What if the Mongols never conquered China?
One minute on Kublai Khan
WHEN KUBLAI KHAN died in Beijing on February 18, 1294, he was not only Great Khan of the Mongols and Emperor of China - his empire was downright absurd: it covered 33 million square kilometers and stretched from the east coast of China to beyond the Black Sea Europe. It was the largest domain in world history.
When Kublai Khan was born in 1215, his grandfather Genghis Khan was in the process of laying the foundation stone for the Mongolian empire: at the turn of the 13th century, with a mixture of diplomatic and military skill, he succeeded in first acquiring the Mongolian tribes To unite nomads under his leadership into a powerful force - and subsequently to subdue the neighboring steppe peoples. When Genghis Khan died in 1227, the Mongol Empire was already twice the size of today's China. And his power was secured quite intelligently: although illiterate himself, Genghis Khan initiated the creation of a "constitution" - a written set of laws that were valid for all peoples under Mongol rule. In addition, there was a well-organized civil administration for the conquered areas.
The appointment of the Khan took place with almost democratic means: the “King of Kings” was not forced upon the people, but proposed and then elected - if not by all. In truth, only aristocrats could take part in the election and choose from several candidates.
In any case, Kublai became Great Khan and successor to his brother Möngke Khan in 1260. Step by step he moved his seat of government from the Mongolian capital Karakorum to Beijing, which the Mongols resented him. Nor did they find it appropriate for Kublai to celebrate Chinese festivals, dress according to Chinese fashion, and thereby stray from the ideal of a Mongolian leader. In 1271 he changed the name of his dynasty from Menku to Yuan - a Chinese name that is still used today for the Chinese currency.
Kublai Khan achieved something that his predecessors had not succeeded: In a protracted war between 1267 and 1279, he conquered the territory of the Song Dynasty, which had ruled southern China up to then. The "Middle Kingdom" was reunified under the leadership of the Mongols after more than 300 years of separation.
Kublai created a multi-ethnic state with an unshakable core value: tolerance of all cultures, religions and traditions. The Polo family's Venetian commercial travelers are said to have been guests at the court of the Great Khan several times.
Nonetheless, his power began to crack: the Mongols criticized his fondness for Chinese, the Arabs criticized the waste of public funds. The Chinese, on the other hand, saw in him the conqueror who had subjugated them by force. So Kublai decided that he needed a new political success.
In 1279 he sent an embassy to the Emperor of Japan and the Shogun, the leader of the samurai, and proposed the peaceful submission of Japan to Mongol rule. The Japanese felt hurt in their pride and killed the ambassadors.
At this point, like a desperate gambler, Kublai bet any remaining funds on an invasion of Japan. He had weapons forged, armor made for tens of thousands of soldiers and collected the entire supplies and crops of all subjects of the empire. Then he built one of the largest fleets in history.
The Yuan shi, the chronicles of the Yuan Dynasty report that the Great Khan armed 100,000 men and asked the Koreans - another "Mongolized" people - for military assistance. These then made 25,000 soldiers, 15,000 sailors, 900 ships and grain reserves available.
The military leaders of the Mongols had organized a "two-man" army - it should have arrived off Japan from two different directions by February 1281. 40,000 men were supposed to sail from today's Pusan in South Korea and first conquer the Japanese island of Iki off Kyushu. There they would later reunite with the 100,000 men who had left the port of Quanzhou in southern China. Then everyone would have carried out the invasion together. But the troops from China arrived six months later than planned. The reason for this is not fully understood. It is considered likely that one of the leading admirals fell ill or died.
The Koreans waited first, but then decided to lead the attack alone. Iki was captured on June 10, 1281. Two weeks later they landed in Kyushu and began a long fight with the samurai, which the invaders were able to throw back. And the fleet from China? Was crushed by Typhoon Kamikaze just before she could have jumped for the Koreans.
The luck had finally left Kublai Khan. His thirst for conquest, along with his credibility, was sunk to the bottom of the Sea of Japan. This sealed the fate of his dynasty: After his death, the Mongol Empire split into four parts, and in the mid-14th century they were driven out of Beijing and returned to the Mongolian steppes.
This story first appeared in Terra Mater magazine 1/2015.
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