his people wanted to establish the nomadic way

of life inside the Great Wall, in early 1262, Khubilai passed a law forbidding nomads’

animals from roaming on farmland. He filled up granaries in case of future famines,

especially in the north where the land had been ravaged. At the “Central Capital,” Ta-tu,

Khubilai had 58 granaries, which stored 145,000 shih (one shih was equivalent to about

133 pounds) of grain.7 He organized the farmers into groups called the she. Each she

composed of 50 families and were under the supervision of a village leader known as the

she-chang.8 The she’s chief purpose was to serve in the stimulation of agriculture. They

were encouraged to complete self-help projects such as promoting silk production,

planting trees, improving irrigation and flood control, and stocking rivers and lakes with

fish. Each she were to observe their own members and reward those who worked

efficiently and discipline those who were lazy. The she not only, in a sense, give peasants

control over their lives, but also helped the government to watch over the people. It also

introduced the peasant children with a better education in agricultural techniques and basic


Khubilai Khan also organized a fixed, regular taxing system. Instead of paying

taxes to the local collectors, the people just made one annual payment to the central

government. The government then paid the nobles. Khubilai also demanded a great deal

of unpaid labor from the people. Not only did Khubilai demand the people to provide

labor, but also to provide their own horses and supplies. At the same time he issued laws

and codes demanding overseers not to be troublesome. He commanded that the Yangtze

River be extended 135 miles north by constructing the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal

would link the Yangtze River with Ta-tu. When it was completed in 1289, the Grand

Canal, first used only for official news, but soon merchants used the Grand Canal as well.

Khubilai also tried to improve the communication system within his empire. By the end of

Khubilai’s reign, there were 1,400 postal stations, which used 50,000 horses, 8,400 oxen,

6,700 mules, 4,000 carts, 6,000 boats, 200 dogs, and 1,150 sheep.10 Because of

Khubilai’s strict accomplishments, soon both trade on land and overseas flourished.

The Mongols welcomed foreigners including Russians, Arabs, Jews, Genoese, and

Venetians. Mongols did not involve themselves in caravan trade so they encouraged

others to do so. Khubilai protected and encouraged caravan merchants and used them to

gather intelligence. Merchants felt secure and had a relatively high status during the Yuan

Dynasty in China. Khubilai was the first to devise a country-wide use of paper currency.11

Merchants had to convert foreign coins into paper money when they crossed into China.

Marco Polo, a Venetian traveler, was among one of the many traders who was welcomed

and worked for the Great Khan.12 Marco Polo was greatly impressed with trade on the

Yangtze. He even named the city of Ta-tu, Khan-balik, meaning “the city of the Great


Khubilai had to have interest in the Confucian religion if he wanted to be perceived

as the ruler of China. Even though Confucianism was a major part of the Chinese culture,

Khubilai also wanted a government that would preserve Mongol dominance and not grant

too much power to the Chinese. Thus, he set up a system based on personal loyalty and

responsibility. His basic policy was to establish a straightforward system of rewards and

punishments. He would allow the people to present him with memorials, which were

petitions to the emperor to take note of certain problems. If the proposals were useful,

Khubilai would reward the person who made them, hoping to encourage honesty, loyalty,

and sincerity. Khubilai knew these new policies would create some tension, especially

between the Confucians. In order to gain their favor, he built the Great Temple near his

palace in Ta-tu, signifying that he intended to continue some of the rituals that were basic

to Confucian philosophy.14 Besides Confucians, Khubilai also welcomed Muslims,

Buddhists, Taoists, and Christians at his court. Khubilai’s good works and the support of

various religious groups put him in good favor with much of the population.

By 1279, the high point of Khubilai Khan’s rule, he had established himself as the

Emperor of China, and as both an intellectual and a skilled warrior.15 He enjoyed the

company of scholars and intellectuals, and worked out a new script with them. He now

saw wisdom in taxing people rather then killing them. Khubilai knew the importance of

fair laws rather than trying to bribe people. He realized that there is only enough money

to satisfy some, even with the few, there is no end to their greed, so it is better to have

justice.16 He was tolerant of various religious groups. Khubilai had appealed to a wide

variety of occupational and social groups, and to the various religions of his empire. He

had created a capital in China and re-established rituals associated with Confucianism. All

of these accomplishments had helped him a great deal to win the support of the Chinese


Soon after 1279, Khubilai Khan’s rule began to deteriorate. To demonstrate that

he ruled the world, Khubilai launched two very costly and disastrous attacks on Japan. He

hoped a victory against Japan would support his image as a triumphant world conqueror,

not a Chinese bureaucrat. The 25,000 men he sent against Japan were defeated, largely by

a typhoon.17 Again he tried in 1281, this time sending 140,00 men, supported by

additional Korean troops.18 As far as the Japanese were concerned, the gods protected

them again by sending another divine wind, the Kami kazi, which again demolished the

Mongol fleet. The 1281 defeat broke Khubilai’s image of invincibility, and the campaigns

he established into Southeast Asia failed to recover this. He over-taxed the people to help

raise money that was lost in the unsuccessful attacks against Japan. Peasants suffered

under the hardship of increased taxes. There was widespread inflation because the

government printed a great deal of paper money. To balance the inflation, Khubilai

lowered the currency value from 5 to 1.19 Economical problems made Khubilai less

tolerant. He soon became very untrustworthy of merchants, many of them Muslims. So

in the early 1280’s he issued an anti-Muslim legislation. This continued until 1287.20 At

the same time, he was increasingly supportive of Buddhism, which led to some Buddhist

priests to take advantage of their positions.

Although Khubilai tried to rule as a scholarly emperor, the Mongols did not adjust

to Chinese ways. The Mongols resisted adjustment and tried to stay isolated from the

Chinese. They thought Confucianism was anti-foreign. Chinese intellectuals turned away

from Buddhism although many Mongols favored it, so Buddhism did not bring the two

cultures closer. The Mongol rule soon became increasingly unstable after 1294 when

Khubilai Khan died and succession became a problem. Between 1308 and 1333 there

were eight emperors, two were assassinated and all of them died young.21 Without a rule

of succession, the death of an emperor caused violent conflicts among the different

“would-be” rulers. At the time when the empire needed a strong central control to stay in

power, the Mongols wasted their efforts battling over succession. The Chinese always

resented the foreigners and, in the end, rebelled and drove them out. In 1368, while the

Mongol’s Empire was torn by internal dispute, the great khans in China were replaced by

the Ming Dynasty.22

Although Khubilai had many accomplishments, he favored to govern, not simply to

take advantage, of China, the largest and most populated empire in the history of the

world until that time. Through his political and economic policies, his support of culture,

his toleration of many different religions, Khubilai attempted to unify Asian lands under

Mongol rule.23 Like those of many great rulers, Khubilai’s empire did not survive long

after his death. His dream for a world empire was not fulfilled, but his glory of the Yuan

Dynasty–from arts, government, agriculture, religion, to his military achievements–has

made a lasting impact on not only Chinese society, but on the European and Western

societies as well.


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