Now that China was unified under the new Yung Dynasty, Kublai improved communications between the north and south. To accomplish this, three million laborers extended the Grand Canal to carry grain north to his new capital of Dadu, modern Beijing. He also worked to improve the economy and reform agriculture and treated the Song nobility well.
Under Kublai, China became a world-trading center and the merchants’ status and prosperity improved.
He ruled justly showing that he was a wise leader who loved his subjects … not what most would expect from someone who grew up in a nomadic, warrior culture.
Instead, he became more of a Confucian style ruler. However, he was still a Mongol at heart and he craved new conquests. Since most of the kingdoms of Asia paid tribute to Kublai Khan so he would leave them alone, there was nothing for his massive Mongol empire and army to fight.
However, Kublai did not control one country, Japan. He sent emissaries to Japan to demand that they accept him as their emperor and every time his demand was met with the execution of his envoys.
He enlisted Koreans to crew his navy to carry his army to an island off Japan’s coast where the Japanese forces stationed there were defeated. However, a storm destroyed Kublai’s fleet.
This did not stop Kublai and in 1281, a second invasion was launched. This time the Japanese were better prepared and for two months the armies fought. Then another storm hit and destroyed Kublai’s second fleet.
Kublai Khan wanted another invasion force, but his advisors talked him out of it. That was when he abandoned his military campaigns and turned to court life.
A few years after that, his beloved wife died followed by then his son and heir. This broke his heart and he became depressed. All of his trusted advisors died and were replaced with corrupt officials while Kublai Khan becomes more isolated from the public and his government.
He died alone in his palace at 80. Soon after his death, rebellions broke out in China leading to the Ming Dynasty replacing the Yung in 1368. Kublai Khan’s dynasty survived from 1271 to 1368.
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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.
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Thanks for this short but succinct history of the Mongols and the Yuan dynasty. An excellent series to read, if you havent already, is Jack Weatherfords book on Genghis Khan and his next book the Queens of Mongolia. The Mongols were much much more than their reputation would have it.
Here’s a video I found on YouTube with Jack Weatherford talking @ TEDx about the History of Mongolia